The crowd that gathered inside the Bryan Campus Life Center at Rhodes College knew on the morning of May 22nd that they were there to hear some big announcements from Kevin Dean, executive director of Literacy Mid-South. Dean didn't open his remarks with an announcement, however. It was more like a confession. He admitted to watching Tabatha take over on the reality-TV show called just that — Tabatha Takes Over. Tabatha Coffey's weekly goal: turn struggling small businesses into success stories.
Dean then did make an opening announcement: The goal of Literacy Mid-South is, in a sense, to put itself out of business.
With an estimated 120,000 adult Mid-Southerners with low literacy levels, going out of business isn't likely anytime soon. But Dean wanted his audience to know that Literacy Mid-South is growing dramatically in terms of community outreach, and it's moving. Beginning in July, its offices, now on South Cooper, will occupy a third-floor space inside the United Methodist Neighborhood Centers of Memphis at 3000 Walnut Grove Road.
That move alone is expected to save the organization, which has been educating individuals and training volunteers for 40 years, an estimated $65,000 per year. It's money, Dean said, that will go directly into partnering with other educational agencies to improve the reading and writing skills of Memphians of all ages. In his words, "We want as many [agencies] as possible to do what we're doing."
It's been a good spring for Literacy Mid-South. As Dean reminded the audience, the organization in April was awarded accreditation from ProLiteracy, a national nonprofit that sponsors literacy providers throughout the U.S. The same month, Literacy Mid-South received two of Volunteer Mid-South's Spirit of Giving Awards — one for its Adult Learning Program and one to Literacy Mid-South's board chair, Teri Sullivan.
The big news, however, was Literacy Mid-South's expanded mission, which will make it a hub of sorts. With the money it's saving on the office move and under an initiative called the Smart Memphis Coalition, Literacy Mid-South will be able to supply seed money, grants, and valuable advice to educational nonprofits throughout the city. Those savings include a Training and Technical Assistance Fund for coalition organizations and money for Literacy Mid-South's Read Memphis Project and WriteMemphis, a network of creative-writing workshops based on adult participants' life experiences.
Also on the creative front: Literacy Mid-South's new website page with easy-to-locate services in the city's "literacy deserts" and news that Literacy Mid-South will be launching a number of pop-up shops, the first, this fall, to be called "The Art of Reading," with the work of local artists up for auction. Another proposed shop, called "The Bookworm," will offer bags, bookmarks, and T-shirts inspired by literary favorites. And a third, "The Exotic Travel Company," will sell novelty items based on classics such as The Chronicles of Narnia and Alice in Wonderland.
Specific dates and locations for the pop-ups are yet to be announced. But the date is set for "Literatini," a fund-raiser at the Booksellers at Laurelwood on June 13th, with music, food, auction items, and martinis from area restaurants. Tickets, available now, can be purchased at literacymidsouth.org. Twenty percent of all sales at the Booksellers that night benefit Literacy Mid-South.
And the challenge still stands: Literacy Mid-South is $7,500 away from its $200,000 Challenge Grant. The deadline date is June 30th for new donors or those who have not donated in the past three years to earn an extra $100,000 for Literacy Mid-South's Adult Learning Program.