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The Mid-South gets sustainable with a plan to ease the damage of weather disasters

Memphis has taken another step toward addressing climate-related problems, such as flooding and wind damage, that can devastate the Mid-South environment. 

Flooding has been an issue in parts of Memphis for years. Its proximity to the Mississippi River and its local tributaries doesn’t help. Development has also exacerbated the problem. In fact, some communities are panic-stricken when heavy rains move through.

The Shelby County Office of Resilience has released the draft recommendations of its Regional Resilience Plan with solutions across agriculture and technology to help Memphis be better prepared for climate disasters. 

Announced during a series of public meetings held by the Shelby County Office of Resilience in late May, the developing set of strategies will be winnowed down from an original wishlist of 16 public policy changes and projects recommended by Sasaki, the consultant that is leading the resilience plan development.

Related: "City's efforts are a drop in the bucket to mitigate flooding risks in Whitehaven"

“The two biggest areas of immediate concern are power outages and flooding along the region’s smaller creeks and streams," said Chris Horne, project manager at Sasaki.

"Fortunately, these issues are very solvable with current knowledge, and as an added bonus, many of the solutions will enhance other aspects of quality of life, such as through improved parks, trails, and water access."

As the effects of climate change begin to manifest, communities across the globe are beginning to develop plans to brace themselves for the future. The Mid-South is no different in this regard. A few months back, the Shelby County Office of Resilience started developing a master plan of their own.
The Regional Resilience Plan will cover all of Shelby and DeSoto Counties, along with parts of Marshall and Fayette Counties. In addition to preparing for the future, the blueprint is to help the area recover from a series of storms that swept through the region in April of 2011.

In January, residents were invited to participate in public workshops in phase one of the Mid-South Regional Resilience Plan development. Those workshops offered an opportunity to share opinions on strategies to mitigate effects of and manage recovery from future weather-related incidents. For each of the three phases, public events are scheduled to gather feedback that helps inform the next phase.

“At the last meetings, we had the maps where we asked people to indicate where there was flooding," said Horne.

"What was interesting about that was there were certain places that were indicated as having floods that the official data wasn’t capturing. So, we thought that was interesting and that we should crowdsource this to make sure our data set is as comprehensible as possible."

Residents that experience chronic flooding can now use a new online tool to identify flood-prone areas. The information will be part of a regional flood dataset that supplements existing data. It will be also be used to prioritize needs during the final phase of the MSRPP development process. The flood identification tool can be accessed here.

Related: "Mapping a way forward to prepare the Mid-South for global warming-related weather disasters"

With a more complete picture coming into view, a range of proposals are now being looked at to provide relief. During the presentation, Horne broke down the strategies into three categories: regional, neighborhood (residential and commercial) and site/building specific.

On a regional scale, water farming has been proposed to address the issue of flooding on the large scale. Generally, tracts of agricultural land, like in Marshall County, Miss., are dammed to capture excess runoff. Like a retention area, the water is released slowly later once the flooding has subsided downstream.

“They basically function like sponges around the region. It’s a way to supplement some of the traditional engineering solutions,” said Horne.

Water farms also help reduce pollution and, depending on design, can actually help clean water. They can also be used as recreational amenities, like a park, for instance.

“When these are done well, they can be attractive and create habitat," Horne added.

On a neighborhood scale, Sasaki talked about redefining residential and commercial areas in a way that would ease flooding and build in amenities for residents. Parks that are designed to flood a few times a year will double as green spaces during drier weather.

“It’s a mini version of water farming, really. You get a little sponge that mitigates the flooding,” said Horne.

Similar projects have already been implemented in areas of town, like water retention basins. These structures hold water during rainy periods and gradually release it to allow creeks and streams to drain. Snowden Field at Snowden Middle School is an example.

Berms to protect vulnerable buildings are a low-cost option for residential and commercial neighborhoods, along with roadside swales designed to collect runoff from roads, sidewalks and residential lots to prevent flooding by allowing the water to seep underground.

Streambank restoration is another idea pitched to mitigate flooding with a reasonable price tag, according to the consultants. Many estuaries have seen erosion on their banks over time. These banks could be rehabbed with terracing the land and planting of native species to keep water moving along. Additionally, amenities have been proposed alongside the rehabbed areas, like recreational trails, parks and docks.

Memphis has also seen its share of wind damage from the lasting damage of Hurricane Elvis to the storm of 2016 that leveled trees throughout the city. In their wakes came massive cleanup efforts and, for some, suffering through weeks of power outages.

“Since damaging wind and power outages were identified in the January meetings as such a huge issue, that’s something we wanted to spend a significant amount of time looking at,” said Horne.

In some instances, power lines can be buried. Felled trees are the culprits in many outages. This would generally occur in areas that routinely see high winds and are prone to downed utility poles. According to MLGW estimates, a city-wide conversion to below-ground power lines would take 50 years and cost $3.6 billion.

While costs force the city to be selective about making improvements to the local power grid, some options are relatively cost-effective.

“Out of all the options we have been researching, the smart grid concept seems to be one of the most promising in terms of its impact relative to its cost,” said Horne.

Memphis began implementing smart grid strategies and technologies during phase one of MLGW’s Smart Grid initiative. Residential meters, for example, are digital. They feed real-time information back to the utility company, so they can manage day-to-day peaks and ebbs on the local grid more efficiently. It’s the first step in building a modern digital grid for the city.

For building and site-specific strategies, expansion of solar power made the list. Rooftops of larger buildings are natural landscapes for panels. Solar charging stations would benefit many during general outages. It would also make microgrid installation far easier. Powered by alternative energy sources at key locations, microgrids would provide power locally to key buildings in the event of a grid failure.

Some environmental activists hope that the regional plan considers solar power as a means to restore power in the occasion of fallen power lines. 

“... There should probably be a big, utility-scale solar implementation so that all of our power generation doesn’t come from one place. My wife is from Puerto Rico and her parents only got power restored a few weeks ago," said Dennis Lynch, transportation chair at Sierra Club, Tennessee Chapter and a participant at the public meeting. "We need to be certainly thinking microgrids and not just some solar charging stations."

Phase three of MSRRP will be accompanied by tough choices. Vital improvements will face the chopping block as the master plan is put to paper. 

At a recent public meeting, home energy efficiency, stream bank restoration, roadside swales and burying power lines came out as top priorities. Moving into its final phase, the end goal is to develop out the strategies that seem most promising and resonate with residents and local officials.

Consultants will do a deep dive on those ideas: how would this strategy work, how would we implement it, how would it be funded and where would it go (under whose jurisdiction). A third set of public meetings are planned for mid-October for further feedback with a draft documentation of the resilience plan available online for comment.

“If we have this plan and the community pushes for say more solar then the TVA [Tennessee Valley Authority] will have to recognize it. It’s a long-term solution but we have to start now with the thinking, planning and solutions,” said Lynch.

Newly launched startup accelerator expands innovation economy in Memphis

Before launching the startup she brought to Memphis as part of 2018’s “Summer of Acceleration” startup accelerator programming, Stephanie Cummings was working in health care information technology. She was constantly busy, traveling across the country.

She’d come home and see clothes piled up, laundry needing to be done. No groceries stocked or food in the fridge. She needed help, in other words, with the minutiae of the daily grind she kept falling behind on.

That was her light bulb moment.

“I started looking for a solution to help me stay on top of my day-to-day while I was working,” said Cummings, the CEO and co-founder of Please Assist Me, one of six startups in this year’s new Launch Delta Home Services Accelerator, powered by ServiceMaster and Start Co.

It’s how the idea for her company was born and how it started Cummings and her team down a path that eventually landed them in the new startup accelerator. The goal of this new partnership between ServiceMaster and Start Co. is to find game-changing companies and ideas in the home services market.

“Please Assist Me is a mobile app that allows users to outsource all their weekly chores - from groceries, laundry, even washing dishes to their own dedicated personal assistant,” Cummings said.

Her company, along with the five others in the new home services accelerator, have their own dedicated space in ServiceMaster’s “Ground Floor” innovation center. That’s a combination co-working space and startup hub in ServiceMaster’s Downtown Memphis corporate headquarters. As part of the program, accelerator participants get an undisclosed financial investment from ServiceMaster and Innova Memphis.

