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Nonprofit transportation service drives seniors for "half the cost of a taxi"

Like most adults, seniors have places to go and people to see. However, as they age, navigating streets to reach their destination can become a challenge.

There is an option for Memphis’ seniors who prefer to set their own schedule without the worry of driving or switching buses.

Independent Transportation Network is a nonprofit transportation system for seniors aged 60 and above. Rides are provided by trained volunteers 24 hours per day, 7 days a week. Volunteer drivers undergo background checks and drive seniors to appointments, errands or social visits. 

A local affiliate is at 561 South Prescott Street. It’s one of 14 locations across the country.

“ITN Memphis is part of a 20-year-old national network, ITN America,” said Pat Hickman, acting operations manager at ITN Memphis. “Ninety percent of our rides are for doctor appointments but we will take them anywhere within the Greater Memphis area, the grocery store, a hair appointment. We take them to church and bring them home.”

The service area for Memphis lies within the Interstate-240 loop. Locally, ITN averages over 225 rides a month.

Annual membership fees run $45 for individuals and $65 for families. There is a $1.50 per mile rate, along with a $3 pickup fee.

“It’s about half the cost of a taxi ride,” Hickman said. “Our drivers pick up at the door and help them to the car. They take you to the door of where you are going. If you go to the grocery, they even help them get their packages into the car and into the home.”

While buses, taxis and rideshares can get their riders to their destination, ITN offers will meet them at their door and deliver them to the door of their destination. Drivers are encouraged to engage customers and get to know them on a more personal level.

For example, a member recently used the service to visit her husband in hospice care.

“He just recently passed away so that was a moving experience for the drivers who drove her. They recognized what it meant to her to have an outlet to vent and talk about the loss,” said Hickman.

To join, an application can be submitted online or via mail. In addition to the membership fee, there is a $50 deposit for a prepaid debit card. All trips are prepaid with the card. Financial assistance is available for low-income seniors through their ITN ROAD scholarship program.

In July, Memphis’ ITN location gave their 5,000 ride to Lester Gingold.

Born in 1922, the 95-year-old WWII veteran worked as a manager for Sears for 34 years following his time in service. He then worked as advertising director for the Commercial Appeal for 15 years. The first 18 years of his “retirement” he took on a leadership role at Active Times, now Best Times, a newspaper for seniors. He now serves as publisher emeritus of the publication.

"The most difficult thing I ever had to do was to quit driving," said Gingold, who is one of ITN’s oldest members, both in terms of age and time spent using the service. 

To fill growing demand, volunteer drivers are needed. Plans are in the works to expand service beyond the loop. Currently, there are only three drivers. Five more are needed to meet the needs of the 200 seniors currently on a waiting list. Drivers make their own schedules.

To learn more about ITN Memphis, or to volunteer, call (901) 833-7666 or visit

Memphis airport adds technology to assist sight-impaired passengers

Memphis International Airport has teamed with technology company Aira to provide a new service to assist low-sight and blind passengers. With the help of a remote-connected concierge, a sight-challenged traveler can more easily navigate its terminals and concourses.

“Accessibility is a challenge for all sorts of businesses and navigating an airport can be stressful for all passengers. Aira provides an immediate solution that requires no technical or operational work by the airport,” said Kevin Phelan, Aira vice president of sales and marketing.

Now, instead of seeking assistance from airport personnel, a virtual concierge can guide them as they check their bags, get through security, find a restaurant and reach their gate.

“They walk you through the whole process,” said Scott Brockman, president and CEO of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority. Service began on October 20.

The services’ features don’t just begin and end at the airport door, either. For instance, it can connect a user to an Uber driver from their hotel, including helping them get to the vehicle or around any obstacle they may encounter.

“What I love about this technology, it gives someone who is sight-impaired or blind the ability to choose their own path. To choose what they want to do when they are in the airport for those two hours when they are waiting on a flight. It gives them the independence to do that without waiting on someone to help them,” said Brockman.

Like many emerging services, the process starts with downloading an app.

After enrolling, a kit is mailed that includes glasses and a wifi portal. When ready to use the service, the user are connected to a concierge.

”The concierge is somewhere in the country sitting at a bank of video streams. Enrollees receive a pair of glasses with a high-def camera with a wifi portal that links you directly to them (concierge),” said Brockman.

Like a cellphone plan, minutes can be purchased in limited or unlimited amounts. This is done through the concierge. Users of the plan receive personal wifi access at the airport via the Aira portal. 

The offering at the Memphis International Airport is exceptional because it is offered at no cost to passengers. 

“Now, you come to my airport and cross the geofence – you are now using our minutes and not yours. That way customers keep their minutes for when they get to their destination. They can use our minutes at the airport,” said Brockman.

A geofence is a wireless signal perimeter. When crossed, a signal is picked up on a cellphone or device.

In addition to his role at Memphis International, he serves as Chairman of the American Association of Airport Executives. Along with the title goes the task of an in-studio video presentation to all members. Brockman’s topic was on how technology will change air travel.

“Of course, the big ones are unmanned aircraft, unmanned vehicles, drones, driverless cars, so these were a large piece of the studio session we did,” said Brockman.

One of the particpants in the video session was Aira, which came from AAAE’s accelerator program. Impressed with the service’s potential, Brockman spoke with Phelan.

“After that conversation I thought, ‘This is awesome, this is exactly what I want to do at the Memphis Airport,” said Brockman.

After requesting Aira’s agreement for the program, its marketability and overall feasibility were vetted.

“What they have done is develop technology that allows someone who is sight impaired or blind to experience Memphis Airport with the same independence as any other passenger,” said Brockman.

Aira’s service has just begun, but gaps in service are already being filled. For instance, plans are being made to have glasses available on site in case a member’s pair isn’t available or they haven’t received them yet.

Its inclusion lines up with the airport’s planned modernization of some facilities. Another advancement that is in the works is a hearing loop. This technology allows announcements to go directly to a hearing-impaired visitor’s hearing device while cancelling out ambient noises.

While just in its infancy with sample sizes too small for evaluation, Aria’s virtual concierge service has earned praise from an early adopter.

“Aira is awesome in airports. I love the freedom of finding my gate. I also have used it to find restrooms, restaurants and of course for those long layovers a charging port at my gate. Then once at baggage claim they have helped me find my bag when I forgot to bring my luggage locator,” said Tiffany Manosh.

Available in all 50 states for individuals, Phelan believes the concierge model can become a commonplace service that can be easily adopted elsewhere.

“Any airport can do this now and can become instantly accessible for blind and low vision passengers,” said Phelan.

Operation Opportunity Challenge kicks off to spur solutions for the challenges of entrepreneurs

Artisans in Memphis face obstacles in both sourcing and logistics. A privately-backed competition seeks to spur solutions for some of the challenges that entrepreneurs face. 

Little Bird Innovation and EPIcenter kicked off the Operation Opportunity Challenge: Maker Edition on November 15. Winners of the business plan competition will receive $20,000 each as well as $5,000 in technical assistance.

Additionally, if either plan is scalable beyond Memphis, they could be a good fit for EPIcenter’s logistics accelerator that runs in the summer.

