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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 and 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.

Instacart delivers more than just groceries - hiring over 100 virtual shoppers in the area

Consumer habits are changing fast. As life gets busier and busier, people often look to technology to make things easier.

This has making the days of driving store to store, walking aisle to aisle, a thing of the past. Today, all one needs to knock out weekend errands are a computer, or smartphone, a wi-fi connection – oh, and a shopping list.

Kroger E-Commerce Manager Jeff Evans believes “everybody is looking for a way to get a little of their time back.”

The Instacart App, which made its Memphis debut on Aug. 8, is hard-coded to refund time. The service will allow customers to purchase groceries, toiletries, over-the-counter medication, pet supplies - even prepared meals – and have them delivered to their front door.

Instacart isn’t the first virtual shopper in Memphis. However, they fill orders at a range of retailers like Whole Foods Market, Costco, CVS, Petco and Kroger. Other services are linked to a single retailer – like Kroger or Walmart, for example.

The online service also guarantees prompt deliveries. Often, in as little as an hour.  

“Over the past year we’ve seen incredible demand in the Memphis area,” said Nick Friedrich, Instacart general manager.

Instacart’s local service area will cover most of Shelby County. With 313,000 households in 31 ZIP codes, there is a potential market for the service.

The San Francisco-based startup will also have an impact on the local workforce. It plans to hire more than 100 shoppers in the Memphis-area.

Shoppers will be paid by the order. Tips increase their income – provided the customer is satisfied.

"The wage includes a per item commission and a per order commission on each delivery completed, so wages vary by shopper. The more efficient shoppers tend to make a little bit more," Friedrich said.

Like rideshare giant Uber, Instacart is an adherent to the “gig” economy.

This model relies on contractors to fill most of its workforce. For the workers, it’s a mixed bag. For some, it’s a positive – flexible hours, less stress.

For others, there’s a downside. Contract workers are generally paid by the gig, which can work out to less than minimum wage. The work can be inconsistent. They don’t receive benefits.

Instacart has tried blunt some of the negative effects the business model has on contract workers.

"We do have guaranteed minimums in each new market so new shoppers can feel confident in their wages as they get up to speed. These minimums ensure that shopper wages in Memphis are above minimum wage," according to Friedrich.

Lately, companies have sought to downsize the model to a degree. A percentage of contract workers are being hired on full-time or part-time by “gig” employers.

The shopping service is following suit. They began hiring regular employees in 2015. Now, 20 percent of their shoppers fit that category.

While the “gig” economy stresses flexibility over the traditional employment package, the looming specter of automation is loyal to neither.

While unions like SEIU and minimum-wage workers have been focusing on a baseline of $15 per hour, online retailer Amazon has been investing in new technology. A drone that will deliver an order with a soft landing on your front lawn is in the works. So is its push into retail grocery with the recent purchase of Whole Foods Market.

But what should send shivers down the spines of labor organizers and gig jobbers is “Amazon Go. Billed as the first grocer without cashiers, its further concern for increasing worker obsolescence as technology advances.

While the end game is uncertain, but Jeff Evans of Kroger is right. Through technology, people are potentially about to have a lot more time on their hands.

Crosstown High School driving to be a 21st century model

When the doors open on what will likely be a hot, summer day in Memphis, Crosstown High ninth-graders won’t be walking into a “traditional” high school.

Being billed as “high school for the 21st century,” the new charter school in Midtown will kick off its inaugural class next year. In August 2018, 125 ninth-graders will comprise the incoming students. The school will eventually serve 500 youth, grades 9-12.

Through an innovative curriculum, Crosstown High hopes to prepare students for what lies ahead. Students will receive personalized learning plans, as well as project-based educational opportunities.

The school is the united vision parents, students, educators and stakeholders in the community.

Ginger Spickler, an early organizer and visionary for Crosstown High, spearheaded a team of volunteers starting in 2015 - talking to hundreds of Memphians - parents, educators, employers, and especially students - about what young people need out of high school today.

