United Methodist Neighborhood Centers of Memphis operates now via neighborhoods-based initiatives


Dr. Mark Matheny, left, chair of the Board of Directors of United Methodist Neighborhood Centers of Memphis, recently worked alongside volunteers at Good Samaritan Outreach Ministries. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

By Jennie Dickerson, Cabin 9 Consulting

In Spring 2019, after 112 years in ministry, United Methodist Neighborhoods Centers of Memphis (UMNCM) decided it was time for a drastic change. The UMNCM has always pivoted to fill the gap and serve people where the need is greatest. This time, the organization needed a complete shift in how it operates
For many years, it served one Memphis neighborhood—Binghampton. The UMNCM building housed childcare, after school programs, summer camp, feeding ministries, a clothes closet and more out of its location at Walnut Grove and Tillman in Memphis.
But Binghampton is not the only neighborhood that needs the services UMNCM provides. Volunteers and staff started to see the possibility of serving people in areas across the city. After much consideration and many conversations with ministry partners from Bartlett to South Memphis and everywhere in between, UMNCM ditched its bricks and mortar building and joined partners all over town.
A massive change in structure hasn’t slowed this agency of the Memphis Conference from making an impact on issues it cares most about—education and hunger. The Miriam Child Development Center hosted at Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in Raleigh-Bartlett, and “Believe You Can,” an after-school reading program at Longstreet United Methodist Church in Whitehaven, focus on providing a quality education and safe space for children. With pre-K, childcare, summer and after-school programs, these two arms of UMNCM serve more than 100 kids ages 2.5 – 12 years old on a weekly basis.
UMNCM recognizes that children need a solid education for their futures, but they also have to eat today. UMNCM serves as a collector and distributor of food to three food ministries in three different neighborhoods, two of which are food deserts. Fishes ‘n’ Loaves serves the Binghampton community, where UMNCM was based for so many years. Through this partnership, food is distributed on Tuesdays and Fridays from 8 to 11 am out of the Commons on Merton. Good Samaritan Outreach Ministries is located downtown and serves a nutritious, hot meal every Wednesday at noon. Longstreet United Methodist Church operates a food pantry on Wednesdays and a monthly community meal. UMNCM is proud to play a role in connecting volunteers, food and other resources with programs that are doing such great work in Memphis.
Leadership at UMNCM believes its work is part of a greater social justice issue about allocation of resources and inequitable opportunities. That’s why the agency's fifth partner is Voices for Justice, an advocacy group whose purpose is to speak out against racism, prejudice and ignorance in Memphis because it’s impossible to make a dent in equality if mindset stays the same.
Sometimes it is scary and risky to shake the boat and upend the status quo, but judging by the neighborhoods served and lives changed by UMNCM, this is one bold move that has made a positive impact throughout Memphis. After 112 years of progress, this organization is making an intentional move to expand its community—for the community.

UMNCM strives to minister with compassion with people in need in Memphis, Tennessee, especially emphasizing children’s education and well-being, and to alleviate hunger among persons and families. Visit umnc-memphis.org for more information.