In September 2012, 30-year-old Jason Payne resigned from his high-paying job at Raymond James, a financial services firm, to follow what he considers a religious calling to move to Orange Mound and minister to its residents.
Now a group of his friends are planning to make the same dramatic move. Known simply as the Community Group, the friends will be securing several residential properties, which are currently being renovated, near Orange Mound Park.
"When we look around the city, we see many things that are encouraging and worth bragging about, but we also see poverty, homelessness, drug addiction, broken families, racism, poor education, and poor physical health. There's a large concentration of those things in Orange Mound," Payne said.
Payne, along with about seven other friends, plans to move into one of three renovated houses in Orange Mound by March. At least one member of the group will be settled into a separate house by February. Payne plans to have 10 to 12 people living throughout five houses in Orange Mound by August.
The Community Group needed more than $15,000 to renovate the houses in Orange Mound. They've raised $10,000 so far. Anyone interested in donating toward the project can go to the website youcaring.com and type "Orange Mound" in the search engine.
"It's not every day that a bunch of suburban white folks decide to move into gang territory," Payne admitted.
But the Community Group has been making its presence known in Orange Mound for several years. Since 2010, the group has been collaborating with Orange Mound Outreach Ministries (OMOM), a program that targets at-risk youth in Orange Mound and provides them with a safe haven from drugs, gangs, and gun violence.
The Community Group currently provides the OMOM kids, who range in age from toddlers to young adults, with Bible study and monthly birthday parties. They also throw bimonthly block parties at Orange Mound Park and have gatherings with many of the kids and their families.
"It's amazing just to go out there and play with the kids, because a lot of times, they don't have adults who want to hang out and play with them," said Spencer Staton, co-leader of the Community Group. "[The adults are often] trying to work to be able to provide and just don't have time to, or a lot of times, they just don't care to give any attention to their kids."
The Community Group has a Christian focus, and Payne says their overall goal is to minister to people in the Orange Mound community. But the Community Group isn't entirely composed of Christians. Payne said some members simply recognize the dire need for improvement in Orange Mound and want to play a role in helping.
"I've been in the home of one of [the Community Group members] who is talking about moving here, and it's like a dream home," said Mary Tucker, program director for OMOM. "We were joking with them, saying, 'Okay, you give us your home and move out here, and we'll go out there to yours.' I think it's good for people to know that these kids are giving up their homes to come in and help make the community better."