“I was lucky enough to convince an incredibly dedicated and talented group of community volunteers to participate in a deep community engagement process. This is truly a community-generated vision for how students should be learning in the 21st century,” said Spickler,

Over the next year, their involvement will continue as more details about the school emerge. As the first day of school draws near, member of the Board of Directors and staff plan to continue consulting with the community about what is needed in an innovative new high school.

Spickler says they will continue to listen deeply to the community, as well as research the best practice of schools throughout the country, who are already leading the way toward more student-centered learning.

“We'll also be working to hire a staff that is incredibly mission-aligned. And, of course, we'll be reaching out into the community to share this vision of a different kind of high school experience to Memphis families. We are aiming for a uniquely diverse student body and will be working hard to make sure our reach is broad,” said Spickler.

Crosstown High will be in proximity to an active ecosystem of entrepreneurship and leadership. Students will have the opportunity to learn from a range of mentors.

The approach of engaging students in real-life work necessitates a change in the expectation in the teachers they plan to hire and the partnerships they form.

Local youth development organizations - BRIDGES, Cloud 901 and story booth – stand up as inspiration to form curriculum and culture.

A look the recent success of the Maxine Smith STEAM Academy is also fueling demand for schools like Crosstown High. A smaller student-body equals smaller class sizes. Thus, more one-on-one learning opportunities are available.

Like STEAM, there will also be an innovative curriculum. It will be centered around project-based learning. As the school was being conceptualized, the thoughts of students and teachers throughout the school system were gauged. Surveys were conducted. Soon, a picture began to take shape.

Students wanted to see real-world connections to the curriculum. They want to apply what they learn; to put their knowledge to work for the good of the community.

 “The location of Crosstown affords us an opportunity to weave challenging, real-life opportunities into the daily lives of our students.  Through a curriculum that intertwines content across traditional subjects and focuses on substantial and important student-led projects we believe that we can connect at a high level with our students.  Additionally, we believe that our students can make substantial contributions to our community,” said Chris Terrill, executive director of Crosstown High.

To achieve this, the school will partner with fellow tenants of the Crosstown Concourse. For instance, a student could cover writing and science bases through a wellness campaign for Church Health.

“Crosstown was designed to be a vertical urban village.  A great school is an exceedingly important component of any healthy community. Therefore, Crosstown makes sense from a community standpoint,” said Terrill.

The school will benefit from partnerships they are developing in the building. With almost 3000 people living or working in the Concourse, opportunities for partnerships and internships are endless.

Each tenant understands the Crosstown mantra of "Better together" and is ready and willing to carry that mission into their interactions with the students.

Along with the curriculum there will be a personalized learning plan for each student. This will help them develop a path to understanding core concepts in math, science and English that suits their individual needs.

“In a typical school environment a textbook defines the bulk of content and students proceed at whatever pace the teacher or district has set.  Very little attention is given to the idea that students learn at different paces and come in with different skill sets,” said Terrill.

In a personalized, competency based model, students progress - with guidance - at their own pace and master content before moving on.

“Understanding content is important, but in a personalized plan, students are given options to show that they have mastered the key concepts,” said Terrill.

The students will also learn in the fashion they are best geared toward. It could be through teacher instruction, online learning or peer tutoring.

Progress will be tracked through advisors and technology.

There will also be two-week elective courses, generally in areas of particular interest for the student. These brief stints will allow kids to pursue areas of passion - like art, music or sports, for example.

Crosstown High will also meet the same requirements as other public schools. English, math, science and social studies will comprise the core curriculum.

As a charter school, they are required by law to assess students with the same state tests that traditional public schools administer. 

However, throughout Terrill’s career, he says his approach has been low key in terms of testing.  He believes in building a curriculum that is rich and relevant to students, implement that curriculum, and then students are naturally prepared to do well. 

“We will not be a school that crams content in the weeks leading up to the test.  We will not hype the test.  Our students will do well because we have authentically prepared them for excellence in life,” said Terrill.

The concept of Crosstown High was driven, partly, as the result of a grant application. A group of Memphians, led by Spickler, organized to design an “educational experience.” The goal of the project was to create “agile and flexible learners” for a future growing continuously more fluid. Five winners would receive $10 million each to realize their project.