“This is about the idea that the system our makers are working in, in terms of their access to capital, production space, equipment, sources and logistics, that system has some significant gaps in Memphis,” said Nicole Heckman, co-founder and partner with Little Bird Innovation.

The hope is entrepreneurs, when properly incentivized, will apply problem-solving to these gaps that often limit entrepreneurs’ or small businesses’ earning potential.

“Local sourcing, which we heard in our research with makers, is a pain point for them,” said Heckman.

Except for large corporations with their massive purchasing power and wide reach, acquisition of needed materials can be a challenge for most businesses. A lot of items cannot be found locally. Therefore, online orders or special trips are often necessary.

Gas, shipping costs, time lost and other factors can chip away at a makers’ bottom line and cut into their margins – which are often razor thin. Moving products can be equally challenging.

“Some of our makers are getting big enough that fulfillment is a real problem. By fulfillment, I mean the order comes in and someone needs to box it up, print the shipping label and get it to the shipper,” said Heckman.

Distribution companies generally show interest in large-scale operations. This can leave small-scale makers with the chore of getting goods from point A to point B, which makes the small business less efficient.

“When it comes to distributing products, be it locally or especially regionally, makers are taking a lot of time from their schedule to drive their deliveries from one place to another, which is not very cost-effective," said Heckman.

"Because that eats into the time they could actually make new products. We are looking for entrepreneurs that want to be that fulfillment arm and come up with a model for how to do that."

Submissions for business plans are due in January. From there, submissions will be winnowed down to a group of semi-finalists. EPIcenter will work with semi-finalists on their business models, plans and then help prepare their pitches.

“This process will generate a pipeline of innovators and entrepreneurs who have great ideas and make connections across the community,” said Leslie Smith, president of EPIcenter.

A committee will evaluate the entries, and the winners will be selected in February.

The competition fulfills a part of the Made By Project’s development plans that were announced in May.

Related: "Made by Project: Entrepreneurs and data central to solving Memphis makers' challenges"

“We’ve done a couple of things under the Made By umbrella. We’ve launched a maker council which is a diverse group of 11 makers across Memphis who are guiding the implementation of the Made By recommendations,” said Heckman.

The maker council is working on a business plan for a trade group. The working title of the association is the Made By Collaborative.

“Right now, we are getting feedback from makers on the key benefits they want to see and the revenue streams that would be associated with this group,” said Heckman.

Ultimately, the collaborative will work to implement the remaining development plans of the Made By Project.

“We identified a series of needs that makers had that could be solved by other entrepreneurs. EPIcenter is trying to create a behavior change within the community that has the market needs and gaps that lead to the creation of companies,” said Smith.

The Operation Opportunity Challenge also falls into the gap-filling activities the Made By survey identified.

“There were a series of recommendations that came out of our findings, and EPIcenter, in its gap-filling role, is trying to activate those programs in ways that serve the makers. And that's what this competition is,” said Smith.

Clayborn Temple named a 'national treasure'

As the epicenter for the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers strike, Clayborn Temple received recognition as a National Treasure from the National Trust for Historic Preservation during a ceremony on October 25.

“Clayborn Temple is internationally significant because of its deep ties to the history of the civil rights movement. Clayborn’s engaged involvement with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s leadership transformed the strike from a local labor dispute into a national issue,” said David Brown, executive vice president and chief preservation officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Less than 100 locations have received the honor.

“It’s a special day for Clayborn Temple, but also for our city. There far too many national lists that Memphis is a part of that we don’t want to be a part of. That portray some of the very difficult conditions that many Memphians find themselves living and growing up in that point to the fact in many ways lots of things have not changed in the last 40 years. 

But today we celebrate the fact that Memphis is on a national list that we are very proud to be on,” said Clayborn Reborn director Rob Thompson.

During the Memphis sanitation workers strike of 1968, the historic church served as headquarters for the strike and concomitant protests. Inside its Romanesque structure, civil rights, religious and strike leaders strategized, coordinated and inspired as the labor action dragged out and intensified.

One speaker at the ceremony was Kirk Whalum. His father, Rev. Kenneth Whalum, Sr., was a local pastor who served two terms on the Memphis City Council.

“I don’t have memories of fishing with my dad on Saturdays, or learning to work on a car. I’m fortunate to have other memories with my Dad. But so many of those Saturdays my Dad wasn’t available. Why? Because, Dad was here at Clayborn Temple or at some other black church doing what had to be done – organizing,” said Whalum.

Known affectionately as Reverend Daddy by congregants, Whalum, Sr. played a prominent role during the strike.

“Rev. Daddy was one of the many pastors who knew intrinsically that the civil rights movement wouldn’t move an inch forward without the spiritual guidance, the inspiration, the hands-on logistical and tactical assistance of pastors like one Rev. Martin Luther King.”

A Grammy-award winning musician, Whalum, Jr. left Memphis in the years following the strike. He had no plans to return. Eventually, he found his way home.

“When we left Memphis, we said we would never, ever come back. It takes growing up, sometimes, to realize where you should be,” said Whalum. 

Earle Randle, songwriter for Willie Mitchell’s Hi Records, played an original piece, “Clayborn Temple”, an ode to the “Grand Old Lady.” In addition, local poet Nubia Yasin recited a verse revealing the struggles of African-Americans past and present.

Recognized for its contributions to African-American culture, Clayborn Temple was founded as a church for white Memphians. Built in 1892, Second Presbyterian was once the largest church in the South. Following WWII, African-Americans moved into downtown areas in large numbers in the south and elsewhere. The church and its white congregation moved to East Memphis.

Purchased in 1949 by the A.M.E. church, it was renamed after its Bishop, J.M. Clayborn.

In the following years, it served not only as a church but as a civic and cultural center for many black Memphians.

Following the deaths of garbage collectors Echol Cole and Robert Walker by a malfunctioning truck on February 1968, Clayborn Temple took on another role.

Striking sanitation workers would march from the church to City Hall daily. In the sanctuary, a boycott of local businesses was plotted. As resistance to the strike grew, so did support from Memphis’ African-American community. Soon, the strike started grabbing headlines nationally.

On March 28, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. traveled to Memphis to support the strike. That day, 15,000 marchers congregated outside Clayborn Temple. As the usual route was taken from the church to city hall, violence erupted. Peaceful marchers and rioters alike were attacked by police using mace, clubs and rifles.

The church provided temporary sanctuary. Police surrounded and raided the building. Fleeing strike supporters broke the church’s stained glass windows to escape. Others were beaten and bloodied.

As the day drew to a close, four-thousand National Guard troops moved into the city. Hundreds were arrested. Dozens were injured. A 16-year-old African-American, Larry Payne, was killed by police.

King returned to Memphis on April 3 to deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech. The next day, he was assassinated on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Motel.

Both the civil rights movement and Clayborn Temple declined in the years that followed. The church closed in 1999. Empty, it fell into disrepair.

In 2015, it was reopened by Clayborn Reborn, an organization formed to honor the historic church.

Downtown Church relocated to Clayborn the following year. It has also hosted community events as well as film and music events.

