When Brittany Fitzpatrick first came to Memphis a few years ago for graduate studies at the University of Memphis, journalism professor Dr. David Arant welcomed her to the city with three words.
“Memphis is magic.”
The same kind of wistful spark behind that phrase is evident in what Fitzpatrick does for a living. Fitzpatrick exudes a similar degree of joy about her job as the communications coordinator for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Memphis and about the role it fills in the city.
“The mission is what drove me to the job there,” she said. “It’s really interesting, because if you’ve ever been to the house before, we’re working with kids who have cancer. From the outside looking in, it might seem difficult to imagine how someone could enjoy working with kids who are sick. But when you’re here and see kids who are so full of hope and gratitude – I’m encouraged. It’s inspiring.
“My mission is actually constantly walking by my office throughout the day. Sometimes I’ll be frantic or working late to finish a project, but it’s difficult to complain when you see one of these kids riding a tricycle down the hallway with their friend.”
The Ronald McDonald House bills itself as a “home away from home” for families in Memphis while their children are being treated for cancer or other major illnesses at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. All families stay at the house free of charge.
Fitzpatrick’s job involves telling that story, which is fortunate because telling stories is something she loves to do – especially exploring the possibilities that digital outlets afford for doing so.
“That’s what I’m passionate about: how you use the digital space to create awareness around a cause you’re passionate about,” she said.
Her job involves everything from standard community relations to helping get the organization onto TV shows and serving as intermediary between the organization and the community. And anything from a flyer to a news article likewise comes through her communications department.
She graduated from Howard University in 2009 and moved to Memphis in August of that year. She studied journalism and public relations at Howard, and at the U of M she got to learn more about the social media aspect of PR and how it can be incorporated into branding and marketing strategies.
Her initial goal out of school was to pursue something related to nonprofit PR work. That took her to the Ronald McDonald House.
“I’ve always wanted to build something that would have an impact on other people.”
Communications coordinator, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Memphis
Separate from all that, Fitzpatrick currently is in the midst of launching her own startup enterprise called Mentor.Me. Through it, she wants to create a better way for mentors to connect to mentees.
Mentor.Me still is in the early idea stage, but it was born partly out of Fitzpatrick’s own experiences.
“I’ve always wanted to build something that would have an impact on other people,” she said. “Everyone has a purpose, and generally your purpose is about helping other people. It’s not about you. You’re just an instrument. You’re supposed to be leaving something behind. That’s why we’re all here.
“I’ve gone through the process of being matched with a mentee several times. I know it’s something that’s both needed and valuable, and I wanted to create something that filled a void in that field.”
She described what she’s building as a kind of “eHarmony for mentors.”
“I’ve found it can be a long process and a process that involves a lot of trial and error in getting matched with the right mentee,” she said. “I just thought, what if there’s some way to know who you’re going to be matched with and have some sort of shared interest up front.”
She and a few other women who also are building their own startups pitched their concepts last month at the first-ever 48 Hour Launch held by Upstart Memphis.
Upstart Memphis is a new initiative designed to kick-start entrepreneurship among women in Memphis. Fitzpatrick didn’t win the free booth spot at the upcoming “Everywhereelse.co The Startup Conference” in February that the women were competing for, but she did the next best thing.
She worked the folks in the room, raised money to pay for her booth space and crowd-funded her way into the conference.
Meanwhile, she also has applied to enter Seed Hatchery, the local startup accelerator program that’s preparing to launch its third season.