“The vision for Crosstown High came about through the process of applying for a large grant from the XQ Super School Project, an X Prize-type design contest that challenged us to rethink high school for the next generation of students,” said Spickler.

After being named a finalist, they didn't make the cut in 2016. A vision for Crosstown High came out in the wash, though.

A diverse, wide-ranging student body that is reflective of the community will be sought. Students will be culled from throughout Memphis. No school will be the recipient of a lopsided exodus as names are drawn.

The application process will begin in September. Students will be prioritized via lottery system. Prospective students will be notified about enrollment for the 2018-19 year in the months ahead.

Healthier Tennessee Neighborhoods taps Memphis for new health and wellness pilot program

With public health issues, like Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, reaching all-time highs in Tennessee, Gov. Bill Haslam has introduced Healthier Tennessee Neighborhoods, an urban health program.

As the pilot city, Memphis will be the first metropolitan area to take part. The initiative is part of the Governor’s Foundation for Health and Wellness, a nonprofit dedicated to helping Tennesseans lead healthier lives.

A quick look at some of the state’s basic health statistics reveals why. The obesity rate has risen to 33 percent. People considered overweight come in at the same figure. Meanwhile, one in four adults smoke. Following in their steps, one in five high school students are taking up the habit.

The Foundation encourages Tennesseans to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Part of that is through physical activity, with 30 minutes a day, five days a week as the benchmark. Additionally, it provides advice on a more nutritious diet and portion control. Tobacco use, of course, is discouraged.

Research shows that support is vital to people adopting and maintaining a healthier lifestyle – for individuals and the community.

Up until now, only smaller towns in the state have taken part.  The Healthier Tennessee Communities initiative is geared towards those municipalities.

“HTC was launched in 2015, with nine pilot communities across the state that formed local leadership committees and mobilized citizen participation to increase physical activity, improve nutrition, and reduce tobacco use by measurable amounts in their towns and counties. Today, HTC is in 97 communities across the state,” said Richard Johnson, CEO, Governor's Foundation for Health & Wellness.

The move to metropolitan areas is the next phase. The focus will be on resident-led health movements in urban neighborhoods.

Neighborhood Wellness Councils will be formed and led by a chairperson dubbed the wellness champion. kThrough regular meetings, the council will develop and put into practice a Neighborhood Wellness Plan that will encourage a healthier lifestyle.

“We are in the process of conducting focus groups around the city, getting feedback from residents about what kinds of healthy lifestyle initiatives they would like to see in their neighborhoods and how we can make HTN most impactful for them,” Regional Director for Healthier Tennessee Neighborhoods, Kerri Campbell, said.

Once those goals are achieved, the neighborhood will receive a Healthier Tennessee Neighborhood designation from the Governor’s Foundation. They will also receive public recognition from state and local officials.

“Our work is guided by the knowledge that healthier communities attract more employers and have improved employee performance; have lower incidences of chronic health conditions and reduced healthcare costs; and see improved academic performance and higher attendance rates in schools,” said Johnson.

Memphis - like a lot of communities in the state - has not fared well in health outcomes. Chronic diseases persist: diabetes, hypertension, obesity.

“We hope it’s a pathway over the long term to improve the culture of health in the city – one neighborhood at a time,” said Johnson.

Memphis is viewed as fertile ground for this type of program. People have a strong sense of belonging to their neighborhood. This makes it more likely for them to take part. Going neighborhood by neighborhood isn’t too far afield from introducing a program to a small community, either.

“It was partly that we had always, since we began the work four years ago, known that we wanted to take this approach in metropolitan areas. When FedEx stepped forward and said they would like to be a funding partner for an initiative that’s focused on Memphis, rather than the entire state, it gave us the greenlight to go ahead and do this first in Memphis,” added Johnson.

With funding clinched, Campbell was hired as Regional Director. FedEx committed $150,000 over the next three years. Any additional funding will come from the Foundation through public and private donations.

