Advance Memphis, transforming a neighborhood through economic revitalization

In 1999, the 38126 zip code of the Clearborne/Foote neighborhood of South Memphis was named the 3rd poorest urban zip code in the United States. That same year, Steve Nash started Advance Memphis, seeking to bring economic revitalization to the community through job opportunities and resources in order to create self-sustainability.

advanceA movement that started with relational adult ministry, today Advance Memphis is a non-profit organization focused on employment. As the mission and vision for Advance Memphis began to take shape, they developed financial literacy programs, teaching entrepreneurship and job readiness through the Jobs for Life program. They bring jobs into the neighborhood through social enterprise efforts with the ultimate goal of revitalizing the community through empowerment of local adults in a relationally supportive environment. Through their staffing service and paying graduates of the program to work, Advance puts $1 million annually back into one of the poorest neighborhoods in Tennessee. 

Steve Nash, Executive Director of Advance Memphis, emphasized it is not a school, yet adults in the community talk about Advance as “my school.” “Adults are valuing education and learning. On a system-wide scale, that’s an indicator of the impact of our relational work.” Adults in the community who have been a part of Advance are bringing folks in from the street because they recognize Advance is a place they can get support.

Steve Nash shared the testimony of Mitsubishi Electric, who hired 6 folks from the staffing service at Advance Memphis. When asked how the new employees were doing, one of their engineers replied, “They’re doing fantastic! Y’all are the best of other staffing services.” To hear from someone in corporate America that Advance Memphis is the best source of employees they can find is a tremendous testimony to the transformative work they are doing. “They’re talking about adults coming from the 3rd poorest neighborhood in America,” Steve reminded us.

Stories of transformation like these are abundant in the Advance Memphis network. JeMarcus Allen graduated from the 2012 Jobs for Life program at Advance. He now serves on staff with Advance Memphis, working as a forklift operation instructor. He says Advance Memphis provided just the motivation and stepping stones he needed to show him the way to self-sustainability. In turn, JeMarcus has connected other people in the community to Advance, people who saw the impact that Advance Memphis made on his life and wanted to be a part of something so transformative.

Thelma Polk is an employee of Advance who after 18 years of drug and alcohol use and the tragic loss of her two sons came to Advance Memphis, seeking hope and recovery. Now she greets everyone who comes through the doors, knowing she’s been on the path that some of them are working through. She has a place to share her story. Thelma also teaches a class on recovery at Advance. She says she notices a difference in the neighborhood through the work of Advance and hopes others will too.

Steve Nash sits on the planning committee for CCDA’s 2nd annual pre-conference event Market Solutions for Community Transformation. He said he really resonates with the idea of bringing business leaders and practitioners together around the common goal of economic revitalizaiton. When asked what he hopes for out of the National Conference’s presence in Memphis this year, Steve said he hopes we will begin to shift our paradigm as the Church and quit saying, “No, we can’t. That’s not possible.” He emphatically stated, “It is plausible to live more fully into God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven! I hope we will hear plausible expressions of this from all sectors and grow in our application of the Word.”

Steve also spoke of the value of a more united community of believers. “If we would work out of the unity scripture talks about, that will move the needle. If the church comes together and really starts working towards justice, that would really cut in and upset the movement of evil.”

Such passionate words from such a heartfelt and committed leader are what drives the profoundly important work of Advance Memphis and the larger Christian community. As we continue to look towards our annual gathering in Memphis, November 11-14, we hope these words of hope, possibility, and justice will set the stage for a time of remembrance, renewal, and casting a vision for the future.

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