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Two efforts, one aim: Serve the people

Two major initiatives slated for the Hickory Hill area in October share the common goal of bumping up the quality of life, especially with families in mind. by Tony Jones
Special to the Tri-State Defender

Two major initiatives slated for the Hickory Hill area in October share the common goal of bumping up the quality of life, especially with families in mind.

First, on Tuesday, Oct. 11 at the Hickory Ridge Community Center, the Agape organization has planned a faith-based event inviting 100 church pastors and community leaders for a prayer vigil to kick off the Powerlines Community Network coming to the area.  

Two weeks later on Saturday, Oct. 29, the Hickory Ridge Mall will host the Community Festival, as police and Hickory Hill churches join forces to address crime and other social challenges.

Here’s an overview of both events and the community service goals each are centered upon.

Powerlines

Think of it as a faith-based hookup for families and expectant mothers. The initiative planned for Hickory Hill creates a second major hub for the Powerlines network.  Already operating in Whitehaven, a third hub is being planned for the Raleigh/Frayser area.

 
 The One by One Ministry – focused on prenatal and new born education and mentoring – has been helping this mother and her daughter in Whitehaven as part of the Powerlines Community Network that has expanded into Hickory Hill/Southeast Memphis. (Courtesy photo)

With the Agape organization (agapemeanslove.org) serving as administrative arm, several well-known community service agencies comprise the Powerlines network: One by One Ministries – prenatal and new born education and mentoring (onebyoneusa.org); Church Health Center – affordable health and wellness care and services (churchhealthcenter.org); Christ Community Health Services – medical and dental services (christcommunityhealth.org); Families Matter – marriage restoration and family support (familiesmattermemphis.org); and The Shalom Memphis Project – linking church resources (theshalomproject.org).

At the initiatives core are some sobering facts driving the partners to action: An infant mortality rate that consistently puts Memphis and Shelby County near the top of the list in the United States; Approximately 500 stillborn and infant deaths occur county wide each year.

“Powerline’s job is to bring assistance and resources to children and families in a given community. Whatever the matter may be, if they need a job, medicine, tutoring help, schooling, Powerlines provides a range of services to address the needs of infants to the oldest person in the community,” said Agape’s Executive Director David Jordan.

“We want to provide the links to bring more churches in to help more in their communities.  We also access other resources, but the bottom line is if you desire good in your community for children and families, we will lock arms with you.”

In Hickory Hill, as has been the case in Whitehaven, the Powerlines outreach first steps will include asking those targeted for service what they see as their needs.

“Their voices are paramount, so that we are not coming up with what we think they need, but what they tell us they need. We want to respond to those needs,” Jordan said.

 
 A participant in the Bible study that Elder Percell Duckett of Ross Road Church of Christ in Hickory Hill has been leading at Autumn Ridge apartments through the Powerlines Community Network. (Courtesy photo)

But what about the mantra call of self-responsibility? With the struggling American economy, and the shrinking budgets of America’s working and middle class families, isn’t it time for some of these poor people to stop bringing these problems upon themselves and their children?

A social services worker  by choice, Jordan, now 17 years deep with Agape, fires back.

“Yes, there is, but – and this specifically applies to what I’ve found in Memphis –the poor have so many factors weighing on and against them, that the issue is far more complex than ‘just do right and be responsible,’” said Jordan.

Everyone shares responsibility for the community, he said.

“We own Memphis, and if you truly want to have ownership in Memphis, how can we have 1 of every 3 kids live in poverty?  How can our families and kids suffer such a high rate of infant mortality? How can so many of our kids struggle in school and our drop out rates remain so high?”

So, is there a need for more personal responsibility? Yes, you cannot remove historic racial oppression and economic injustice from the table, Jordan said.

“We’ve got to be honest with ourselves in a holistic manner if we are to address these problems, no matter whether it’s in Whitehaven, Hickory Hill or any neighborhood.  This is our city. There’s a lot going on good in Hickory Hill and other places you don’t hear about. We need to own it.”

Hickory Ridge Towne Centre: Get the name right

On Nov. 5, Agape is planning a major fundraiser at what is commonly referred to as the Hickory Ridge Mall. He’s excited about what Apostle Alton Williams and the World Overcomers Outreach Ministries Church is doing there.

In 2008, Williams spearheaded the church’s purchase of Hickory Ridge Mall for $1.4 million. At the time, many viewed the purchase as an example of potential economic development that more churches should follow. But now, three years later, how is the mall fairing? Is the merry-go-round centerpiece still spinning on a bright future or has the church had second thoughts?  

“Absolutely not,” said Jimmie Haley, economic development manager.

And the most important indicator is in the official name change, to the Hickory Ridge Mall New Towne Centre.  

“The name change is to reflect the vision of what we are doing and trying to create here, a new vision of how to do business and have a good time in a community-based mall.  The concept is to complete our rebirth as a mixed-use facility,” said Haley

“We want the community to not only shop, but have many of their community service needs met, like purchasing car tags,” said Haley. “We are developing a health and medical service wing, and more to give families a holistic approach to have their needs met.  Not only that, but we emphasize the fact that they will be able to bring their family to a safe, friendly, bright and fun environment where they can truly bring the entire family.”

The Hickory Ridge Unity Festival on tap for Oct. 29 has been planned to emphasize the expanded community service concept.

“The best part of it all is that we have owners who have crafted and appreciate a long term vision and are committed to making it successful,” Haley said. “It was understood from the very beginning that we would have to create something unique to sustain our viability and we are moving well in that direction.

“Our goal is to let the parents know there is a lot of value in shopping here. Our intention is to grow with the understanding and buy-in of the Hickory Hill community.”

General manager Patrick Jacob has the job of actively applying the plan to structure and sales. There are a lot of spaces to fill and the names have to be there to draw people.  And with the squeeze on the average consumer’s dollar, the community platform hopes to create a much-needed, value-added structure.

“We also have a major advantage…that we’re perfectly placed,” said Jacob. “The Incredible Pizza franchise here is a perfect example of creative reuse that well fits our demographic. Macy’s left in their downsizing, and Incredible Pizza stepped right in and they’re doing great as our new anchor. It’s my job to see that the lease price creates the same atmosphere for the independent retailers and that there is no overlap. So they have a fair chance to draw customers.”

Image, image, image!

Hickory Hill does not have an image of glamour to make it a destination point for the image conscious and regular shopaholics. For a long time, some have dubbed the area “Hickory Hood,” following the closing of several inner city housing projects and the relocation of many families to the area.

Fairly or unfairly, the area became known as a teenage wasteland of foolish behavior. The flyer pushing attendance for the upcoming Unity Festival stresses, “police and churches come together to address social problems within our community!”  

How can they combat such an image?

“It’s surely a different generation from what it was 20 years ago. Styles and attitudes have changed, but one thing hasn’t, everyone wants to enjoy a safe and healthy family life,” said Haley.

“Our code and conduct policy is well displayed. We try to establish a standard that the public can appreciate. What we have seen is that the public has had a little bit of resistance to what we are trying to establish as it relates to conduct and moral ethic. We are not trying to convert the public to be who we are, we are simply saying that in this environment a mother or father can bring their five-year-old child and not be ashamed or embarrassed by what they see, and we do not apologize for it.”

The targeted audience clearly is families.

“We want the teenagers and we want the hip crowd to come here and spend money with us, but we want it understood that we will not tolerate over the top behavior,” said Haley.

“We understand the challenge, but we aggressively and consistently try to manage those expectations and at the same time grow commercially in a sound way. I think we can do it and I think we will do it.  

“We have pride in the Hickory Hill community and we want the community to come here and enjoy that vision.”

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