Part of the Village

Part of the Village


My name is Zach Carr, and I serve as the Associate Director for the brand new Center for Service Learning and Volunteerism at the University of Memphis. In my role, I oversee all of our student volunteerism efforts to connect our students to community needs in the city of Memphis. Additionally, I serve as a conduit between our faculty/staff and the overall community to find community-based projects to integrate into existing or new courses for a service learning/engaged scholarship experience that simultaneously develops tangible skills for our students while meeting a great community need. This mutually beneficial relationship serves as a great opportunity for student development while solving community issues at a low cost!

What led you to this position?

My first experience with the city of Memphis was actually during my first interview with the University in 2015. As soon as I arrived I felt a different energy and passion in this city than I had in any other community. While I had opportunities in other major metropolitan cities, Memphis grabbed a hold of my heart and pulled me in with the passion and sense of community that you don’t often find in cities of this size. Memphians want to be part of the solution, and that mentality is infectious! After interviewing and instantly falling in love with the city, I decided Memphis is where I want to be and where I want to invest my life. The added bonus was the community work that is part of the position that ingrained me into the community at an even higher level. 


Describe the giving back experience/what does it mean to you to “be part of the village”: 

When I think of giving back to my community, one quote always comes to mind:

 “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to
serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace.
A soul generated by love.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.

My first experience with Agape North was through community contacts when seeking a mission driven company to do some design and apparel orders for a scholarship program that I used to manage in another role. The connection with the mission and the Agape North team was instantaneous. Hearing and seeing how my purchase of apparel could have a much greater impact than I originally thought was a major driving force in continuing to develop this relationship. The added bonus of the “giving back experience” is getting to meet and interact with the community members and children you’re impacting and developing those relationships has enabled me to further connect with Memphis and learn all of the ins and outs of how this city works and where you can have an impact!


 What does it mean to you to “be part of the village”?

For many reasons that I’ve already mentioned, the Memphis community is so unique in how they approach cultivating “the village.” To me, this village means that everyone is loved by many and has relationships that span across the entire city and are interconnected on all levels. When I relate this mentality to the mission of Agape North, I immediately think of the children that are impacted by the daily work of the organization. Agape North creates the opportunity for children from all different backgrounds to simultaneously have a need met, while also having the opportunity and experience to interact with a diverse group of individuals so that they learn and explore more about themselves and the world around them. These experiences are essential to their growth as they develop relationships characterized by a real caring for one another that leads to a feeling of trust and security. Having the opportunity to have a hand in cultivating the village is something I seek out and will never take for granted!


From your perspective as a higher education/student involvement advocate, how does this change or further develop this idea?

 As a higher education professional, I see every day how difficult it is settling into a new environment and see the reality that new students may only know one or two people, or no one at all when they arrive to campus. While our new generation of students want to feel interconnected to their community more than ever before, they also want to make an impact. Engaging with the community outside of campus energizes students and motivates them to apply knowledge they learn in class to new co-curricular opportunities. This also connects them and makes them feel part of the “village” of Memphis. When a student finds this type of engagement they invest their time, resources, and energy into their adopted community and that sense of belonging can make them want to plant roots and be part of the solution that so many Memphians are dedicated to! 

Why do you think student involvement is important? How do your goals with student involvement affect the greater Memphis community? 

Getting and staying involved is one of the most important things you can do while in college. “Involvement” is defined as any activity outside the classroom which enhances and contributes to student learning. Being involved can take many forms, from being a member of a registered student organization (RSO), or fraternity or sorority, to conducting research with a faculty member; going on an Alternative Spring Break (ASB) trip, or volunteering at a local social service agency. It does not matter how you are involved, it only matters that you are!

Research shows that students that become engaged within their own community experience not just a higher rate of academic success, but overall satisfaction and development in their life moving forward. Here at the University of Memphis that community building starts as soon as students arrive on campus through a Day of Service to welcome students back and re-connect them to the city and all they can be doing to create a positive impact. Learning to be an engaged citizen is central to all we do at the UofM and our mission to constantly connect our students to how they can give back and contribute to needs in the City gives students context and a stepping stone to a deeper, sustained involvement in all things Memphis. 


How does/could your partnership with Agape North impact "your village"?

As we seek to bridge our students to needs in the community, Agape North creates an amazingly easy way to get started simply by purchasing apparel, which in turn creates uniform donation opportunities for local children and schools. As we continue to deepen our partnership, it’s very important for our students to be involved with give back days and getting into local schools. Being able to reflect on their own experiences while sharing with children is a very powerful tool to create opportunities for relationship building, mentorship, and gives a greater overall context to how they can serve and impact their own community!  


Donation Events through the Ages

Donation Events through the Ages

From the time of its inception until now, Agape North has been able to, through the giving spirit of our customers, donate schools shirts to students in Title I schools all across the globe. This shirt gift increases school pride, decreases clothing-related violence and bullying, decreases distractions in the classroom, and in general provides an additional shirt for a kid in a zip code where, unfortunately, home closets can look bare. The gift being a small part of the larger vision of educational and life success is why we have been doing what we do at Agape North.


            Our staff has always taken the vision of giving one step further, providing the opportunity for clients to physically visit a school to announce their shirt gift and spend some time meeting students and learning about the important work a school is doing right in their backyard. In 2014, America’s Promise Academy released a survey study that reflected the thoughts of young people who had dropped out of high school. 17.7% of students who were surveyed nation-wide reported that they felt as if no one cared if they went to school. One thing that a client showing up to a school communicates to young people is that people care whether or not you are present at school. Our business model is ultimately a vehicle to communicate these very important things to students. Since we launched in 2012, we have been able to give 130,000 (as of August 2019) school shirts to students and communicate “we care” and “you are valued” 130,000 different times. On average, we give just north of 30,000 shirts each school year, and this translates to more than 100 events we coordinate and execute for our clients on school campuses. What we do during these one-hour donation events has shifted and evolved over the years, and we thought it would be a neat exercise to walk you through our different Agape North Donation Event adaptations as we prepare for another exciting giving season during the 2019-2020 school year.


            2012-2014: The Concept Years. In the early years, we were getting our feet wet with the idea of doing these donation events, and the typical flow consisted of holding a large school assembly where the shirts were revealed and the giving client was introduced. With each of these models, there was a clear downside and upside. The downside here was a lack of true interaction between the client and the students, but the upside was that was felt we had a powerful concept with real potential to make a difference in the lives of the giver and receiver. But how could we blur this line between giver and receiver, making our events look less like charity? This question led us to what we have come to label as “The Trial and Error Years”.

            2015-2017: Trial and Error Years. In order to get folks in the mix with kids, we had to add a piece to the event flow after the introductory assembly time. This began to look like reading a book in the classroom (elementary events) or participating in a college and career Q&A (middle and high school events). The downside to this event was that we still wanted to push the envelope on relational connection, the upside was there was an energy in innovation. Had we not innovated, we wouldn’t have arrived at “The Team Building Years”.

            2018-2019, The Team Building Years. This most recent school year was a lot of fun for our team as we feel like we hit a real sweet spot with our events, subbing the assembly time out for a student-led or assisted school tour. This helped us start out on a relational foot. We then followed the tour with a team building session, a mix of fun interactive games and small group discussion that really gets people communicating, smiling, and learning about one another. The downside to this structure has been that our staff has to reinvent the team building session each summer to keep it fresh for the upcoming school year, but this is also the upside as it’s extremely fresh and highly relational.


            Our staff is committed to continuing to discern what is best first of all for students, and then for clients, as we make continual adjustments and tweaks to our events. What we do know is that making it less of a transaction and more of an interaction continues to make for healthy and lively events. What we don’t know is exactly what our model will look like a couple of years from now, but we will always seek out the proper spirit of giving along with our amazing clients.


Jason Baker

Director of School Relations, Agape North

Doors of Opportunity

Doors of Opportunity

Introduce yourself and tell us a little about your role at Kingsbury.

Hey! My name is Taylor Cao and I am a ninth grade science teacher at Kingsbury High School. I am also the Head Coach of the men’s soccer team and the Assistant Coach of the wrestling team.

What makes Kingsbury unique?

Man, I love Kingsbury. It is such a  unique school in terms of its student body. The fact that I can walk down the hallway and hear multiple different languages spoken every day is truly an amazing thing. This past year we had an international program where students from different nations got on stage to represent their culture in song and dance. It was one of the highlights of my year.


Describe the Agape North donation event you able were able to be the recipients of.

The North team reached out to me back at the beginning of the spring semester and said that Germantown Legends, a local Memphis competitive soccer club, wanted to donate shirts to each student-athlete at Kingsbury. A few weeks later, Ted Bartels, the Director of Coaching at Germantown Legends came over to do a training session with my soccer team. They didn't just want to drop the shirts off, they wanted to make a connection and have us partner together a little in something we both do, soccer. It was such a great experience for my players. However, I think it was a bigger help to me because, being a first year head coach, I need all of the advice and strategies I can take in.

