My volunteer experience at Advance Memphis brought many revelations as well as blessings. An energetic employee greeted me when I arrived and introduced me to each member of the staff. The staff extended me a warm welcome and supplied me with an array of information about the program.
If you don’t know about Advance Memphis, here is the scoop: they serve the community of South Memphis, specifically the Cleaborn area of 38126. The 38126 is one of the poorest urban zip codes in the nation. Advance Memphis is working to revitalize the community by creating economic opportunities for the residents. They provide a variety of Biblically based job skills courses. The main course is a 6 week job readiness program that allows candidates to go out into the work world prepared with professional resumes, interview skills, and motivation to reach their goals. Advance Memphis saw 145 graduates hired for positions in 2012, and 18 students received their GED. The facility is located right in the heart of the 38126, making it convenient for residents to participate. The program is making a serious dent in economic development for the neighborhood of Cleaborn and Foote public housing developments. Their philosophy follows, “We believe adults can be empowered to change their lives and their community. Advance Memphis provides Biblically based programs that bring hope, knowledge, resources, and skills to the neighborhood, adding these to the assets and strengths already present in the community.”
During my volunteer day, I had the opportunity to travel with several staff members and a current jobs for life class to Mid-South Community College in West Memphis. Staff members take each class on a tour of MSCC on the third week of their course. I was able to get to know some of the students involved and learn why they have chosen to participate. A few students are hoping to receive higher paying jobs to support their families while; others have dreams of bettering their lives by adopting a trade. One man reminisced to me how he once worked at a hospital, but later in life could not keep the job because they no longer accepted employees without a high school diploma. One woman comes to Advance Memphis every day for class while keeping her four children in daycare. The most exceptional part of my day was hearing about the students’ inspiration after visiting the college. Many left with new dreams and the hope of completing a degree or receiving a trade license in order to pursue a career in the field of their choice. Their lives are changing as a result of the opportunities that have been presented to them.
The staff at Advance Memphis are not seeking simply to help students graduate and move on; they make it part of their job description to invest in the lives of the students participating. Staff members help participants gain self-confidence and motivation to believe it is possible to reach their goals. The staff works hard to develop and maintain relationships with students. They are seeking to help participants move toward financial independence. They have two licensed counselors on staff and encourage their students by sharing the Biblical principles of love through Jesus Christ. It is the goal of Advance Memphis for their participants not only to leave with job skills, but also with life skills.
The majority of students involved at Advance Memphis were born in the same economic state they are currently in–living below the poverty level. Records indicate that 70% of residents in the 38126 are unemployed. Limited businesses and disfigured homes overshadow the alliance and historical marks of the community. If a handful of people get hired for jobs paying above minimum wage, they could change the dynamic of their entire community, motivating others to do the same. From an Advance Memphis graduate, “I am a grad of the jobs for life class and I have never felt better about myself. I have learned so much about God and the Bible. I have also learned about budgeting, perfecting my resume, and how to properly speak and act during an interview.”
As a volunteer, I was able to hear about people who have dreams and families to provide for and are coming to find that living beyond simple survival is possible. I was very happy to help stuff and stamp envelopes with Christmas cards, but it was my privilege to spend a couple of hours with some people who were very grateful because I showed a little interest in their career paths. The day as a whole was very rewarding for me. I won’t forget their faces, so I will remember to go back and find out if they followed up on meeting their new and exciting goals.
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