“Today is exactly one year since I stood on this stage. One year, and we had what we call a blessing ceremony to reopen Clayborn Temple to the public. It had been shuttered for 18 years and today, by coincidence is the anniversary of that,” said Thompson.

Next April, Clayborn Temple will honor the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. King as well as the pivotal sanitation workers' strike.

“To the members of Local 1733, and the men and their families who stood up and risked everything to speak truth to power to a government that was elected to serve them and yet stood opposed to them, we thank you for your service today in our city and for the courage of those who came before you,” said Thompson.

Rehabilitation work on the church will begin in 2019. With the help of Representative Steve Cohen, the National Park Service has provided a $400,000 grant to stabilize the roof. They also received a $250,000 grant from the National Fund for Sacred Places, a national historic trust program. These funds will be used to restore the exterior shell while stabilizing the interior.

“At the National Trust, we believe we must preserve and protect places like Clayborn Temple to help tell a deeper, broader and more inclusive story of our nation’s history,” said Brown.

This Memphis-based nonprofit pharmacy serves the uninsured

With the debilitating costs of many pharmaceuticals, individuals can be confronted with choosing between medicine and other necessities like food, utilities or even rent. Sometimes, people will ration their prescriptions to extend periods between refilling.

Two Memphis-based nonprofits, the National Transplant Foundation and Good Shepherd Pharmacy, have teamed up to defray the cost of life-saving medications for recovering transplant patients. 

It is a new program and as far as I know we are the only one of this kind,” said Dr. Phillip Baker, founder of Good Shepherd Pharmacy, a nonprofit membership-based pharmacy that provides medications to those who lack health insurance. 

Nationally, anti-rejection medication, which is part of the recovery following a transplant surgery, typically runs about $2,400 a month. Even with insurance, out-of-pocket costs can range from $200 to $600. Most patients recovering from surgery can’t work. Many are housebound and some are bed-ridden.

Patients of the National Transplant Foundation can receive financial hardship grants for transplant-related costs. This can drastically reduce or even eliminate the expense. In addition to anti-rejection medication, maintenance medications and medications prescribed for adverse reactions are included.

Through a partnership with Good Shepherd Pharmacy, patients who have received transplants can access pharmaceuticals at a reduced rate. 

“When I met with Dr. Baker, I inquired about what some of the needs were, and he shared with me how the pharmacy began. From there, we recognized a connection,” said Michelle Gilchrist, president of the National Transplant Foundation.

“We already had direct billing relationships with Walgreens … and we wanted to see if we could do a similar program with a nonprofit focused on pharmaceuticals,” said Gilchrist.

When the pharmacy first opened in 2015, it offered around 300 medicines free to low-income, uninsured patients. After realizing that many insured patients struggled to meet the costs of pharmaceuticals, the nonprofit started ordering through a wholesaler. These were offered at no markup. Soon, the first patients were saving upwards of $500 a month, according to Baker.

The non-profit is financially self-sustaining after adding a monthly membership fee of $40.

“We cut out the middlemen and all of their corrupt pricing mechanisms and shine a light on the true costs of prescription medication,” said Dr. Baker.

In its first 19 months, Good Shepherd dispensed more than $3.3 million in donated medications. The savings were passed on to the healthcare system of Memphis, which avoided $3 million in costs.

And the numbers could grow.

Over 10,000 Memphians have trouble affording medicine, according to Baker.

“PBMs [pharmacy benefit managers] have a monopoly on the industry; they prize profits over patients in the current healthcare environment. Good Shepherd's model is based on transparency and focusing on the patient.  We're making medicine affordable for the people who have had to go without,” said Baker.

A statewide reclamation program will allow Good Shepherd to accept prescription donations too. Generally, medicines that go unpurchased are tossed out.

“We will be diverting prescription meds from our lakes and landfills into the hands of people who would not otherwise afford them,” said Baker.

Additionally, the pharmacy also serves as a training ground for Certified Pharmacy Technicians. Students are trained up to board certification in 6 months.

With the local success of the program, there are ambitions of having it serve as a model nationally. The partnership with the National Transplant Foundation improves the odds of that happening.

Established in 1983 in Memphis, the National Transplant Foundation serves all states and territories. Its fundraising campaigns have amassed nearly $81 million. Over 4,000 patients are assisted annually.

The end goal is to ensure that people who need medication simply to live or to maintain a chronic condition won’t have finances as the barrier from having a better quality of life.

“We want to replicate this program all over the country and offer an alternative to the insurance-based pharmacy model,” said Baker.

Opening of Confluence Park marks newest segment of Wolf River Greenway

A stretch of the Wolf River Greenway formally opened on Saturday, Octover 21 on the north end of Mud Island, transforming a former illegal dumping ground into a park-like setting.

“It’s a dramatic difference. This entire area was all overgrown. We took out tons of tires and trash. You name it we took it out of here,” said Keith Cole, executive director of the Wolf River Conservancy.

The new greenspace has a working name of Confluence Park. It’s the point where the Wolf River meets the Mississippi River.

“The Wolf River begins about 100 miles east way down in Mississippi. It comes across two states, four counties, 11 communities in its winding path to get through here to finally arrive at the confluence of the Wolf River and the Mississippi River,” said Jimmy Ogle, Shelby County historian.

Leaders of the Wolf River Conservancy handed out shoestrings of all colors ahead of the dedication ceremony of the 115-acre site with a 1.2 mile trail loop.

“Those shoestrings symbolize the connections we are making as we build out the greenway,” said Cole. “Please do not think of this as a 12-foot wide paved hiking and biking path. Think about it as being a connection in our community.”

The festivities included a park fair with speeches, a walking tour and food trucks.

The trail features a boardwalk, picnic tables, bike racks and a bike repair station. The trail loop connects to Second Street.

“We have 7,000 residents over here at Harbor Town that have a great new amenity. This is for everybody who lives in the city of Memphis,” said Cole.

Overall, the $50 million Wolf River Greenway project features 26 miles of trailheads and paths through natural areas that follow the Wolf River. The money came from public and private donations.
Previously, only 2.7 miles of the Greenway between Walnut Grove and Germantown was open.

“We’ve now successfully opened another segment of the Greenway. This is the first one that’s been opened since September 2012.  We’ve got momentum and are on track to complete the entire project by 2020,” said Cole.

Segments in Kennedy Park and Epping Way in Raleigh are slated for completion by the end of the year. Construction began on another section stretching from Walnut Grove northwest to a Tennessee Valley Authority right-of-way. The eight-mile stretch is scheduled to be completed next summer.

RiverLine markings and other features will be added next month to mark the trail from Confluence Park south to the Big River Crossing.

“Twenty-six miles using under-utilized land and connecting neighborhoods – going from Cordova into East Memphis, Raleigh, Frayser, North Memphis, Downtown – I think that’s remarkable and it’s going to tie us all together. What a great asset and amenity we have in the greenway,” Mayor Strickland said.

While there are many benefits to the greenway – recreation, improved health and transportation alternatives – one stands out.

“Most importantly, this project will create connections of people and communities. In creating those connections, we create economic opportunity,” said Cole.

ArtsMemphis and The Collective partner to raise profile for local artists of color

In an effort to support local artists, ArtMemphis is drawing inspiration from the concept of community supported agriculture.

