When college students gather at a bar, it's not usually for the betterment of their city. But last weekend, students from five area colleges met at a local watering hole to dream up service projects to improve Memphis.
The "One Memphis" initiative, which challenges young adults to form relationships with each other and their communities through service projects, kicked off last Sunday at Earnestine & Hazel's on South Main.
Nearly 30 students from Rhodes College, the University of Memphis, Christian Brothers University, Southwest Tennessee Community College, and LeMoyne-Owen College broke up into three groups to brainstorm service ideas centered on helping local youth, seniors, and the environment.
"One Memphis" was born out of a push by the federal government and the Bloomberg Philanthropies' "Cities of Service" project, which encourages mayors across the nation to increase volunteerism in their cities.
"We want to start with the younger generation and give them a sense of pride and commitment to the city that, long-term, will make the city more beautiful and more functional," said Kerry Hayes, special assistant for research and innovation in Mayor A C Wharton's office.
"The idea is to build some bonds between students from different colleges who might not know each other and to give students, particularly those not from Memphis, some sort of ownership or personal investment in the city that they might not have right now," Hayes continued.
The brainstorming session at Earnestine & Hazel's was the students' first meeting. Now the groups will have approximately two weeks to develop and submit their service proposals. The mayor's office will then choose the one or two options that best fit the needs of the city.
"We want [students] to say, 'We want to do something like this, and we're going to organize and design it and figure out how much it will cost,'" Hayes said.
Each group at the session was given broad themes, such as youth wellness, senior care, and cleaning and greening, to plan projects around.
"One of the big incentives [of 'One Memphis'] is that it's really engaging to be young and be focused as a collaborative effort with the mayor's office, with the city, and with other schools," said Justin Deere, a senior at Rhodes College. "It's based on what we are motivated and excited to do, not what we are obligated to do. That's one of the most appealing factors for me."
Deere, who was part of the group focusing on seniors, said that their ideas, so far, revolve around collecting and recording stories from elderly Memphians, which could later be published and sold to raise funds for nonprofits.
"We were thinking of a way to build relationships and also capture something really interesting that could also be sold to make money for Meals on Wheels," Deere said. "So we came up with an interviewing process, recording their stories, and putting them in a coffee-table book."
Once the winning proposals are selected, the mayor's office will work with the teams to execute their ideas over this spring and summer.