News » The Fly-By

Missed Opportunities?

As its federal grant ends, YO! Memphis has to answer some tough questions.

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Who: Marie Milam is the director of YO! Memphis, an at-risk youth-service agency run through the city of Memphis. The Memphis program is one of 36 across the country funded by a federal Department of Labor grant.

Where: The organization provides educational and occupational services to almost 3,500 students, at two campuses, including the main location at 2140 S. Third Street. The federal grant expires June 30th.

What: During a City Council committee meeting last month, Milam was questioned about satellite offices closing, unpaid bills, building-code violations, and layoffs of 27 program employees with only one day's notice. Council members also want an external audit of the program's finances.

"Year one, two, and three, they had a balance left over, but last year, they ran short," council member TaJuan Stout Mitchell said. The council got a copy of check disbursements this week.

When: Talking with the Flyer, Milam said that the layoffs were not handled as reported.

"[The employees] that were laid off knew the grant was ending. In fact, they had a two-year notice," she said. "In every staff meeting since 2003, they have been told that the money was running out."

Before the layoffs, Milam said payroll costs were $100,000 per pay period. She would not comment on how the termination letters were administered, saying she was not involved in that process.

Why: The year-round charter school YO! Memphis Academy opened for grades 10-12 last year and has an enrollment of 126 students. Many council members' questions centered around the organization's use of grant funds for charter-school expenditures, as well as other unpaid YO! contracts.

The school's expenditures -- many for renovations -- resulted when the state fire marshal discovered that the YO! Memphis main campus did not have an occupancy permit and was actually coded as a warehouse.

It is still unclear why the building -- brought up to code by the city's General Services division -- never got an occupancy permit.

"I present a quarterly report to the council that includes information about the charter school. They are forgetting, but the original scope of the [federal] grant was to sustain the services through other educational outlets, like charter schools, and that's what we've done."

Milam said the council's questions are unwarranted. "All we can do is keep up what we're doing for kids. Nothing has changed." n

by Janel Davis

A Quickie with Nora Tucker,

South Main Business Association

The South Main Arts District is growing up. After four years of catering to the young, downtown, hipster set on the monthly Trolley Tour night, the district now wants to reach the mommy set. After soft-launching family-friendly Sundays on South Main last month, the South Main Business Association (SMBA) is officially kicking off the monthly event on Mother's Day, May 8th.

On trolley night, patrons sip wine and tour the neighborhood's galleries, but Sundays on South Main will include activities such as a dog walk, brunch specials at South Main restaurants, sidewalk sales and exhibits, and an ice cream cart. Special to May is the Humane Society's Pet Waggin' in honor of Mother's Day.

Nora Tucker, owner of pet store Pete's Treats and representative for SMBA, says last month's soft launch was a huge success. While they didn't take an official count of how many turned out for the event, Tucker says the street was packed with people by 11:30 a.m., a half-hour after the event began.

Flyer: Why dedicate a day to families?

Tucker: The Trolley Tour has been such a success that we thought we could do that for Sunday, and instead of free trolley rides and wine, we could have brunch and maybe some art activities on the sidewalk.

What are some of the highlights of this event?

Most restaurants start brunch at or by 11 a.m. and go until 2 p.m. A couple of restaurants were already open for brunch, like the Arcade and the Blue Monkey, but now Harry's Detour, the 5 Spot, and the Green Beetle are [offering brunch] specially for this event.

We have strolling musicians, which we started with the Trolley Tour. I am one of the players. For the first Sunday on South Main, we had a jazz trio on G.E. Patterson, and then Ron Reed and I played guitars and sang.

How do you think it went last month?

We were so pleased. Many shop owners stayed open well past 4 p.m. We found that people were really shopping. And that's something that we don't see happen at the same level on Trolley Tour night. The Trolley Tour is just a great way to invite people down and have a big party, but it doesn't create the same atmosphere of buying.

Are families more likely to buy art?

A purchase of art can sometimes take a number of viewings and visits before you decide it's the right thing, but there are other gift items for sale on South Main. Somebody that's all dressed up and carrying a drink around is probably less likely to buy dog treats because they'll have to carry a bag. If they're with children on Sunday, it's more of a family shopping day.

Aren't kids in art galleries a bad idea, what with all the breakables?

I have never heard anybody say "no kids in the galleries." Now, dogs probably aren't allowed in the galleries.

If people bring their dog for the walk, what should they do with their dogs while they shop?

Several businesses allow dogs. One is Pete's Treats and another is Then and Again. Muse has a dog in there sometimes. Gestures, which does sell dog and cat gift items, allows dogs. And you know, these old buildings have tile floors so it's easy to let a dog come on in.

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