But instead of shares of whatever’s in season, stakeholders will get a share of local artists’ work.

“The ArtsMemphis CSA draws from the same model that’s used in agriculture CSAs where you might get a share of cauliflower, kale, or beef from a local farm at a certain rate from your share.

In this case, instead of getting food you get a share of locally-produced works of art,” explained Will Murray, director of development & communications for ArtsMemphis.

ArtsMemphis hosted the first art CSA in 2016. In addition to raising funds for artists and connecting them with collectors and patrons, it also pays the artists who participate.

“We were trying to come up with new ideas to not only raise support for artists but to embrace our role as a connector between artists, collectors and members of the community,” said Elizabeth Rouse, ArtsMemphis president and CEO.

This year, ArtsMemphis partnered with The Collective. The new arts organization highlights the work of Memphis’ African American artists. Currently, artists Lawrence Matthews III, Matthew Thomas, and Felicia Wheeler have been commissioned to create editioned work for this year’s CSA.

Related: "Orange Mound Gallery models equitable development through arts"

Their works will be presented to collectors through the CSA and exhibition at Orange Mound Gallery.

“We were excited for the chance to partner with ArtsMemphis and play our part in diversifying both the artists and audience served by the awesome work they're doing, so we jumped at the opportunity,” said Victoria Jones, executive director of The Collective.

“Each artist involved in this year's CSA worked incredibly hard to provide thought-provoking, intentional works for the collectors. We are so excited to share their work with people who may not have had access to them previously.”

Twenty-five shares were made available for a set of three works. Shares ran $500. Artists contributed one work each. They included a painting print, photographic print and sculptural piece.

“It’s all two-dimensional so it’s very accessible to anyone who wants to buy art to hang up on their wall,” said Tracy Lauritzen Wright, ArtsMemphis director of grants & initiatives.

The two groups also put together a slate of CSA programs. The “Maintaining Place/Making Space” exhibit honors pre-existing communities as Memphis’ revitalization continues.

“We have been working hand in hand with ArtsMemphis to create a platform for Black artists through this partnership, and are excited to find ways to continue bridging that gap towards equity,” said Jones.

The exhibition opened Friday, Oct. 6 with an opening reception was held at the Orange Mound Gallery. Works from the 2017 CSA artists are featured, and it will run through November 4.

The gallery will also host “The Artists Talk” on Sunday, October 15 from 2 to 3 p.m. It will feature the three CSA artists, as well as art council member, Grace Stewart. Later, a closing exhibition and CSA pick-up party will be held on Friday, Nov. 3 from 6 to 9 p.m.

“As for OMG, in thinking about how to honor communities as Memphis addresses revitalization efforts, we could think of no gallery that was living that mission any truer than our friends at Orange Mound Gallery.

We have been so thankful for their staff (made up community members and artists) and their dedication to sharing this exhibition. They have been such an instrumental part of this partnership,” said Jones.

Through the exhibitions, the hope is conversations about topics like gentrification and equity within the arts will take place – in addition to identifying solutions or strategies.

“We have quite the journey ahead of us, and these can't be steps taken alone or in a vacuum. This is but a building block in the grand scheme of things. We are hoping to use as this moment as a strategic push for change, representation, and equity, but it cannot be the only one,” said Jones.

Part of the revenue from CSA sales goes toward the ArtsMemphis Arts Accelerator program, which provides grants to local artists. 

“ArtsMemphis is a grant-making organization. It's been around for 54 years to support Memphis by supporting the arts community. We do that primarily by raising dollars to support arts organizations,” said Rouse.

ArtsMemphis started the art accelerator program around five years ago. It provides grants to visual artists. Grants of $5,000 each go to five Memphis artists.

So far, ArtsMemphis has awarded over 150 grants to more than 80 artists and organizations this year.

Two of the five grants awarded next year will go to an artist of color.

“So, this partnership with The Collective has informed decisions for us with related programs as we go through our services that we provide to the local arts community,” said Wright.

How to get involved with Memphis' relief efforts for Puerto Rico

While Puerto Rico recovers from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria, several Mid-South residents with ties to the island are initiating relief efforts to help their people get on their feet.

For almost two weeks, millions of citizens of the U.S. protectorate have gone without power and communication. Food and potable water have been scarce. Filling up a car could require an eight-hour wait in line, according to reports. 

As news of the third-world conditions on the island trickled to the mainland, Puerto Rico in Memphis, a local Facebook group, decided to get involved in the relief effort.

“This situation with the hurricane is something extraordinary. They are having a hard time right now,” said Maria DelosAngeles Azor, a member of Puerto Rico in Memphis.

A core group of 20 members have organized supply donation sites at Mystic Styles Hair Studio, 5412 Elvis Presley Boulevard; the Germantown Performing Arts Center, 1801 Exeter Road; the Jackson Avenue Flea Market, 4010 Jackson Avenue and at 2203 Vinton Avenue, a Midtown residence. 

All four locations will be activated on October 8 for a relief drive, held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

Requested supplies include bottled water, baby wipes, hand sanitizer, canned and dry food, baby supplies, first aid kits, blankets, pillow, batteries. A full list can be found on the Puerto Rico in Memphis Facebook page.

Once the drive is finished, the supplies will be dropped off at a warehouse and placed on pallets.

JetBlue has donated an aircraft to drop off supplies at Aquavilla, Puerto Rico, which is on the west side of the island. Supplies must total 12,000 pounds for the airline to follow through with the delivery.

“It will be good to get stuff to that side of the island,” said Joy Padilla-Anderson. “Transporting the supplies is a logistical nightmare. They have had so many landslides. You can’t drive up roads. You can’t even walk up some.”

Padilla-Anderson, operator of the Joy Ride Latin Eats food truck, is heading the Midtown donation efforts.

“I am using my food truck here in front of my house and hope to fill it up as much as we can,” said Padilla-Anderson.

She will also donate a part of her proceeds from the JoyRide to the relief.

Growing up between Florida and Puerto Rico, the small business owner still has close ties to the island. Her grandparents, sister, brother and cousins are scattered across the island.

“I finally heard from my family this week and they are all OK. But I cried every day. I feel better now since I’ve talked with them and know they are getting help,” said Padilla-Anderson.

Other members of Puerto Rico in Memphis haven’t been as fortunate as they have family in towns that didn’t fare as well. 

With worst estimates saying the island has been set back 25 to 30 years, relief will be needed on an ongoing basis.

Hoping to continue to provide aid, the local group is organizing a Puerto Rican Festival – although it is still in the planning stage. It will be held at the Blue Moon Event Center on October 22. All proceeds will go to a nonprofit organization in Puerto Rico. More details will be available on the Puerto Rico in Memphis Facebook page as the event draws near.

“We are now working on getting the word out and to make sure people know we can go beyond the Latin community in Memphis. We need everyone in all neighborhoods to know about it,” said Azor.

All photos courtesy of Marlon Mercado.

There's opportunity in Memphis for creative professionals

The Creative Works conference, held every October in Memphis since 2014, is about more than attending panels and printing lanyards.

Leaders behind the annual conference for creative professionals have expanded their scope to organize year-round programming with the goal of reaching 10,000 creative professionals working in Memphis by 2030. 