Startups coming through the accelerator focus on everything from smart home data to customer service platforms and the home services supply chain. The inaugural teams, besides Please Assist Me, include:

-- Pest Pulse, commercializing a smart device that attaches to snap traps mostly for rodents and monitors them for activity.

-- ServiceBot, a software tool to manage home service businesses and automate most back office and customer service functionality.

-- SecondKeys, a platform that helps homeowners, landlords, tenants and vendors find reliable maintenance workers.

-- LawnTap, an app that automates the lawn care process.

-- eCINCHal, a subscription box service for automating home maintenance needs.

“What’s exciting about this year’s ‘Summer of Acceleration’ is we’ve added the new industry vertical, with the focus on home services,” said EPIcenter president Leslie Lynn Smith. “We’ve also seen ServiceMaster step up and lean into investing in programming and teams, which I think is huge as other corporate partnerships shift toward being more supportive of innovation and entrepreneurship. We’re hopeful more and more corporate partners are going to jump on board.”

Smith said it was ServiceMaster’s high-profile decision to keep its corporate headquarters in Memphis but move it Downtown to Peabody Place - and the subsequent investment that followed into that space - which led to the company’s involvement in the accelerator. “When they were designing their space,” Smith continued, “they did a series of community interviews to talk about what kind of valuable innovation space could be added to their footprint Downtown.”

The new accelerator is a key offering that’s part of Memphis’ so-called “Summer of Acceleration,” now in its third year, which sees partner organizations like EPIcenter, Start Co. and the Memphis Bioworks Foundation team up to lead startups. In this summer’s case, 12 startups through 100 days of educational programming. That programming, and those high-growth startups, are focused on specific industry sectors: home services, medical devices, supply chain and logistics, and agriculture technology and innovation.

Over the course of the summer, Start Co. will lead what amounts to centralized programming that forms the core accelerator curriculum. That means walking the startups through the essentials, regardless of their sector, like how to build a business model, customer discovery and sales pipeline development.

The individual accelerator partners, like ServiceMaster, will offer their teams sector-specific programming, connections to mentors and more. And while the home services accelerator will have space inside ServiceMaster’s headquarters, where they will get their programming tailored to them, all the teams across each accelerator will co-locate at Start Co.’s Downtown space throughout the summer.

Besides the new accelerator, Start Co. also operates Sky High as part of the joint programming, geared on education-focused technology solutions. This summer, EPIcenter is hosting Truckish, a startup that provides hardware for trucks as part of EPIcenter’s recruitment of supply chain and logistics startups, while the Memphis Bioworks Foundation operates ZeroTo510 - a medical device-focused startup accelerator.

AgLaunch, a joint initiative of Memphis Bioworks Foundation and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, operates a year-long acceleration program that supports agricultural technology and innovation startups. Meanwhile, female startup founders going through any of those programs can also participate, if they want, in Start Co.’s parallel Upstart track, which provides networking and mentorship opportunities to women entrepreneurs.

The Summer of Acceleration will culminate on Aug. 16 with Demo Day, a day when the startups get the opportunity to pitch their ideas to investors, network with community leaders and hopefully put themselves in a position to score follow-on investment funding.

Partners and sponsors for the Summer of Acceleration include Launch Tennessee, American Airlines, Archer Malmo, AutoZone, IBM, Baker Donelson, Mosaik, The Marston Group and ServiceMaster, among others.

“I feel like we’re about to lift into the future we’ve imagined for Memphis,” Smith said. “I’m more optimistic than I’ve ever been. I really see it all coming together, and I think we’re going to start seeing some interesting outcomes in our portfolio and attract some really significant investment - which are great signs for Memphis.”

Making Memphis a first choice for new graduates

Many high school graduates often look outside Memphis for college or employment to start their futures. A new effort led by nonprofit City Leadership seeks to retain Memphis' brightest minds. 

“My goal is to connect and equip these students with professional development skills and anything else they need to help them pursue opportunities in the city,” said Joi Taylor, City Leadership alumni coordinator for Choose901’s alumni program.

Formerly known as Alumni901 during its pilot phase, the program works with graduates from four high schools — New Hope Christian Academy, Collegiate School of Memphis, Soulsville Charter School and St. George’s Independent School.

“About a year and a half ago, alumni counselors from our partner schools expressed interest in working with us. We really admired what New Hope, Soulsville and Collegiate were doing with their alumni, particularly New Hope’s counselors’ long-term, sustained relationships with students,” said Luke Pruett, City Leadership recruiting director. “We would love to see more schools pick up these alumni counselor positions. It’s not common nationally or in Memphis.”

Eventually, it was decided that students needed a professional connection. That’s where Taylor comes in to connect them with opportunities in Memphis. 

“After they graduate from school is when I start contact with them. The schools we are working with have alumni counselors who have already built relationships with the graduates. I have relationships with each of these counselors that afford me the opportunity to make connections and talk to them about the wonderful things Memphis has to offer them,” said Taylor, who joined City Leadership in May of 2017.

Taylor generally connects with the students via text or social media. Speaking once a week, they discuss future plans as well as how their summer’s going.

“Once they give me a path or lane they tell me they are trying to go down, I point them to things, resources and opportunities that we have here in the city that could be beneficial to them,” said Taylor. “We just try to meet them where they are. That’s the goal.”

Once the students' interest is piqued, Taylor talks to a jobs coordinator about specific opportunities. Those opportunities range from educational pursuits like college and trade schools to joining the military or finding employment.

Some of the opportunities arise from partnerships with Choose 901's organizations around town. For instance, Taylor has directed students to the Memphis Teacher Residency graduate program. Other partners include Memphis Athletic Ministries, Streets Ministries, Church Health Scholars, AutoZone and Methodist Hospital.

Memphis’ largest employer is also on board with the program.

“We have started a relationship with FedEx trying to get students in to build an internship program. We are trying to get more into the for-profit world. We are able to leverage our many close relationships in the nonprofit world to open the door for more alumni to get in, but it’s the for-profit world we are trying to get our foot in the door. We had a meeting a couple of weeks back with ALSAC to see what we can do to create a pipeline with them,” said Taylor.

In the past year, eight students have found jobs through the Choose901 alumni program, which also helps students beyond their early post-high school years.

“We have a student in Knoxville who graduates this May. She was interested in education so we connected her to TFA (Teach for America),” said Taylor.

The nonprofit helped the student with mock interviews, resume work and an application. Eager to come back home, they also helped the Soulsville Charter School graduate find placement in her alma mater, starting in the fall.

“Choose901 will continue to be a megaphone for the city of Memphis. Our goal is to recruit folks into our partner organizations like Memphis Teacher Residency, City Year or Teach for America, so we are going to continue to be about that work. But the ability to target particular candidates who already have interest in Memphis by it being their hometown, it’s a direction and way forward for our work,” said Pruett. 

Part of the message will be combating the notion that Memphis doesn’t have many opportunities.

“There are two myths we really want to go after. One of them, and this is true of not only alumni but many Memphians, is the belief the jobs aren’t there. Our experience has been quite the opposite. We not only want to help people get connected to economic opportunities, we also don’t want to lose talented people to other cities like DC, Nashville, or Atlanta.”

Pruett also said employers can be guilty of selling Memphis short, too. Often times they look out of town for new talent.

“The other myth is employers believe the people aren’t there. Our Choose901 job board is the most-clicked link on our entire website. So there are actually a ton of people looking for jobs and employers that need jobs filled.”

Regardless if you are nearing graduation in high school or college or jumping into the job market, Choose901’s goal is to convince young graduates the soundest career move is close to home.

“We believe your best job is right here in Memphis,” said Pruett.

Agricenter International goes organic

For the last 10 to 15 years, there has been a steady transition from the technology-driven age of abundance to more traditional organic farming practices. Evidence of the shift is all around.

For instance, just a few years back, grocers often would devote but a small corner of an aisle to organic products. Now, entire grocery chains like Whole Foods and Fresh Market are competing to fill demand.