What were the benefits of this unique donation event and skills training?

Connecting with an organization like Germantown Legends opens up new opportunities for my soccer players. Many of them have never played club soccer before due to a variety of reasons. Now they have a connection to a strong club in Memphis if they make the choice to play heat around.

The free shirt also means a great deal to the student body at Kingsbury. It gives them an increased sense of pride for both their school and the community they reside in. They can proudly wear it and know that they represent the Kingsbury community on and off the field.


What are your goals for the soccer and wrestling teams over the next 3-5 years?

I have pretty lofty goals for both of our teams. In the next 3-5 years, I expect state championship banners to be hung in the gym. I want trophies of all of their accolades to fill the shelves in my classroom. I predict that several of my athletes will continue both their academic and athletic careers in college.

Some may say that my goals are too high for these kids, but I think that is foolish. I strive for excellence every day and I want my athletes to do the same. If the adults and influences around my students do not push them, then they will certainly have a more difficult time reaching their potential.

What will it take for you all to reach those goals together? What can the Memphis community do to be a part?

Consistency and patience is what it will take to reach these goals. I need investment from the school, the families, the community, and the city as a whole. That investment can range anywhere from time to money from all parties who desire to be involved. Together we can do great things for the Kingsbury community.

Teacher Appreciation Week Highlight: Trey Willis

Teacher Appreciation Week Highlight: Trey Willis

Mr. Trey Willis, 5th grade teacher at Believe Memphis Academy

Mr. Trey Willis, 5th grade teacher at Believe Memphis Academy

Question: Tell us about your background and how you found yourself in the world of teaching/education.

I was born in Memphis, TN. I grew up in North Memphis (Smokey City), where my mother and grandparents raised me. One thing that I noticed very early as a child, was how much my mother did not want me to go to school in our neighborhood. We lived down the street from an elementary school, but my mom would wake my sister and I up super early every day to drive us across town to attend a “better” school. As we got older, I watched my mom and aunt camp outside of the Board of Education for chance at a spot on the optional school transfer list. I remember thinking to myself, “All of this to go to a good school?” It didn’t seem right.

I’m grateful for all of the sacrifices that my mother made for me. The education that I received has given me many opportunities that I may or may not have received going to different schools. I never thought that I would become a teacher, but I am glad that I accepted the call. After graduating college, I heard about a program called Memphis Teacher Residency and began my journey into the classroom. As I learned about the literacy levels in Memphis my heart broke at the injustice, and I wanted to act. I don’t consider myself a hero or someone special for deciding to teach. I am just one of many educators striving to give our kids a different story by providing them the very best education possible, which is what every child deserves.


Question: What school are you currently at and what do you teach there?

I currently teach 5th grade Math at Believe Memphis Academy.


Question: How would you describe the students you teach? What are some descriptor words that come to mind and why those words?

I would describe my scholars as determined and steadfast. Whether it’s performing well on an exit ticket, playing rugby, or having the best chant at Community Celebration, our scholars are determined to give their all to achieve their goals. We have asked a lot of them this year, but they have remained steadfast. I am proud of who they are and who they are becoming.



Question: What is one thing you want people reading this to know about teachers?

We are more than teachers. We are artists, musicians, parents, athletes, bloggers, photographers, dancers, and the list goes on. We do more than teach. Our lives go beyond the school walls. It is a privilege to teach, but we are more.

Question: As a teacher, what is your long term goal for your students?

I want my scholars to chase their passions unrelentingly and be prepared academically, socially, and emotionally to be able to flourish within society.


Question: What does Trey Willis like to do outside of the classroom?

As I stated earlier, I am more than a teacher. In my spare time I like to play basketball, write songs, make beats, run, and read. I also hope to release some songs on iTunes one day. I have a hard drive full of material, so hold me to it!

Anyone Can Give Back

Anyone Can Give Back

The Mustard Seed is a Christian community for adults with developmental disabilities in Flowood, MS. Founded in 1981 to meet the spiritual, physical, emotional, and intellectual needs of adults with special needs, The Mustard Seed provides a loving and protected environment with meaningful activities which allow the “Seedsters” to fulfill the potential God has created within them. Prior to The Mustard Seed’s inception in 1981, many parents and guardians of adults with developmental disabilities had few options for the care of their loved ones. These visionaries knew that their special persons had great potential for growth and the right to their own life experiences. 


The Mustard Seed’s goal is to continue expanding its programs in order to touch and bless additional lives of adults with developmental disabilities. Over the last 38 years The Mustard Seed has grown to include multiple group homes, a swimming pool, a gift shop, a ceramics studio and workshop, a multi-purpose activity center, classrooms, and administrative support for these programs and services. God has blessed The Mustard Seed and is continuing to “move mountains” within this special needs community. 

 “We love telling our customers about Agape North and our relationship with this unique company. We are excited about what the future holds for this mission-driven partnership.” 

As the Director of Community Relations at the Mustard Seed, my job is to promote the Mustard Seed and our Seedsters. We are a 501c3 nonprofit and therefore rely mostly on the community that has so graciously supported us over the last 38 years. We have several fundraisers (both large and small) each year. Our largest is Racin’ for the Seed which is a Duathlon and 5k run in which our Seedsters train and complete as well. While fundraising is a huge part of what we do, I also enjoy the side of my job where we get to showcase the Seedsters’ artwork and their God given abilities through reading in schools, selling and showcasing their art, as well as volunteering locally. Rather than only seeing disability, we want the public to realize our Seedsters’ abilities through their many works. I find this to be one of the most rewarding parts of my job. 


I realized fairly quickly that I wanted to work with Agape North. Not only did they have a quality product, but I found myself intrinsically drawn to their overall level of community engagement. Although I instantly connected with the idea of Agape North, I was initially reluctant to place an order given our long-standing relationship with a pervious supplier. Then, I met Joe at Mistletoe Marketplace in Jackson, MS. Meeting Joe and learning more about Agape North only further solidified my initial feelings that we needed to partner with this mission-driven organization. 



The Mustard Seed is blessed to have an average of 250 volunteers on campus each month. We could not accomplish our mission without the support of our wonderful volunteers. Utilizing our volunteers as an exemplary example, our Seedsters are able to visualize and better understand the importance of giving back to the community that has given us so much. For this reason, I knew partnering with Agape North would be a perfect fit for the Mustard Seed.

 There are many worthy schools and organizations we could have donated our shirts to thanks to our new partnership with Agape North. However, when we started investigating potential options, there was one school in particular that uniquely stood out. The Redeemer School is a charter school that opened in 2014 in Jackson, Mississippi. The school’s vision is “to raise native, transformative leaders in our community who are equipped with a rigorous, diverse, and gospel-centered education.” For our first “give back” event, we donated 90 embroidered uniform shirts to the sweetest K-6 children one special morning. The Bells of Faith handbell choir, comprised of Seedsters, led their morning worship with hymns and the children sang along. These students hadn’t ever met the Seedsters and didn’t go to school with students who looked like them. These students were able to see beyond their differences, they saw the Seedsters for their musical gifts and generous hearts who came to bless them with their surprise donation that morning. Everyone in the room had a smile on their face. 

We sold a lot of shirts after the first donation event. We even started advertising our partnership with Agape North in our gift shop. Once we were ready for another donation event, there was only one school we wanted to go to, The Redeemer’s School. For our second “give back” event, we  decided on an embroidered uniform fleece. Each donation day has been truly heartfelt and memorable. The Seedsters love being around children, reading to the classrooms, and seeing their excited faces when they get a new article of clothing.    


We love telling our customers about Agape North and our relationship with this unique company. We are excited about what the future holds for this mission-driven partnership. 

- Mandy Sisson, Director of Community Relations at The Mustard Seed

Connecting Students. Unifying our City.

Connecting Students. Unifying our City.

It is my honor to be in my 10th year of service as the advisor to the Student Government Association of Collierville High School. CHS SGA has a hand in many of the events that take place at the school. We coordinate all things Homecoming and Angel Tree, and we get the privilege to sit in many important conversations with faculty, administration, and even the school board as the student representatives and student voice. CHS SGA values student input, and one of our main goals is to both provide relevant and appealing events for the student body, but also to make sure that students make memories and develop strong character all-the-while. We are thankful and honored to serve as both the face and the voice of the student body.

Several years ago, I had a friend who was a designer for Agape North. I always admired her work, and so she introduced me to Agape North when SGA was seeking out a design for our t-shirt for that year. Not only did she design an awesome collage of the town of Collierville, but she also introduced us to the fantastic give-back opportunities of Agape North. The students and faculty of CHS love t-shirts, and when we knew we would have the opportunity to give back school uniforms to local students in Memphis after our abundance of yearly t-shirt sales, we knew we had to buy in!


