To improve their services and provide clients with needed items, Loving Arms will host a live and silent auction Saturday, November 19th, from 6 to 10 p.m. in Memphis Botanic Gardens Hardin Hall. The nonprofit organization will auction off donated items, including local and national art pieces, gift certificates, gift packages, jewelry from local jewelers, and other gifts for the Christmas holiday.
We are part of the Memphis HIV Family Care Network, which is a network of agencies in the city that serves people with HIV, but our focus is on women and children, says Shelia Tankersley, founder of Loving Arms. Ive seen our client base go from about 25 women to 186 women. We are serving over 500 children who are infected and affected by HIV. We basically started out doing transportation and now we are doing transportation, support groups, holistic health, massage therapy, tutoring and cooking classes.
Tankersley, also the organizations executive director, started Loving Arms in 1991 while on a spiritual search.
I had raised [four children] alone and when they were all grown, I was at a place in my life that I knew there was something I was suppose to do. So I just meditated and asked for guidance.
Tankersley saw a need for a program that concentrated on assisting women and children in the Memphis area. Starting out of her home, Tankersley primarily provided clients with transportation to various clinics, hospitals, and support groups. As more clients were referred by hospitals like St. Jude and LeBonheur, Tankersley quit her full-time job and lived on her savings the following year. A year later, in 1996, she was able to write a grant for her salary.
In 1998, Loving Arms held its first live and silent auction. The proceeds enabled them to move into their current offices at 1233 Peabody in Midtown.
Yvonne Wooten, the agencys social service coordinator for the past TK years, started out as a volunteer with Loving Arms. She says the experience has been rewarding.
I knew that what [Shelia] stood for, I agreed with it, she says. Its what we are all here on this Earth for, our purpose to fill in and help out. There isnt another organization in the city that is helping women and children in this capacity
Currently working with two van drivers and four staff members, the organization relies heavily on volunteers.
HIV is not a real popular area, says Tankersley. Lots of times it really takes people who are committed in that area. My experience has been, with my volunteers, people feel called to do it.
Volunteers tutor children after school, clean inside and outside the center, and participate in recreational outings and holiday parties. They also watch children when the mother is not available or just spend time interacting with clients.
The agency also depends heavily on contributions.
We get donations from Johnson & Johnson and CCI and some other companies, but we always need more, Tankserley says. Our clients are on food stamps, so items that arent covered by food stamps are an added expense for them. We provide diapers to the babies Ñ baby oil, baby lotion, powder. When our newborns come home, we provide them with new baby beds. We really try to meet the needs that no one else in the community is meeting.
She says that Loving Arms concentrates on improving the lives of the women who who seek their aid.
One thing I found out early on, in order to meet the needs of the children, you have to serve the mother, says Tankersley. For the child to benefit, it means teaching and empowering the women. . . . Our program is very focused on providing services that allow the women to have a healthy balanced body, mind and spirit.
I would like for us to be able to expand our facility, to have a larger facility because our client load is growing so much, she continues. Were growing fast and weve got a big place here, but sometimes I feel like were going to have to have a bigger place.
Wooten says that Loving Arms events benefit everyone. The group not only provides services to women, but the community also gets the opportunity to participate in something positive.
Once I met those kids, those babies and those moms, I felt like it could have been me, she says. I put myself in their place. I could have been me, or it could have been my daughter, or it could have been my son or one of my relatives. So if I help them, why cant I help somebody else?
We have women attending college, some of our kids are really excelling in school, and we have women who have purchased houses, she adds. The word gets passed around that Loving Arms is a great agency and they do care about you and they will help you. Once you get involved with the agency, we take you on as part of the family.