“Today, there are several options for growing food. Sixty to 70 years ago, it was all organic,” said Dr. Bruce Kirksey, director of farm and research with Agricenter International.

But along with the post-war economic boom came a boom in agricultural capacity. New machinery, fertilizers and pesticides brought plenty to a generation that grew up with very little. Eventually, backyard gardens gave way to pantries crammed with canned goods and processed foods.

Agricenter International, which sits on 1,000 acres of farmland, is getting back to its roots with an organic research division.

“Because of the way science and technology has evolved, we’ve come up with other ways to help raise our crops and our gardens with certain synthetic chemicals, synthetic fertilizers and harvesting machines.

We felt like because of people’s increased interest in organics again that we would start our own research center focusing on that (organics),” said Kirksey.

Research is the Agricenter’s bread and butter. Typically, the facility picks up work from businesses or other organizations seeking expertise on proprietary material. The downside is that the research is proprietary, too. Owned by the business or organization, the Agricenter has no right to it.

But for the Agricenter, the organics research will be different as it will be their data. The organics arm of research started a couple of years back.

“So what we’ve done is set up about 10 acres, and we started two years ago,” said Kirksey.

Since then, the land has slowly been built up to be certified. Out of production for three years, instead of a commercial crop, a ground cover or “transitional crop” is planted to add nutrients back into the soil along with other organic materials. No synthetic chemicals are used and equipment was bought to be used solely for organic growing.

“By the fall of next year [2019], our three years will be up. An inspector will come in and check our records showing what we’ve done organically and then we get the stamp of approval as a certified organic farm,” said Kirksey. “It’s the process that every producer who wants to grow certified organic crops has to go through.”

But this initial 10 acres is just a sliver of land compared to spread the Agricenter will eventually be working. Next month, 208 acres of offsite land the center has access to will receive its organic certification. Early plans are to devote the smaller parcel to research and the other for testing on a large scale, although nothing is set.

“We don’t know exactly what we are going to do with that yet. We might just plant soybeans on it and continue to build the soil up,” said Kirksey, who recently hired Chris Lankford as organic farm Manager.

Soybeans, of course, are a staple crop in the Mid-South. Along with corn and cotton, the “big three” crops dominate the Mid-South’s growing landscape. Much of the organic research done will be done on behalf of staple crops vital to the region’s economy.

“The addition of the Organic Resource Center to Agricenter’s research capacity will enhance our ability to service the needs in the community and the region,” said John Butler, president of Agricenter International.

Side-by-side studies will be done on organic versus commercial farming practices. Successes and failures will be cataloged while each year with more trials added. Eventually, up to 40 acres could be allotted for organic research. Hopes are, in two to three years, the program will be self-sustaining and will no longer require outside funding.

“So, when we have a farmer that wants to grow something organic, they can come to the Agricenter, and we will have all that information researched and gathered for them. It will be a whole package,” said Kirksey.

The present seems like a great time to get in on organic research. As more information is put out in the public space about the benefits of organic farming with a population growing more health-conscience, demand is expected to grow with it.

“It also depends on the market. An organic soybean market we may not have yet, but as we get more people interested and understanding growing organic soybeans then the market may be there in a few years,” said Kirksey.

Testing will also be done on commercial organic products to see what works and what doesn’t. Test subjects will cover fertilizers, pesticides and plant varieties.

“There are a lot of products out there sold in the organic industry that there’s just not a lot of data on them. If you think about it, most of the organics are grown in California or Florida so we don’t have data on the Mid-South where it’s 100 degrees in August at night. So, we need to test these things here, these organic products,” said Kirksey.

As far as if organics are a long-term endeavor for the Agricenter:

“This is going to be an ongoing project. We see this as the opportunity to grown crops a different way. We also look at it that it’s going to have to be part of an overall picture to feed and clothe the world for the future. By 2050 we are supposed to have 9 billion people on the planet. We’re not making any more land. We have to be more efficient, use land that’s not currently being farmed and look at all the alternatives, depending on science to help us get to that next level,” said Kirksey.

Health & Healing: A church-based clinic brings physical, mental and environmental care

For years, Bishop William Young and Pastor Dianne Young of The Healing Center have been
nurturing an idea to have their house of worship serve the spiritual needs of their community as well as temporal ones, like housing and health care. 

Founders of the Suicide in the Black Church Conference, which has garnered national attention, the husband and wife team have a strong background in community health with a focus on mental health issues. So the new health and wellness clinic, housed on the campus of The Healing Center Baptist Church, in the Oakhaven community in South Memphis, was a natural fit for them.

“An unique thing is for the clinic to be housed at a place of faith, a trusted institution in our communities. Our church, The Healing Center, has been cutting edge in addressing emotional fitness, suicide, and mental and behavioral health,” said Pastor Dianne Young.

The couple shared their vision with Dr. David M. Stern, vice chancellor for health for statewide initiatives at University of Tennessee Health Science Center, and he began the work of creating a unique partnership of volunteers to launch the clinic. Partners include the church and volunteer support from UTHSC, the University of Memphis, Rhodes College, local government, Memphis Area Legal Services, and the West Cancer Center.

Dr. Stern is the executive director of the clinic. Peter Hossler, PhD , an assistant professor of Urban and Community Health at Rhodes College, will serve as the program director. The clinic is targeted to reach the uninsured and its services are completely free to patients.

On March 12, healthcare, academic, faith, and government leaders, along with members of the congregation and the community, gathered at the church at 3885 Tchulahoma Road for a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a tour of the first-of-its-kind clinic.

The church was founded in 1991 by Bishop Young, and his wife, Pastor Young, and has been an anchor for the community, which Dr. Stern believes is key to the success of the clinic.

“In places like Memphis, there is not a lot of trust between the underserved African-American community and any part of the establishment, including the medical folks. If you want to reach everyone, you have to think of an inclusive strategy, and the church is a logical place to reach out to engage the community. The church, generally, has established trust in the community,” said Dr. Stern.

The Youngs view the church as a hub of activity for the community that is in part faith-based and also leverages spiritual guidance to provide other kinds of help to the community. Dr. Stern says this is exactly what he was looking for.

“We are bringing the doctor to the community rather than the community to the doctor. The key to the clinic is the trust the Youngs have built over time,” said Dr. Stern.

The clinic plans to offer free primary health care, medication management, substance abuse and mental health counseling. In addition, resources will be available to help patients with housing, employment, stress management, and legal issues, factors which impact overall health and wellness.

“Medical care is different if someone doesn’t have housing, doesn’t have transportation, has a mental health problem, has a substance use disorder. It makes the situation more complicated,” said Dr. Stern. “We felt in this kind of environment it was important to have a different approach which is body, mind and spirit.”

They will screen for substance abuse. The body can’t be treated effectively for diseases like diabetes and heart failure if there is an underlying addiction issue, Stern said. Mental health will be addressed. If the mental health problems exist, it’s difficult to get the medical issues under control.

“So, addiction and mental health has to be in dealt with in concert with physical health or it won’t work,” said Dr. Stern.

The last part of the equation, which Dr. Stern classifies under the spirit, are the social determinants of health.

“It’s everything the doctor has not traditionally looked at but if you don’t look at these things you can’t help a certain group of patients,” said Dr. Stern.

These have to do with housing, transportation, employment, educational opportunities, legal services, food insecurity — all the things that are not considered physical health issues but influence phsyical health.

In the clinic, Memphis Area Legal Services will provide pro-bono work, ranging from help with evictions to expungement of felonies and aid with immigration issues; there will also be assistance available with employment, housing, transportation and benefits.

A team will be assigned to a patient based on their particular needs that might include a social worker, mental health worker, legal aid — anything else the patient might need right along with the doctor.

“It’s our notion of integrated care — a wraparound approach. Our goal is to see if we can break a generational cycle of poverty and chronic disease. Things that make it difficult for a person to reach their potential,” said Dr. Stern.

The clinic is housed in a separate building on the church campus. It will include three exam rooms and rooms for classes and group meetings. Initially, it will be open one Monday a month from 5 to 8 p.m., with plans to expand to once a week in six months to a year.

