Agape’s new Competitive Edge Youth Training program aims to address generational poverty

In partnership with Workforce Mid-South and the American Job Center, Agape Child & Family Services’ Teamworks has launched a new job training program for youth, ages 16 to 24, in Frayser, Hickory Hill, and the Whitehaven neighborhoods. This important new initiative will provide career education, wrap-around services, and job training for under-resourced young people across the city. This is the first year of a three-year federal grant focused on poverty reduction.

According to Competitive Edge Coordinator Jimmy Cooley, it’s all about changing the paradigm for its participants. 

“Imagine if you are underemployed and undertrained,” he says. “At no cost to you, we put you through a program where you will walk away with a certificate that can change your future.” 

While Mr. Cooley hasn’t been at Agape long, he’s heartened by how things are going and he’s excited to provide resources to these eager participants. 

Recently, 17 people enrolled in the program at an event held at Pursuit of God Transformation Center in Frayser. This was immediately following a successful enrollment event held at New Direction Christian Church in Hickory Hill. There are currently 200-plus spots available that still need to be filled and efforts are ongoing to recruit more participants. 

Above and beyond

The program has five areas of concentration, including logistics, warehouse, IT, construction, and healthcare. Soft skills like writing a compelling resume, the importance of interpersonal skills, and how to respond in an interview are also included in the curriculum. Critical thinking and workplace etiquette are also topics of conversation as employers are looking for self-starters who take pride in their work. 

In Hickory Hill, TeamWorks Connector Supervisor Javonne Lipscomb partnered with Professional Allied Health Care to bring great opportunities to individuals who are interested in pursuing employment in the healthcare field. (Photo: Facebook)
Each designated neighborhood is led by a different supervisor who runs a team. The impetus is on building workforce readiness and helping participants think beyond where they are currently. 

“To take the raw material of the person and help them think beyond what they may be thinking is crucial,” Cooley says. “It plays into our two generational model.”

According to Cooley, many participants are stuck in poverty and this program is doing something to address that. That’s why the age range is 16 to 24 years old. 

“It’s in this range where you are trying to establish benchmarks,” he says. “What you kill in your 20s is what you eat in your 30s.”

While the program is off to a great start and word is getting out in the faith and school communities of Memphis, Agape is looking for more people to join the ranks and sign up.

Moving the needle

The recent success of a group of caseload participants that completed a certification class — in Medical Billing and Coding at the Southwest Tennessee Community College in Whitehaven — has TeamWorks Connector Supervisor Deandrea Barnett thrilled. 
“It’s inspiring to be the hands and feet that individuals trust to guide them down the right path,” she says. 

Programming is off to a great start in Frayser as well, according to TeamWorks Connector Supervisor Tamara Cooper. 

“We have been working with the students at MLK High School to learn essential job skills training through workshops and informational sessions. The workshops include completing their FAFSA, mock interviewing, resume building, financial planning, entrepreneurship, soft skills training, as well as a few more basic skills,” Cooper says.

“It’s inspiring to see students engaged and asking questions during workshops about their futures. Just being able to walk alongside students that may have been impacted by generational cycles of poverty, to be able see past their circumstances and to have the motivation to keep pushing forward, has made this job rewarding.” 

A successful enrollment event was held at New Direction Christian Church in Hickory Hill this past August. (Photo: Facebook)
In Hickory Hill, TeamWorks Connector Supervisor Javonne Lipscomb partnered with Professional Allied Health Care in the Hickory Ridge Mall to bring great opportunities to individuals who are interested in pursuing employment in the healthcare field. 

“With Competitive Edge, we are able to target the youth and move the needle on poverty,” he says. “It brings me great joy for an individual to come back to me and say, ‘I got the job because Agape provided me with the skills I needed to gain a livable wage.’”

Training could be 8 to 12 weeks — depending on the program — and the ultimate goal is pushing participants to get certified in something. 

“It’s like taking a kid to see the ocean for the first time,” says Jimmy Cooley. “They’ll never forget that. Once they’ve seen there’s something greater, they will reach higher than they ever thought possible, reaching beyond their fingertips [and becoming] someone looking to elevate themselves and their families.”

Visit Agape Child & Family Services online to learn more about the Competitive Edge Youth Training program for youth, ranging in ages from 16 to 24 years old, in Frayser, Hickory Hill, and Whitehaven.
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Read more articles by Jeff Hulett.

Originally from Chicago, Jeff moved to Memphis in 1990 not really knowing much about the south. In fact, the first week he lived here he was suspended from school for not saying, "yes ma'am" and "no ma'am." Jeff has since developed a passion for Memphis and especially Memphis music. A member of several bands including Snowglobe and Me & Leah, Jeff works as a communications consultant with many non-profits including Playback Memphis, Church Health, Room in the Inn-Memphis and BLDG Memphis. Jeff lives in the Vollintine Evergreen neighborhood with his wife and two daughters.