The last few months, Campbell has been out in the community. She has talked to stakeholders about the initiative. Some have backgrounds in community development, public health and philanthropy. The outreach will help with the selection of pilot neighborhoods. It will also help better serve their needs.

“I am conducting these focus groups in partnership with Emily Trenholm, Community Engagement Manager at High Ground News, and together we are making sure that we have the right people at the table to give us the feedback we need to develop and implement a successful pilot,” said Campbell.

Community partners for the focus groups include Binghampton CDC, Crosstown CDC, Klondike Smokey City CDC, Vollintine Evergreen Community Association, and The Works.

Once the pilot phase is completed, more neighborhoods will be approached.

“We hope to see a majority of neighborhoods in Memphis become involved and see them accomplish their measurable goals,” said Johnson.

A new Community LIFT Empowerment Fund looks to lift up small, neighborhood projects

Community LIFT has started an Empowerment Fund to drive neighborhood-based projects. The small-grant endowment will invest up to $2,500 per endeavor.

The community development corporation’s fund will provide support and financial assistance to individuals, residents or small grassroots organizations. The projects, meanwhile, will fall in the categories of people-based, economics, grassroots organizing and physical space – like a pocket park.

You can find an example of one of these small, public spaces near Danny Thomas and Crump.  It was completed a few months back. Built by the employees at ServiceMaster, the work was done in a day.

The park sits in front of the Greater White Stone Missionary Baptist Church at 917 S Wellington St.  With a mural painted on the side of an adjacent abandoned building, it’s easy to spot.

When LIFT was researching projects, short timeframes, little sweat equity and a need of few supplies were prerequisites. A pocket park is a good example of a project that meets those criteria.

Community health fairs, pop-up shops, or designating a street or block as a historic preservation site, are examples of the other three categories, respectively.

“These are the types of projects people are taking on in their communities but may not have the financial assistance needed and are spending money out of their pocket,” said Nefertiti Orrin, Grants Director for Community LIFT.

The funding intermediary for local CDCs hopes the fund will also help connect people with other resources. Many projects require more than the fund’s limit. A partnership with ioby has helped many bridge financial shortfalls. The online crowdfunding platform has funded 203 projects since 2014.

“We want people to think about how they can leverage funds to be awarded from Community LIFT to secure more funding – say you have a $4,000 project – how can you raise the difference for your project,” said Orrin.

LIFT’s Empowerment fund will work with their CDC Capacity Fund. The latter promotes the expansion of community development corporations’ organizational capacity. After all, a neighborhood organization is only effective if it receives participation from the community it serves.

“At the core of our work, we hope to advance Memphis by securing funding and connections and networks that help to empower residents and grow community development corporations (CDCs),” said Orrin. “CDCs work tirelessly to help improve neighborhoods and they are often under-resourced and under-funded,” said Orrin.

The Soulsville Neighborhood Association is interested in applying for the grant. They have several project opportunities that could use a boost of funding.

One of them is a “Light Up Soulsville” initiative where residents who have a light or electric  pole on their property would be invited to have a light installed for them by MLGW – especially to help illuminate dark, vacant lots next to houses.

“This is something MLGW does as a service. If you have a pole in your yard, MLGW will put a light on the pole for you at a nominal fee and adds a small $6 to $7 monthly charge to your utility bill. It helps light up vacant lots and we have a lot of vacant lots in Soulsville,” said Rebecca Hutchinson, member of Soulsville Neighborhood Association.

Another area of interest for residents is the rock garden project next to the “I Love Soulsville” mural at E. McLemore Ave. and Mississippi Blvd. Currently, they have an ioby project open to raise funds to buy plants for the rock garden. But they also need funds to spruce up the mural, which is showing wear and tear, and to continue beautification of the rock garden.

Hutchinson says there are so many needs in the neighborhood and things they would want to apply those funds to in Soulsville.

“They are small projects – low cost, short term – so those funds would really help to leverage other funds we have already received and be invaluable in helping build on the momentum of what we have already started in Soulsville,” said Hutchinson.

The fund will be awarded annually. This year, $75,000 was donated from the Hyde Family Foundation and the Kresge Foundation.