Approximately $125,000 from a Community Enhancement Grant Program is being used to upgrade the facility for its new purpose.

UTHSC is providing furniture, exam equipment, and resources for the building, along with medical, physician assistant, nursing, and pharmacy students and faculty volunteers.

The clinic will work with volunteers from the social work program at the University of Memphis; Memphis Area Legal Services volunteers; and nutrition and fitness support volunteers from Rhodes College.

West Cancer Center will be on site periodically to screen individuals for grant-covered medical services.

According to Dr. Stern, the clinic will operate like all academic medical centers, with trainees in the different professions supervised by faculty members or professionals.

In addition to improved health outcomes, another goal with this wrap-around approach is to see decreased hospitalizations, decreased emergency room visits and EMT calls, which are all expensive health-related costs.

Dr. Stern and his team will track various data points through an electronic health record. They'll follow how many patients are signed up; how many patients are returning; how many have been helped with employment, legal services, mental and substance use problems.

“We are going to track the outcomes so we can see if we are having a significant effect. If it works, I think it could be a demonstration model that could be adopted elsewhere in the state and nation,” said Dr. Stern.

Supporters, including the Youngs, believe the clinic can be a model for services that improve not only the health but the lives of underserved communities in Memphis by embedding them in a trusted place outside of the usual healthcare setting.

“It is important to give hope to people who have lost hope that things can be different for them and their families. It is also important that this Wellness and Stress Clinic is the first of it’s kind in Tennessee and possibly the country.

We have an opportunity as a city to make a difference in the lives of residents of this Mid-South area. We can not only give help, but hope that good health and living is possible,” said Pastor Young.

Former U.S. Army supply depot "reclaimed" as urban farm for veterans

Nonprofits Alpha Omega Veterans Services and Memphis Tilth are teaming up to start a working urban farm at the former Memphis Defense Depot. The two-acre stead, located adjacent to Alpha Omega's housing facility for homeless veterans at 2226 Ball Road, will be used to teach veterans a variety of skills and provide horticultural therapy to those who are transitioning back into society after serving in combat.

“The main goal is to find a way to engage with veterans that live or are served by Alpha Omega in the project. There is going to be an education component, life skills and job skills,” said Chris Peterson, farm manager of the Alpha Omega Veterans Services urban farm.

The Alpha Omega-owned land will be used to grow produce and fruits. Clients will also maintain a chicken coop and beehives. Around 40 percent of what’s produced will be used by Alpha Omega facilities in Memphis. Three of their six locations serve up three meals a day to veterans.

Another 40 percent of the produce will be sold to Memphis Tilth’s Bring it Food Hub. The remaining 20 percent will be sold at farmers markets. Peace Bee Farm master beekeeper Richard Underhill Of Conway, Arkansas will help set up and advise on the hives. The urban farm has been in development for around nine months.

“This provides an opportunity to our clients for horticultural therapy. There is a lot of research that’s been done on the benefits of horticultural therapy for people suffering from the issues many veterans have,” said PZ Horton, chairman of Alpha Omega. 

Memphis Tilth will also teach classes about healthy eating while providing recipes and cooking classes for the veterans. Alpha Omega branded products such as pesto, salsa, and sauces, will be eventually produced in the kitchen and sold locally.

“It’s another opportunity. Maybe someone doesn’t want to get out in the dirt, but enjoys cooking so there’s an opportunity to learn in a commercial kitchen,” said Horton.

Alpha Omega, founded 30 years ago, already offers spaces for clients to garden. In fact, the organization already has a small garden at the Defense Depot facility where residents cultivate tomatoes, greens, peas and okra along with blueberry bushes and fruit trees.

Alpha Omega currently has 45 clients living at the Defense Depot facility. Overall, 140 are housed in six Memphis facilities.

“Over those 30 years, we’ve had about 10,000 veterans come through our program. We’re proud of the program because we’ve had a 90 to 95 percent success rate. That’s people coming into the program and then moving back into society,” said Horton.

A lot of work needs to be done before the farm turns a profit. The land itself isn’t ideal farmland.

“Because the land is Bermuda grass and low-quality soil, there is significant work to be done before planting can be done in-ground,” said Peterson.

Peterson says the land at the Defense Depot has been tested and fully remediated as the site was once used to dispose of leaking mustard gas munitions post World War II. He actually remembers studying the site in an environmental ethics class at college.

“One of the nice things for me is I think it’s a really cool way to reclaim an area that was not so well used,” said Peterson.

For several years, Alpha Omega has offered gardening options for their clients. Those have mainly been small raised bed gardens that they tended on their own.

Unfortunately, the gardens didn’t engage the vets as hoped, which led Horton to the idea of an urban farm. Production on a real farm, meanwhile, will offer more than fresh air, manual work and healthy fare. It will provide marketable skills that clients can take with them when they move on from the program.

“There are the core skills of learning to grow and raise plants. We’ll have a greenhouse — that’s a viable business idea in its own right — to start and grow seedlings, whether for sale or for use in the garden. There are post-harvest handling skills that are transferable to other industries. There will be machinery that will need to be maintained. Animals that need to be taken care of. There are a lot of different kinds of skills that can be learned,” said Peterson.

Memphis Tilth holds a three-year contract to implement the project. It has done similar urban farm projects around town at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and numerous community gardens.

“They [Memphis Tilth] are bringing community gardening, urban farming expertise to us,” said Horton.

Including Peterson, who was hired on as farm manager, there will be three full-time employees the first year. They will include an assistant farm manager/volunteer coordinator and a kitchen coordinator.

Raised beds will be built out and planted first around the end of March to early April after the last frost date.

Infrastructure will be needed to run the farm, too. A storage shed, the greenhouse, and a certified wash and pack area, for example, will be built by summer. The partners' hope is to get part of the inground planting done by the fall.

The first two years will include a lot of instruction for clients.  Alpha Omega, the primary funder of the program, will take over operations by end of the third year.

“In the military, you’ve heard of the term ‘esprit de corps’, that’s what we really want to accomplish with the farm. We want the guys to be involved with this and feel like it’s theirs,” said Horton.

Melrose High School students make tough calls at financial education simulator

During the course of one’s education, disciplines like mathematics, language arts and science are vigorously stressed. Unfortunately, with the three-headed approach to curriculum, other disciplines receive short shrift, such as like financial literacy.

In the past, schools would only brush on the subject. A rudimentary math class or home economics may include a lesson or two on balancing a checkbook.

To help better prepare local students for financial independence in the future, RISE in partnership with SunTrust Bank launched their first “On My Own” event, held at Melrose High School on February 22. “On My Own” is an interactive financial simulator to give youth insights into personal financial literacy. It was developed by Bank On Memphis and the Family and Consumer Sciences department of The University of Tennessee Extension. 

“It is a simulation to help students see what it’s really like to take care of a family in different scenarios. I think that is one of the key things for them to learn,” said Linda Williams, CEO and president of the RISE Foundation.

Related: "Unbanked: The high cost of doing business in ZIP 38126"

"Own My Own" has been offered in schools across the state and has reached over 30,000 students each year. This is the first time RISE and SunTrust have facilitated the program. Melrose High has a previous relationship with RISE and SunTrust through their goal card program, which is a points-based system that sets goals for students. They can earn prizes or bank their points for a bigger reward.

“In our goal card program, we have integrated financial literacy in the work we are doing with young people in an effort to help them graduate from high school to be ready for post-secondary education or other types of skills training that will allow them to be employed in jobs that will help them take care of themselves as well as their families,” said Williams.

For the event, Melrose’s goal card students were given life scenarios such as simulating a single mother or a father with two children. They were also given professions and accompanying wages. They were then tasked with managing a monthly budget, including food, housing, transportation, childcare and other expenses.

Once they see what their take-home pay would be they move around to different stations that represent typical expenses and make decisions on how they spend their money.

“It was interesting to watch them. Some of the young men said I really need a wife that works and not a stay-at-home mom. But when they looked at the cost of childcare, they realized it may be better to have a parent stay at home. They really have to make real-world situations,” said Williams.

The partners also stressed the importance of savings. Students were required to sock away $25. It is to encourage the teens to become lifelong savers, regardless of the amount set aside. Students were also given check registers to keep up with expenditures.

