South City

Booker T. Washington's new resource center provides an information hub for South City

Booker T. Washington School has expanded its role in South Memphis with the opening of a community resource center.

Housed in the lower level of the school, the center includes eight desktop computers and nine laptop computers with internet access. Residents in ZIP code 38126, the poorest area of the city, will be able to attend computer training classes, access the internet, complete employment applications and earn certification training.

The resource center is a collaborative effort of the Women’s Foundation of Greater Memphis and their community partners including Memphis Housing Authority, U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, Shelby County Schools, Urban Strategies Memphis HOPE and the City of Memphis.

This is a big start in community development,” Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said at the grand opening, held September 29. “The partnership means so much to the future of this neighborhood.”

As the students received their backpacks they high-fived and fist-bumped volunteers for the ZIP Code 38126 Back to School Project. (Andrea Zucker)

Alisha Kiner, principal of Booker T. Washington, said the school will provide extended counseling services, classes on financial aid and virtual college tours at the new center.principal of Booker T. Washington, said the school will provide extended counseling services, classes on financial aid and virtual college tours at the new center.

One of the goals for the effectiveness of the center is to seek input from the community, especially regarding the upcoming South City neighborhood redevelopment.

“We have a hub in South City, where people will know when and where to come for education, employment services, and social services information,” said Shante Avant, deputy director of WFGM and chair of the Shelby County School board.

Related: "Sweep it clean: The leader behind Booker T. Washington's comeback story"

“We want to have conversations with the community to see what they need, not what we need,” Avant said, adding that the center’s approach is two-generational, meaning both parents and children benefit and are involved. 

Eva Mosby, director of Urban Strategies and community partner with the project, agrees that communication is key. Residents of the South City area will be notified about the center through25 community organizations who maintain a database in the 38126 ZIP code.though 25 community organizations who maintain a database in the 38126 ZIP code.

The community partners are united under a $30 million Choice Neighborhood Grant, given by HUD. The funding supports the physical redevelopment of Foote Homes, Memphis’ last traditional housing complex and complementary neighborhood services and case management for residents.

 “We work closely with the Memphis Housing Authority in case management.  We remove barriers to determine to see what those residents’ needs are,” Mosby said.

Urban Strategies provides resources for former residents of Foote Homes who seek new housing, to obtain a GED, gain employment or need assistance with resume development. 

The backpacks for the ZIP code 38126 Back to School Project were stuffed with over 100 pieces of school supplies and resource materials. Students at LaRose Elementary received tablets with free internet for two years. (Andrea Zucker)

Mosby said since 2015, the rate of employment in South City has increased from 30 percent to 50 percent. She sees that increase as related to the efforts of the WFGM’s Vision 2020 strategic plan to reduce poverty by five percent over the next five years in the 38126 ZIP code.

Related: "The Women's Foundation for a Greater Memphis has a bold vision to stamp out poverty"

In addition to the opening of the resource room, the Women’s Foundation presented its second annual back pack drive for students of ZIP 38126. The foundation distributed 600 backpacks to students at Booker T. Washington and 400 backpacks to students of LaRose Elementary School.

The backpacks included a resource packet for parents with information for employment training and health and wellness services.  Each school also received school uniforms for their clothes closets.

Each child also received a computer tablet, sponsored by the Memphis Housing Authority.

The partnership has yet to hire a staff person to manage the center, Kiner said.

Read more articles by Thelma Balfour.

Thelma Balfour has been a freelance writer for USA Today and Newsweek. She also worked as a reporter for The Commercial Appeal, the daily newspaper in Memphis. She is the author of two books, Black Sun Signs: An African American Guide to the Zodiac and Black Love Signs.
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