Memphis has about half of the density people working in creative fields compared to comparably sized cities, said Dan Price, COO of nonprofit Creative Works.

That means about 5,000 Memphians are employed as creative professionals, such as graphic designers, web developers, art directors and film and video editors.

“What we found is that Memphis has a creative drought,” Price said. New programs, like a low-cost design bootcamp, intend to equip residents with the skills needed to support a thriving creative economy.

Recent data from Americans for the Arts shows that arts-related industries are a major economic driver in Shelby County as nonprofit arts and culture drives $197.3 million in annual spending within Shelby County.


“The impact that arts and creativity has on culture and economy is kind of undeniable,” said Price. 

“Creative people have so much influence on the amenities of a city, especially in urban areas like Midtown and Downtown. We think with a greater density of creative people, people working to solve problems, we'll be able to see and feel changes in the culture of Memphis as a whole.”

Creative Works evolved into a year-round organization in 2016. The nonprofit’s cornerstone event, the Creative Works conference, has grown tremendously since its debut in 2014 and has garnered national attention. Forty percent of this year’s 400 conference attendees are from out-of-town.

Several local makers will showcase their products at the open-to-the-public Creative Works market, held October 6 and October 7 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at The Halloran Center.

When the conference wraps, attendees can continue to benefit from programs such as monthly meetups, bi-monthly lectures on topics such as branding and Squarespace basics and a high-profile guest speaker series.  

Underscoring the in-person events is a drive to increase the talent pool of creative professionals.

The demand is present, Price said.

“We [leadership at Creative Works] all come from agency backgrounds and we’ve see firsthand, over the past 10 years, how everyone is struggling to find talent. We know there's not a talent pool out there that's waiting for jobs,” Price said.

To prime the pump for advances in Memphis’ creative workforce, the nonprofit launched in July a design extracurricular course at Grizzlies Prep. Blake Lam, the organization’s director of youth education, has been leading courses in creativity and design for 7th and 8th graders.

In September, the organization wrapped a 12-week design boot camp where people learned practical design skills. Weekly sessions covered topics including the fundamentals of creative thinking and the ins-and-outs of Adobe Creative Cloud.

Sarah Blackburn, development and communications manager for ArtsMemphis, said the course fills a resource gap in Memphis.

“It's something we don't have in Memphis, and it's an asset,” she said.

As a participant in the course, Blackburn designed a creative brief, logo, brochure and other materials for Urban Paddle, an awareness campaign to encourage more Memphians to paddle the urban section of the Wolf River.

“I'm a [Memphis College of Art] graduate and I am the alumni president, so I want Memphis to invest in their creatives. It's not just for our designs abilities but our culture,” Blackburn said.

“There are so many studies that talk about how more corporations need to hire more creatives because we can think about problem solving in a different way than someone who is analytical. We can look at the entire picture," she added.

Information about Creative works programs and the annual conference, held October 5 through October 7, can be found here.

Healthy City town halls lead citizens in seeking "health care that heals"

Healthy City Town Hall Meeting was held recently at the Novel bookstore in the Laurelwood Shopping Center. The discussion centered around the perennial hot-button topic of health care.

 “This town hall was intended to give everyday people a way to understand the real forces driving American medicine and show them how to demand and get health care that truly heals for themselves, their families, and their neighbors,” said Dr. Jim Bailey, chair of Clinical Practice Committee for the Society of General Internal Medicine.

The September 16 town hall forum is part of a national tour Bailey is leading to "encourage people to join the movement to reclaim health care that heals."

Additional panelists included local physicians Dr. G. Scott Morris and Dr. Clarence Davis.

Morris is the founder and CEO of Church Health. The faith-based organization is the largest privately-funded primary care clinic in the nation. An ordained minister, he also advocates for the poor.

Davis is chief medical officer for the Memphis Health Center. Along with the Congregational Health Network, a partnership between Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare and roughly 400 area churches, he introduced "Walking With The Doctor" classes. The year-long educational series is centered on empowerment and wellness from ailments ranging from HIV to kidney disease.

Through their differing perspectives within the healthcare industry, the panelists addressed ways to “fix our broken health care system.”

After sharing their insights with the capacity crowd, a question and answer session was held. 

Questions about access to affordable prescriptions came up.  The panelists touched on an alternative approach, culinary medicine. The diet-based program is viewed as a lower-cost alternative to prescription medicines. A wellness-based lifestyle, as opposed to medical intervention, was also discussed.

Consensus formed among the physicians that primary care is the first step in repairing the health care system.

“Better health starts with primary care,” added Dr. Davis. “Getting everyone to make and keep an appointment to see their primary care provider will improve the health our community. In Memphis, we have affordable access points to match any budget.”

While the conversation focused on health care, the location of the event served a purpose, too.

The town hall also marked with the second printing of Bailey’s novel.

“The End of Healing: A Journey through the Underworld of American Medicine” draws from his experiences as a physician and expert in health care quality.

Like the town hall, the intention of the novel is to stir debate over the America’s health care system as well as provide insight to health care consumers.

“With all the recent debate about health reform, Americans are eager to discover the path to reclaiming their broken health care system and giving America a brighter future in the process,” said Bailey.

Dr. Bailey wasn’t the only panelist who uses the written word to promote changes.

Author of “God, Health & Happiness” and “If Your Heart is Like my Heart,” Morris’ works are reflective of his faith. They also acknowledge that doctors and the health care system overall are but one part of a wellness.

“It is my intent through my books, to show how physical health is affected by spiritual wellbeing,” said Dr. Morris.

The town hall was the first in a series Dr. Bailey plans to hold. Meetings in various cities are in the works.

“With the Healthy City Town Hall meetings, we are launching a national movement to help Americans reclaim health care that heals. We wanted to hold our inaugural event here in Memphis, and are now making plans to hold Healthy City Town Hall meetings across the country," he said.

During these stops, he plans to once again draw on experts in the communities.

“We are currently working to set up our next event in Nashville, followed by Oxford, MS — and then we are planning to visit other cities like Lexington, Boston and Washington DC — all to give people an opportunity to be part of the discussion about the future of healthcare.”

Emily Adams Keplinger contributed to this article. She is a freelance writer and editor based in Memphis, TN. She has worked as a multimedia journalist, serving as a writer and an editor for print and digital publications, as well as social media.

Adopt-A-Park program ramping up the call for volunteers

If there’s one thing Memphis doesn’t lack, it’s parks. In fact, the Bluff City is home to 167 parks. With 3,219 acres of public greenspace to maintain, Memphis City Beautiful is beginning a recruiting push for its Adopt-A-Park program this Fall.

“Mayor Strickland and Memphis City Beautiful kicked off the program in spring of 2016,” said Eldra Tarpley White, executive director of Memphis City Beautiful. “The primary goal and purpose is to establish beautiful and well-maintained parks, clean and free of litter.”

Volunteers are generally asked to help maintain parks by cleaning up litter, gardening, mulching. They are also asked to report unsafe conditions.

So far, 30 parks have been adopted.

“Our goal is to have at least 14 more parks adopted by June 30, 2018,” said White.

