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VOL. 127 | NO. 175 | Friday, September 7, 2012

Midgley Passionate About Memphis, Helping Others

By Aisling Maki

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Memphis has turned out be a perfect fit for Plough Foundation program associate Katie Midgley, whose research interests landed her in the city back in 2008.


After receiving her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Mississippi State University, she continued her education at the University of Alabama, pursuing a master’s degree in criminology.

“I was one of those people who didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but I knew I was interested in the study of people and in social change,” Midgley said. “I was particularly interested in criminality within family systems – domestic violence and children exposed to criminal incarceration.”

She has previously worked in a publicly funded childcare setting in Mississippi, where many of the children in the program were being raised by grandparents and other relatives because their parents were in prison.

“It’s something that’s been socially stigmatized, even though the population is increasing,” Midgley said. “I saw many legal issues grandparents face as far as getting kids registered for school or getting access to food stamps and those sorts of things. I was really interested in how that impacted children within the family system.”

Her master’s level thesis focused on the effects of criminal incarceration on adolescent girls, and under the guidance of her adviser, Midgley honed her skills as a researcher and learned a great deal about program development and evaluation.

Her graduate school adviser, who had previously worked at the University of Memphis, recommended Midgley for a research associate position at The Urban Child Institute, a nonprofit organization consisting of a coalition of community researchers, strategists and practitioners dedicated to the well-being of young children in Memphis and Shelby County.

Midgley relocated to Memphis from Alabama in 2008, and shortly thereafter added community outreach, communications and public policy to her role at the institute.

“In nonprofits, we wear many hats,” she said. “And I really enjoyed meeting new people, learning about what’s going on in the community, and sharing the message about the importance of early childhood and the family in greater society. So I think communications came naturally to me.”

She said one of the most important lessons she took away from her three years at The Urban Child Institute was that, with strong community support, statistics don’t have to determine a child’s future.

“We have kids at Manassas High School getting college acceptance letters,” Midgley said. “We have a lot of kids who are doing great and we just need to figure out what their stories are, their pathways to success, and how we can replicate that. I was struck by the hopeful message that kids are born with so much potential.”

Last year, Midgley took on her newest role, joining the Plough Foundation. She conducts research for the executive staff, finding ways to allocate resources to impact issues in the most effective way possible, and also reviews grant proposals and represents the foundation at various community events.

“When young professionals are invested in the community and do volunteer activities, they’re more likely to be happy and productive at work and stay.”

–Katie Midgley

“I felt this was really a place where my qualifications could make a difference, with my research and understanding of the resources here in the community,” she said. “An issue will come to our attention, and I try to step back and say, ‘What is the issue, why does it matter, and how potentially can we make the greatest difference?’”

Midgley also works with consultants across the country and examines other foundation models. In fact, she’ll soon travel to two grant-makers’ conferences in Cleveland, Ohio, and Charleston, S.C.

“We look for things that we can bring back to the philanthropic community here and potentially replicate in order to improve the lives of our citizens,” she said.

Midgley also serves on the board of directors for Shelby County Books from Birth and the Wolf River Conservancy. She says that, although they have different missions, both nonprofits basically focus on access to resources, whether it’s materials to improve literacy skills or access to outdoor space for recreation and conservation education.

“Research has shown time and time again that when young professionals are invested in the community and do volunteer activities, they’re more likely to be happy and productive at work and stay in the community,” Midgley said. “My volunteer work is very important to me.”

She and her husband Tom – a native of England whom she met when she was 18 while they were both working at Disney’s Epcot Center in Florida – have also served on event host committees for a number of organizations, including The Memphis Child Advocacy and the Regional Medical Center at Memphis.

The two married in January 2010, and last year purchased their first home in Midtown.

The couple enjoys entertaining friends at their home and taking in all the Bluff City has to offer young professionals.

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