Features

Self-healing hood

"Self-healing hood" Continued...

Issue: "How Mark Souder fell," June 19, 2010

In another part of Advance Memphis, Kim Wright leans in and adjusts a loose thread. Over 20 jumbo-size spools thread to six sewing heads of the $20,000 embroidery machine. When she's satisfied that all the threads are in the correct place, she presses a button on a computer screen. The machine starts embroidering an AutoZone logo above the breast pocket of six shirts.

Advance Outsourcing, which provides Jobs For Life graduates with additional training and supervision while they earn a paycheck, got the contract to produce these shirts, bringing to Cleaborn/Foote jobs formerly done in Pakistan. Wright is the sole master of the embroidery machine, and proud of it: "I'm the only one here who knows how to run this machine. So I'm in the spotlight right now."

The job requires hard work, concentration and attention to detail, and Wright knows exactly why she's doing it: "I'm a responsible person so that's why they picked me. They noticed the way I worked back then."

Theresa Alexander, who works in a warehouse for an outside company, also has pride in her work. Advance Staffing, the ministry's in-house staffing agency, placed her in that position. "When I didn't have a job I was so lazy," Alexander says. "Now I'm going in on my off days, they're calling me in when they need someone to work. My attitude has changed a lot. Now I'm a people person."

The Outsourcing and Staffing programs allow Advance to monitor graduates' development as they work toward permanent positions. Advance requires drug tests every 90 days and sets up direct deposit of paychecks, making sure that employees plug into financial institutions. Alexander saves money for her daughter's ballet clothing and puts a percentage of every paycheck into a separate account for her daughter to go to college.

Advance wants to turn Cleaborn/Foote into a community of savers who can build stable financial lives. Graduates can save up to a thousand dollars in Individual Development Accounts (IDAs). Advance matches that money two-to-one so they can purchase a car, make a down payment on a house, or take higher education courses. Russell, who runs the IDA program, believes that IDAs can help bring to the inner city the incentives traditionally offered to the middle and upper classes. "Behaviors are found in response to structures and incentives," he says. "There are tons of incentives for the upper and middle class to enter into home ownership, in the form of tax breaks and mortgage tax deductions. We're trying to offer incentives for people to build assets here, where there's traditionally been a means-tested disincentive."

Darlene Gandy, who got a warehouse job through Advance's in-house staffing agency, showed off a used Toyota RAV4 that she bought with money saved through her IDA. Standing in the parking lot, wearing a hard hat, she beams at her car: "I love it, isn't it cool?"

Gandy loves her job, and her employers are happy to have her. Advance employees have a growing reputation with Memphis businesses. Nash attributes this to the loyalty the six-week course builds with employees: "Normally if you get hired by a staffing company and you get fired, you just move on to the next one. We've got a relationship with our employees, so the quality of work is night and day. The marketplace is grading us and scoring us." He stops and grins, "They have a choice and they want Advance. They want us from the bowels of the city."
Click here to listen to WORLD editor in chief Marvin Olasky discuss with Alisa Harris the South regional finalists.
To view a video profile of Advance Memphis and of each of the other 2010 regional finalists and to read profiles of finalists and winners from 2006 through 2009, visit WORLDmag.com/compassion.

Advance Memphis Factbox

Location: Memphis, Tenn.

Founded: 1999

Mission: Helping Cleaborn/Foote residents find work and build community economic life

Size: Six full-time members, one part-time; over 250 volunteers a year

Annual Budget: $500,000 per year

website: www.advancememphis.org

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