One early adopter is director of Hug Neighborhood Park Friends, Jo Ann Street.

“I see my role as an advocate for the parks to ensure that they are safe, promote health and wellness,” said Street.

Like many people, the site of a park brings back fond memories for her.

“Hollywood Park was moved across Chelsea, but it is the place where I first coached basketball for the major boys through my church, Christian United Baptist Church,” said Street.

Her group currently advocates for several parks. In addition to Hollywood, they help promote University and Gooch parks, too.

She encourages engagement with the parks by inviting sports teams, bicycle clubs and rodeos, such as the Memphis Hightailers and Bike Walk Memphis to use the green space; as well as Memphis Area Disc Golf, Memphis Wildcats football and cheerleaders, DUNK Camp with Rhonnie Brewer, RBI through the Redbirds, and Greater Memphis Greenline. Street also organizes the summer nutrition programs and school supply drives in the parks.

Street initially got involved with the program for two reasons.

“I personally needed a place where I could be active near my home to improve my health.”

The other reason came more out of care for her community.

“Children were being exposed to negative influences and events, and it should not hurt to be a child,” said Street.

Volunteers from her group meet regularly to clean up the spaces.

“We have monthly cleanups in University Park and Gooch Park, but Hollywood Park has a regular group that have daily cleanups,” said Street.

Kipp Collegiate and Middle School also partner with HUG to have quarterly cleanups. Students can  earn community service hours by pitching in. In addition, court-ordered community service hours through the Shelby County Public Defenders’ Office is offered.

While there isn’t hard data to place credit squarely on the park adoption program, some parks have become safer over the past few years.

“We are celebrating the fact that there have been zero crime reports since 2015 in the parks,” said Street.

Other longtime residents have noticed the work the volunteers have put in.

“One neighbor told me that I hadn't done anything new.  I'd just restored the parks to their original use.  Momma Lou, we call her, said she played in the park (as a child),” said Street.

Some of the city’s greenspaces have a historic significance. For instance, Gooch park was the first Negro Park in Memphis. It was donated to the city by Cecil and Boyce Gooch in 1957.

“Neighbors remember learning to swim and playing basketball in the park.  It is said that Elvis Presley played football at Dave Wells, but played basketball at Gooch Park,” added Street.

Of course, many Memphians have always played a part in keeping area parks clean. Volunteer efforts are appreciated by the city.

“We are so happy to have people more engaged and connected with their neighborhood parks.  Early indications show that the Adopt A Park program is a true catalyst for community involvement.  JoAnn Street with H.U.G.S is one of our adopters that has proven this well,” said White.

For more information on how you can adopt a park, contact Memphis City Beautiful at 901-636-4410 or

A workforce of addiction medicine specialists starts in Memphis

Like the rest of the country, Tennessee hasn’t been a spared the opioid crisis. Between 2011 and 2015, over 6,000 lives were lost in the state due to overdose deaths from opioids.

There are other longstanding addiction problems as well.

For instance, alcohol is still the most commonly abused substance in Tennessee. About 1 in 20 Tennessee residents abused or were dependent on alcohol in 2016.

Following a hub and spoke model, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center is on the forefront of creating a national model for the treatment of addiction.

“The difference in what we are doing in Tennessee is that we want to create an addiction workforce. Our proposal is linked to a fellowship where we recruit and train the doctors. It’s similar to the hub-and-spoke model of other states, like Vermont, but based in the university system with a focus on education,” said Dr. David Stern, vice chancellor for Health Affairs for Statewide Initiatives at University of Tennessee Health and Science Center.

Other states are doing a variation of what Dr. Stern is proposing – the hub and spoke model.

“The hub is where there is greater expertise and the spoke is lesser expertise but greater numbers of practicing physicians who can screen and care for patients who aren’t as sick,” said Stern.

The first hub and spoke model for addiction medicine was Vermont. Its addiction specialists are connected to primary care physicians - some experience treating addiction.

Here in Tennessee, only about 10 percent of patients in treatment are helped by a physician trained to address substance abuse.

It’s a nationwide problem rooted in the postgraduate educational system. Addiction treatment isn’t addressed in most medical school curriculums. Nor does it come up in residency.

“One really has to create an informed workforce and these addiction fellows are the lightning rod – they are the specialists - and then they can train the primary care physicians and others around them,” said Stern.

With the rising need in treatment alternatives, addiction medicine is a trending specialty in health care. Traditionally, physicians have received little training in addiction treatments.

Dr. Kevin Kunz, Executive Vice President of the American Board of Addiction Medicine and The Addiction Medicine Foundation, is working to address the shortcoming. Dubbed the “father” of Addiction Medicine, his efforts have led to an increase in fellowships in universities across the country.

In 2006, Kunz’s foundation began efforts to provide certification in Addiction Medicine as a subspecialty. They developed year-long training programs. After primary training, physicians could become clinical experts in the field of addiction medicine.

“It took us 10 years to get the buy-in from official medicine. There are now 44 of those in the United States, and one of the best happens to be here in Memphis at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center,” said Kunz.

UTHSC started preparing for its new addiction medicine fellowship program three years ago.  They took the first two fellows on July 1, 2016.  Now, they are in the second year of the fellowship and are starting to interview for fellows for July 1, 2018. The programs also train faculty, teachers, researchers, and change agents in the field.

The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education now accredits the one-year addiction medicine specialty training. ACGME is responsible for accrediting most graduate medical training programs for physicians in the U.S.

“Addiction medicine has now formally entered the house of medicine and health care so that patients can see a physician with this specialty. Their insurance will pay for it. Physicians will be willing to go into the field because it’s a recognized field,” said Kunz.

Considered a model program, UTHSC was designated the first Center of Excellence in addiction medicine and addiction science last year.

“Our foundation gave them the first formal recognition as a Center of Excellence in Addiction Medicine because not just are they training physicians to be specialists, consultants and team players in the prevention and treatment of addiction, but they are connected to their community and providing services to a community in need,” said Kunz.

The fellowship program has fostered partnerships within health care systems and hospitals, as well as the community.

“Since having a workforce for addiction medicine is an issue, this fellowship is valuable. The fellows we send out, we are looking to send them out all over Tennessee to form a network of addiction providers. These fellows are the nodes in the network that reach out to the local population – whether it be rural or in the urban centers,” said Stern.

With Dr. Kunz’s collaboration, a proposal was pitched to the state to expand the fellowship to recruit physicians from different cities and regions within the commonwealth.

The idea is to recruit fellows from across the state. Once trained, they would return to their community and become a hub in the network of treatment providers.

Fellows would have access to electronic medical records. A standardized practice regiment will be adhered to. Additionally, consultations with primary care physicians will be held to provide a complete medical picture.

Outreach and prevention efforts will also take place in the communities.

“So, it’s taking those initial fellows we train and organize them into a network to make them an essential group of expert providers for addiction services in Tennessee,” said Stern.

Federal and state funding is being sought for the fellowships and building the network. According to Stern, $25 million is needed to fund the program. But he says it would become self-sustaining in six years.

One proposal is student loan forgiveness in exchange for three to four years of practice in a high-needs area.