“We see the Empowerment Fund working hand-in-hand with our CDC Capacity Fund. At the same time, we are helping to build up CDCs, we also want to empower residents to be part of the process and work alongside each other to improve their community,” said Orrin.

The application process is open until Aug. 24. Applicants should show evidence of support from residents or the community. A pre-application rundown is required. Awards will be announced on Aug. 31.

Non-recipients will also be notified too. They will be informed why they didn’t receive a grant. That way, adjustments can be made to proposals and pitched again next year.

“Our philosophy is transparent grant-making. We want to make sure we are giving our applicants feedback so they can continue to refine their application for the next go-round,” said Orrin.

Clean water matters to new activist group formed to educate the public issues related to H2O

Since the turn of 2017, a group of Memphians have met weekly. The topic of conversation is one that is often taken for granted – water.

Beneath the city lies the Memphis Sand Aquifer. This hidden geological feature provides Memphis with some of the purest drinking water in the country. But what happens when the water travels from the ground and through the tap is a concern.

And it’s not just Memphis. In the wake of the Flint, Mich. water crisis many communities are inspecting their aging water infrastructure to prevent similar calamities from occurring.

Maria Wilder, a member of Clean Water Memphis, was drawn to the issue during a local Democratic party meeting. Among the speakers was Chet Kibble, a former employee of Memphis, Light Gas & Water and co-chair of Memphis & Shelby County Lead Safe Collaborative. One of the water quality-related topics discussed was lead poisoning.

“It was like a light bulb. When I moved here people kept telling me 'The water is really great'. It’s the aquifer so I didn’t question it. But when I heard Chet talk about the issue of lead contamination, I decided to drop all my other issues and concentrate on this one,” said Wilder.

So, a few of activists from Cooperative Memphis started talking about the issues around water and decided they needed to organize around this important issue.

Fellow member Laurel Cannito has opened her home to others who share a concern about the resource. Friday nights, they discuss potential threats to a safe, clean water supply for Memphis – like lead.

In February, all 50 states were sent a letter from the EPA. To reduce the risk of lead-contaminated drinking water, it suggested additional steps be taken by water systems. First among them was the removal of all lead pipes bringing water into houses. Per MLGW, as many as 30,000 houses in Memphis fall in this category.

“The water coming out of the aquifer is great. The problem comes in getting it to the houses. Lead pipes were used up until 1978. In Europe, they outlawed lead pipes back in the early 1900s. MLGW has promised to replace them all within 10 years,” said Hunt Herion, board member for Memphis & Shelby County Lead Safe Collaborative.

Lead, of course, is a highly toxic metal. It’s a known carcinogen. It’s also known to adversely affect mental health. Interestingly, researchers have noted a drop in the overall crime rate that seems to have coincided with the banning of lead in products like gasoline and paint.

“Lead has been linked to all types of mental disorders as well as physical. It affects high brain functions," said Herion. "The kind of discretion that tells you not to shoot your friend in the face. We’ve found some of the most violent places in the country test for some of the highest levels of lead contamination."

While circulating information, members of the Lead Safe Collaborative were approached by their Clean Water Memphis counterpart. They were soon invited to a Friday night Clean Water meeting.

“While our (Lead Safe Collaborative ) focus is on lead in water, CWM is about all issues related to the Memphis water supply: lead and fluoride, the pipeline and aquifer protection. I now meet with the CWM people regularly,” said Herion.

CWM also joined with Safe Lead Collaborative at a city council meeting on July 11 to address fluoride and trying to get it out of the water supply.

Fluoride has been repeatedly found to leach lead from water pipes and increase the levels of lead contamination.

CWM members have resolved a prime course of action is to educate the public around water issues.

A quick look at the TVA’s under-the-radar plan for the shallow aquifer highlights a lack of public information CWM is hoping to combat.

To cool the Allen Plant, the energy provider will drill wells 650 feet deep and pump 3.5 million gallons of water from the Memphis Sand aquifer per day. In terms of usage, it’s not an issue. MLGW customers guzzle 225 million gallons per day.