“We’re in a day where everybody uses debit cards and EBT cards but you still have to learn to write it down and keep up with what you spend so you can balance everything at the end of the month,” said Williams.

The simulation also included typical payroll deductions, like FICA tax.

“We discussed with them what FICA is and as well as the other holdings you can expect once you are employed. Then they would see once you make all those deductions from your gross pay, what you really get to take home is not as much as it would appear,” said Williams.

Around 25 SunTrust volunteers manned the stations. They guided students’ decisions based on what they could afford such as a house note or a rental apartment. They also threw financial curveballs at them like an insurance co-pay at an emergency room.

Johnny Moore, president and CEO of SunTrust Memphis and Melrose High School alum, served as the keynote speaker for the event.

“You always get goosebumps going back to an institution that’s been so important to your life. It was important to be in front of those kids to let them know it’s a big world out there beyond the Orange Mound community," he said.

"Don’t let this community alone be the box you live in. Expand your horizons. Push yourself to be better. Dream hard but dreams are just dreams unless you put some action to them. Learn how to act on those dreams to make them a reality."

The executive helped students draw connections between their studies in and their future employment. He pointed out that English, and particular writing, is as critical to a career in finance as mathematics. Moore also explained the importance of a checking account and understanding a basic budget.

“I said to the RISE kids, ‘How many of you guys walk down the street and just throw a 20 dollar bill on the street on purpose’ and they said ‘We wouldn’t do that on purpose.’ I pointed that’s exactly what they do if they don’t have a checking account and pay somebody 10 percent to cash your check. This is an unnecessary expense,” said Moore.

Williams was pleased with the outcome. The simulation helped young people think about their decisions and follow their best interests.

“Kids need to have people they can aspire to and he was able to talk to them about the different schools he attended. They were amazed to see someone who went to the same school they did who made it as a CEO of a major bank,” said Williams.

Williams was pleased with the outcome. The simulation helped young people think about their decisions and follow their best interests.

Hey! Memphis College of Art and Overton Park Conservancy launch pedestrian safety campaign

Memphis College of Art and Overton Park Conservancy have kicked off a public awareness campaign to increase safety for pedestrians who use crosswalks around campus.

“We had a tragedy last year with one of our students being killed in the crosswalk at Tucker and Poplar,” said Laura Hine, Memphis College of Art president.

Poplar Avenue is the main thoroughfare between Midtown and East Memphis, and it's not necessarily a safe avenue for pedestrians. Throughout the day, the intersection sees steady to heavy traffic. It also serves as an entrance point for the college, a large apartment building, a residential street, Brooks Museum and the zoo.

And then there’s the park itself – families in cars, runners, bikers, dogs leading their owners – in addition to Levitt Shell during concert season.

“For us, there is an awareness because of the loss. We have come out very strongly in our internal communications about the crosswalk. I think the notion was some thought they could cross not at an intersection, and so we communicated very clearly using the pedestrian cross button," said Hine.

"It actually gives you more time to cross the street. And our kids are carrying portfolios, art supplies. So, they are heavily laden with their equipment."

To prevent another tragedy like 22-year-old Kelcie Ashmore, the college reached out to the Overton Park Conservancy and the City of Memphis engineer’s office.

The Conservancy was aware of the intersection’s hazardousness. It had already launched an ioby crowdsourcing campaign in 2016. They worked with an organization called Transit Center which offered matching funds to projects benefiting pedestrians, cyclists and public transit.

“Our offices overlook that intersection and we can see just how dangerous it is. We’ve seen so many car wrecks there and how hard it is for pedestrians to cross. The crosswalks were in pretty bad repair. The lines had really eroded. So, we thought - let’s start there," said Laura McMaster, 

There is a transit shelter right there. We were able to raise the full amount of funds and planned to turn those over to the city. Last year, they striped the crosswalks. They added the countdown clocks and put the protective crosswalk where pedestrians get about 10 seconds to cross before cars get the light,” said Melissa McMasters, director of communications with Overton Park Conservancy.

After fundraising, the Conservancy handed the proceeds over to the city, but the money was returned. “The city agreed to do the project on its own. So, they said ‘Hey, we don’t need the funds,’” said McMasters.

The infrastructure at the intersection limits current upgrades. Further improvements will be made in 2020, when federal funds arrive.

So it was decided the unspent OPC money would be devoted to a public awareness campaign. The Midtown campaign is based on the Medical District’s Vision Zero campaign and even uses some of the same materials.

In need of talent to create the visuals for the public awareness campaign, the Conservancy and MCA forged a partnership with art students contributing to the overall design.

“ ... We drive the notion in our students, artists can have contributions and change things in society. They do it in ways that other people can’t. It’s not a narrative. It’s a visual,” said McMasters.

Two work-study slots were created for students, who created signage for billboards and sandwich boards located around the park as well as an animated educational video.

“I met with the OPC about three times throughout the semester to discuss what they wanted and to show them my progress along the way. I made the designs for the t-bar design at the entrance of Overton Park, the sandwich boards in the park's entrance, and also a framed sign that's on North Cooper and Poplar,” said Oziel Jaurez, a junior graphic design student at MCA.

The video will be shown on screens around campus and during concerts at Levitt Shell.

“I have to cross that intersection several times a day and seen many scary, unsafe situations. Because of this, I knew how important it was to get more pedestrian safety information out there," said Esme Perkins, a junior animation student at MCA.

"For the film, I wrote the script, designed characters and environments, animated, recorded audio, and did post-production. As an animation student, the project was a big learning experience in video production and working with a client in general."

The video can also be seen on YouTube.

“One of my co-workers described it as a 'Powerpuff' feel. It’s really stylish and its focused primarily on the pedestrian. While the signage is focused on making drivers aware of pedestrians,” said McMasters.

Mapping a way forward to prepare the Mid-South for global warming-related weather disasters

As the effects of climate change begin to manifest themselves, communities across the globe are beginning to develop plans to brace themselves for the future.

The Mid-South is no different in this regard. A few months back, the Shelby County Office of Resilience started developing a master plan of their own to prepare for weather disasters. 

“It’s to protect property, life and the ability for our residents to bounce back from any sort of hazard or stress that could be placed upon the city," said Jared Darby, national disaster resilience planning manager with the Shelby County Office of Resilience.

"This plan is going to provide recommendations, further opportunities for research and funding sources. People need to be involved so they can make sure their community’s needs are being met when it comes to resilience to those kinds of stresses and shocks."

The Regional Resilience Plan will cover all of Shelby and DeSoto Counties, along with parts of Marshall and Fayette Counties. In addition to preparing for the future, the blueprint is to help the area recover from a series of storms that swept through the region in April of 2011.

Three weather systems left extensive damage to the area. Days of torrential rains swelled creeks and tributaries beyond their banks. Infrastructure was overwhelmed by the aftermath. Businesses and neighborhoods experienced significant flooding.

“There are still homes and businesses that have damage from it that have not fully recovered; the term the federal government uses is unmet recovery needs. The flood itself was a presidential disaster declaration, and the federal government determined Shelby County was the most affected in the state of Tennessee,” said Chris Horne, associate with Sasaki Design and project manager with the Mid-South Regional Resilience Plan.

In 2015, the U.S Dept. of Housing and Urban Development set aside $1 billion in funding to state and local governments still dealing with the impact of the disasters in 2011 to 2013. Applications were submitted to HUD’s National Disaster Resilience Competition, a program to promote innovative resilience projects so communities can better prepare for future events. In January 2016, Shelby County was awarded $60 million in federal funds for its Greenprint for Resilience project.

The resilience plan is being put together with the collaboration of experts in the field guided by the Sasaki team. Data has been collected over the past few months, and public meetings are scheduled to get community feedback and kick off the project publicly.

Three will be held initially, starting on Tuesday, January 30 and running through Thursday, February 1. They will be held at the Memphis Leadership Foundation, at 1548 Poplar Avenue; the Millington-Baker Community Center, at 7942 Church Street, in Millington; and at the Southaven Public Library, at 8554 Northwest Drive, respectively.  The workshops will run from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Forming a plan will take about a year.