They are also looking for funding to establish practices and service a network to collect outcomes – how well are these doctors doing in treating these patients, how can they do better.

“It’s comprehensive proposal to develop an addiction network by standardized training, followed by standardized practice, and standardized education of providers,” said Stern.

Peer counseling is also recommended. Medication alone will stem cravings and withdrawal. Through long-term counseling the patient can gain tools as well as moral support to gain control of their addiction.

Mental health professionals and case managers will be a part of the network, too.

“The most common co-occurring condition with an addiction problem is a mental health issue,” said Stern. “Therefore, you need to develop a holistic network around the patient of wraparound services, and that’s what the case manager and behavioral health consultant can do.”

Students in Tennessee will learn from a curriculum of prevention and treatment. After they finish their residency in family medicine, they move onto their fellowship – and then back to their communities.

“This changes the health care workforce dramatically. It’s the model that is settling into place nationally and what’s happening in Tennessee reflects it,” said Kunz.

If Stern and Kunz are successful selling this concept to the state, then they will begin the work of building out a statewide network of addiction medicine experts through state universities and then roll out to private practices and rehabilitation centers across Tennessee.

The hope is the Tennessee model becomes an example nationally. By 2025, AMF hopes to see 125 resident training programs up and running.

To reach the goal, UTHSC held a meeting on Sep. 7 to develop ways to bolster an addiction medicine workforce. The fellowship program was also discussed.

Representatives of medical schools from Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, North Carolina and Kentucky were in attendance.

“The interest they have in replicating what UTHSC has done is strong,” said Kunz.

Memphis Teacher Residency prepares students for success

With achievement gaps hovering over Memphis, local faith-based Memphis Teacher Residency is hoping to improve several high-needs schools by recruiting teachers to cut their teeth in area classrooms.

Once trained, the hope is teachers will choose to remain in the district. Ninety percent of MTR teachers stay at least one more year past their residency requirement.

“There are teacher needs in the city and we want to provide effective education for students in Memphis to meet achievement gaps. The district is hungry for quality educators so where these needs exist we hope to step in the gap,” said Hayley Moore, Development Director.

To improve education outcomes in Memphis, MTR offers two programs. The first is the teacher residency program.

“We follow a residency model. So, you spend your first year training – doing a deep dive in coursework getting a Master of Urban Education degree. You spend Monday to Thursday in a classroom under the leadership of a mentor-teacher. Then on Friday and Saturday, a resident works on their Masters degree. So, it’s the pairing of coursework with practice for an entire year before you are a teacher of record in your own classroom,” said Moore. The post-graduate work is done at Union University.

The student achievement gap in Memphis is larger than 70 percent of major cities in the US. However, it has narrowed by 19 percent between 2011 and 2014, according to a 2016 study.

The current class has 59 residents. Nearly 300 teachers and leaders are employed at 36 feeder-pattern partner schools. Among the six high-needs neighborhoods served are Binghampton, Orange Mound and Frayser.


A feeder pattern is the flow of schools a student graduates through during their education. For instance, a student at Snowden Middle School will generally advance to Central High.

Teachers are placed in these specific neighborhoods in a concentrated effort to affect change as a child ages through high school.

“The hope is that over time that translates into higher level change in a department, school and neighborhood. This is why we use the neighborhood feeder pattern approach,” said Molly Nied, Director of Education.higher level change in a department, school and neighborhood. This is why we use the neighborhood feeder pattern approach,” said Molly Nied, Director of Education.

Recent teacher evaluations conducted by Shelby County Schools show the teachers are having a positive effect on student achievement.

The report stated that “MTR teachers on the whole exhibited above-average effectiveness and outscored their non-MTR counterparts on two powerful measures of teaching effectiveness: TVAAS [Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System] and TEM [Teacher Effectiveness Measure],” scoring 4 in both areas out of a 5-point scale.

Teacher retention rates are up too. Ninety-three percent of the teacher residency program completed their three-year teaching requirement from 2010 to 2014. Only 41 percent of Tennessee’s new teachers met that standard in 2014.

The program has shown a pattern of sustained success. A 2016 MTR report stated 85 percent of residents had completed the for the year-long residency program since its inception.

Further affirmation was provided by a Teach901 survey released in January. The local teacher recruitment initiative gave Memphis Teacher Residency the state's highest rating for the fourth consecutive year. Nearly half of the 900 teachers surveyed had been trained in state. The participants in the survey came from 45 “priority schools” with test scores in the bottom 5 percent statewide.

Founded in 2008, the non-profit doesn’t proselytize. Residents aren’t expected to be Christian either. The mission is education for all, an effort that has its roots in the Civil Rights movement.

Desegregation during the 1950s and 1960s compelled the introduction of black students into the American public education system. The busing policies during the 1970s took the idea a step further. Affirmative action, with its all-things-being-equal go with the minority approach, was codified to address disparities in higher education and workplace hiring.

To a degree, they were successful – a student can attend any public school, so long as they are in district.

A quick look at the achievement gap shows these policies didn’t go far enough. Poor, underserved districts often round out the bottom statistically achievement-wise. Opportunities for students from these areas are scant. Meanwhile, more affluent districts thrive.

It’s a problem that MTR executive director David Montague has been working on for a while. Before his current post, He worked at the Poplar Foundation, which provides funding for education initiatives in Memphis.

During this time, teacher residency programs were in their infancy. After arranging a meeting with the National Center for Teacher Residency, he visited programs in Boston, Denver and Chicago.

“The thinking was instead of the creation of additional schools, we could have impact in existing schools. And that would be a way to bring equal education across the city, reaching every kid in classrooms where they are already at,” said Nied.

It’s a concept rooted in the long-held standard of the medical residency, which also has an extended apprenticeship.

“The history of the residency model and even the term was borrowed from the medical community. The way doctors are trained is with a hands-on, guided approach and education should be valued as a challenging profession that needs the same kind of hands-on training,” she added.

The model has caught on. There are 25 education residency models nationally. Memphis was only the fourth such program in the nation when it launched its first cohort in 2009.

One recent college graduate who’s taking advantage of the program is Amani Alexander.

Since earning his bachelors’ degree at Morehouse College, he began work on the 2017 to 2018 school year June 1. After a summer spent studying the cultural foundations, history, and inequalities of Memphis, he started his mentorship.

“So how it works is I am in the classroom with a mentor-teacher, who happens to be a graduate of the MTR program, and I have a plan that sets out what I’m supposed to do each week as far as teaching responsibilities,” said Alexander.

Observation comes first. After a while, morning duties, taking attendance and teaching lessons are taken on. By the end of the year, the residents lead the classroom.

“We don’t just jump headfirst into it but follow a strategic plan as not to overwhelm residents, because there are residents who have never had teaching experience,” said Alexander. “But we are getting into the thick of it all now. I am inside the classroom at Treadwell Elementary with my mentor-teacher for fourth grade math and taking graduate courses on Friday and Saturday.”

After completing the program, MTR helps graduates find their first teaching jobs.

“We have a staffing manager that works with all of our residents to secure jobs,” said Nied. “We work with providers in our target neighborhoods. It could be SCS, charter or ASD. Essentially, whatever path a child takes from K-12, we are trying to be a part of it.”