The first year that we worked with Agape North, we first thought it was awesome just to receive the card after each set of shirt sales that showed how many uniforms we were giving back to local students. To us, each number represented a human. Each number represented a young student who would have a better day thanks to a new, clean uniform shirt. We know how proud we feel to wear our SGA shirts or CHS shirts. We know how we feel a sense of belonging due to these shirts. So, when we saw the number on each of our give back cards, we knew we were able to provide that sense of comfort and belonging to some “unknown students in Memphis.”


Then came the exciting part! These “unknown students in Memphis” became our little brothers and sisters! We got to go visit them the first time one spring day. It was an awesome day, I remember, because it was my birthday. My own SGA students surprised me that day before we left for on our “field trip” with a bicycle. They said, “We know you have wanted your own bike to ride with your kids, so we wanted to surprise you with this.” Yes, this was the greatest surprise and so incredibly kind for my students to do, but there was so much more in store that day as we go to go meet for the first time these “unknown students in Memphis.”  

They [Agape North] make serving fun. They are a stepping stone in attempts to unify Memphis at large, and are really a huge part of fostering servant hearts.

On that first “field trip,” we got to head down to Leadership Preparatory Charter School to meet our new friends. The Man - The Myth - The Legend - Mr. Veale welcomed us and introduced us to the students or scholars as they are known there. Each grade level welcomed us and presented themselves as a local college, i.e. Howard University, University of Memphis, University of Tennessee, etc. These presentations were amazing, and we could truly see the pride that Mr. Veale and his teachers were instilling in the students on the importance of being educated. The sense of belonging that I discussed earlier was very present as each grade felt part of a group as they daily presented themselves to Mr. Veale and the faculty.


On that trip we basically met the students and got to learn about their school, their passions, their inspirations, etc. We got to come back later that fall and serve as high school representatives for their career day. Many of our SGA students got to escort the scholars around as they met different people from the community that serve as many different professions. Others got to stand at our table and tell them about being a high schooler and the importance of working hard even at a young age to prepare for high school and college. Our students loved this second experience with the LPCS Scholars, and we couldn’t wait to go back.

We got to bring a treat in July for all of the incoming kindergartners to welcome them to school and to introduce ourselves as “their high school friends.” The next time we went back for a giveback we got to do a mini pep rally and play games, etc. with the scholars. I think this was the most fun of all because we just got to have fun together!  It was so good for the high schoolers to break from the rigorous schedule and just slow the pace to simply enjoy hanging out with kids.


Our seniors got to go back again this fall for LPCS Career Day. Agape North made us “Be the Leader” drawstring bags, and we were able to give some of these to the oldest grade (4th) in the school. As SGA serves as leaders at CHS, we wanted to encourage the oldest grade to do the same their own school. This growing relationship has been awesome, and we are excited for each time we get to go hang out with our little LPCS brothers and sisters!  


It has been an honor to be partners with Agape North. We always received quality design, product, and service, and we also love the partnership with Leadership Prep Charter School that Agape North helped create. Many companies have a give-back as part of their marketing and design, but Agape North truly partners different groups in Memphis and is a major part of fostering these relationships. They help set up and organize the time together as well as encourage it. They make serving fun. They are a stepping stone in attempts to unify Memphis at large, and are really a huge part of fostering servant hearts.

Mary Jane May, Collierville High School Educator and SGA Sponsor

Growing in Wisdom & Knowledge: A Tribute to Our New Community

Growing in Wisdom & Knowledge: A Tribute to Our New Community

The Agape North team has recently experienced many positive changes, and one of the most exciting ones has been relocating our office to the corner of Tillman and Broad in the Binghampton neighborhood. We are proud to be a member of such a historical and prominent component of revitalization in our city. In hopes to learn more about this area and the initiatives taking place, we asked Angie Cramer, a partner and Director of Schools for Capstone Education Group, to provide us with some firsthand insight on the community and its development.

What initially drew you to the Binghampton area?

I knew about the great initiatives happening in the neighborhood, through work that Christ Church, SOS, BDC, the Carpenter Art Garden, and others were doing.  I learned about Cornerstone Prep - Lester (CPL) and how the work they were doing there was making a big difference in the academic lives of children and about how their mission was also to grow students in wisdom (not just knowledge). That really spoke to my heart for growing the whole child - teaching them character traits that would help them in school but also in life, and I wanted to be a part of that work!

It’s clear that you are passionate about this community – can you highlight a specific experience or aspect of Binghampton as a whole that fuels this fire?

A real gem in our community is the work that the Carpenter Art Garden. Our students pour out of our building at 3:30pm every day and go directly to the “purple house” for after school snacks and programs like painting, sewing, drumming, gardening, bike riding, and dozens of other programs!  They stay connected to school leaders at CPL and Lester Prep (LP) and partner with the schools to help them gain access to tutoring needs for kids and guest artists who work with our art teachers on special projects with kids at school. 

Have you seen a change in the way the community views education during your tenure?

Families in our community love the Lester schools!  Many families have connections to the school that go back generations, which create a pride in them and their children.  The community values the hard-working teachers and staff and see that the longer hours, focus on reading and foundational math skills, and student goal-setting have been instrumental in the amazing growth their children have made.  Everyone is proud of the awards the schools have earned for student growth and achievement in the seven years since CPL and LP opened. They believe that great things are happening for their kids and the Binghampton community because kids are growing in “wisdom and knowledge”.  

Angie (1).jpg

How would you describe the culture of Cornerstone Prep? What community facets were considered in developing this culture?

The culture of Cornerstone Prep and Lester Prep (both schools on this Lester Campus) is one where we believe that all kids can learn and become leaders in their community.  We encourage students to work hard and be resilient even when school work and social interactions are challenging. We teach them character traits and core values like being prepared, respectful, engaged, responsible, purposeful, showing integrity, fortitude, self-control, and optimism through weekly lessons, in community meetings, and in every day interactions and conversations.  We see students accept these challenges and rise to meet the high expectations for their character and their academics which leads to amazing growth!

Are there any specific goals that your staff and students are currently pursuing?

One of the big goals we have is to help students dream big about their futures and gain exposure to opportunities that can be theirs beyond high school.  We do this by frequently bringing in guest speakers to share about their careers and by taking students on college visits locally, within TN, and out of state.

What changes or developments within the community have been or promise to be particularly consequential to Cornerstone Prep?

Current plans to redevelop abandoned apartment complexes, will greatly impact the neighborhood and attendance at our schools. We are excited to hear how the Binghampton Development Corporation (BDC) is working with the state on some of those plans now.  

How can community partners or individuals be a part of Cornerstone’s goals to grow in “wisdom and knowledge”?

For the college visits we take our 7th and 8th graders on, we do have to charge small fees to cover hotel and bus transportation.  This $20-$50 fee can be an obstacle for some students. If anyone would like to donate to our college tour fund, they could sponsor one 7th grader’s trip for $20 and one 8th grader’s trip for $50.  Additionally, if anyone would like to come speak to students about their career or college experiences, we would love to add you to our guest speaker list! To learn more about either of these opportunities they can email me at


100,000 School Shirts Donated: An Interview with Founder Joe Williams

100,000 School Shirts Donated: An Interview with Founder Joe Williams

Do you remember the very first Agape North donation event? What was that like?

There are two "firsts" that stand out in my mind, one international and one domestic. The international one was in Guatemala; it was the first time we ever gave and we gave 500 uniforms to a school/orphanage. It was a great first glimpse of the impact our organization could have in the long-term. After Guatemala, we decided to give locally and we gave to three Title One schools in the Frayser neighborhood of Memphis in the same week. I left with an understanding and commitment to education in our hometown. After the week of giving in Frayser, we shifted to donating 85% locally to the communities our accounts are located in. The idea of showing up in person to support, encourage and learn about individual students, was a practice that had to be projected out nationally and internationally.

Why give school shirts/uniforms? What's the significance behind that strategic move?

After conversing with many Title One schools, it was understood that a real barrier to showing up and succeeding in the classroom was new, clean school clothing. If we could help eliminate that concern, we knew we could help students focus on what is most important: academics. We give a variety of items that are customizable from the school's perspective - school spirit t-shirts if schools can't allot for those from a budget perspective, sweatshirts for the colder winter months, or standard uniform polos if a school utilizes those; truly whatever is beneficial for the school and functional for the student. Agape North is an apparel company, so from a brand standpoint it also makes sense for us to give apparel. It makes the concept easy to understand and implement.

Crossing 100,000 school shirts given is a major milestone, why is this threshold important for you as the visionary and owner of Agape North?

It was a major point for me to feel that we are making a significant impact in our partner schools and with the students we give to. To give 100,000 items symbolizes the mass of students we get to work with but also the number of accounts who have become invested in the vision and made this all possible. We simply can’t do what we do without our 500+ custom apparel accounts who purchase from us each year. To think that something that was a simple concept eight years ago would be able to snowball into this sort of impact is simply something to pause and give thanks for.