“We want to reach folks in every direction we can because this is important and people need to have a voice as this is the citizens of Memphis and Shelby County’s plan. This is a big deal. We are only one of 13 jurisdictions in the country and we got fully funded,” said Darby.

Along with recovery and climate change, other natural disasters and events that could conceivably hit the area are considered.

“Flooding is at the forefront. It’s what is getting the most discussion, but there’s climate change, drought. When I say climate change, it’s becoming warmer, days over 95 to 100 degrees are growing longer. Our rain events tend to be more heavy and shorter in duration. There’s earthquakes, tornadoes, windstorm damage, and on and on," said Darby.

"How is our infrastructure impacted by these hazards, how are people impacted by these hazards, how are businesses impacted?” 

The Greenprint for Resilience project encompasses four resilience activities: Big Creek, Wolf River and South Cypress Creek and the resilience master plan. The three site-specific implementation projects are currently underway. These undertakings will soak up the bulk of the $60 million.

“The way the regional hydrology works the edge of the Mississippi is elevated on a bluff so Downtown Memphis is pretty insulated from direct flooding. It didn’t even flood it during 2011. The key issue with the flooding is the secondary tributary creeks and rivers,” said Horne, whose firm is the lead consultant on the South Cypress Creek project and sub-consultants on the Big Creek project.

When heavy rains come, the water rises and backs up into the tributaries. Low-lying communities along their paths are vulnerable.

“The three implementation projects are engineering and landscape architecture focused — where they are basically taking a segment of the river and literally intervening in some way like either changing the path or creating a berm or creating a new park to absorb water,” said Horne.

But the Regional Resilience Plan is a broad look across a wide region for planning purposes.

"We look at infrastructure vulnerabilities. We look at vulnerable communities. We are the bigger picture, figuring out where the vulnerabilities are long-term strategically, what are the big opportunities," said Horne.

Once the data collection and research is finished, the next phase of developing the master plan will be devoted to finding potential solutions. Design concepts will be vetted. Scenarios will also be run and the solutions tested for viability. The third and last phase will move into a final set of recommendations and a final plan will be submitted that has depth in terms of implementation, funding and identifying what people, agencies might own each recommendation.

"Most importantly, we want to solicit feedback from residents, from the public, from technical experts,” said Horne.

While Mid-South officials are preparing for a more precarious future, the area doesn’t face the consequences that others do. Models show coastline inundation, particularly along the east coast and Gulf of Mexico. Desertification will spread beyond the Southwest. Some areas in the Deep South will be unlivable without the constant hum of air conditioning. Other than adjusting to longer, hotter summers and shorter, warmer winters, managing and recovering from extreme weather events, like the 2011 flood, will likely be the region’s burden.

“Every region has its strength and weaknesses. I personally think the Mid-South is in a pretty good position. It has lots of great assets. Memphis is protected naturally by the bluff. The emergency management community is very impressive. Memphis is in a good position relative to its drinking water supply with its aquifer.

If managed correctly, the region is good to go for the future,” said Horne.

Memphis' healthcare system for the uninsured seeks to improve care for vulnerable patients

Armed with six months of data-driven research, Regional One Health is kicking off the second phase of its partnership with nonprofit Camden Coalition in an effort to drive down costs and improve care for some its most vulnerable patients. 

The number crunching will identify high-utilizers of medical services. These patients can make up to 60 to 80 visits per year. Regional One Health, the Mid-South's general hospital, estimates the three-year project will yield a $1 million per year savings once recommendations are implemented.

Related: "New 9-1-1 initiatives seek to alleviate demands of nonemergency calls"

“Because we get a significant volume, we had to come up with a strategy to help manage them, to understand what’s driving the cost of care so this is a broad look at uninsured patients that came to Regional One Health in the last fiscal year," said Reginald Coopwood, president and CEO at Regional One Health, a healthcare network in the Mid-South that provides accessible medical care to all regardless of insurance status. Regional One Health is anchored by the acute care hospital Regional Medical Center, located in the Memphis Medical District.

"The actual cost to take care of this population in all aspects, whether it’s inpatient, ICU, outpatient services, imaging services, is $81 million in true costs."

Data from the last 18 months revealed Regional One Health’s 25 highest utilizers.

“We looked at our data (for uninsured patients). We took out all the trauma patients, birth patients, etc, and focused on our medicine emergency department. There were over 27,000 unique individuals who walked through our door and the cost of care," Coopwood explained.

"We took the top five percent across all payers — a little over 1,300 people — and it’s a cost of about $18.8 million. For our top 25 patients, it’s almost $1.5 million of cost — nurses, supplies, beds, time, blood, drugs," said Susan Cooper, chief integration officer for Regional One Health.

Regional One Health, with partner Camden Coalition, is continuing to identify the reasons why this population is making repeat visits. Longterm health issues like renal disease, sickle cell anemia, HIV and heart failure were prominent. Societal woes like mental health issues, addiction, homelessness, poverty and job loss also stood out.

“It’s to give them better care and to find out how to better manage those costs so that even if I have to spend $81 million, I’d rather spend it — instead of giving them more drugs — to put them in the right system and have them with the right social services in order to give them what they need. This is the impetus of what we’ve put together in our One Health strategy,” said Coopwood.

Online since January 11, the One Health Connect portal is now open to the public. It is a resource that provides information on medical care, food, housing, job training, legal and other social services. Community partners can create their own user groups, which can ease the tracking of referrals and follow-ups.

“We are working on offering for anyone in your agencies, online community training on how to use One Health Connect to its fullest capabilities,” said Cooper.

A 25-patient cohort will be created in April to begin approaching the care of this high-utilizers in new ways. Part of that care regimen will include data analysis to address the root causes for their frequent emergency room visits. Standardized tools will be designed to help identify gaps in care. The first cohort will be enrolled, and location visits will begin in May. Regional One Health is already engaging patients, however.

”It’s about changing the way we think about the people who walk through our doors. We tend to think of them just as a patient. But we have to realize there is more to it, they’re really a person,” said Cooper.

Dr. Jeff Brenner founded Camden Coalition 2002. A primary care physician, Brenner conducted a study of emergency room visits at his hospital in Camden, N.J. He found that a small group of patients were driving costs through emergency room visits. He then developed a model to address underlying patient issues, education, and approaches to care that has been adopted in several communities like San Diego, Phoenix, and Aurora, Co., for example.

“In order to fix complicated problems like this, you need cross-sector relationships, cross-sector data, and a new way of thinking about the problem," Brenner said.

"Then you need to have the creativity to reimagine how that system might work, and the ability to look outward at better models and innovators across the country. I feel like all those tools and all those capabilities are being built here."

Crosstown Concourse earns prestigious LEED Platinum certification for historic adaptive reuse

Crosstown Concourse has been nationally recognized in being awarded the Leadership in Energy Platinum Certification (LEED) Platinum certification for historic adaptive reuse, the highest rating given by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Built in 1927, the former Sears, Roebuck & Co. retail store and catalog warehouse was renovated in 2015 and opened in 2018. Now, the mixed-use art-deco building houses a medical center, YMCA, apartments, retail, a mix of nonprofits and many other amenities. Additionally, Crosstown High School will open its doors next fall.

“It’s literally an art history professor (Todd Richardson) who pulled together a team of people to do something that conventional wisdom - everybody in the city knew couldn’t be done - and pull it off at a very high level,” said Tony Pellicciotti, principal at Looney Ricks Kiss.

Notably, it’s also the world’s largest building with the designation.

“Through extensive research regarding Crosstown Concourse’s size and scope, we believe this correctly qualifies the title as the largest historic adaptive reuse LEED Building Design + Construction Platinum project in the world,” said Pellicciotti.

LEED is a globally-recognized green building rating system. It was created by the U.S. Green Building Council. Projects can earn points to achieve one of four rating levels – Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum. The designations are given to the categories of Building Design + Construction, Interior Design + Construction, Building Operations + Maintenance, Neighborhood Development, and Homes.

