Memphis native Laura Terry, development officer at The MED Foundation, has dedicated her career to bettering the community by working in the Bluff City’s nonprofit sector – something she attributes to her parents’ influence.
Terry was born in Memphis in 1968 at the height of the civil rights movement, after her father, Fred Terry, relocated the family from Cleveland, Ohio, to take a position as an engineering professor at Christian Brothers University.
The family initially lived in East Memphis, but Terry’s mother, Sarah Ratner – a speech therapist at Memphis City Schools, who was involved in civil rights – moved the family to Midtown to raise her children in a more diverse environment.
Terry’s stepmother is civil rights activist Dorothy “Happy” Jones, and her stepfather, the late attorney Marvin Ratner, along with colleague Russel Sugarmon, formed the city’s first integrated law firm.
It’s no surprise Terry would later end up working at the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association (MIFA), founded in September 1968 to address poverty and racial division in Memphis following the sanitation workers’ strike and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. earlier that year.
Terry wore many hats during her years at MIFA, initially working with homeless families, and later moving into money management and a mentoring program that she says was the first accredited mentoring program in Memphis.
Terry, who holds an undergraduate degree in sociology from the University of Arizona, began her career as a clinical worker, after graduating from the University of Memphis in 1996 with a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling.
She first worked at Grace House of Memphis, followed by time serving clients of Catholic Charities of West Tennessee.
“I started off doing clinical work, mainly with people who were homeless and had a mental health diagnosis or were duly diagnosed with mental health issues and alcohol and drug problems,” Terry said.
But it was at MIFA that Terry first transitioned from clinical work into nonprofit development, after the nonprofit’s vice president of development encouraged her to apply for a job opening in the department.
She was initially intimidated by the pressure of raising money.
“It scared me because it was something I’d never done before,” Terry said. “But I took it and I loved everything about it. I got to know a lot of people in the community and it was a great fit.”
“We’re small but we’re mighty. We’re really excited about the direction of The MED and we’re proud to be able to support it.”
Development officer, The MED Foundation
In 2007, Terry went to work in development for the Memphis Child Advocacy Center, which serves Shelby County children who are victims of severe physical and sexual abuse.
“Working there was where I got most of my development education,” she said. “That’s where I really felt a passion and knew this field was where I needed to be. The Child Advocacy Center is where I had that pivotal moment in my career.”
In March, Terry stepped into her newest role as development officer at The MED Foundation, the fundraising arm of The Regional Medical Center at Memphis.
She said she “got goose bumps” the first time she toured The MED, which houses the Firefighters Regional Burn Center and the Elvis Presley Memorial Trauma Center, the only level-one trauma center in a 150-mile radius.
“When a call comes in, the staff is standing here, waiting for that patient,” Terry said. “I hate to see it because I know someone is very hurt, but I’m glad the staff here is able to help them. It’s a stark reminder of how quickly things can change.”
The foundation’s small staff of five raises money to purchase state-of-the-art specialty equipment and train and educate frontline staff at the public hospital.
“We’re small but we’re mighty,” she said. “We’re really excited about the direction of The MED and we’re proud to be able to support it. Our team is working to expand the message and the outreach of The MED Foundation in the community, to get our name out there.”
Terry said she focuses primarily on annual giving, maintaining relationships with current donors to keep them engaged while reaching out to new donors.
“A big part of it re-introducing The MED to the community,” she said. “I grew up with The MED because I’m from here, and I’ve always admired it. This is a place that Memphians have realized is worth fighting for. I wanted to be a part of this new growth here and let people know that The MED is so vitally important to this community. I really feel passionate about that.”
Terry, who resides in Cooper-Young with partner Jim Brasher and their four cats and a dog, enjoys reading, visiting with friends and neighbors, and supporting local theater.
She said she loves all the city has to offer, most of all its citizenry.
“We tend to put ourselves down here, but we have so much to offer in this city,” Terry said. “And the people are incredibly generous, intelligent, fantastic people with ideas. We need to embrace that more.”