Tell us about one specific memory that has stuck with you throughout all these years of giving.

We run over 100 of these donation events each calendar year, so it all feels like a little too much of a blur to pick just one memory. Overall I have loved how we've evolved these events over time to tailor them for what works best with the school and the students. Our team is always pushing us towards excellence and that's evident at how fresh, different, and dignifying the events are each and every year.

Where do you see Agape North in the next five to ten years?

Honestly, my style as a leader has been to not try to guess where we are going. Part of our success has come from a willingness to adapt and change when we need to and sometimes before we need to. What I do know at this stage of the game is that I would love to see Agape North with employees in multiple cities, giving 100,000 each year and changing the way people think about the custom apparel their organization is already purchasing anyway. 

Is there anything you would have done differently? Why or why not?

Not necessarily. I believe we can learn from both things we did well and things we did not do well. As many sports coaches say, it's only a loss or a mistake if we don't learn from it.

What are some keys to building a business that gives back?

The number one priority is that you and your team believe fully in the giving. What I mean is this: if you don't feel strongly and passionately about the cause, then the business will fail. At the end of the day, our people are not selling apparel products, they are selling their own passion for a concept based in supporting education. 

Number two is to stay true to your mission/giving aim and don’t waver from it. There are many times when people have asked us to give back outside of our focus and we have consistently said no to their requests. This keeps us on mission and it keeps things simple and understandable for our customers.

Number three, no matter the size of the account give them a personable and relational way to experience the giving. This has made all the difference in the world for us and for our customers. Putting faces, names, and schools with the giving has created a real connection for the work we are doing and keeps our customers coming back, which in turn keeps kids properly clothed for success in the classroom.


Agape North - A No-Brainer Partner

Agape North - A No-Brainer Partner


Memphis may as well be part of Arkansas or Mississippi was what I thought before I tasted and saw the goodness of the Bluff City. I'm Jeff Riddle and this is my story. I defaulted my way through college at the University of Tennessee. I took on Communication Studies as my major and finished without a plan of what I wanted to do with my life. Life in a cubicle-job that I wasn't passionate about made me want more in my vocation. I found my own purpose as I saw things happening in Memphis. I saw people choosing neighbors rather than the picket fence, people choosing passion and purpose over pay, people choosing to empower rather than to handout. The big city small town vibe of a city living intentionally to better itself was attractive to me. I now get to introduce people from all around the country and world to this city and its ongoing story through City Leadership's Serve901 initiative. City Leadership's goal is to recruit, catalyze and develop leaders for the benefit of Memphis. Serve901's mission is to partner college student volunteers with service organizations to facilitate interpersonal development and a renewed perspective of civic advocacy, interdependence, and respect for diversity through service-learning trips. 


For the past 5 years, City Leadership/Serve901 has hosted Passages, a Memphis immersion experience for a group of Chinese college students. The students are interested in learning about various types of businesses and professional life. They inevitably receive wonderful advice on how to live and how to lead. During Passages 2017, we spent an afternoon visiting Agape North's office to hear their story. I was hitting some roadblocks with company availability as I was working towards the 2018 schedule, when I was struck with a moment of brilliance (rather a "DUH!" moment). Since we already have Passages shirts printed for the students, my big idea was, "Why don't we print them through Agape North and incorporate a give back day in the schedule as a way to get to know Agape North!" This would help them see and participate in the work of Agape North rather than just listen


We had a relatively small order of shirts that we ordered amidst the summer months, so Jason had an idea to give back to the staff of Believe Memphis Academy. This worked well because their founder, Danny Song, is also a friend of mine. During the professional development days of July, we got to engage their staff with get to know you activities. This was a win for the students who desired opportunities to practice English and the staff as they were thanked and encouraged for their work by way of a school pride t-shirt. Through Jason's leadership, the activities and interaction between the Passages students and the BMA staff was very authentic and enjoyable for all! 

After such a positive experience giving back to Believe Memphis Academy, I thought about the typical trip experiences that we aim to give our groups. We are actively trying to recruit college students to see education and teaching as a vital contributing piece to society. I'm not shy to any potential partnerships and engagement possibilities to plug our college groups into schools. We emphasize the need for educational equity and make the pitch to consider teaching in Memphis. We have amazing training programs like Memphis Teacher Residency that has a summer academic camp in addition to the residency program.  

I annually print more than 400 shirts through a local printer, which is cool and all, but why not partner with Agape North on this in the future as a means to gain more involvement and integration of Serve901 within schools?

Our goal is to help guide groups seeking to serve in the city of Memphis with a great service-learning experience. If you are or know college ministries, fraternities, sororities, student organizations, or youth groups send them our way as we would love to help train them to be more civic-minded as they develop into the next generational leaders.


Jeff Riddle

Serve 901 Director

Breath is Life

Breath is Life

A couple of years ago I read a quote that has since been etched into the back of my mind and that I consider often: “Slay your dragons before breakfast”. I discovered the quote in an online article that covered morning habits and rhythms to set your day up for success. Running your day as opposed to letting your day run you, as they say. I’m a real believer in this stuff, and we know that the high caliber folks who are efficiently and creatively running dynamic organizations all have particular routines, and most have a morning routine. Things like exercise, prayer, meditation, consuming a high protein and nutrient dense breakfast, and so on. The routine may vary per individual, but the common denominator is this: Discipline for the win.

I have recently adopted a discipline that would cause me to revisit and rework the quote into this rendition: “Slay your dragons before breakfast, and put down your sword at night”. Just as much as we need healthy habits to kickstart our day and take control of our day, we also need healthy habits to debrief and relax from a hard day’s work. Life is full with work, family, friendships, and any other hobbies we add into the mix, so a routine of destressing at the end of each day before bed is vital to getting good rest and waking up refreshed ready to jump back into our morning disciplines. That destresser for me has come in the form of breath work.

The local gym I attend, Irontribe Fitness, recently announced a “breath work” session being put on by a guy named Taylor Somerville of XPT. I was intrigued by some of the buzzwords in the email about the session, where Irontribe mentioned how Taylor’s class and breathing techniques would assist with stress management, concentration, sleep, and workout performance. As someone with a full plate at work, a light sleeper, and an avid runner/basketball player/Irontribe attendee, I was really looking forward to seeing what this was all about. After a single one hour session (30 minutes of actual breath work), I was hooked. There was a noticeable difference in my stress level, and especially my quality of sleep. 20 minutes of “box breathing” in the morning and 10-15 minutes of “double exhale” breathing at night, all in and out through the nose, has a host of health benefits that I am beginning to discover. If you know me, you know I get passionate about things. Whether it’s Agape North, Memphis Tiger basketball, LeBron James, or a new discipline like breath work, once I jump in I’m all in. If something has been so beneficial for my personal health, why wouldn’t I want to hold a megaphone up to these simple practices?


Taylor Somerville and I met for coffee to discuss all things health and breath work, and I floated the idea of running a session as a “give back” to one of the staffs at a school Agape North partners with and serves at, Believe Memphis Academy. Danny Song, Head of School at Believe Memphis Academy, has become not only a colleague but a close friend over the past year or so. Just a few days after I had participated in the breath work session led by Taylor at Irontribe, Danny and I were meeting and he mentioned a book he had been reading titled The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Affects of Childhood Adversity. The book takes a deep dive into how ACE’s (Adverse Childhood Experiences) can have lasting affects on human health. Adverse environments and circumstances such as abuse, neglect, chronic poverty, divorce, etc. can actually change our biology and rewire our fight or flight stress reponse system. When Danny Song and his team open a school attempting to close the education achievement gap in our city, what they also have to consider are the ACE’s kids face and how that can affect their behavior and classroom performance day to day. Reading scores plus helping scholars navigate the daily stresses of life equals a healthy and successful individual.


This is precisely why the breath work session gifted by Taylor is crucial, it pulls an untapped resource into the lives of scholars by way of the knowledge the BMA staff now possesses. As Taylor seeks to change people’s relationship with stress, the best place to start is with kids. We learn poor breathing techniques and poor physical movement young, and along the way we lose these two powerful tools in handling stress. Our hope is that the 30 minutes of relaxing and informative breath work we participated in together will stick with the BMA teachers, and they will be able to pass on simplified versions to their scholars. This is why we are truly better together.


