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VOL. 131 | NO. 215 | Thursday, October 27, 2016

Women’s Foundation Has 2-Generation Approach to Reduce Poverty in 38126

BY LANCE WIEDOWER, Special to The Daily News

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The Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis has a big goal to reduce poverty by 5 percent over the next five years in the 38126 ZIP code in South Memphis.

Its Vision 2020 Strategic Plan is how it will tackle that challenge head on. And on Thursday, Oct. 27, the foundation will hold Power of the Purse, a combination silent and live auction event benefitting the Vision 2020 effort. The event takes place from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at The University Club of Memphis.


“Reducing poverty by five basis points is a daunting goal, but on the other side of that, based on experience and based on the need and based on what we believe can happen, it’s possible,” said Ruby Bright, executive director and chief administrative officer for the foundation.

The Women’s Foundation’s primary focus is on poverty reduction and helping low- and no-income families with a focus on public housing. That public housing effort is because of a partnership with the city of Memphis that began in 2004. That early effort was to make an application for a Hope VI grant for mixed-income development that became University Place.

The grant included funds for community revitalization, but had no money for family services. That’s where the foundation’s partnership with the Memphis Housing Authority came in.

“We said we’d raise the money, $1.2 million for support services in relocation (of residents), but also employment, schools and all of the things that provide a good transition support,” Bright said.

Today, the Vision 2020 Strategic Plan’s goal of poverty reduction in the 38126 ZIP code won’t be easy. That community is where, according to the foundation, 62 percent of adults and 76 percent of children live at or below the poverty line.

The work continues with the South City effort that will transform the area around Foote Homes public housing project. And along with that, the Women’s Foundation over the past few years has gone through its own strategic planning that became the Vision 2020 Strategic Plan.

That involved learning what to do and taking those lessons learned to families in public housing, Bright said.

“Seeing where barriers are and see where we can go,” she said. “If we want to show we can work together through collaborations with organizations to make real systemic change in the community we should look at a place-based model of delivery and look at 38126. It’s still the poorest ZIP code in the community. However, it’s where there’s community revitalization on a larger scale.”

Vision 2020 has five goals: support families in 38126 in securing resources to meet basic needs; equip residents with marketable job skills to gain living wage employment; ensure all children up to age 5 will be prepared for kindergarten; develop positive outcomes in youth that include competence, confidence, connection and character; and help families gain the financial education skills to help them reduce poverty.

“If we’re working with a mother, we find organizations to work with children,” Bright said. “We believe in what’s called a two-generation approach to family self-sufficiency. Children that help mothers go back to school and mothers who encourage children to stay in school. And we want opportunities for employment, for some of the women to become ambassadors to work with peers in public housing and say ‘I went on this pathway, come join me.’”

Ideally that forms a domino effect.

The foundation focuses on career readiness and education, starting with early education and going up to post-secondary education, vo-tech and certification training. It also looks at support services that are related to youth development and financial literacy.

Renisha Mayes has experienced many of the programs funded by the foundation. Today, she’s a program services coordinator at the Talent Development Complex for The Consortium MMT, whose goal is to revive the Memphis music industry with the next generation of talent. She also has a degree from Visible Music College and a 13-year-old daughter who is an honor student attending Maxine Smith STEAM Academy.

But when she was eight months pregnant with her daughter, Mayes lost her job as a bank reconciliation specialist because she was sick, and then lost her home and had to move in with her mother.

“I truly learned that life has ups and downs,” Mayes said. “All I can say is that it was very humbling and challenging.”

But various programs helped her find work and eventually attend Visible, becoming the first person in her family to earn a college degree. Mayes wasn’t initially aware of the organizations that helped her along the way. But now she said it’s important to tell her story to other women in the community.

“I let them know that at one point I lost everything and was on public assistance,” she said. “I didn’t have a college degree, I had a young baby to take care of and I was sick. Yet, with determination and support, anything is possible.”

MORTGAGES 0 79 1,199
BUILDING PERMITS 146 146 2,571