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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.

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.

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.

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.

Indie Memphis Film Festival grows beyond a regional event

The Indie Memphis’ yearly exposition has matured from a fledgling local event into an internationally recognized film festival, and its 20th annual festival is shaping up the be the largest yet.

Thirty-five viewers gathered for the inaugural festival. Local film students, largely, screened their efforts at the EDGE coffee shop in Cooper-Young circa 1998.  Local underground filmmaker John Pickle made an appearance, too.

Now, the festival sports a lineup that includes over 180 films, panel workshops, music and parties. Attendance tops out at around 11,000.

“If people know about Indie Memphis and they know it’s a film organization then they might think it’s all about movies. It’s certainly built around movies. But the purpose of it is to build community around these experiences,” said Iddo Patt, board member of Indie Memphis and founder of Modern Production Concepts.

During the Indie Memphis Film Festival on November 3 through 5, Indie Memphis will host its first-ever block party. Traffic will be closed on Cooper between Monroe and Union avenues during the event to improve walkability.

“For our 20th anniversary this was our big addition to the festival,” said Watt. “Hopefully, people will wander up to it, who don’t know much about Indie Memphis, and hang out, take part in what’s free and then be compelled to buy a ticket."

This year’s festivities will be highlighted by Rainn Wilson’s new movie, “Thom Pain”. Based on co-director Will Eno’s one-man play, it will premiere at the Orpheum on opening night, November 1. The adaptation of the monologue-driven work was also directed by Oliver Butler. Wilson, of "The Office" fame, will make an appearance at the premiere.

“The hope is that each year gets better – improving the level of guests we bring into town and the variety of films,” said Watt. “Rainn Wilson is one of the more high-profile guests we’ve brought into the festival.

It’s a huge deal to have a world premiere. It’s actually a rare thing for a regional festival like Indie Memphis.”

Originally a volunteer effort, the Indie Memphis nonprofit now staffs eight and has a 22-member board of directors that work year round. Over the years, they have fundraised, promoted, bent ears, cajoled civic leaders and celebrity agents alike.

In addition to the film festival, there are several programs offered throughout the year. For instance, Shoot and Splice and a monthly filmmaking forum promote independent filmmaking in Memphis. Screenings can be seen with the Microcinema Club and on Indie Wednesday. There is also the Youth Film Fest.

Many of the early featured filmmakers were students. Others were novices pursuing their passions and far-fetched dreams. Some, though, had enough talent to take them beyond Memphis.

In 2000, Craig Brewer’s feature, “The Poor & Hungry,” premiered at the Memphis College of Art. Shot in digital format on a budget of $20,000, it gave an unflinching look Memphis’ street life. It won awards at Indie Memphis and later at the Hollywood Film Festival.

Five years later, Brewer took home the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival for “Hustle & Flow”.  Another Memphis director, Ira Sachs, won the Grand Jury Prize for “Forty Shades of Blue”.

Even the music categories weren’t safe, as local rap outfit Three Six Mafia beat out Dolly Parton for best musical score, notching another win for “Hustle & Flow” in 2005.

It was the film's exposure at Indie Memphis that led to greater exposure elsewhere. The filmmakers’ success brought attention back to the tiny film festival that started it all. Since those earlier efforts, the festival has only increased in popularity and acclaim.

MovieMaker Magazine recently ranked the Indie Memphis “one of the 25 Coolest Film Festivals and one the 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee.” Amazon Studios came on board as a marquee sponsor last year. It now joins the Sundance, Tribeca and Seattle International Film Festivals as recipients of Amazon's nod.

Italian director Abel Ferrera will be on hand as well during this year's festival. The controversial filmmaker will join editor Anthony Redman and cinematographer Ken Welsch for anniversary screenings of “Bad Lieutenant,” starring Harvey Keitel, and 1995’s “The Blackout,” with Mathew Modine. Both will be screened at the Malco Studio on the Square.

Seven new and classic films will be showcased as a part of the MLK50 mini-festival. Among them will be “Marvin Booker Was Murdered,” which is about the beating to death of a homeless preacher. Jules Dassin’s “Up Tight”, featuring the music of Stax house band Booker T. and the MG’s, will also be shown.