To learn more about Taylor Somerville’s breath work sessions, pool workouts, and ice/heat training, visit To learn more about the important work of Believe Memphis Academy, visit them at

Jason Baker, Director of School Relations at Agape North

Helping Children Succeed

Helping Children Succeed

“Helping children in adversity to transcend their difficult circumstances is hard and often painful work. It can be depressing, discouraging – even infuriating. But what the research shows is that it can also make a tremendous difference, not only in the lives of individual children and their families, but in our communities and our nation as a whole. It is work we can all do, whether or not it is the profession we have chosen. The first step is simply to embrace the idea…that we can do better.” – Helping Children Succeed

Most people understand what poverty is – we all have images of children we may believe suffer at the hands of significant lack of basic needs in far-away third-world nations. What many of us may not realize, however, is that poverty-level hardship floods our very nation – reaching our own backyard: Memphis, Tennessee, Agape North’s home base. A recent census study showed that Memphis has the highest percentage of children living in adverse poverty in the country, ringing up a total of 45%. In other words, as Memphians – as Americans – this is OUR problem.

Many of you might be saying to yourselves, “Yes, suffering children is terrible, but what are we supposed to do about this, and how?” Some of you may feel as if your head is already spinning with ideas, plans, and even more questions on how to save every child from hard places. Paul Tough wrote Helping Children Succeed as a continuation of sorts to his previous work, How Children Succeed. In this sequel that we read as a staff over the past several weeks, Tough encouraged us to think in a brand new way about the challenges of childhood, particularly in urban areas. Rather than trying to “teach” skills like grit and self-control, he argues, we should focus instead on creating the kinds of environments, both at home and at school, in which those qualities are most likely to flourish. Mining the latest research in psychology and neuroscience, Tough provides us with insights and strategies for a new approach to childhood adversity, one designed to help many more children succeed. Though filled with in-depth research findings and helpful strategies for teachers, administrators, and parents – those on the front lines, if you will – this book stirred the hearts of every person on the Agape North staff, which is proof that this is an US issue, not a THEM issue.

It may sound trite, but the truth is that we cannot save every child alone. What we can do, however, is 1. Get educated on the situation 2. Find ways to get involved with people already working towards breaking the poverty cycle, and 3. Show up.

1. Get Educated
Helping Children Succeed served as a call to action to our staff – a call to give of ourselves, to step out of our comfort zones and embrace uncomfortable situations to comfort the uncomforted, our most vulnerable – children living in poverty. And we believe that very same call could stir the hearts of all of you: our friends, clients, partners, and supporters.

When faced with the less-than-stellar statistics, some may blame their caregivers, saying something along the lines of “One who doesn’t work doesn’t eat.” Despite popular belief, though, the majority of our nation’s poor earn wages - sometimes multiple jobs to try to make ends meet. This is known as our nation’s “working poor”. The University of Memphis released a report showing that 77.4% of Memphis households bring in some sort of legal, taxable income, apart from any governmental assistance. Yet, still 45% of our children – the “901 Forty-Five” live in poverty. Many factors contribute to this truth, but when it comes to practical, sustainable change, in order to care for our 901 Forty-Five, we have to find ways to care for and partner with their caregivers.

2. Find ways to get involved
We get it – most people don’t have the opportunity to spend the entirety of their days with children in need, and even those who do cannot be expected to heal the hurt in every underprivileged, under-served, under-funded schools. This fact does not, however, disqualify us from doing something to help. Plenty of the schools we partner with are looking for after school tutors, coaches, program volunteers, even story time readers. Cadarius Buckingham, a Agape North friend who works full time for Communities in Schools, offered sage advice from ground zero: “Tough discusses building a community around the child, using the saying we’ve all heard before, “It takes a village to raise a child.” As well intentioned as parents and guardians may be, sometimes they alone aren’t enough. Once a child enters the school system at the age of 5 until he or she graduates high school, they spend most of their time outside their home environment. This is even truer for our children living in poverty. Remember, their parents work - some at traditional 9-5 jobs, some working multiple jobs nontraditional part-time or full-time jobs. Sometimes, school aged children who live in poverty may only see their parents or guardians for 2-4 hours a day. That means some 12+ waking hours they are in the community – at school, an after-school program, or neighborhood community center. These are the places P. Tough suggests we implement research driven tactics to assist our kids in navigating life.”

Cadarius brings up a brilliant point: most underprivileged kids are spending a majority of their days outside of their homes – which means during these hours, they belong to the community. Which is why Agape North strives to empower our community to meet students where they are – their schools – and go the extra mile to provide children with tangible, often life-changing resources in the form of a school uniform. When our partners come to a donation event, they get to spend precious one-on-one time with children in under-served communities, which is no small thing. But let’s take it a step further..

3. Show up
When you come to a donation event with Agape North, that’s all we ask that you do – show up. These events are never a “hand out” – they are a hang out. It is true that many of the students we see on a regular basis face immense challenges, but at a donation event you can offer something we all long for: connection, friendship, and our most precious resource: time.

When we recognize need, look for ways to help, and show up, we can make an impact. Let’s do better, together.

Wesleigh Wright
Account Manager, Agape North




Memphis HappyFeet Soccer is a youth soccer program that uses a “Story Time with a Soccer Ball” approach to provide an amazing fitness program for boys and girls ages 2-5 in local preschools, daycares, and more! Our curriculum is age-appropriate and designed to captivate the imagination of our youth soccer stars and empower them to learn some of the most challenging skills in soccer…fearlessly. Our program offers more than just soccer, it helps build social skills and improves self-confidence, instilling a brave and creative go for it mentality, focusing on BIG IDEAS such as optimism, respect, overcoming obstacles and fear, teamwork, and more!

HappyFeet chose to work with Agape North for two very simple reasons; 1) We love our City - and choosing a local apparel provider that we share many values with is huge. 2) Working together to impact the lives of our youth through donating t-shirts and soccer was a no-brainer.  What I love most about Agape North was how quickly they became our family. When you whole-heartedly believe in what you do, which is to truly help others, then good will always come when we come together to serve! 


For our Agape North donation event, we paired up with Porter-Leath Preschool Program, since this is the age we typically serve with our soccer skills program. Agape North always takes the client to the school to present the donated shirts and spend time with the students, so for our visit we were able to bring what we always do to the table along with the shirts...SOCCER!

I have been coaching for 12 years now and one of my biggest joys as a coach are the type of sessions where you know the majority of children have never played or seen soccer before. For some coaches, that can be a challenging task, because as children become older they become more and more set in their ways and are far removed from natural and proper soccer development. I did not know exactly what to expect, all I knew was that I’d be introducing soccer to a school of children. The expression, “You had me at hello” was real at Porter-Leath. Ms. Brenda and her staff did not just greet us with a handshake and a hello, she greeted my staff and I with a BIG SMILE, an ENORMOUS HUG, and broke out to a dance. Though that is similar to how we break the ice with children in the HappyFeet program, to be on the receiving end of it was contagious as we were all smiles and immediately felt at home!

The moment the teachers brought the children out to us, the first thing we noticed on the kids in the distance was all the wide eyes and huge grins!  Every single child (over 50!) wanted to play!  Our idea of the clinic was to go over the basics using the very unique HappyFeet curriculum to engage them in a great adventure with the soccer ball at our feet. For the first time in my career as a youth soccer coach, we had all 50 children engaged, participating, and having fun. Of course, there will always be children who will decide today’s not the day they want to play, but at Porter- Leath, these children knew they were up to something new, fun, and AMAZING. We had a BLAST!  We even got Ms. Brenda to play soccer with us! We did not want the session to end. It was amazing to watch each child’s confidence grow in such a short time as we complimented every single kid for trying and gave hundreds of high fives!


My first impression of Porter-Leath was being introduced by Rob Hughes at their main location. I was taken aback from his hospitality, touring the beautiful facility, and every member of the staff I met I knew was special. I could not wait for our donation day at "The Pike" location. After that, I could not stop talking about our experience. I immediately felt apart of the Porter-Leath family. I never knew I would have so much in common with Ms. Brenda, on the outside we are two very different people at different ages and stages in our career, but our passion for youth development, parent education, and PLAY was an amazing connection we made! I’m pretty sure we both offered each other jobs! 


The most amazing thing I took from this donation experience at Porter-Leath is how similar our programs are in that our sole purpose is to impact the lives of children and families. It is so important to offer as many positive experiences to children as possible, because positive experience builds character and confidence, which can only make the world a better place.

Design Contest Winner: Markiya Groves

Design Contest Winner: Markiya Groves

Agape North friends and family, meet Markiya Groves of Aspire Hanley Middle School, one of our partner schools that we have the privilege of working with each year. Many of you had the chance to attend our Summer Party where we celebrate the work of our partners at our office space with food trucks, yard games, live music, and Memphis-themed t-shirts for sale. Each year we run a shirt design contest among our partner schools, and Markiya was this year's contest winner! We wanted to highlight her on the blog so you have the chance to meet this amazing young person:


How did you first become interested in art?  What types of art do you enjoy engaging in?

When I was eleven years old I started drawing with my friend Aminiah at school whenever we finished our work and had some free time.  She and I bonded over our drawing time together and this encouraged my love for art.  I enjoy sketching pictures of things that I see around me every day. I just grab a pencil and start drawing.


How is Aspire Hanley Middle School helping you prepare for college?