The fear is, while pumping, toxins from a shallower aquifer will contaminate the Sand aquifer.

Recently, samples taken from groundwater near the natural gas-generated plant stoked that fear.  They showed high levels of lead and arsenic.  One monitoring well had concentrations of arsenic over 300 times the federal drinking water standard.

Alarmed by the numbers, MLGW took samples from ten wells at the Davis Treatment facility near the plant. Testing was done at an independent lab. The results came back below detectable limits.

However, State Sen. Lee Harris, D-Memphis, penned a letter to David McCray, chairman of the Shelby Co. Ground Water Quality Control Board, calling for the permits for the cooling wells to be suspended pending a full investigation.

Others, like Wilder, think it’s just a bad idea in general. A game of Russian roulette with a vital resource. A loser's game, in the long run.

“Why do they have to take clean water away from us?” she opined.

On July 26, the Environmental Working Group released a report identifying contaminants in municipal drinking water across the country. In Shelby County, tap water met the state and federal standards but also had one or more contaminants in levels above guidelines scientists and health professionals say could pose health risks, according to the report.

Another infrastructure project the activist group finds troubling is the Diamond Pipeline. Starting in Cushing, Okla., the 440-mile pipeline runs over 11 drinking water sources, the Sand aquifer is one, before ending in Memphis.

“It seems like industry has decided that these pipelines are the way to go even though they keep spilling. They break. We are going to continue to see them break. The ground shifts, pipes get old and they just break,” said Herion.

In use for decades, the Diamond Pipeline was originally used to convey natural gas. It will be converted to a crude oil pipeline and link up with the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. With its endgame at the Gulf of Mexico, the Dakota been grabbing headlines for years.

It has also galvanized opposition along its route. It has drawn fierce opposition from environmentalists. It has also become a touchstone for indigenous people living in its path.

This past March, CWM helped support the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation’s prayer march through the Downtown streets. It was one of many examples of civil disobedience during an extended standoff.

Moving forward, CWM will continue to develop an infrastructure for education and action by working with other local water groups. And while weekly meetings were needed to kick things off, the group will move to meeting on the first Friday of every month.

“I believe this is an issue where white, black, Hispanic and indigenous people could come together and the people who come to the CWM meetings care about the water. No arguments or disagreements arise. Just a clear focus on the issues with our water,” said Wilder.

Memphis picked for Bloomberg's What Works Cities Initiative in a 'partnership to expertise'

Analytics isn’t just for sports franchises anymore. Counting beans and crunching numbers, it turns out, can address shortcomings in communities, too.

Memphis is the latest city to join the What Works Cities initiative. Started in 2015 by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the program isn’t one that throws money at a problem - it takes a hard look at the numbers.

Some of the issues being tackled by the organization are homelessness, public safety, and economic development. Improving open data resources and housing affordability have also been addressed.

So far, 85 cities with 27 million residents scattered across 37 states have joined. Other cities joining the fold this year are Arlington, Tex; Charleston, S.C.; Fort Collins, Colo.; and Sioux Falls, SD. Closer to home, Nashville, Chattanooga and Knoxville are already taking part.

"Mayor Strickland has charged us with being the most transparent administration in the history of Memphis," said Kyle Veazey, City of Memphis deputy director of communications.

"In addition to everything else we’re doing to advance that, What Works Cities will help us develop a more comprehensive open data policy with the goal of making the city's data more usable and accessible to our citizens.”

In the effort toward transparency, the Strickland administration is set to work with the Sunlight Foundation through their new partnership with WWC. The nonprofit, good-government organization seeks openness from the lowest local offices up to the executive branch. It also comes from the Bloomberg Philanthropic wheelhouse.

Memphis will also coordinate with Results for America. Another nonprofit, it was selected by Bloomberg’s philanthropy to develop policies derived from data. The data will be based on community feedback. With on the ground, first person information the hope is the city’s data will become more applicable and accessible. Another hope is that it will improve the delivery of services to Memphians.

“This partnership allows us to access donated expertise from the WWC partner organizations – such as the Sunlight Foundation and Results for America. It also allows us to tap into the insight of other WWC member cities who have already crossed tackled this challenge,” said Veazey.

