Contributed by Emily Schoenberger, G.R.O.W. Berclair Chair
Last spring a committee was formed to start the daunting task of determining what part of Memphis would be the best fit for the Junior League of Memphis to expand the beloved G.R.O.W. program. With the new mission of neighborhood revitalization in mind, the goal was to find a part of town that had a long-term need for the JLM’s assistance and would also be easily accessible to our members. The committee soon narrowed its focus to the Berclair/Highland Heights area based on our already successful community projects at both Memphis Athletic Ministries and First Works.
The committee narrowed their focus within the Berclair neighborhood to two different existing community pillars – STREETS Ministries and Gaisman Community Center. Each location had its own pros and cons to where the JLM should start a G.R.O.W. program, and ultimately the decision was made to have programming at both facilities in order to take the opportunity to make connections with multiple partners in this new neighborhood.
This year, my committee of six has worked tirelessly to get this new program up and running, and it has definitely come with its challenges! Our first G.R.O.W. event was in October at STREETS Ministries, and I was so nervous to see how the night would turn out. We had worked hard with the STREETS staff to coordinate the event and had great programming planned for the 3 groups – PreK-1st graders, 2nd-5th graders and adults, and the anticipation of who all would come out from the neighborhood was great. As the night began, we waited for the families to come and instead we only had one family sign up to participate. While this was definitely not the large turnout I had hoped for, that one family was able to have one-on-one discussions with dieticians about healthy eating, and the youngest child, Andre, was overjoyed with the amount of attention he got from the 11 JLM volunteers from both my committee and Kids in the Kitchen. I was told later that there was no child more deserving and more in need of such undivided attention than Andre, and I was overwhelmed with happiness to hear that even though our numbers on the first night weren’t huge, the impact we made right out of the gate in the Berclair neighborhood was.
My committee immediately started brainstorming ways to get the word out about our new program, and the answer soon became clear that the Kingsbury schools would be a great resource to work with to let the families in the neighborhood know about our monthly programs. Instead of having a G.R.O.W. event in November, we participated in Kingsbury’s family reading night and passed out flyers to everyone and set up a table for the kids to make bookmarks. Our decision to go to the families to recruit and spread the word was a huge success, as our next G.R.O.W. event in December brought out 14 new families to STREETS Ministries.
As we start the second half of our JLM year, we have big plans for G.R.O.W. Berclair. We’ve already had one successful event in January where 9 more families signed up, and we have 4 other events scheduled at both STREETS and Gaisman Community Center. I’m very excited about the challenges and opportunities that will continue to present themselves for the rest of this year, and I know that they will be tackled head on by my team.