Since 2010, the Junior League of Memphis has spent countless hours at Lester Community Center in Binghampton, through our G.R.O.W. initiative. We have witnessed many positive changes in the area over the last 5 years and are proud to be a part of the revitalization of the neighborhood. We recognize that we are only a small part of the positive change going on in the neighborhood and believe that collaboration amongst other groups and businesses is key to making the most impact on the community. When we heard the Memphis Grizzlies were adopting Lester as part of Grizz Cares Day of Service, we were eager to meet with them and find out how the JLM could lend a hand.
The day of service project focused on full refurbishment of the outdoor basketball courts, exterior landscaping, a state of the art Blended Learning Lab and several other projects going on throughout the neighborhood. 200 volunteers participated, including the entire Grizzlies player roster and over 40 JLM members. Thanks to a gift from the John Dustin Buckman Charitable Trust, the JLM was able play a significant role in the Grizz Cares Day of Service by officially adopting the Pre-K room at Lester, and pulled off an amazing renovation in just 10 short days!
The Pre-K room is used as part of the after school program at Lester and is FILLED with 35+ kids every weekday afternoon. The room is also a vital part of the G.R.O.W. Thursday night supper club, as it houses the youngest group of kids during the educational portion of the weekly program. Recently moved to a dingy room in the back corner behind the gym, the room was filled with mix matched desks and other furniture collected throughout the years. The two teachers (angels) who care for the children every day are volunteers, and were doing the best they could with the room they were given.
Sound the horns! This is where the JLM Extreme makeover begins! And it is my hands-down favorite thing about being a part of this organization. When you give a group of JLM members a project, even if we only have 10 days to pull it off, we rally the troops, pull from the strengths of our members and accomplish something extraordinary.
You see, nearly 90% of our members have professional careers in addition to their volunteer and family commitments. We’re business owners, marketing professionals, doctors, musicians, FBI agents…you name it, and we probably have it! With all that outside knowledge and expertise, we’ve learned to lean on each other to create impactful change in our community.
So, what did we do when we met to discuss the renovation of the Pre-K room? We called Hayley Davis, a beloved G.R.O.W. volunteer, who also happens to be an Interior Designer by trade! She went straight to work taking measurements of the room and produced a floor plan for a colorful, inviting space with several centers including : an arts and crafts area, a reading nook, a dress up station, and a traditional homework area. About the same time, Rebecca Fountain, quite possibly the league’s biggest G.R.O.W. cheerleader, secured several pieces of classroom furniture via a Facebook post by a fellow JLM member, Susie Björklund.
Floor Plan for the newly designed Pre-K room, courtesy of Haley Davis, of Haley Davis Interiors
With Hayley’s design in hand, a Design Task Force was created to pull the room together. Made up of about 8 members who share not only a love for G.R.O.W., but also a love for all things creative and crafty, the Design Task Force went straight to work. Members were scouring the internet and stores around town looking for everything from storage baskets to colorful rugs. Leslie Graff, a skilled seamstress, jumped right in with a plan to recover the teachers chairs to make them fit in the new design of the room. A Pinterest Board was created to collect ideas and share pictures of the existing room and of the furniture and decor we were using to spiff it up. We also interviewed several Pre-k teachers to make sure the centers we were creating would be useful and the toys we purchased would be a meaningful part of their learning experience.
A call for help was made about 3 days prior to the big “reveal” day. We needed LOTS of extra hands to help paint furniture, so that the room could become the colorful, inviting space we all imagined. Two days later about a dozen women, many of them JLM Board Members, showed up late at night to transform dull metal filing cabinets and old wooden bookshelves into beautiful, brightly colored, “like-new” pieces of furniture. Brooke Helsley even brought her handy dad along to install 35 coat hooks, so that the children would have a place to hang their backpacks and coats each afternoon.
October 25, 2014 was a day we will not soon forget. We arrived early that Saturday morning to an empty, brightly colored room (Grizz Blue – thanks to the Grizzlies Foundation for painting the walls!) ready to be transformed by a host of hard working volunteers. Tables were assembled, walls were decorated, furniture was brought in and arranged and toys were unpacked and organized thanks to the help of many JLM volunteers, several guys from Peer Power and even a “hand” by some of our most favorite Grizzlies players.
One of our pinterest inspirations turned out to be a signature part of the room. In addition to transforming the Pre-K room, we were asked to entertain about a dozen children in the room that morning – allowing them to participate in Grizz Cares Day. They created several craft projects to hang on the walls and then added their own “touch” to the room by placing their thumbprint on a large canvas. The thumb prints of the children and volunteers were turned into flowers and handprints were used to create the grass. The biggest handprints (and most exciting ones!) were provided by several Grizzlies players themselves!
Around noon that day, I stood back in awe at the transformation after 10 short days. And because we know these families so well, we have a personal connection to the room and look forward to using it weekly during the Thursday Night G.R.O.W. program.
On a personal note: I brought my daughter and her friend along with me that Saturday to help get the room organized. They worked hard at unpacking boxes and organizing craft supplies and helped entertain the children with art projects. They were star struck by the Grizzlies of course, but I’m most proud of their heart to serve others. And I’m so thankful the JLM provides me with the opportunity to include them in projects like this so that they gain perspective on the community around us and realize their own potential to make impactful change on the world.
The Pre-K room renovation was only a small part of the revitalization going on in Binghampton that day and we loved walking around that afternoon to admire the work of others. The basketball courts are nothing short of astounding, the mural brings joy to the area, and the learning lab will significantly impact the educational lives of the neighborhood children. I am so thankful to have the chance to be a part of the transformation.
Community Outreach Director