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Path out of Poverty: Local groups get funding boost

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- "I'm proof that good things do come from the roughest parts of Memphis."

That's one of the things Jessica Milligan told a crowd of people gathered for a press conference as she stood before a podium and a microphone.

She's a former resident of Karat Place, an addict, now sober, clean and able to see her children. Milligan's even started her own business.

Milligan shared her story as an example of how the Women's Foundation of Greater Memphis and its investments are paying off in the community.

Karat Place is one of more than 20 non-profits that received funding from the WFGM in 2016, and on Thursday, the foundation announced a second round of funding for 2017 grantees.

WREG spent a morning at Advance Memphis.  It received a $25,000 grant from the WFGM last year, and will get funding again this year.

The grantee partnerships are part of the foundation's Vision 2020. It's a plan to reduce poverty by five-percent over five years in the South Memphis zip code of 38126.

While the poverty rate in Memphis hovers close to 30-percent, it's much higher in 38126, where roughly six out of ten families live below the poverty line.

Advance Memphis has a small building that sits on Vance. The non-profit also has warehouse space around the corner.

It's where WREG found Samilia Colar working one morning.

She's a designer who rents space in the building.

She creates custom leather pieces, hand bags and scarves.

Her work space was full of colorful fabric.

She was cutting a pattern when WREG's cameras were there.

In the same 24,000 square foot warehouse, there's a gentleman bottling a cleaning product, and ladies working on metal parts.

There's also a pack and ship service, a frame shop, and forklift operator classes in the same space on certain days.

It may seem like an odd set up, but the warehouse is proof of entrepreneurship and job creation.

That's what Advance Memphis is all about.

The South Memphis non-profit, also offers GED classes, and a soft, job skills training program for residents of 38126.

On the day WREG visited, there were a handful of people sitting through mock interview classes.

However, the first person you see when you walk into Advance Memphis is Thelma Polk Gray.

"I lived in this neighborhood, from Cleaborn Homes and Foote Homes."

Thelma's the receptionist for Advance Memphis.

Her story is also an example of how the cycle of generational poverty can be broken.

"I came through the program, two of my daughters came through the program."

Thelma, now 20 years clean, also suffered from addiction and lost two sons.

She said, "God changed my life and I came down here and I said there was no turning back, so when I came, I was ready."

Advance Memphis has been working for nearly two decades to provide resources and push economic self sufficiency in South Memphis.

It's one of 27 agencies that's getting a second round of grant money from the Women's Foundation for a Greater Memphis as part of the group's plan to reduce poverty in the area.

Rosemarie Fair, who chairs the Grants Committee, says it's important the money goes to groups already doing good work in the neighborhood.

"They have a proven track record in 38126 and the concentration of nearly one-point-five million into this zip code then allows the efforts and outcomes in the zip code," said Fair.

Outcomes, like the ones visible throughout the warehouse and through people like Thelma, who now uses her own story as an inspiration for others.

"I just let them know you can do it."

Colar, the designer, is also mentoring one of the women making the metal parts who just finished Advance Memphis' entrepreneurship class.

Donald Jenkins, who works for Advance Memphis, handles pack and ship in the warehouse throughout the day, but also runs his own lawn care business and hires people who've graduated from Advance Memphis' Work Life program.