When Advance Memphis formed to help bring resources for economic self-sufficiency to South Memphis in 1999, that neighborhood (38126) was listed as the third-poorest urban ZIP code in the nation. Advance Memphis worked specifically with and for residents of the Cleaborn and Foote public housing developments, both since demolished and rebuilt as mixed income housing. In late 2017, Advance Memphis added the nearby 38106 zip code, serving an additional 24,000 residents of similar demographics.
The organization’s heartbeat is relational. It exists to serve people in the community, engaging in their lives with love. Steve Nash began the organization in the trunk of his blue Toyota Camry in 1999. The idea was simple: meet individuals in the neighborhood, form relationships and help them find work.
Today, Advance Memphis programs include entrepreneurship, a soft skills job training for those who are unemployed or underemployed, Advance Staffing services, forklift training, GED prep, wrap-around counseling services that include anger management and addiction recovery, and financial training, among others. Advance Memphis helps participants recognize skills they can utilize for income streams which may start as extra income but could develop into a full-time career.
Much has changed over the organization’s 19 years, as the community has shifted. While some individuals and families moved to different parts of Memphis over the years, Nash said Advance Memphis is committed to the specific place. “We continue to focus on adults, the place and the belief that our fellow man is built in the image of God,” he said. “We believe everyone has unique gifts and talents. We’re trying to listen and learn, support the dignity of our fellow man and help move neighbors into economic self-sufficiency.”
Advance Memphis, in some ways, could be considered a one-stop-shop holistic ministry for the people it serves, specifically with services that help individuals find and keep work. “If I don’t deal with my anger, that interrupts my work,” Nash said. “If my nutrition is from the corner store or a gas station, my body responds in a negative way to eating all of that junk food.”
Advance Memphis doesn’t just preach better nutrition. It shows participants how to grow and eat healthy food through a gardening elective class taught in collaboration with Memphis Tilth in their commercial kitchen, using produce from a garden on property. In addition to Memphis Tilth residing in the Advance Warehouse, partnerships with outsourcing businesses provide onsite work opportunities for participants and reduce challenges of transportation, keeping them in close proximity to their homes.
While Advance Memphis empowers its participants to find economic self-sufficiency, the support of our city’s business community is vital to that success. The nonprofit needs more local businesses that are willing to employ its participants. It also needs program volunteers who can serve in a mentoring role and walk side by side with participants. “If your business needs employees, we can help with staffing and supply you with labor,” Nash said. “We also want entrepreneurs and business leaders to come share their stories with our class of entrepreneurs or serve as a small-business coach and encourage our class.”
For more information about participating in Advance Memphis’ programs, or how to donate or volunteer, visit advancememphis.org.
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