"The LEED Platinum certification is a wonderful third-party confirmation of our design efforts to create a place that is both economically and environmentally sustainable long-term. The 'better together' mantra of Concourse not only applies to our tenants but also to the vision for renovation, which naturally led to decisions that made the Platinum certification possible," said Todd Richardson, co-leader of Crosstown Concourse.

The mission of the $200 million redevelopment is to improve the quality of life to residents, patrons and the surrounding Crosstown community. LEED certification is quickly becoming the benchmark to meet that goal in housing and building construction and redevelopment. However, overrunning costs were always a concern. Money wasn’t spent just to receive a designation.

“For me the part that resonates is that everything that was done was done because it was the right decision for the building, the partners, the tenants and the community. There was nothing that was done simply to pursue LEED,” said Pellicciotti. “To say that it was all project and mission driven, and it achieves the highest, possible rating, and it is the largest historic adaptive reuse project in the world, is a remarkable testimony to the vision of Crosstown and what they set out to do. So, the certification is a reflection of what they achieved.”

Not to say Crosstown came away with Platinum status by way of happenstance. If the accolade lies within the overall vision and costs of the project, why not shoot for the moon?

“Considering the scale and complexities, but also potential impact of the project, why wouldn’t we also aim for the highest level of sustainability certification?  Thus, the entire ownership, design, and construction teams were committed to seeing the project meet the incredible goal of LEED Platinum,” said Krissy Buck Flickinger, LRK's director of sustainability and wellness.

For instance, 93.5 percent of construction waste was recycled. Including demolition, sixty-five million pounds of material was recycled, overall.

Energy efficiency was also a key factor in decisions in design and materials. Crosstown is home to several nonprofits and civic-minded organizations. Often funded by charitable donations or grants, these entities generally need to be mindful of operating costs.

“One of the points we are proud of is OGCB, Memphis-based engineering firm which specializes in energy efficiency, designed not only an extremely efficient mechanical plant but used conventional, off-the-shelf technology, so we weren’t spending money on leading-edge stuff or experimenting. It was putting proven technologies that created the most efficient package possible,” said Pellicciotti.

The improvements will lead to an estimated 32 percent energy savings. Further efficiencies will curtail water use by 40 percent to minimize the impact on the Memphis aquifer, the main source of water for the city.

Following the LEED certification, Crosstown will focus on its WELL Building Certification. It uses performance testing and historical data to monitor items that impact the wellbeing of people inside the building, through air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.

“I like to highlight the Mind category in particular to show this shift in industry thinking: points can be attained for projects that offer healthy sleep and travel policies, adaptable workspaces, family support services, behavior and stress management programs, among other items,” said Buck Flickinger. 

Certification not only imbues leadership in an emerging industry, but it can improve employee recruitment and retainage.

Last year, Crosstown Councourse was also nominated by London-based The Architectural Review for the publications’ “New into Old” awards. It was one of 15 renewal projects up for the honor. Others nominated spanned the globe from Europe, Asia, Australia and the Middle East.

“So, it ties together things that are community-related in a broader context than just the footprint of the building,” said Pellicciotti. “What’s so incredible to me is that it’s a Memphis-based thing, it’s all organic and homegrown, not something imported from LA or New York.”

Angel Tax Credit stimulates early startup investors in Tennessee

Between FedEx, five Class A railroads, the Interstate-40 transcontinental artery, and countless warehouses, freight cuts a huge slice of Memphis’ economic pie. While there are many large employers, there are many supporting businesses too.

One of them is A3 Freight Payment, a growing business that has benefitted from a new State of Tennessee program intended to boost native angel investment.

“We are a business to business service company serving as an outsourcer for their accounts payable related to freight and transportation invoices,” said co-founder and CEO Ross Harris. “We are definitely in a niche industry.”

Along with three partners, Harris started A3 Freight Payment in 2012. All veterans to the freight payment industry, they pooled their experience and Rolodexes. Headquartered in the Southwind area of Memphis, the company is geared toward the needs of large volume shippers. It can process $3 to $5 billion annually.

When they hung their shingle, they initially sought investment from other industry insiders. After steadily building clientele, their growth spiked last year. More capital was needed. The partners wanted keep their core group of investors close, though.

“One of the ironies of a successful business is about the time you are about to hit your stride is when you need more capital to cover the growth, especially in a service business like ours,” said Harris.

On January 1, 2017 businesses like A3 Freight Payment were thrown a lifeline by the Tennessee Legislature with the Angel Tax Credit.

Passed in 2016, it connects investors with pre-qualified startups seeking capital. In addition to seeding entrepreneurship, it was created to keep companies from the leaving state. Individual investors receive a 33 percent tax offset.

Tennessee is one of 19 states to offer a similar program. Gov. Bill Haslam's Administration threw in their support and resources to get the incentive passed last year.

Forty-two companies have been pre-approved in the state. Twenty have seen investors redeem credits. Two A3 Freight Payment investors have redeemed a combined $100,000 worth of tax credits.

“The Angel Tax Credit has allowed our investors to put in more money because they are bolstered by the credit now,” said Harris.

So far, $1.32 million in tax credits have been approved, while $4.75 million in new investments have been added to the state’s economy.

“Given that the world of startup investment is risky, the tax credit essentially de-risks that investment, to some degree, and helps encourage new investment,” said John Lanahan, director of capital formation at LaunchTN. “It helps get people off the sidelines who haven’t typically invested in startups before.”

Related: "Memphis Money: Investment pipeline for startups has room for improvement" 

Launch Tennessee is a public-private partnership that supports entrepreneurship in the state. It encourages collaboration among entrepreneurs, businesses, capital and other stakeholders.

“Angels [investors] largely serve this pre-seed stage before a company is ready to raise a formal seed round. So, more angels translates to more capital available for startups, which is the number one thing startups say they need,” said Lanahan.

Investors can receive up to $50,000 in credits per year. They apply to Hall income tax liabilities, which is a 6 percent tax levied by the state on investment income.

Credits can be carried forward into future tax returns as well. It may be retroactively applied if investor and company are qualified by December 31.

The program is capped at $3 million this year, with $1.68 million in credits left. They expire if no one qualifies by the end-of-2017 deadline. The cap will rise in succeeding years. Next year, four million will be dedicated to the program. In 2019, it will see a bump up to $5 million and stay at that level.

The program will expire along with the Hall income tax in 2022.

“We’ve been one of the fastest growing states as it relates to startup investments in the Southeast for the last five years. To keep that momentum going, we need to encourage capital investment in Tennessee startups,” said Lanahan.

Investment in nascent businesses has trended upward in Tennessee since 2012. Investment dollars have grown from $250 million to $450 million in that timeframe, according to Launch Tennessee. However, a drop off is underway that is following a larger trend across the region.

“Angels really are a critical resource to help companies get off the ground,” said Lanahan.

While an infusion of much of capital would make a lot of burgeoning business people jump through countless hoops, the application process isn’t too onerous. The first step is an evaluation. The appraisal also gives entrepreneurs a chance to improve their businesses and sharpen their pitches.

“I’m trained as a CPA and having gotten a taste of tax compliant work, this process paled in comparison to that level of complexity. It’s pretty straightforward,” said Harris. 

Qualifying companies must be less than five-years-ol, with revenues under $3 million the previous year. They may have 50 or fewer employees. Sixty percent must perform the majority of their work in Tennessee. Further restrictions favor high-growth technology companies.

“When investing in early-stage startups, there is a relatively, high likelihood that they could fail since it is so early. The Angel Tax Credit give that investor some buffer on the potential downside. It helps them decide they can stomach the risk because they know there’s this offset,” said Lanahan.

“We are always looking for ways to get companies off the ground and surround them with needed resources.”

Memphis-based Coaching for Literacy shoots to change the rate of illiteracy

A nationwide push that uses college basketball as a platform to improve literacy rates got its start at a Memphis high school.

Five years ago, Memphis University School students Jonathan Wilfong and Andrew Renshaw launched Coaching for Literacy as a class project. Now nationally recognized, Coaching for Literacy has drawn support from 40 NCAA partners.

“My son, Jonathan, and his friend, Andrew, started Coaching for Literacy as a class project their senior year,” said Coaching for Literacy board chairman and former Memphis State basketball player John Wilfong.

