A year ago, Center for Transforming Communities (CTC) set off to do something new. We began piloting a new program – a program that would stretch our organization in many ways, but one that we believed would have a dramatic impact on community and neighborhood development in Memphis.
The premise of this new program was simple:
We noticed that, in most cases, community and nonprofit organizations begin with an agenda. “We want to improve education.” “We want to provide affordable housing.” “We want to reduce crime.” But once they start implementing their agenda, they inevitably realize that they need connections with other organizations and community members to be successful. They schedule partnership meetings in coffee shops. They go to professional networking events. They try “community outreach” and convene community input meetings. All in the hopes of forming relationships that will help them realize their goals for the community.
We wondered: Instead of starting with an agenda and then seeking out relationships, what if we started with the relationships first? What if there was someone whose primary focus was meeting community stakeholders, listening for their dreams and aspirations for the community, and encouraging new relationships between stakeholders who could work together for change? What if we allowed these new relationships to influence and inform our agenda for the community, rather than the other way around? How could this change the way community and nonprofit organizations worked together in Memphis communities? How would it change the communities themselves?
And so, with the support of several local foundations and national thought partners, in February of last year CTC launched a pilot of the Neighborhood Connectors program. We hired three individuals to work alongside three of the Memphis-area Shalom Zones as full-time Neighborhood Connectors, focusing all their time on meeting stakeholders in their communities and making connections. And we hit the ground running, working tirelessly to help our Neighborhood Connectors grow into their new role as we learned about the many opportunities and challenges they would face.
Two weeks ago, CTC learned that the South Memphis Neighborhood Connector, Jasmine Champion, had been offered another position at a local government agency. This wasn’t much of a surprise. Jasmine is a very qualified young professional with a real passion for Memphis and our city’s future, so we knew that, eventually, other employers would be knocking at her door. When Jasmine decided to accept the new position, we realized that CTC and the South Memphis Shalom Zone (SMSZ) were being given a unique opportunity to reflect on Jasmine’s work in the South Memphis community over the last year as we prepared for the process of hiring her replacement.
In looking back, we've realized just how much Jasmine had accomplished as a Neighborhood Connector, and just how much her work has caused ripples of impact throughout the South Memphis community.
Here are some highlights:
In her 11 months on the job, Jasmine met with more than 200 stakeholders from the South Memphis community, including numerous residents, nonprofit professionals, church pastors, teachers and school administrators, artists, musicians, and business leaders. She helped nurture more than 30 new connections among those stakeholders, and strengthened relationships among key organizational stakeholders like the SMSZ, Knowledge Quest, area churches, the Gaston Park Library, and Soulsville USA.
She supported the SMSZ by helping them organize summertime community events like the SMSZ BBQ Cook-off in June and the SMSZ Block Festival in August.
She supported Soulsville USA by serving on the planning committee for the Soulsville Town Hall meeting in April and the first ever Soulsville USA Festival in October.
She supported Knowledge Quest by serving as the recruitment coordinator for their KaBOOM park build in October – an all-hands-on-deck effort that required hundreds of community volunteers. Through Jasmine’s work, more than 250 volunteers – including representatives of the SMSZ, Soulsville USA, and nearby schools and businesses – joined with Knowledge Quest and their sponsor, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, to build a new playground for the children of South Memphis.
She helped the SMSZ member church, Centenary United Methodist Church, secure a partnership to launch Project Transformation this year – a program that will bring college students to South Memphis to discern their call to ministry while working to increase literacy throughout the community.
She connected the new Memphis Delta Preparatory Charter School with the Gaston Park Library and worked with them to coordinate a South Memphis Fall Community Day, an event which brought more than 200 families together to learn about the many resources available to them in South Memphis.
She helped marshal the SMSZ’s passion for education throughout the year and worked with them to launch the first ever SMSZ ACT Prep and College Readiness program, which will provide free ACT prep and mentoring to South Memphis youth preparing for college.
And just last month, she worked with the SMSZ and numerous other community partners to organize one of the largest ever Martin Luther King Jr Day of Service community clean-ups.
These are just some of the more concrete and measurable examples of Jasmine’s work as the South Memphis Neighborhood Connector. The real breadth of her impact in the community, however, is more difficult to measure – almost intangible. It is in the dozens of new relationships and partnerships that would not exist if Jasmine hadn’t been there to make the introductions, and the numerous residents who feel a new sense of engagement and ownership in the community because Jasmine took the time to talk with them and listen to their dreams for the future.
One of Jasmine’s last contributions as the South Memphis Neighborhood Connector was to bring together leaders from the SMSZ and other stakeholders for a meeting to plan for her transition. Participants left this gathering feeling more committed than ever to moving forward with the Neighborhood Connectors program in South Memphis, and eager to begin meeting with candidates looking to fill the position. If you or someone you know has a passion for this kind of life-changing, community-changing work, you can view the job description here. Resumes and cover letters can be submitted to Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And last, please join us for a special celebration in honor of Jasmine and her work this coming Thursday, February 4 at 6:00pm at Centenary United Methodist Church (584 E McLemore Ave, Memphis, TN 38106). RSVP to Kenny at email@example.com.