By Fara Foster, Director of Communications and Community Engagement
For the fourth year in a row, we will celebrate the National Day of Service on Monday, January 15. What started in 2015 as a community clean-up project in the Soulsville area has grown to nearly 40 projects with seven different service partners.
Lehman-Roberts Co. has been a part of the South Memphis community of Soulsville since 1946. Since that time, Lehman-Roberts Co. has joined forces through common ownership with other companies, including Memphis Stone & Gravel Co. and various north Mississippi enterprises, but we remain based in South Memphis.
Along with our philanthropic arm, Mercy for Memphis, the companies have designated three primary areas to support: Education, Community Development and Evangelism. We approach our Day of Service support with the same intent we approach our financial support and search out ministries and community development groups that work toward those same goals near our South Memphis base.
According to a study released by the University of Memphis, Memphis ranks 2nd in overall poverty in cities with populations over 1,000,000. Over 43% of Memphis children live in poverty. The South Memphis zip codes of 38106 and 38126, which includes our Soulsville neighborhood, are two of the four poorest zip codes in the city. However, there is some good news – those numbers are improving.
I believe those improvements have been impacted by the grass roots organizations and ministries that work daily, serving South Memphis. These groups focus on improving education, tutoring children, as well as helping adults learn valuable work and life skills. They minister to families in need, helping with housing, food and employment opportunities. They also work to revitalize entire communities, focusing on blight remediation, directing residents to available resources, and helping reduce crime.
In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a sermon titled, “Three Dimensions of a Complete Life.” During that sermon, he posed the now-famous thought, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” One day every year, our employees go out into our community and serve those in need. Over the span of just 5 – 6 hours, our collective 300 employees can make an enormous impact in the lives of people who just need a little help. The following are just a few of the projects:
STREETS Ministries: Founded in 1987 by Ken Bennett with only a van and a basketball, STREETS has grown to serve over 400 kids daily. They provide structure and a safe haven for school-age children with after-school tutoring, mentoring and athletics. They not only aid children with education, but they strive to educate children on the what it takes to have a successful life.
We will be helping with general cleaning and painting in their indoor meeting spaces, which will allow STREETS to invest their funds in youth programs rather than in maintaining their facility. We will also be building raised beds outdoors to allow them to teach the students how to grow and prepare their own food.
Memphis Athletic Ministries (MAM): Their mantra is “Love God. Love others. Love self.” MAM serves students between 8 and 18 in under-resourced neighborhoods through daily after school and literacy programs, team sports and youth leadership, with the goal of developing youth into productive adults who make a positive impact on their families and neighborhoods.
Our groups will be working on 14 different projects at the MAM golf course and Grizzlies Center, including landscape maintenance and erosion control, as well as improving safe walkways for their students.
Alcy-Ball Development Corporation: Located just inside I-240 between Airways and Elvis Presley Boulevards, Alcy-Ball began as a predominantly middle-class African-American neighborhood. Many of the residents held jobs in the Memphis Depot area, but when those businesses began moving elsewhere, the neighborhood fell on hard times. The Development Corporation was founded to promote the economic well-being of the area through home ownership, job training and placement, and financial literacy.
Through their relationships with various churches, we will be helping with a variety of neighborhood beautification projects, including projects for individual homeowners who are able to maintain their properties, but need help with some larger projects. We will also be assisting a church that is rehabbing homes on an entire block, one-by-one, to revitalize the surrounding neighborhood.
Knowledge Quest: This will be our third year to serve with Rev. Marlon Foster and the Knowledge Quest team. For nearly 20 years, Knowledge Quest has served youth from Pre-K through grade 12 in the 38106 and 38126 zip codes. Their programs focus on academic excellence in after school programs, as well as physical health and sustainable lifestyles. They have expanded their programs to aid community adults in financial stability and healthy parenting practices.
When properties surrounding their Soulsville campus fall into foreclosure, KQ is often able to gain control of those properties and convert them to useful additions to their campus. This year, we will be assisting with property clearing, as well as the construction of raised garden beds and chicken coops.
No one can solve the challenges in any neighborhood in a day. But, we can certainly walk alongside the people who work every day to overcome them. How we think about this day will determine our attitudes and those attitudes will, in turn, shape the outcome of these projects. I invite every one of us to look beyond ourselves and our own comfort to a small act of kindness for another person. It is truly the small acts of generosity that make a huge difference.
Click below to check out our video from last year’s Day of Service.