“Leading up to the anniversary in April, groups like ourselves are partnering with the National Civil Rights Museum to have events that fit into the themes of not only Martin Luther King but ‘where to do we go from here.’ Tying it back to today and what’s going in the world,” said Watt of the 50-year commemoration of Dr. King's assassination in Memphis.

Music won’t only be featured on the soundtracks, scores, and incidentally during the festival. “Thank You, Friends: Big Star's 'Third' Live... And More," will be shown on an outdoor screen during a November 3 block party. The film will feature performances by Robyn Hitchcock, members of R.E.M., Wilco, Yo La Tengo, and the original drummer for the Memphis band, Jody Stephens. The concert documentary features music from their third album. Stephens will host the screening.

Screening venues include the Halloran Centre, Playhouse on the Square, Circuit Playhouse, the Hattiloo Theatre, the Studio on the Square and the Ridgeway Cinema Grill.

Indie Memphis will host the “Collierville Encore” on Nov. 11. Some of the most popular films from the primary schedule will be re-shown following the festival at Malco Collierville Towne Cinema. In the past, screenings were shown simultaneously in Collierville and Midtown.

"Having the whole staff being focused on [the Collierville Encore] a week later will add a lot more to it," Watt said. “We are trying to make sure different areas of town have easy access to the festival.”

A complete schedule will be announced during a preview party at The Rec Room, located at 3000 Broad Avenue, on September 26.

A record number of entries have been submitted this year. Around 200 documentary, experimental, narrative, and animated features and shorts will be screen.

More information can be found at Passes are available. Tickets to individual films go on sale to the general public on Oct. 10.

“Our hope is that every day you are frustrated because there’s more than one thing you want to go to. That means we’ve done our job,” said Watt.

XQ Super School Project taps Crosstown High to reinvent what education looks like for the future

On a journey to rethink high school. That sums up the shared vision of the XQ Super School Project and Crosstown High.

It’s an idea with influential supporters like Lauren Powell Jobs, chairperson of XQ’s board of directors and president of Emerson Collective, and Russlynn Ali, CEO of XQ and former assistant secretary of civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education. The initiative has with celebrity colloborators like MC Hammer and Yo-Yo Ma, and it's found roots in Memphis.

“This XQ thing – they have a big vision,” stated Ginger Spickler, project director for Crosstown High.

The needs and direction of our society have changed drastically in the past century especially with the advent of technology. But American high schools have remained the same. The XQ Super School Project is designed to rethink America’s high schools.

Related: "Crosstown High School driving to be a 21st century model"

In 1892, a group of ten private school presidents got together to rethink what school should be for the 20th century. They came out with the Carnegie Units, desks in straight rows, mandatory school through age 16 – and it improved education in America.

But it was designed for an industrial model to prepare children for the workforce and for a few to go on to college.

“We are in a different age, a different era. Children need to learn differently. They need to be problem solvers and collaborators," said Chris Terrill, executive director of Crosstown High. "So, the things we’ve taught without question for over 120 years are irrelevant. We need to make a shift if we are going to be competitive in the 21st century."

As a part of XQ Super Schools, award recipients are working together to develop innovative ways of teaching and curriculum in hopes of preparing students for the future.

In 2016, members of the Memphis community coalesced to start the work to discover, design and develop what they thought a 21st century high school would look like for the XQ Super School Project contest. The school made it to the round of 50 finalists but learned they missed the mark in the fall of last year.

However, through the process, a vision was created and Crosstown High was born. The XQ team pushed forward to shape what a high school of the future looks like, keeping to the principles set forth in the XQ application.

XQ awarded Crosstown High's independent progress with a $2.5 million grant, which will cover teacher training and professional development.

“When we first started down the XQ application path, I never thought in a million years we would win anything from it. I thought the application process itself would be so valuable in terms of helping us move in a different direction. That was the main reason for doing it,” said Spickler.

During that process, the XQ team worked through three phases.

During the discovery phase, team members interviewed hundreds of students, as well as educators, youth develops and members of the business community. They also spent hours online researching successful learning methods.