Aspire Hanley Middle School is helping me prepare for college by providing me with great teachers.  All of our teachers are pretty hard on all of the students because they want us to reach all of our goals and achieve things that seem too hard to accomplish.  My teachers always encourage me to do my best and never to let fear stop me.  I am so thankful for the teachers that support me.


What colleges are you interested in attending and why?

I am unsure at this moment where I would like to attend college but I am definitely going. My mother and father did not have the opportunity to attend college, so graduating from college is a major goal for me and my family.  I want to set an example for my little brother and sister and make my momma proud!


Talk a little bit about the design you submitted, what led you to do that design specifically?

The design I submitted included the ethnic makeup of Memphis, Memphis Grizzlies, University of Memphis Tigers, faith and beauty, all the things that make me think of my hometown.  Most importantly, my drawing included Orange Mound, the community where I grew up and where I still live today.  I wanted to create a drawing that did not show any of the negative things that happen in Memphis, and so I used the phrase “I Heart Memphis”.  Although my original image was outside the box in terms of creativity I love that Agape North could take the basic phrase and run with it for a shirt design for their Summer Party.


What are some of your favorite things about Memphis?

I love going downtown to see the Mississippi River and the Hernando de Soto Bride at night with all of the bright lights. I love the food in Memphis, it is delicious! I hate the fact that Martin Luther King was killed in Memphis but I am proud that he came to my city to fight for equal rights.


Do you plan to make art a part of your career or hobbies after high school?  If so, how?

I want to eventually be a lawyer so art would be more of a hobby for me.

Interview: Art Team

Interview: Art Team

We wanted to take a moment here on the blog and spotlight our Graphic Design team: Elizabeth Dunaway and Aaron Tucker. They are truly the individuals that make Agape North go! Without them our clients do not receive high quality products with fun designs, and the schools we give to do not receive high quality donated shirts with fun designs. Enjoy getting to know them in this interview-style blog post!



How did you end up in the field of graphic design?

Elizabeth: Most of my life I have had an artistic inclination. Throughout high school I drew and painted, but I did not desire to be a studio artist by trade. Funny enough, I didn’t actually know that much about Graphic Design when I started applying for colleges. I always noticed and admired well-designed magazine spreads, hand lettering, and creative logos, so I thought I would just give it a shot. I knew I wanted to stay in the art industry, so I declared my major as Graphic Design and the rest is history!

Aaron: I dabbled in Graphic Design-type things in high school through my IB Art Program and fell in love with different aspects of design such as color, photography, typography, and packaging. I went to college with the goal of making money, and then developed the mindset of wanting to enjoy what I do for a career. After changing my major three times, I chose to pursue my BFA in Graphic Design.

What types of design are you drawn to?

Elizabeth: It’s so hard to pick because the industry is constantly growing and changing. Though I would say my “specialty” is illustration, I’ve always been interested in product packaging design. The identity and the packaging contribute to the experience consumers have with the product, and as a problem solver, I’ve always been attracted to packaging design. Currently, hand lettering is an area of design that I am drawn to as well!

Aaron: I am drawn to many aspects of design. I think ultimately I am drawn to arbitrary aspects of design. Graphic designers are problem solvers. We seek ways to solve and communicate messages. Some of those messages are heavy, and some are fun and light. So, I am drawn to how different elements of design come together for a purpose.

Why do you choose to use your design talent at Agape North?

Elizabeth: I was drawn initially because it was a chance to work in design without being confined in a corporate design firm. However, this job is so much more than a sweet design gig, and this company is so much more than just giving shirts back to students. It has given me relationships with co-workers and clients who believe in my city, and are passionate to see students empowered. I really cherish the fact that I get to use my design talents here.

Aaron: Originally, I began working at Agape North because they recruited me to come work for them via the Downline Emerging Leaders program. I was really excited but really didn’t know what all I was saying yes to. I quickly learned the heartbeat of Agape North and saw how similar it was to mine. As I grow in design, I am searching for opportunities where design overlaps with community development. At Agape North my design skills are able to impact students and remind them that they are loved by those within and outside their own community.

How would you describe the Agape North staff team?

Elizabeth: The best people to work with. The passion to invest in and connect with students throughout the city is evident in each person on our team. At the same time, we have a company atmosphere where we have a lot of fun doing what we do.

Aaron: I would describe our team as a tray of cupcakes. When people order cupcakes, they are normally celebrating something. As a team we get to celebrate with the individuals, businesses, and schools we partner with. Everyone loves cupcakes, we all have different flavors (talents), and our team is pretty sweet just like a great cupcake.


What song best describes your personality?

Elizabeth: I really had to think about this one, but I’d probably say “Crazy” by Ben Rector. It’s all about living a pretty normal life of Netflix, Bed Bath & Beyond visits, and having fun in the “normal”. I feel like that sums up my personality pretty well – nothing too flashy.

Aaron: Many songs could describe my personality because I am very complex. The first song that I can think of is “Let’s Be Birds” by Jacob Whitesides. This song reminds me of a journey, and really expresses the free bird inside of my personality that I LOVE! It also speaks to how I really want to travel and see the world.

What is a fun memory you have from an Agape North donation at a school?

Elizabeth: A fun memory I have from a donation event was at Bluff City High School with the University of Memphis. Small groups of students and community partners were given a few fun icebreaker questions like, “What ice cream flavor best describes your personality?” After we all felt well-acquainted with one another, the students began to open up and share with us why they loved their school. The pride all the students and staff had for their school was inspiring and was my biggest takeaway that particular day and event.

Aaron: My favorite memories are when I see kids transform in the 45-minute window we are there at their school for an event. This happens at many donation events, but sometimes I notice it more. At one particular event, a partner organization was in the room, and then the students came in the room. The students were an older group and they looked upset and/or nervous. Honestly, I felt like some didn’t want to be there. But by the end of the donation event the kids were smiling, and they all seemed to really enjoy themselves. That transformation in such a short span of time is always encouraging to see.

Teacher Appreciation Week 2018 Interview: Arion Clanton

Teacher Appreciation Week 2018 Interview: Arion Clanton


What is your background and how did you find yourself in the world of teaching/education?

I was born and raised in East Chicago, IN by my loving mother, Loretta Vaughn. I'm a proud graduate of Wabash College, located in Crawfordsville, IN where I majored in English: Creative Writing. Following graduation, I began a teaching career in 2015 by joining Teach for America-Memphis where I received rigorous coaching and training through Teach for America’s instructional/leadership team. Upon completion of a two year commitment to TFA, I received a Masters of Education from Christian Brothers University in the summer of 2017. I'm now in my third year of teaching, and look forward to many more years to come.


Where do you currently teach and what do you teach there?

Currently, I am the 6th and 8th grade Humanities teacher at Aspire Coleman Middle School, located in the Raleigh community. In my three years at Aspire Coleman, I have had the opportunity to teach Reading, Writing, and Social Studies. Along with teaching, I also serve as the school’s founding Athletic Director and Assistant Basketball Coach.



How would you describe the students you teach? What are some descriptor words that come to mind and why those words?

I would describe my scholars using three words: Resilient, Resourceful, and Respectful.

I refer to my scholars as resilient because many of my kids have been through the worst. My kids are facing battles that other kids their age don’t have to worry about. I have spoken with many of my scholars and some of them take care of little brothers or sisters at home, some of them are in charge of the cooking and cleaning at home, and unfortunately some of them are facing situations that are too personal to share.

I refer to my scholars as resourceful because from the moment my kids enter my classroom to the moment they leave, it is full throttle, pedal to the metal. However, I often tell my scholars that I believe that I learn more from them sometimes than they learn from me. The level of creativity, originality, and ability to make things happen, even with the absence of resources given to them is outstanding. My scholars truly know how to create excellence, even when excellence has not always been the model for them.

I refer to my scholars as respectful because that is what they are. Too often people, those from the outside looking in, paint images of what they THINK our scholars are like, and that is majority of the time completely an inaccurate portrayal of who they really are or what they really are capable of. I refuse to create a negative image of my scholars because the world has already created a false image of my kids.


What is one thing you want people reading this to know about teachers?

Teaching is one of the most difficult and seemingly unappreciated professions in the world. Something we all fail to realize is that we are in the positions we have today because a teacher helped pave the way for us. Teaching isn’t simply standing in front of a classroom and presenting material. The tool belt of a teacher is loaded with so many things that make teachers extraordinary. Teachers are not only educators; teachers are parents, counselors, therapists, nurses, doctors, and so much more. The next time you encounter a teacher, similarly to how to thank veterans, take the time to thank a teacher because they are molding our youth to eventually lead our communities.



You won a teaching award recently, what was the award and how do they select a recipient each year?