The challenge put out by their English teacher was to “help as many people as you can”. The pair chose literacy as their project.

“Jonathan and Andrew had two separate experiences growing up demonstrating the power of literacy to change a person’s life,” said Wilfong.

Jonathan Wilfong was inspired by a friend from the Amateur Athletic Union who struggled to read. A gifted athlete, his disability would likely hinder his chances of moving on to college. The Wilfong family encouraged the friend to seek tutoring, and by the time by the time he was a freshman in high school, he was reading at a seventh-grade level. 

That outcome is uncommon, according to Coaching for Literacy.

“Sixty-four percent of American 4th graders are not reading at grade-level and roughly two-thirds of these students will go on to live on welfare or in jail. This means by 10 years of age, a child’s future is already established for better or worse,” said Coaching for Literacy executive director Ryan Viner

Coaching for Literacy models its revenue model on the PGA Tour's Caddy For a Cure nonprofit. Instead of paying to caddy for a golf luminary, college basketball fans can make a donation to Coaching for Literacy for a spot on players bench during a sponsored game. The proceeds support Coaching for Literacy's education programs.

While Jonathan Renshaw and Andrew Wifong moved on to college, Coaching for Literacy flourished into a national organization.

“Coaching for Literacy has conducted 75 Fight for Literacy games with nearly 40 NCAA partners. This season, 36 NCAA programs are involved in the Fight for Literacy Games initiative. This is an increase from 20 NCAA programs in the prior season,” said Viner.

University of Memphis' game against Louisiana State University on December 28 at the FedEx Forum will be the next Coaching for Literacy-sponsored game. 

Coaches, staff and players will be wearing green ties, lapel pins or wrist bands in recognition of literacy awareness. If allowed by the host program, donations can be made during the game.

“We want America to turn on the TV to their favorite sport, see the color green on a coach or player, and think literacy. We want to be for literacy what the color pink is for breast cancer,” said Wilfong.

Coaching for Literacy's growth has caught the eye of corporate sponsors, too. 

“Coaching for Literacy has activated major sponsorships with C Spire and International Paper via Fight for Literacy Games as well as a strategic branding sponsorship with Peter Millar, the official supplier of the Fight for Literacy apparel line,” said Viner.

National exposure has been a result of the embrace of college basketball. Through the combined generosity of the programs, fans and corporate sponsors, its reach has extended across the country.

“Since 2014, Coaching for Literacy has raised more than $500,000, providing funding support for 50 literacy projects that directly impact 8,000 kids across 11 states and 20 communities,” said Viner.

The program continues to make an impact in its Memphis home base, as well. Nearly $100,000 has been provided to support the work of the Memphis Teacher Residency and STREETS ministries.

Coaching for Literacy has a bullish outlook on the future. By 2020, the organization wants Fight for Literacy games to be hosted by 50 NCAA partners. They are also looking to the NBA for partners.

“We hope to involve 30 NBA players in Fight for Literacy games,” said Viner.

The first NBA partner will be announced soon. The expansion of corporate sponsorships also figure prominently in their 2020 vision.

“We will seek to have a majority of our Fight for Literacy Games sponsored by a corporation. When we accomplish this vision, we will set our 2030 vision to be a part of a collective effort to change the rate of illiteracy in our country,” said Viner.

Inside Out/Dreamers art project drums up support for Memphis' undocumented young people

It wasn’t your typical photo booth.

Students and community members waited in line the cold to pose for a picture at Christian Brothers University on Friday, December 8. 

CBU was the latest stop for the Inside Out/Dreamers project. The traveling photo booth exhibit seeks to boost support for the DREAM Act’s passage by the end of the year. The proposed legislation would grant legal status for Dreamers, or young people whose visas have expired or were brought to this country without proper documentation. It has failed to pass several times.

“We’re a campus that was founded on Lasallian principles. Over 300 years ago, Jean Baptist de La Salle believed very strongly that young people needed to be educated; reach young people where they are and have them make a difference to their communities," said CBU president John Smarrelli, who has campaigned for private scholarships that aid students who are Dreamers. 

"Essentially, why we educate Dreamers on this campus is for that particular reason. We see opportunities for these individuals to make a huge difference to our community."

Related: "Under Trump, CBU will continue to support undocumented students"

Organizers of the photo exhibition have already visited over 30 cities across the country. Memphis is one of the later stops, with Washington D.C. the last one on the itinerary. Thirty-five stops are planned.

Organizers of the Inside Out/Dreamers exhibit printed out portraits in large format and displayed the prints outside the CBU cafeteria.The idea is to show the faces of this imperiled community; to hear their voices and stories.

Area leaders, such as Mauricio Calvo, executive director of Latino Memphis and Rondell Treviño, founder and president of Memphis Immigration Project, spoke on behalf of the estimated 1,000 Dreamers in Memphis and their contributions. There are over 2,000 individuals eligible for DACA in Memphis. 

“I’m honored Christian Brothers was chosen to be part of the Inside Out project. But this all comes down to our young people, the future of this country, the future of these individuals, and opportunities for them to contribute as leaders in our society,” said Smarrelli.

The CBU freshman class has over 60 Dreamers. One of those young people is Teresa Escobar. A junior finance major, her family came the U.S. when she was seven.

“Now I’m 21. I’ve been here most of my life. It’s not about where you were born but where you are from. I am a Memphian," said Escobar. 

"I urgently want Congress to pass a clean DREAM Act. I believe Congress is here to help everyone. Thanks to DACA, I was able to come to CBU and study political science so I can go to law school. If they take it away, I will not be able to attend law school next year."

DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, was created in 2012 by President Obama by executive order. It grants renewable, two-year permits for young people who pass criminal background checks among other criteria.

In September, the Trump administration announced it was winding down the program. Many of the 800,000 permits expire next year along with the legal right to work. Dreamers could face deportation to countries that are foreign to them.

Democrats are urgently trying to attach the DREAM Act to the upcoming budget. But, any support drawn from moderate Republicans will spur opposition from more conservative forces. Tennessee’s Senators, both Republicans, are opposed to the deal.

“I hear all the time that we are a country of laws, and I couldn’t agree more. But we should be proud to be a country of just laws. There are just laws and unjust laws and outdated laws and dated laws. We have to realize we are fortunate enough to live in a country where the legislative system is evolving,” said Mauricio Calvo, executive director of Latino Memphis.

In a dozen polls this fall, respondents favored allowing dreamers to stay in the United States versus deportation by at least 3-to-1, and at times by 4-to-1 or 5-to-1.

In another poll released December 12, 81 percent of Americans, including 67 percent of Republicans, want Dreamers to remain in America.

Nevertheless, Dreamers prospects are uncertain due to the sustained opposition.

“We have to pride ourselves in the fact that our laws can and need to change to reflect our values and our needs as a country,” said Calvo.

Calvo and other supporters of Dreamers have appealed to sway reluctant politicians like Rep. David Kustoff. The first-term Republican represents the 8th district, which encompasses much of Western Tennessee, including parts of Memphis and its suburbs.

“We need to continue to press Congress to change the laws. This is not only the smart thing to do but it is the right thing to do. We’re humans. How can you say ‘No’ and turn your back on people, turn your back on our economy and turn your back on our values as a country,” said Calvo.

According to Latino Memphis, data from the Center for American Progress and the New American Economy backs up their position and indicate $146 million per year will be added to the state’s Gross Domestic Product if the DREAM Act passes.

If half of the DREAM Act-eligible students in Tennessee go to two-year or four-year higher education institutions, that $146 million figure will appreciate to $487 million per year.

If nothing is done, Kustoff’s district will lose $24 million per year in GDP. Tennessee will drop $347 million.

“At a time when facts don’t seem to matter, well they do matter. How do these numbers happen? Every person that lives in Tennessee pays property tax and sales tax. So, this myth that immigrants don’t pay taxes, don’t contribute is completely false," said Calvo.

"Do the math on how many are buying a house, renting an apartment, or going to the grocery store. So, the more people we get in the state of Tennessee, the more people we get in our city of Memphis, the better off we are all going to be."

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 5,000th 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

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