This was followed by a design phase, where prototypes were created and focus-tested with local youths.

Finally, came the development phase of the application. The XQ team along with stakeholders got to work on the school design and charter application writing, as well as public strategy and community engagement.
“The basic pieces in the XQ application are going to be the foundation of the school,” Spickler added.
The school will welcome its first class of 125 freshmen in 2018. The lower level of the school is completed at Crosstown Concourse, but the classrooms and auditorium are still under construction. The school has a separate entrance and elevator system in the building.

Overall visions are one thing, but when you’re talking about a school of the 21st century, curriculum should figure prominently in the discussion.


While a lot of details still need hammering out, there is an outline.

“In terms of the curriculum, we have an idea of what we want, but we’re still early in the process so it’s evolving,” said Dr. Chandra Sledge Mathias, principal of Crosstown High.

Like the application process, XP allows charter schools the research what other schools are doing; what works and what doesn’t. If the curriculum reflects early hires, it will likely be different from a typical high school’s.

“Dr. Mathias was hired, in part, due to her experience in project-based learning – one of the key elements for the school,” said Spickler.

What would be an example of a project? And what would be demanded of the student?

A teacher might give bits of data or some foundational information. Then it’s up to the student to go out and explore – it’s very inquiry-based. Then the project is presented to the teacher, who is more of a facilitator.

“Most students won’t have any experience with this model and won’t be ready on day one. But they need to be ready to work into it and be open to becoming a self-directed learner. That’s ultimately what we want – kids who want to be lifelong learners. They are going to have to be to keep up in a 21st century world,” said Spickler.

Another key element of the application was a diverse by design student body.

By state law as a public charter school, Crosstown High is required to hold an application period and then a lottery. So, how do they keep the diversity from swinging one way or the other?

“I think the answer is we have a window that’s open long enough and as applications come in we are able to figure out some information based on those applications to tell if there are under-represented areas of the city,” said Terrill.

Those areas can be targeted with a marketing campaign. If the lottery pool reflects the desired diversity, so should the lottery.

 “One of our primary goals is to a diverse population of students and faculty, and we’re in this diverse building then we have to be true to that and work diligently to fill that applicant base a diverse population,” said Terrill.

Applications will be chosen randomly. It is recommended parents make an informed decision about their education model before submitting.

“We want people to look beyond the new building, nice furniture and understand what our program is about. How it’s different than a traditional school. And for some children, that’s going to be exactly what they’ve been looking for. For others, it’s not going to be what they’ve been looking for,” said Terrill.

Part of the schools’ mission is about personalized learning so students can follow their interests, talents, and strengths.

“While they are still getting curricular content, while they are still getting the college prep experience, they will get real world experience that typically, most people don’t get until after they graduate college,” said Dr. Mathias.

On Aug 24, an event was held to celebrate Crosstown High’s designation as a super school. The XQ Super School bus was there, along with food trucks, a photo booth and information booths. Live music was provided by Royal Studios’ artists Boo Mitchell and Al Kapone.

According to Terrill, being part of XQ is really about the partnership. It’s being able to connect with the other schools around the country.

Conferences will be held two to three times per year so schools can gauge their progress against other XQ schools. Spickler and Terrill attended one in Boston in July.

“While we’re there, in walks MC Hammer and he hung out with us for two days – he’s an XQ board member. YoYo Ma joined us. The next day Ginger ended up at a table with Lauren Power Jobs. It was just surreal,” said Terrill.

On Sept. 8, there is a XQ Super School event that will broadcast live across every major network from 7 to 8 p.m. It is produced to start questioning and rethinking of high school. The star-studded event will feature celebrities like Tom Hanks, Samuel L. Jackson, Common and Jennifer Hudson.

“Chandra and I are going out for that event along with representatives from the other 17 schools,” said Terrill.

“It’s to our city’s best interest that we share the things that are working for students – that gets them engaged and better prepared – that we share those things,” said Spickler. “We want this grant to be for the benefit of not just Crosstown but for the city.”

Memphis College of Art offers new certificate program in fashion design

Memphis College of Art and the Memphis Fashion Design Network have launched a fashion design certificate program starting this fall.