This year I had the honor and privilege of being nominated “Teacher of the Year” for the Achievement School District. The qualities for this award consist of teachers who have the respect and admiration of both their students and colleagues. Teachers earn this respect and admiration by serving as role models for their students and always having the best interests of their students in mind. They gain respect by treating students fairly, setting high expectations and being consistent with discipline. A Teacher of the Year goes beyond interacting with students on an instructional level and works to make sure their physical and emotional needs are met, as well. My school, Aspire Coleman, was asked for the first time this year to nominate candidates for the Achievement School District and Shelby County Schools teacher of the year. I received an email from Christopher Ferrell, Executive Assistant of the Achievement School District, to interview for the award. Following the interviews, I was then recognized by the Achievement School District superintendent, Dr. Airhart, as winner of the award for Aspire Public Schools.


What does Arion Clanton enjoy doing outside of the classroom?

In my free time, I enjoy spending time with my son, Amias, playing sports, particularly football and basketball, watching my favorite shows, and purchasing shoes. I'm really big on family and friends so I enjoy any time spent fellowshipping with individuals I care about. I'm also extremely competitive and one of the things I love doing most is playing spades and consider myself one of the greatest spades players in Memphis.

Silk-Spun Webs of Love

Silk-Spun Webs of Love

FP Head Shots - 9 - HD.jpg

In the non-profit/charter world, we all wear many hats. Though I’m the Sr. Director of Marketing and Communications for Freedom Prep, I have the privilege of doubling as a Community Outreach team member. One of my responsibilities in that role is seeking out new, mutually beneficial relationships with community partners and cultivate existing ones. In order to give our students a well-rounded education, our school depends on community partners to fill in the gaps. Our mission is to prepare students PreK-12 to excel in college and in life – and we know that takes a village!


A couple of years ago, our Community Outreach Team started working with Agape North and they quickly became one of our trusted, and (dare we say, favorite) community partners. When we first learned about the concept and strategy behind “Giving Days,” we were shocked to learn that such a selfless, impactful program existed. In the education business, we are always careful that no one feels like they’re “saving” our children, not even us. So we very cautiously approached the partnership and the relationship building with our school partners, Houston Middle School and University of Memphis (U of M). Those relationships began to flourish in ways we couldn’t have ever imagined, and we realized that the motives of Agape North were pure. And that this would be a partnership that would continue to grow and flourish throughout time.


As our community partners are an integral part of the larger Freedom Prep community, we believe we have a responsibility to appreciate and honor those who give their time, talents and treasures to Freedom Prep. Every year, we host a Community Partner Banquet and awards ceremony, whereby we honor those connected to us through their service. We traditionally select five community partners who demonstrate the core values that drive every interaction at Freedom Prep: Respect, Responsibility, Integrity, Community and Excellence. However, in addition to these awards, we choose one outstanding organization or individual to receive our Ubuntu award, which represents the Zulu philosophy that I am because we are, humanity towards others, and the belief in a universal bond of sharing and caring that connects all humanity. When we hosted our 4th Annual Community Partner Banquet in the fall of 2017, we couldn’t think of anyone more deserving of the Ubuntu award than Jason Baker and the team at Agape North.


When we form a new relationship, we look for a partner that is not only going to enhance the school experience for our students, but will find fulfillment in the work they do with us. Agape North is one of those organizations that seems to get more joy out of connecting people and possibilities, and working with schools than making T-shirts (arguably, the bread and butter of their operation). The company’s vision to serve and give back while providing a quality service is one I’ve never seen before. They are literally creating little silk-spun webs of love, care, smiles and community all across the south, country, and even globe. And we love them for that.

Connecting people in neighborhoods that might never cross paths is something that our separate and many times segregated communities need. We look different, we talk different, and our homes are different. But on the inside, we have similar thoughts, similar dreams and aspirations and similar spirits. Our fellowship with Houston Middle and U of M, through Agape North, has taught us that first-hand. Sure, some might say together we just we play basketball, do cheers, talk and laugh. Spend 45 minutes horsing around. Contrarily, these activities seem simple but they are oh so powerful. Through these activities, Agape North has given us the opportunity to share and connect with one another and learn about cultures and traditions that are new to us and different from our own. THIS creates the foundation of a collaborative, accepting and understanding society. THESE are the types of interactions and connections that make our beautiful and troubled city, country and world better places. When we take time to share and learn from each other, our divide decreases. We are more ONE than TWO. And when that happens, everyone wins.

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We look forward to continuing these partnerships and to establishing new ones with new partners Agape North will surely enable. And as our Community Outreach Team sets out to establish new partnerships on our own, we will take with us the learnings and principles we’ve used to build our relationships with Houston Middle and U of M. Our hope is that more community organizations, schools, companies, etc. would adopt the vision of Agape North and help bridge the gap to our communities in their own unique ways. They’re onto something…

We are thankful for all of our community partners, including Agape North, Houston Middle School and University of Memphis. We can’t wait for our next opportunity to connect with someone new and learn something new about our friends and about ourselves.

Candace A. Gray

Sr. Director of Marketing & Communications

Freedom Preparatory Academy Charter Schools



Non-Toxic Giving

Non-Toxic Giving

As a company, we spend a good bit of time thinking about the give back component of our business. It is, after all, the foundation on which our concept was built.  From the outside looking in, it may seem like we just give shirts to students, but it is so much more – it has to be more.

Some of you may be familiar with the book Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton. A few of our team members have read it, and we found his writings to be insightful and thankfully, very much in line with our way of thinking. In the book, Lupton discusses how even compassionate people with the best intentions can actually harm those they try to help (coining the term "toxic charity"). Though it can be hard to stomach, the fact of the matter is that the ideas of charity, mission work, corporate social responsibility, and many more have exploded in recent years, yet poverty is still a very real problem in our world. Lupton writes to bring light to what’s happening and ideally reverse some of the not-so-helpful practices. In this post, I’ll be discussing Agape North’s charitable practices and how we strive to keep them non-toxic.


The majority of Lupton’s book focuses on impoverished communities as a whole and the necessary steps to make those areas flourish. He pinpoints the following as indicators of community health:

1.     Public Safety

2.     Education Improvements

3.     Economic Vitality

4.     Homeowner/Renter Retention

5.     Neighborhood Associations

6.     Spiritual Vitality

While it would be nice to tackle all of those issues, we at Agape North have found our niche in the education realm. The education system, regardless of where one lives geographically, tends to keep its status as a hot-button issue. It’s one that is multifaceted, complicated, divisional, and yet of utmost importance to most people. Lupton repeats throughout his book that “there are no quick fixes,” and this description could not be more accurate for education. Regardless, change is happening, and whether it is two steps forward or one step back, we are proud to be a part of this movement.

I said before that we do more than give school uniform shirts to students, and here’s how. Providing a new school shirt, be it a uniform polo or a fun school spirit t-shirt, to a student in need is a small thing, but it’s the switch that starts a domino effect. Having a clean school shirt to wear can be the difference between a child coming to school or staying home, and as we all know, attendance is imperative to learning. Providing shirts to a school body means the administration is able to allocate those funds to other necessary things like books or curriculum. There may not be long-term quick fixes, but these short-term fixes can have long-term impacts.


Going back to Toxic Charity, Lupton describes the ideal outcomes of any short-term charity project or service work:

1.     Empower those being served

2.     Engender healthy cross-cultural relationships

3.     Improve local quality of life

4.     Relieve poverty

I imagine you would be hard-pressed to find someone who thinks the above outcomes aren’t worthy. Along those same lines, these days it is rare to find an organization with no interest in giving back; social responsibility is very much at the forefront of our thoughts. We see this all the time with our clients – there is a strong desire to do something more and give back by partnering in the community, but oftentimes there is a gap filled with questions like “Where do we start? How do we get our employees involved? What makes the most sense?”

Agape North exists to bridge the gap.

We have spent the last few years building relationships with local schools, so we can more easily connect our clients to schools in need of support. But there’s an important distinction to make here – we don’t just tell our clients which school they’re donating to and then send some shirts. As Lupton states, “What we look for is likely what we will see.” By planning a giving event and inviting our clients into the schools, we introduce them to a world they may not otherwise see. It is a world of incredible hope, dedicated people, and world-changing work – and yes, it is often in the most poverty-stricken areas of town. 


The giving events at schools don’t last long and each one looks a little different, but the four outcomes above are the common goal:

1.     Empower those being served. - Empowerment is key, and yet something that can often be lost in charitable exchanges. In many cases, the shirts we donate are given as an award for academic achievement or good behavior. Even if there’s not a high test score to celebrate, though, we try to make it clear to the students that the shirts they’re receiving are the result of their efforts as learners. Our clients do not donate because they feel sympathy, but because they want to let the next generation know that someone is supporting them and cheering them on.

2.     Engender healthy cross-cultural relationships. - It’s no secret that people, as a whole, struggle with cross-cultural interactions. This is why our giving events are so important – it’s where the barriers come down. We try to incorporate small-group or one-on-one discussion time between students and our clients because it gives both sides a chance to recognize the humanness in the other. Instead of a wealthy, mysterious benefactor and a poor kid who just doesn’t try, our clients become the kind visitors who read a book and actually show they care and the students become a bright spot in an otherwise dull outlook on a particular zip code in the city.

