“Tennessee, Tennessee, I was born here and raised here and I’ll make my grave here, it’s home.”
-from Memphis native Drew Holcomb’s song, “Tennessee”
I respect Drew Holcomb for his perspective on life having spent significant chunks of his life in all three sections of what seems like the longest, or at least narrowest state in the US. I, Jeff(rey) Riddle, hail from Morristown, TN, which is a quaint town in East Tennessee known for its downtown overhead sidewalks, being the location where the Evil Dead was filmed, and being close to my beloved Knoxville. Like many East Tennesseans, my blood runs orange. This influence naturally led me to go to the University of Tennessee.
My dream job at the time was to work in Tennessee Football’s recruiting office, but volunteering during Lane Kiffin’s short tenure left much to be desired. As I graduated, I learned more about myself and my gifts through jobs working at Dollywood and a Knoxville-based mortgage company. The desire to work for something greater than a paycheck allured me to look for other options.
From 2011-2012, I gained exposure to Memphis through coming into town to interview for Memphis Teacher Residency (MTR), a friend’s wedding, and the Beale Street Music Festival. While in town, I learned about Service Over Self (SOS) and countless other ministries that work together to bring about change in the city. As a native East Tennessean, I had thought Memphis might as well be a part of Mississippi or Arkansas, and that blues and barbecue were the only positive things to come from the West Tennessee city. However, these visits to Memphis exposed me to action I had not seen anywhere else.
- I witnessed a teacher devoted to giving his all become the best teacher possible for the welfare of his students in a low-performing school. This teacher had a degree from an esteemed university and could earn twice his salary if money was the ultimate thing to him.
- I met a recovering drug addict who ministers to people he meets on the street that live a reckless life that reminds him of the many relationships and opportunities he had missed earlier in his life.
- I have met families with means to live in more desirable or comfortable neighborhoods, yet choose to live in less desirable inner-city neighborhoods and love on their city and neighbors.
- I have met humble business owners who have capped their lifestyle as a means to be more generous.
After meeting staff from SOS in May 2012, I raised support and left my East Tennessee roots for the SOS Academy. I interned with SOS for two years, wearing many hats. I processed home repair applications and setup home assessments to meet wonderful residents of the Binghampton and Orange Mound neighborhoods. I also mentored high school staff from the Collegiate School of Memphis and traveled to two countries as SOS partnered with ministries that have ties to Memphis.
The Memphis community that I entered has captivated me as I have grown to love a city that many from the other two parts of the state hate. I am gifted at connecting people and causes, and Memphis is basically a BIG, small town. I plan to stay in Memphis and continue to invest my life here.
My new role as the Serve901 Coordinator is to bring more people to the fold of loving and serving Memphis. Serve901 will utilize volunteers to bless the ministries, non profits, people, and communities of Memphis. I hope that Serve901 will work as an agent for these volunteers to have the Memphis experience I have had: to see causes greater than one’s paycheck, to see opportunity to impact a community, the ability to impact an individual, and a commitment to a life of service over self.