The MCA Fashion Design Certificate program is an intensive nine-month program to learn how to create fashion designs or work in the fashion industry. It will run from September through May with a tuition of $2,650.

There are seven courses in the certificate program. Each class gives a different take on the fashion design world. They range from technical skills like draping and pattern techniques to the business of fashion. The history of fashion is covered in a course called "Fashion Through the Ages". 

There's also a course called "Concept to Collection" that walks students through the process of how to take ideas from concept through the creative process to produce a collection.

“The certificate program would benefit anyone who wants to do a design-oriented job or a hands-on job in the fashion design world; it marries the technical and conceptual sides of the industry,” said Cece Palazola, Director of Community Education for Memphis College of Art.

For several years, Memphis College of Art has worked with the Memphis Fashion Design Network. Non-credit courses like sewing, fashion illustration and draping haven been offered through their community education department.

Related: "Memphis fashion design scene encourages collaboration, youth participation"

In addition to launching the Fashion Design Network last year, Abby Phillips founded Memphis Fashion Week seven years ago. With the new non-profit, she hopes to support fashion designers with resources, studio space and showrooms.

She was also the driver the fashion courses at MCA, including the new certificate program.

“The partnership with Abby Phillips and the Fashion Design Network has been vital to the development of this certification curriculum,” said Palazola.

Two classes were offered a semester. They were specific to a skill and would rotate out. Draping, basic sewing and fashion illustration are a few examples.

“And this is the process of how it’s done in real life. This takes if from the sketchbook to the pattern to the dress,” said Palazola.

The classes were popular. Many were full. An advisor from the Fashion Institute of Technology out of New York was brought in.

“We sat down with them and started working on ideas of what we should be doing next step. That’s when we came up with the certificate program,” said Phillips.

Students have up to two years to complete the nine-month program. Enrollment is done by availability.

“If someone wanted to enroll in the spring and we have availability in the classes they want to take then they can jump right in,” said Palazola.

High School students ages 16 and up can also enroll.

“It’s a great opportunity for high school students who are interested in studying fashion but don’t know where to start in building a portfolio. They have to have a portfolio to even apply for a fashion design school. This is a great place for them to come and give them a base so they can move onto a design school,” said Phillips.

Related: "The Lab offers support for local fashion designers"

The program has drawn interest from people already working in fashion.

“We’ve had people already working in the fashion industry who want to hone a particular skill. I talked to a lady last week who has a job in alterations but wants to learn fashion illustration. This is one of our continuing education courses and just an example of where the interests lie,” said Palazola.

Additional funding for the program has been received through a grant from the American Association of University Women. The money will pay for equipment. It will also fund five scholarships for under resourced women. The awards will cover 50 percent of their tuition.

“We are excited to bring a program like this to Memphis. There is a huge demand for it. We are almost full. And we've had close to 20 applications for the scholarship,” said Palazola.

Going forward, the college hopes to receive additional funding from the community to offset tuition costs for worthy, cash-strapped students.

“There is so much creativity in Memphis and so many deserving people who are doing that side hustle thing right now who want to build it into something else and take that next step,” said Palazola.

A few newly hired instructors are MCA alums. One worked for Polo Ralph Lauren. Another creates costumes for Ballet Memphis.

“She has amazing technical skills to make anything and has a real understanding of the work,” said Palazola.

They all hold at least a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, as well as experience working in the fashion industry.

“If someone takes the program and earns the certificate then they will be ready to move to that next level in the fashion industry,” said  Palazola.

Ballet Memphis holds to core values of innovation after 30 years

It’s been a steep climb, but after 30 years Memphis Ballet Company has risen from a small, local dance company to a position of national recognition.

A lot of the credit lies with founder Dorothy Gunther Pugh.

“We’ve built such a strong and admirable institution. We’ve been pretty careful about it,” said the CEO and founding artistic director of Ballet Memphis.

In 1986, she founded Ballet Memphis. Since, the company has grown from two dancers to 26. The budget followed suit swelling from $75,000 to $4.1 million.

Further reflecting the trend in growth, a new $21 million facility in Midtown at 2144 Madison Ave. will also formally open its doors on Aug. 26.