3.  Improve local quality of life and relieve poverty. – A new shirt can do a lot, but I can’t sit here and tell you that it will lower the poverty rate a certain percentage. What I can tell you is that it instigates movement in the right direction. New, clean clothes invoke a sense of confidence and pride, improving self-esteem. Students with higher self-esteem tend to be more engaged, better learners. From a parent’s perspective, additional school shirts for their children could mean one less load of laundry to do or at least one less uniform polo or school spirit t-shirt to buy. What we value as even more important, though, are the relationships that develop between our clients and the schools. In his book, Lupton encourages people to shy away from transactional interactions in favor of relational ones because these hold significantly more meaning. Relational interactions are more time-consuming, require accountability and vulnerability, and are definitely not a quick fix, but it is in these kinds of relationships that trust develops and people and communities flourish.

Our work at Agape North isn’t rocket science, but thanks to our clients and partner schools, it has the potential to make a big impact in cities around the globe. There are no quick fixes. There is no secret sauce. There IS compassion, and there are opportunities for change in our community. Let’s build some bridges.

Carly Warner, Agape North Director of Operations


Houston High and KIPP Collaborate on the Arts

Houston High and KIPP Collaborate on the Arts

As Choir Director of the choirs at Houston High School, I am extremely proud of our partnership with Agape North and KIPP Memphis Academy Middle. What began as a thought in a Houston Choir Booster Board Meeting has resulted in a relationship that we hope to continue and cultivate.

The Booster Board’s past President, Leigh Sistrunk, suggested that we purchase all of our t-shirts from Agape North with the intent of joining their mission of giving back to schools within Shelby County. Agape North then connected us with KIPP Memphis Academy Middle, knowing there is a growing choir and fine arts program at KMAM. This partnership has been an incredibly rewarding experience for our choral students. 


In the spring of 2017, Agape North and Houston High School Choirs made their first donation of school pride t-shirts in the form of a KMAM choir shirt. To help foster a relationship, Houston High's a cappella ensemble, Fifth Measure, visited and sang for the students in the choral program at KMAM. In addition, their students sang for our students. The visit ended up being a wonderful blend of two great Memphis schools seeking to elevate the arts. We also hope our visits continue to be an encouragement to middle schoolers who are pursuing the fine arts, and who will grow into their talents as future high school choral students.


We were thrilled to hear the KMAM Choir students had actually been asking KIPP faculty when they would see their friends from Houston High again. When Agape North gives, they try to do it in a way that feels more like partnership than charity. How could we not go back to KMAM once we saw the enthusiasm to continue the partnership from both sides? So, in the fall of 2017, Agape North and Houston High School Choirs once again gifted more choir shirts, alleviating a budget item for the second consecutive year. In addition, Houston High School’s Concert Choir, performed for the students in the Middle School and High School Choir programs at KIPP. Following the brief concert, students from each of the schools paired together to share experiences and learn from each other. Finally, the students at KMAM gave the Houston Choir students a tour of their school. The KIPP students were incredibly proud to show off their school to the Houston, and the Houston students thoroughly enjoyed learning the story of another school in our great city.


Moving ahead, Houston High Choirs look forward to the continued relationship with KMAM and Agape North. It is rewarding to give, but more importantly it is educational for the students of both schools to learn and grow together. We are extremely appreciative of the vision and mission of Agape North that facilitates this relationship.

Dr. Rayburn, Houston High School Choir Director

Briarcrest Gives Back in Ecuador

Briarcrest Gives Back in Ecuador

Working at Briarcrest has provided me many opportunities to serve the Lord using the gifts and talents He has given me, as well as to pour into the lives of students at the school. I was thrilled when I was asked to travel with one of the groups of students that Briarcrest was sending to Ecuador this summer.

The trip to Misahualli, Ecuador was filled with site-seeing as we stopped along the way at beautiful waterfalls and the tourist town of Baños. We also stopped at the “Saint House”. This served as Nate Saint’s family home as well as the main base for pilots as they witnessed to the tribal groups of Ecuador back in the 50’s. We arrived in Misahualli late one night, ready to serve the Lord through VBS to the children at Antioch Christian Academy the next day.


One of my favorite things about the trip was being able to witness firsthand how the Lord brought out the unique talents and abilities of the Briarcrest students. By the end of the week, when an issue arose, the group was able to pinpoint the person best equipped to deal with each situation. It was also incredible to see the Lord work to match the personality of a Briarcest student with an Antioch student to build relationships. Students who returned to Ecuador this year saw Antioch students that they had built relationships with the previous year, and were able to pick up right where they left off. It was powerful to observe.

The students at Antioch speak Spanish, but are taught English at school. Classes are taught primarily in English with the goal of promoting fluency after they leave school. This skill allows students to interact more efficiently with a variety of different people as well as to be able to share the gospel with a wider audience. The hope is that the students will learn the truths of the gospel at school so they will be able to take them home and beyond. Antioch desires to be a place that equips and sends out disciples of Jesus Christ.


Antioch is not what one would expect of a school in the middle of the jungle. The classrooms are advanced, there is a nice playground, and a new school building is in the midst of construction. Antioch, like many private schools in the United States, is payed for by tuition, but only 50% of the school’s operating costs are covered by this tuition. This means that things like new school construction, textbooks, uniforms, and computer labs must be paid for by donors.

When I was reviewing the footage from the trip, I couldn’t help but notice the blue uniform shirts each Antioch student was wearing. In the States, students often complain about having to wear uniforms, but these students were glowing with pride in the fact that they had a nice shirt and pair of pants to wear to school each day. When they go home they may not have as nice of things to wear, but there is a confidence that each day at school, they will be dressed to learn academically and Spiritually. Agape North supports Antioch with the help of Briarcrest. Briarcrest purchases custom shirts for their “House Groups” each year and, in return, Agape North donates uniforms to Antioch with the proceeds of the House Groups shirt orders.


It was amazing to see how God is working through Antioch to equip students to be lighthouses for His kingdom. Briarcrest and Agape North play a small but important role in that process, and I am thankful the Lord is using individuals’ specific talents and abilities to further His kingdom.

First Evan Takes The Next Step

First Evan Takes The Next Step

Eli Berry, High School Student Pastor at First Evangelical Church.

Eli Berry, High School Student Pastor at First Evangelical Church.

Eli Berry serves as the High School Student Pastor at First Evangelical Church in Memphis, Tennessee. First Evan purchases custom apparel for church events through Agape North in order to give back school uniform shirts to students at Libertas School of Memphis each year. The students at First Evan have decided they wanted to take their partnership with Libertas a step further, serving more consistently throughout the school year. Part of their deeper partnership involves doing summer clean-up projects in order to prep the building for the upcoming school year.

Check out the short Q&A with Eli below, as well as a video highlighting the work First Evan did this summer. Thanks First Evan and Eli for being difference makers!

Why did First Evan decide to partner with Agape North for their custom apparel?

We wanted to provide our congregation with cool shirts that were more than just “cool shirts”. By working with Agape North, a quality event shirt is also a way to provide school uniform shirts for students in Memphis. Agape North makes it easy for us to give back to our city in a unique way.

Describe your initial impression of Libertas from your first Agape North Shirt Giving Day?

I immediately was intrigued with the way Libertas goes about educating their students. The fact that they are a neighborhood, free public Montessori school blew my mind. Libertas provides a hands-on, individualized education that caters to the needs of each student that comes through their doors. Also, any school that has chickens onsite is awesome in my eyes.

How did First Evan decide to take another step in serving at Libertas? What has that looked like?

Not only have we chose Libertas to be the school we donate uniform shirts to, but we have also made them one of our Mission Memphis partners. The past two summers we have worked alongside of Libertas during our Mission Memphis service week. We have added on to their playground, assembled and arranged furniture, and have also painted a few things inside of the school. It has been an honor to work with them.

How are your students different from having served at Libertas?

I think our students have seen a really cool and unique side of Memphis that they would not have seen otherwise. There are a lot of really great things happening at Libertas and the buzz there is contagious. The way Libertas’ staff cares for their work and their students is inspiring.

How would you describe a healthy urban/suburban partnership?

Libertas has helped us more than we have helped them. It is a two-sided relationship, to be sure.  Libertas does not need our help, but we GET to work with them. I think a healthy urban/suburban partnership stems from realizing truths such as that. We are all in it together, and together, we are better.

What’s your favorite moment from all your visits to Libertas?

My favorite moment from all our visits to Libertas was when we went to their end of the school year poetry recital. Seeing all of the proud parents, students, and teachers was such a joy. It was a small picture of the big wave of an impact Libertas is having in their neighborhood.