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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

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.

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