To drum up residents, a recruitment team is sent to college campuses, conferences and camps. Current residents also make a pitch to interested students at their alma maters.

“I’m going back to Morehouse in Atlanta. I graduated in May, so I am excited to go back to find good teachers. I am most excited to speak to a group I started called ‘Black Educators Club’ about the possibility of coming to Memphis to teach,” said Alexander.

Exposure is part of the recruitment strategy too.

Another program making an impact is the MTR Summer Camp.

Started in 2013, it provides academic enrichment to first through fourth graders. It is designed to curb student regression during the extended vacation. Much of the focus is on math and reading skills, with enrichment in the afternoons. The camp is open to students of partner schools.

“It was hands down one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” said Alexander. “We did a theater enrichment where students put on a play for parents at the end of the camp. It’s a great experience for students to continue to learn while having fun,” said Alexander.

The camp also gives undergrads an idea of what it is like to teach in a high-needs school.

“I just loved it. It was the first time in my life I felt called to something. To see the faces of kids when they learn something really struck me and I said ‘I’ve got to do this,’” said Alexander.

Mid-South Canines for Veterans recruits rescue dogs to service U.S. veterans

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 20 former service members commit suicide every day. For veterans of conflict, service dogs can be a practical way to help them overcome stresses as they transition back into everyday life.

A new local non-profit has been established to provide returning service members with these working animals.

In addition to placing dogs with veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, Mid-South Canines trains, boards, feeds and provides health care for the dog.

It was founded in October of last year by veteran Ira Smith and Rebecca Wilson, owner of Paw Paw’s Pets.

MSCV's goal is to rescue, train, and place 22 dogs per year with U.S. veterans with PTSD.

“We believe that we are giving back in training dogs to become service dogs to veterans who have served our country worldwide,” said Wilson.

The organization also benefits the dogs. Some are spared euthanasia from local animal shelters. Others come from local rescue groups. Those chosen all lead a higher quality of life.

After a dog is rescued, Smith evaluates the lucky pup with a set of criteria to see if they are potential service dogs. It takes about six months to train the animal.

“Whenever possible, Becky wants dogs off the urgent list so we are saving a dog from being euthanized,” said Anne Forbus, treasurer for Mid-South Canines for Veterans.

Just getting off the ground, Mid-South Canines has functioned as a word-of-mouth operation.

So far, they have place one dog, Cassie, after her veteran expressed interest to MSCV.

“She immediately bonded with him,” said Forbus.

Cassie accompanies him to the VA and just about everywhere else. She makes him feel more comfortable when faced with social encounters.

“The symbiotic relationship between veteran and service dog plays an integral part in saving both dog and veteran,” said Wilson

Two more dogs have been trained and awaiting placement. When they are in their new homes new recruits will be brought in.

Wilson trains dogs both for Paw Paw's and MSCV.

As president of MSC, Wilson works to bring awareness to the life-saving possibilities of service dogs. Funding comes from donations by local businesses and individuals.

MSCV recently received a $5,000 grant from the Granger Foundation. It will go to offsetting the costs and healthcare and training of the dogs.

MSCV has also partnered with Utopia Animal Hospital, which brings down the costs of care for the rescued pups.

On tap for Saturday, September 23 is the inaugural Bark on Broad 5-K9 event. Wilson hopes the event will generate funds bring awareness to an organization that is saving the lives of both service members and canines.

City of Memphis rolls out several grants to support MLK50 efforts, neighborhoods crime watch

The City of Memphis has rolled several new grant programs in September. $10,000 will go towards events organized to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Additional funds are available to support neighborhood crime prevention and provide long-needed retirement benefits to the living participants of the 1968 sanitation workers strike.

An additional dozen 1968 sanitation workers identified to collect retirement grants

Another 12 grants will be awarded to workers who participated in the historic 1968 sanitation strike by the City of Memphis. The move is touted by the city as a step toward financial security for the former workers.

With the addition, 26 workers have been earmarked to receive $70,000 grants in preparation for the 50-year commemoration of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a city-wide effort that has been dubbed MLK50. The yearlong commemoration will recognize the late civil rights leaders, as well as the strike that first drew Dr. King to Memhis.

Initially, 10 retirees and four active employees were identified and acknowledged by the city when the initiative was first announced on July 14.

Related: "Fifty years later, sanitation workers see fruit of their labor with addition of retirement benefits"

Thirty-six more came forward since the announcement. Twelve were deemed ineligible by the city’s Human Resources division.

"When the grants were first awarded, we anticipated there could be additional recipients and we let the City Council know that we would likely be coming back to them to approve the funding," said Ursula Madden, City of Memphis chief communications officer.

To verify the grants, the city poured through employee records. The HR department sought to verify grantees were full-time employees at the time of the strike. They also had to be eligible to retire after 25 years of service, as well as be ineligible to receive a pension from the city.

Those denied have until October 1 to provide further documentation.

The grants will cost the city an additional $1.1 million.

The city council will address the latest grants on April 19, 2018.

$10,000 grants on the horizon to go toward 'positive social change' leading up to MLK50

In further MLK50 news, the city of Memphis has awarded $10,000 in grants to fund programs and community events during next year’s commemoration.

Mayor Jim Strickland, along with the city council, established the grants to support the projects and programming planned for celebration.

The grants were awarded in the hopes of encouraging social change. They will build upon the theme of the National Civil Rights Museum, “Where do we go from here?” Areas of focus will be poverty, youth, jobs, economic development, community empowerment, nonviolence, and justice and peace.

Related: "City's largest investment in public art honors 1968 sanitation workers' strike"

Events will begin in January and end with the April 4 commemoration of Kings death. The remembrance will be held at the Lorraine Hotel, where King was killed. 

Applications for the in grants will be accepted through September 30. Recipients will be notified on November 1. Half of the funds will be provided up front. The remaining will be allotted after the submission of an action report following the event.

The budget for the grants is $100,000.

Memphis neighborhoods get help with crime prevention initiatives

The City of Memphis has awarded crime prevention grants to several neighborhoods. Glenview, Berclair, Hyde Park and Sea Lake are among the 16 neighborhoods to receive the $2,500 grants, which can be used for programs and equipment.

Whitehaven is among the neighborhoods using the funds to address domestic violence. 

This is the second year in a row that the community has received the grant. The program has already proved effective. Marianne Bell, assistant district attorney, said the area has brought down domestic violence by 25 percent. 

Related: "New community organization focuses on self-sufficiency in Orange Mound"

"Data shows that a neighborhood that's engaged, has a neighborhood watch formed and active ... they have less crime than other neighborhoods," said Mayor Jim Strickland.

The money for the grants comes from traffic tickets issued by the city’s red light cameras.

Some neighborhoods are using their money to put up security cameras, hold awareness programs or sponsoring a National Night Out.

"I know of individual situations where a camera has helped apprehend an individual," according to MPD Police Director Mike Rallings.

So far, over $277,000 has been doled out to over 100 neighborhood associations.

“This is one piece of the puzzle, we've got a crime plan that we're working and one of those pieces is to get neighborhoods more engaged," said Strickland.

The deadline to apply for a grant is November 15.

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