On a leafy cul-de-sac in Midtown, it is not uncommon for neighbors to enjoy “progressive dinner parties; a culture where, if you are sitting on your steps with a glass of wine, anyone is welcome to join you,” says former Elzey Avenue resident Wayne Shannon.
This block of Elzey, called Cooper-Young Place, was developed in 2005 on the site of a former pasta factory. The houses boast period details and Midtown charm, but with the modern amenities and green-building standards of new construction. It’s the kind of street where “you get to know each resident,” says Shannon. Kevin Ritz echoes: “A lot of people are around during the day; you see people when you get home.”
That spirit of conviviality goes hand-in-hand with a shared sense of community engagement, exemplified by Elzey neighbors’ membership in GiVE 365, the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis’ dollar-a-day giving program. With an annual theme to guide them, GiVE 365 members pool their money and participate in a democratic grant-making process to award funds to local nonprofits. Three current sets of Elzey residents – Meredith Hennessy and Louis Stifter, Anna and Kevin Ritz, Sue and Frank Guarino – as well as former neighbors Donna Sue and Wayne Shannon, who now live at the Trezevant Manor retirement community, are all members of GiVE 365.
GiVE 365 includes members in their 20s through 70s, from 30 ZIP codes across the area.
On their block, Sue and Frank Guarino were the first to join, in 2010, GiVE 365’s first year. They persuaded the Shannons to become members, too. “We were happy to be part of a dollar-a-day program,” Donna Sue recounts. “And we love the Guarinos.” The Ritzes, along with Meredith Hennessy and husband Louis Stifter, joined in 2012 and 2013, respectively, and were also persuaded by Midtown friends and neighbors.
Meredith Hennessy is the mother of the “first baby on the block” Audrey, as well as daughter Charlotte. A consultant with a career in community development work, she has ties to the Community Foundation from before her involvement in its program GIVE 365.
“The Community Foundation is actually why I live in Memphis. The Foundation funded national nonprofit Seedco to bring an earned benefits program to Memphis, and I came from New York to launch the program. I thought I’d stay for two years. It’s been 11.”
Anna Ritz, billing coordinator for the law firm Burch Porter & Johnson, appreciates “the collaboration, not only with pooling funds but working with a grant review committee” that helps allocate the group’s grant funding. “Not only do I have a direct say with where funds are going, but I really love the grant review process. It helps me learn about the interesting organizations in town, especially smaller ones that don’t get much publicity.”
Retiree Sue Guarino says, “I like the concept that it’s basically a dollar a day and a great way to attract younger people who may not consider themselves philanthropists. The program shows just how much they can do with a dollar.”
This multi-generational group of neighbors is involved in causes all over the city. The Guarinos were recognized as the Mid-South Food Bank’s Volunteers of the Year for 2014. Sue Guarino and Wayne Shannon are on the board of Playhouse on the Square, and Anna Ritz is very involved with the Junior League of Memphis. Anna says, “It’s fun to run into Frank and Sue all the time, everywhere we go philanthropy-related, like Playhouse on the Square or GiVE 365 events.”
To learn more about GiVE 365 and become a member you can go here.
This guest post was written by Julia McDonald, Director of Marketing & Communications at GiVE 365.