By engaging these other municipalities, they can draw from their data. A look at the numbers could reveal the program’s worth. They can also draw on any expertise gleaned during their tenure. This could lead to improved outcomes from private contractors, for instance. Or, create opportunities for innovation. Publishing data has also aided in providing equitable service.

“Many cities who want to use data don't have the capacity to do so in terms of personnel, resources and expertise. What Works Cities was created by Bloomberg Philanthropies in 2015 to address this data gap by connecting mid-sized cities with experts in open data, performance management, results-based contracting and other skills,” said Sharman Stein, director of communications, What Works Cities.

Although new to the WWC initiative, Memphis has used data to improve services. For the last 18 months, the city analyzed data to improve 911 response times. It took a dispatcher an average of 60 seconds to pick up the phone when Strickland came into office in January of 2016.

Now, the response time is 11 seconds.

Nationally, the standard for answering 95 percent of calls is 20 seconds or less. Memphis now falls within the eightieth percentile.

“Decision-making based on data and evidence is at the very core of what we do in our administration,” Mayor Strickland said.

“What Works Cities’ selection of Memphis will help us grow stronger in our use of data – and in how we’re transparent with the public.”

Before those decisions are made, there will be public engagement in some form or another. Through the discovery process, what kind of data is needed and how the public wants it delivered will be fleshed out. It could be a website, or maybe a downloadable spreadsheet.  

WWC was launched to provide technical expertise to 100 cities. The goal is to help them devise “twenty-first century governance strategies.” This will be done on a rolling basis through 2018.

“Memphis (and all cities) apply to participate in this initiative. Cities that are selected to be a What Works city have demonstrated that their mayor and leadership are committed to doing this work, and have the capacity to address their goals through this partnership,” said Stein.

So, in the future, don’t be surprised if you see more outreach from the City of Memphis. It could be through an online survey, social media, or other forms of engagement. It’s just an effort by the civic leaders to improve services; to provide more bang for your tax dollar buck through modern day analytical practices.

“Our selection as a What Works city, in my mind, shows that we’re gaining positive attention nationally for our commitment to governing using data and being transparent with our citizens,” said Veazey.

Memphis prepares to launch new initiative around city procurement to boost minority-owned businesses

More often procurement reform is becoming a priority for communities. It’s the idea of changing how public purchasing can reflect a city's economic diversity.

This past June, Memphis was one of five cities accepted into the City Accelerator cohort to increase spending to minority-owned businesses. The other cities are Charlotte, Chicago, Milwaukee and Los Angeles.

“These cities are taking a hard look at how they purchase goods and services for their communities,” said Ed Skyler, executive vice president for Global Public Affairs and Chairman of the Citi Foundation.

As part of the nationwide cohort, Memphis will receive a $100,000 grant to use toward their efforts to boost spending with small, diverse businesses in the area.

In an ideal setting, a city’s procurement process can increase the diversity of local vendors. The public contract can boost supply chains and jolt local employment figures and tax revenue.

“They recognize that there is an opportunity to strengthen their procurement practices—and cities overall—by connecting directly with the diverse businesses and ideas within their communities,” said Skylar.

This is becoming more important as large firms continue layoffs and new growth is coming from small businesses. With an estimated $1.6 trillion in procurement spending nationwide on the local level, there are opportunities out there for those businesses to grow.

Funded by nonprofits Living Cities and the Citi Foundation, the program started four years ago to increase economic activity and employment in low-income areas.

One way Memphis will go about its procurement process reform will be to take a hard look at data. For instance, information gathered from a recent study on disparity in city contracting will be helpful. It points out available minority vendors who are currently not being put to full use.

Memphis’ participation in the program will buoy efforts made to create equal opportunities to flourish economically.

"We know that for our economy to work, it must work for all,” said Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland. “That’s why improving the City of Memphis’ performance with minority and women-owned businesses has been a priority of mine since becoming mayor."

In addition to making the procurement process easier, the accelerator will help local businesses with hiring, access to capital, as well as administrative functions. Public-private partnerships could also be used to foster these initiatives.

