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The impact of Mpact



Dallas-native Jenny Robertson had been in Memphis for about two years when she started sending her resume out to companies in other cities. She loved her job but found it difficult to meet people here and thought it might be the right time for she and her husband to move.

Instead, the couple decided to buy a house here and put down roots. And for Robertson, the decision came about, in part, because of Mpact Memphis.

Mpact, a community organization by and for younger Memphians, celebrated its fourth anniversary last week. And with its recent announcement of a new yearly focus, it's clear that not only is Mpact growing up, it's already made, well, a bit of an impact on the city.

The organization was still in the planning phase when a friend from work asked Robertson to a meeting. She was stunned when Storage USA founder Dean Jernigan happened on the group and sat down.

"It was a turning point for me," says Robertson. "Where else could you have the head of a major corporation take the time to meet with some young people? I knew I would not have that kind of access to leadership in a city like Dallas."

Doug Bacon, Mpact's executive director, says that Robertson's story is just one of many about people staying in, or coming to, Memphis because of Mpact.

"We know people move," says Bacon. "Everyone who comes to Memphis is not going to stay in Memphis. But if the track record is that they stay for 18 months and we can change that to three years, that's to everybody's benefit. And if they're happier while they're here and they contribute to the community, we all benefit from that, too."

Mpact also has hosted political debates, adopted an elementary school, and created a program for summer interns in the hopes of luring their talents here permanently.

"The original idea was if you get involved in Mpact, you'll meet a diverse group of people. If you have an idea for a program or something that ought to be happening in the community, you can work through the organization to make that happen," Bacon says. "I think, at our core, we're the same. ... What we heard in [a recent] organizational assessment is that we're doing a lot, but overall, what is Mpact Memphis? We looked at that and we've positioned ourselves with a new initiative we call the Point of Mpact."

The Point of Mpact is an overarching issue or problem the group will focus on for a year. For 2006, the point is financial literacy and will mean education for both members and the broader community.

"It will still be important for us to have social and networking opportunities. We'll still do the intern program and talent recruitment, but we won't be doing 60, 70, 80 programs in a year," says Bacon. "[Programs] will be more connected to the point of Mpact."

For an organization known almost as much for its parties as its programming, Bacon says the social component will stay important but is not the group's main focus.

"The direction we're headed is diverse groups of young people who work together and take on initiatives. When people ask what Mpact does, they'll be able to say it's not about parties or meeting people or getting dates. There are serious things we need to be working on," says Bacon.

And as much as that's true, I can't help but think that Mpact is maybe just as successful for its social connections as for the leaders it's apparently grooming or the work it's doing. In a city often seen as divided in two -- whether by race or by geography -- it's positive to hear about people bridging any gap, especially when the ramifications include plugging Memphis' brain drain.

In Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class, the urban manifesto of keeping and attracting talented newcomers, Memphis did not exactly score well. Personally, many of the young professionals I know have either left Memphis or are in the process of leaving.

Robertson says that most of her closest friends now aren't people she works with or lives near or goes to church with.

"We've struggled with how do we measure our impact," she says. "It's so anecdotal, but what makes people want to stay in a city or connects them with a city is relationships. And Mpact fosters so many relationships, between people who would have never met without it."

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