When Rachel Coats Greer 15 years ago relocated her business, Rachel’s Flower Shop, from the Poplar and Highland area to its current location at 2486 Poplar Ave. near North Hollywood Street, she increasingly became aware of the many needs of children in the Binghampton community.
Rachel’s Flowers owner Rachel Coats Greer, center, has plenty of help from members of her nonprofit group “Rachel’s Kids” including Sharia “Ladybug” Willimas, 12, left, and Chyna Jackson, 11.
(Photo: Brandon Dill)
Coats Greer, an East Memphis native, began reaching out to at-risk, inner-city children, engaging with them through neighborhood schools, churches and community organizations.
She began mobilizing friends, family and her flower shop employees to volunteer their time by mentoring and tutoring the neighborhood kids.
Coats Greer even moved into the neighborhood, becoming a Binghampton resident “so we could better work with the kids,” she said.
And in 2002, Coats Greer’s grassroots philanthropy grew into the registered nonprofit, Rachel’s Kids Inc., whose mission is to provide opportunities and improved quality of life for the children of Binghampton. The organization strives to continually remind children to believe in themselves and not to allow their circumstances to define their future.
Coats Greer says the secondary goal of Rachel’s Kids is to encourage others to develop innovative grassroots philanthropy throughout the city, urging citizens to go beyond loving thy neighbor and finding concrete ways to show them.
Practically every afternoon, children can be found gathered at Rachel’s Flower Shop, receiving help with their homework or working on crafts or school projects.
“They’re just a part of our lives, and we’re committed to them,” Coats Greer said.
Rachel’s Flower Shop provides fresh cut floral arrangements, garden statuary and an array of gifts, but its philanthropy also attracts customers, who want to see their money go toward positive change in the community. And it’s not unusual for shop patrons to drop off street clothes, homecoming dresses, school uniforms and supplies and other items to be distributed to the children.
“Rachel’s Kids” member Daisy Treat, 9, waters plants in the solarium at Rachel’s Flowers. Owner Rachel Coats Greer has continued her outreach work with children from the local community despite the recent death of her husband, Harry Greer.
(Photo: Brandon Dill)
Although her work predates the term, Coats Greer could be described as a social enterprise entrepreneur – a for-profit entrepreneur who views positive social change as the foundation of business.
Her nonprofit depends entirely on donations, and although some of that funding comes from individuals, the remainder comes from Coats Greer’s for-profit business, which generates revenue and reinvests its profits in the community.
“They’re two separate entities,” Coats Greer said. “But we have to have one to be able to support the other.”
Coats Greer has had strong support over the years from family and friends. Her cousins, who own Buster’s Liquors, 191 S. Highland St., have supported Rachel’s Kids in unbelievable ways, Coats Greer said.
And her late husband Harry Greer, who ran his own logistics business from an office behind Rachel’s Flowers, was the organization’s biggest champion.
The couple, University of Memphis basketball season ticket holders, regularly took the children to games at FedExForum, with Greer even sometimes flying kids out of town to attend away games.
When Greer battled esophageal cancer, the community rallied around him. Members of the Hispanic community brought him homemade guacamole and other soft foods, while the local African-American community prayed by his bedside.
When Greer died in December at 58, his funeral at nearby Canale Funeral Home drew large numbers of people who wanted to pay their respects to a man who had given so much to the community. Greer had requested his funeral be held at Canale so the neighborhood children would be able to walk to the service.
“They haven’t had a service like that before,” Coats Greer said. “Everybody knew him. They had to hire extra police and everything to escort us. It was standing-room-only out into the hallway for the contribution he made to the Binghampton area. He was a father to many children.”
Coats Greer continues to dedicate her time to the neighborhood children, who, after her husband’s death, stayed with her “night and day to make sure I was OK,” she said.