The focus of this month’s Orion Gives Back is the South Memphis Alliance.
The South Memphis Alliance is a true force for good in a section of our city that needs it most. With its mission to create a community of healthy, stable, and independent young people and families in South Memphis, the SMA is lifting not only the neighborhoods it serves, but our city as a whole. We are honored that Tameka Daniel, Program Director at SMA, took the time to share with us their stories of success and entrepreneurship, and the dedication it takes to sustain their organization.
Orion: We would love for you to tell us a story that will help our readers understand the impact you have in the Memphis community. Could you share with us one of your most memorable experiences surrounding a South Memphis Alliance member that would be an example of this?
Ms. Greer: The vision for this agency is to improve the health, knowledge and stability of young people, families and communities through social services, mentoring and advocacy.
Due to our partnership with the Tennessee Department of Children Services we provide comprehensive support services to youth in foster care with an emphasis on those transitioning from foster care. In 2011, Melissa came to the agency just a few weeks shy of her eighteenth birthday. She and her three sisters were in the foster care system due to neglect. Melissa enrolled in our Dream Seekers program and immediately began to blossom. She is one of the founding members of Shelby County Youth for Youth Board, an advocacy group comprised of current and former foster youth.
In our Dream Seekers program, the young people receive financial education, an IDA account, as well as seed money for that account. The youth can match dollar for dollar up to $1000/year with a lifetime maximum of $3000. They can match for specific things such as housing, transportation, education, debt reduction, etc. Last year, Melissa used $1000 to match for the purchase of a vehicle so that she could get to the University of Memphis, where she was working on her Bachelors degree. Melissa graduated from the University of Memphis with a Bachelors Degree in accounting. She will be entering DePaul University in the Fall to pursue her Masters Degree in Public Administration.
Orion: The South Memphis Alliance is now in its 15th year. Tell us about your biggest successes to date.
Ms. Greer: South Memphis Alliance (SMA) clients are referred to as Dream Seekers, because we all have dreams and need hope for a future. Dream Seekers may be found anywhere, including doing what you and I do every day, taking care of the basics – such as laundry.
In 2006, SMA’s administrative offices were next door to a laundromat that was about to close it’s doors. SMA took advantage of that unique opportunity and got in the laundry business! SMA purchased the run-down neighborhood laundromat as a social entrepreneurial project. While operating the laundry, it became apparent that many of our customers also utilized the agency’s social services. It was decided to convert the laundromat into a “Resource Center with a laundromat in it.” With help from the City of Memphis Housing and Community Development, as well as the Assisi Foundation, SMA was able to secure $1.1 million dollars and build Social Suds: the SMA Laundromat and Resource Center. While clients are at the SMA Laundromat and Resource Center, located at 1044 S. Bellevue, they may take advantage of various social services by provided by SMA and its partners.
Every dollar of profit generated by the Social Suds Resource Center goes to fund the programs at SMA.
Orion: What has surprised you most about working at South Memphis Alliance?
Ms. Greer: The level of dedication that this agency has to meeting the needs of the underserved. In the past three years, the agency has lost approximately $350,000 in funding due to federal and local budget cuts. Although, many services that we provided had to be curtailed, SMA has not ended any of the programs that were no longer funded. It is rare for an organization to lose such a large amount of capital and the program continue to survive with no new funding streams.
Orion: You have already made such a positive impact in our community. What would make it possible for you to do even more?
Ms. Greer: In a time where funding dollars are being cut and programs are being discontinued due to that, the obvious answer is funding – less restrictive funding to be concise. While donating funds makes a huge impact, there are other types of support that the community, especially the business community, can contribute. These young people need jobs, housing and guidance in so many areas. If employers are more receptive to hiring youth in foster care (especially those aging out of foster care), this would be a tremendous help. If apartment managers and rental property agents would be more open to providing safe and stable housing options for the young people that we serve, that would remove yet another barrier to success for these youth.
Orion: What would you tell someone who is thinking about volunteering or giving to South Memphis Alliance?
Ms. Greer: When people hear about SMA many of them want to volunteer and work directly with youth in foster care. For obvious reasons, there is a detailed screening process to be approved to work with this population. If you want to volunteer and begin working with them immediately, that more than likely will not happen. But there are still tangible ways to support the youth that we work with.
We meet with them once per month. You or your organization can sponsor a meal that will feed approximately 40 youth. You can volunteer at one of the many community events that are held throughout the year. The agency often has a need for volunteers who are computer savvy to assist at the Social Suds Resource Center on the days that we provide computer access. There are opportunities to provide sponsorship to events, or scholarships to the youth.
Please visit http://www.southmemphisalliance.org/ to learn more about the South Memphis Alliance, and the ways you can support their wonderful mission.