Related: "Five upcoming projects that will change Memphis neighborhoods"

“The company has changed so much in the past 20 years. People are moving back into the city, taking part in this urban renaissance, more walkers and bikers. We wanted to be in the new hot bed of activity,” said Pugh.

She was quick to thank those who have provided support from day one.

“They have supported us without fail. The philanthropists in this town are dedicated and it’s amazing all the things they help make happen in this community.”

Credit also lies with the culture Pugh and early company members created.

Ballet Memphis values diversity among its company and its staff, Pugh said. Currently, over 60 percent of its dancers are of color.

“We have dancers from Memphis; we recruit nationally – I have a dancer from Charlottsville, Va. We have two Panamanian dancers. They’ve come from North Carolina, from Boston, from Japan, Mexico, Spain, France, Russia, the Phillipines,” said Pugh.

Some dancers have been with company for 20 years. There is little turnover. Some years, there is only one spot to fill. Dancers spanning the globe travel to Memphis to audition. Ballet Memphis holds tryouts in diverse locations, as well.

On tour, the company tries to project Memphis' unique voice. Pieces from their River Project or Memphis Project are generally performed.

“When we performed at the Kennedy Center in 2010 with 'Dance Across America' we were on stage with nine major companies and we were the star of the show – the finest reviews went to us with our five dancers and our Roy Orbison inspired piece called ‘In Dreams.’”

The spirit of inclusiveness is also reflected in the design of the new 38,000-square-foot facility. The front exterior features open spaces. An abundance of glass panels provide transparency. Colors were chosen from nature’s palette to mirror the outside world. The effect is a melding of the inside and outside spaces.

“We want people to come in, look around and feel welcome.”

From Madison Ave., the work of the costume shop will be visible. Through its glass panes, selections from an estimated 10,000-piece wardrobe will be exhibited. You can also catch costumers hard at work.

Dancers will also be visible as they ply their craft. They, too, will be part of the scenery at the Overton Square intersection.

“It feels great to finally be working in the new building. One of the things I’ve really taken note of is seeing how the space has affected the people who work in it – their spirits really seemed to have soared from the moment they stepped into the new space," Pugh added.

Within its walls are studios, offices, a costume shop, meeting and classroom space and a corner café.

Softly curved in an almost egg-like shape, the Mama Gaia Café, or the “egg,” as Pugh calls it, will serve organic vegetarian fare to visitors.

The second floor features a “nest” or loft. Here, dancers and staff can gather and relax.

“It provides a sense of lifting our spirits up and a nesting for ideas and things that are not born yet or are in the process of growth. There’s a lot of metaphorical language in the building that reflects what the ballet world can do for people.”

Each studio has its own name and identity.

The main studio, which is referred to as Fly, fronts the building. With a 45-ft ceiling, it was built to house practices for high-flying performances like “Peter Pan.” It has retractable seating for 200, so it can be converted into a performance space. It also features a state-of-the-art sound system and lighting.

The space will be available to rent out for business gatherings or special events.

The other studios are dubbed Imagine, Discover and Dream. 

A board room will also available for rent as a meeting space.

“We’ll have to work it around our first job, which is to make sure the dancers are doing what they are supposed to be doing; it’s our primary mission. But another part of our mission is to bring people into the space,” said Pugh.

As excitement is building for the imminent grand opening, the old Ballet Memphis facility has plans earmarked for it, too.

“We didn’t need two large buildings.”

The decision was made to pair with the Memphis Jewish Community Center to maintain a presence in the East Memphis area.

“We still have wonderful families in East Memphis and it may not be convenient for them to come into the city after work for classes. So, we are keeping a presence out east with the MJCC partnership. We are trying to serve both areas,” said Pugh.

With the decision to maintain both facilities, the footprint of Ballet Memphis has grown. This dovetails with Pugh’s desire to expand the ballet’s impact on the community.

“I don’t want our dancers to hide in their theater bubble. We encourage them to be in the community; meet the families and children that partake in Ballet Memphis. It’s not about one of us; it’s about all of us together. And that’s my inspiration and hope for our new home,” said Pugh.

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