Since Mayor Strickland assumed office in 2015, the city’s contract spending with small, minority and women-owned businesses has risen from 12 percent to 20 percent as of this past March.

"We are intentional about growing our business with small, minority and women-owned businesses, and just as intentional about empowering these businesses to grow," said Joann Massey, director of Office of Business Diversity and Compliance with the City of Memphis.

As part of the program, the five cities awarded a grant will work together to develop procurement solutions. Each city will also create at least one new strategy to increase the diversity of vendors and contractors. They will also find ways to increase purchases of goods and services from local minority-owned businesses.

The five communities will meet three times a year. Progress reports will be submitted on the success or failure of their solutions. The gatherings will be collaborative. Consultants from Griffin and Strong P.C., a law and public policy firm in Atlanta, will be on site to help develop plans for each city’s particular needs.

Since the accelerator’s inception in 2013, 12 U.S. cities have taken part. In Philadelphia, the city tried various means to inform seniors of subsidies offering a reduction in their water bills. In San Francisco, the accelerator is being used to develop an economic plan to reinforce the city’s seawall, which protects areas designated for public housing.

 “I think there will be a lot of really interesting work that comes out of this,” said Julie Bosland, associate director for public sector innovation at Living Cities and manager of the cohort.

“Part of how we chose the cohort was both their commitment and their readiness to move forward and really push the envelope, and also a constellation of cities and projects that could really provide ideas in some different areas that would be models for other communities.”

Thomas & Betts planned expansion into East Memphis to add 75 jobs and over $20M in investment

With a move in the works from their old corporate headquarters in Southwind, Thomas & Betts is looking to invest $20.7 million and add 75 employees when they transfer to ServiceMaster’s former headquarters at 860 Ridge Lake Blvd. in East Memphis.

The investment and extra manpower hinges on the approval of a tax abatement incentive. The application calls for a 15-year payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT). If approved, it will defray $3,142,573 of the costs. The project will also help the company retain 523 current jobs.

“Thomas & Betts adding jobs to our community’s corporate landscape is significant. Thomas & Betts will have a signature presence in the east Memphis area. We so appreciate their investment to Memphis and Shelby County,” Shelby County Mayor Mark H. Luttrell, Jr. said.

The Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) of Memphis and Shelby Co. will consider the application on Wednesday, July 19.

“I want to thank ABB and Thomas & Betts for expanding in Memphis and for creating new jobs in Shelby County,” said Bob Rolfe, Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner. “The manufacturing sector in Tennessee has gained over 46,000 jobs since 2011. I appreciate Thomas & Betts for continuing the momentum of the manufacturing sector for our state, and I look forward to our continued partnership.”

In 2012, ABB purchased the components manufacturer. Thomas & Betts is a division of ABB’s Electrification Products Division.

“Memphis and Thomas & Betts have been partners for over a quarter century,” Franklin Sullivan, lead division manager, United States, ABB Electrification Products Division, said in a release. “We have found it to be a perfect place to do business, with a hard-working, highly educated workforce. We’re pleased to be beginning a new chapter in our history here.”

When the expansion is complete, the manufacturer of electrical components will have 598 employees on its payroll.

According to the company, the base salary for its employees will be average to $86,788, excluding benefits.

The PILOT expansion will allow the company to merge research and development from around the country into the Ridge Lake address. It will also permit them to consolidate parts of their transportation and logistics operations in the area.

Investment in the project includes $12.9 million for new furniture, fixtures and computer equipment for the new facility. There will also be $7.5 million devoted to renovating the Ridge Lake location.

EDGE officials have estimated $45 million in local tax revenues will flow in during the PILOT.

As a requirement of the PILOT, Thomas & Betts must spend at least $2.3 million on certified minority and women-owned businesses in Memphis and Shelby Co.

“By choosing the city of Memphis as the place it believes it can best grow, Thomas & Betts is adding to the momentum we’re experiencing of late,” Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said. “With strong amenities and a great quality of life, Memphis is a great city for companies looking for a promising future.”

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