Giving Back: United Way of the Mid-South

Giving Back: United Way of the Mid-South

Memphis rests in the top tier for poorest cities in the U.S. It also has an abundance of nonprofit organizations working tirelessly to tackle the many needs of this community. Often, these nonprofits end up working in silos, duplicating efforts and tapping into the same donors to enable their respective missions. United Way of the Mid-South, which supports many of these high-performing organizations doing great work in the Memphis community, is working to knock down silos and foster collaboration through a variety of initiatives, one of which is “Driving the Dream.” This new initiative just completed its first full year of impacting Memphians, and has some impressive results.

Driving the Dream works by creating accessible resource networks with partner agencies. United Way of the Mid-South provides leadership, strategy, data and relationship support. Coordinated referrals create partnerships between agencies and care coordination hubs offer extensive support. During the initiative’s first year, it established more than 60 partnerships with nonprofit agencies and launched four hubs –Catholic Charities of West Tennessee, Meritan, Porter-Leath, and Seedco – with plans to expand further.

“Our agency partners needed a vehicle to bring them together to increase their impact to the community,” said Stephanie Brockway Shearin, director of major gifts and Tocqueville Society for United Way of the Mid-South. “If a person walks into an agency and needs food assistance, they may also need housing, job training, and educational support for their child. It’s our goal to meet individuals and families where they are, and holistically offer them assistance. The question our CEO Dr. Kenneth S. Robinson kept asking his parishioners and friends is, ‘What is your dream?’ Everyone has a dream, regardless of their circumstances, but sometimes they need additional support to achieve those dreams. Our most vulnerable neighbors don’t have time to plan out the next 20 minutes of their lives, let alone their entire future. The individuals and families we serve are in survival mode.” With the help of many generous grants, United Way of the Mid-South created Driving the Dream as a way to restore the hope of those who are stuck in this cycle of generational poverty 

Each of the hubs has a full-time social worker who can sit down with an individual to better understand his or her unique situation. Agency social workers help participants advance from crisis to empowerment by using a quality of life index and help them ‘map out their dreams.’ One such example is a woman who was unemployed and living without hope. The hub agency helped her complete trade school and she now is employed making $50,000 a year. Multiply that example by dozens, hundreds and thousands of individuals, and it’s a massive difference the program can make in advancing Memphis into a brighter future. In the past year, over 300 households with 840 individuals were reached through Driving the Dream. While this is a powerful movement for Memphis, it also holds great possibilities for improving communities across the U.S. “Other United Ways are taking notice of what’s happening in Memphis,” Stephanie said, “and that’s a powerful way Memphis is giving back.” 

Do you want to help United Way of the Mid-South advance people from where they are to where they dream to be? Consider volunteering, donating, participating in your workplace United Way campaign or asking your HR department or United Way to create one at your company. Individual donations are always welcome (TEXT DREAM19 to 40403 to donate today). For more information, visit

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