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

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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.

Start With Why

Start With Why

Simon Sinek's book, Start With Why, has gotten significant traction in recent years among organizational leaders. Sinek encourages professionals of any type to be able to clearly articulate their why, and then let the why drive the what, when, and how. Clearly there is an economical need that is met through Agape North offering school clothing, but there's also a deeper why that involves adult presence in the lives of young people. Check out the piece I wrote for a friend of mine who is seeking to start a Memphis school, where I detail the ultimate why of Agape North as an organization by talking about our choosing to invest in education as a company:

Upon being named Head Basketball Coach of the Memphis Grizzlies in late May of 2016, David Fizdale soon began to describe his vision for this particular team: Play faster. Shoot more three pointers. Build a championship culture. Memphians took great pleasure in seeing the fruition of that vision from May 2016 to May 2017, where most of his mantras and strategies really did start to take shape, even though the season ended a little earlier than we all preferred. #takethatfordata #theynotgonrookus

For his vision and goals to work, Fizdale needed the five guys on the court, and many more behind those primary five, who would facilitate, invest-in, and execute his vision. Those five individuals had to commit to buy-in to his plan and his vision; they had to buy-in to him. Fizdale's success was wrapped up in the commitment of a team of individuals, and in a similar way, so is the success of so many young people in our great city. In basketball and in life, five is a significant number.

Adolescent development researchers tell us that in order for young people to make a healthy transition into adulthood, they need five healthy and invested adults outside of their parents to come alongside them, support them, and in this process build social capital. Children need people to invest in their dreams, visions, and plans; they need a team of people to buy-in to them. Spaces and places like great schools in our city are one of the avenues for providing this social capital, as well as the necessary academics, to fulfill a vision and dream they have for their own life. This is precisely why we do what we do at Agape North.

I have personally gotten to know students throughout our city, bought into the vision for giving them a fair shot, and have committed to becoming one of five for some of those individuals. My job as Director of School Relations at Agape North allows me to be a familiar face and presence at several schools in Memphis, and I greatly anticipate serving in this role at many additional local schools in the near future.


Agape North exists to help people thrive through giving. On a day to day basis, this means selling custom apparel to businesses and non-profits who, when working with Agape North, are able to gift one school shirt for every three items they purchase from us. The gifted item can look like anything from a standard uniform polo, a fun leadership award t-shirt, or an embroidered crewneck sweatshirt for the colder months during the school year. My job is to then set up a 45-minute visit for a business or non-profit to see the school they are giving to in order to interact with inspiring young scholars and be exposed to the important educational work going on in their own city, with the gifted shirt being icing on the cake.

Agape North's ultimate goal is to help establish community partners for schools. We believe that, together, the two organizations are truly better. Each week I have the joyous opportunity to show up to a school and declare: "I believe in Memphis, and I believe in the vision you hold up for yourself." You and I do not have to be the all-star of the five players, we can leave that to parents and to the teachers and school leaders in the life of a student. But, we want to at least be on the court playing whatever role we have the ability to play.

Author: Jason Baker, Director of School Relations at Agape North (also, a basketball enthusiast)

Inspiration Design Contest Winner: Maya Clark

Inspiration Design Contest Winner: Maya Clark

Each May Agape North has a Summer Party celebrating the community that is formed through the work we do in education. A mix of educators, students, and the businesses and non-profits that work with us to give back come out to our office space to mingle, eat, and play a few summer outdoor games. We have t-shirts for sale, food trucks, parking lot games, and live music, all in effort to simply connect and celebrate with one another. This year we wanted to partner with one of the schools we give back to in order to have local high schoolers submit shirt design inspiration for the items we sell at the party. We ran a contest between three local Memphis high schools and the winner was Maya Clark, a current student at Collegiate School of Memphis. Maya's inspirational drawing was taken to create the guitar shirt you see below, which we sold at the party. Take a moment to learn a little more about Maya and Collegiate School of Memphis!


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

I have been interested in art since I was a little kid. I drew pictures for fun, and I participated in craft events at Michaels. However, it was not until recently that I have been able to take an art class. I still enjoy drawing, but I also enjoy painting and doing crafts.

How is Collegiate School of Memphis helping you prepare for college?  What colleges are you interested in attending and why?

The Collegiate School of Memphis is fulfilling its mission to prepare me for college. My teachers have taught me to value hard work, and they truly care about their students. The core values taught at Collegiate are applicable in both college and adulthood. Most importantly, Collegiate focuses on encouraging their students to grow in their Christian faith. Currently, I want to attend colleges in Memphis because I have grown up in Memphis. I want to attend Christian Brothers University or the University of Memphis. I like CBU's strong values and small campus, and I like the quality education that U of M has to offer at a great value.

What gave you the idea to do a guitar design for a Memphis-themed shirt?

I did a guitar design for the t-shirt because Memphis is known for being the birthplace of rock n' roll. A lot of blues musicians have come from Memphis. To me, a guitar is a symbol for Memphis and all of the music it has to offer. 

What are some of your favorite things about Memphis?

I love going to the zoo. I think Memphis has some interesting attractions, including Bass Pro, Graceland, and the Civil Rights Museum. Many celebrities, including Justin Timberlake, are from Memphis. Skillet, one of my favorite bands, was formed here, and Dan Schneider, the creator of popular Nickelodeon shows grew up here. Memphis has many restaurants and bakeries, and it also has many businesses that are headquartered here including FedEx, ServiceMaster, AutoZone, and Lenny's. St. Jude and Le Bonheur are transforming people's lives. These are just some of the things that Memphis has to offer. Memphis often gets a bad wrap, so it is great to focus on positive aspects of the city.

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

I hope to incorporate art into my career, but I will make sure it remains one of my hobbies if I am not able to make it a part of my career. I hope I get a job that requires creativity, whether it is developing an app or designing a product. I really love technology, so I hope to combine art with computer science. Graphic design, animation, and industrial design all sound interesting. I have multiple interests, so I hope to write books, as well.


How A Washer And Dryer Can Change A School

How A Washer And Dryer Can Change A School

One of the most impactful aspects of our jobs at Agape North is that we get to walk the hallways of dozens of schools each year. Each visit is exciting for us as we get to meet teachers, administrators, and most importantly, their students. “What amazes me the most during these visits,” shares Joe Williams, Founder and CEO of Agape North, “is that the most requested thing from the little students is a hug. That request fuels us day in and day out.”

We are so thankful to the small businesses, faith-based organizations, and schools that choose to buy their custom clothing from us. Because of you, we see our goal of reaching 100,000 donated school uniforms in the near future as a reality. However, the need is so great for hundreds of thousands of economically challenged families and their school-aged kids that we need to press on.

We acknowledge as we walk the hallways gathering up heart-warming hugs, that we must use our school visits to figure out how we can accelerate Agape North’s ability, with our customers, to help students across the country succeed. Our research recently came across another effort to help students, and this one involves laundry soap and clean shirts, somewhat of a blending of our mission and the mission of Whirpool®.

Did you ever think about donating a washer and dryer to a school as a way of improving the student attendance rates and therefore increasing their chance at success? We did not either, but Whirlpool® is finding out that the answer to this question is YES! Take a moment to visit and see what the impact of installing a washer and dryer in a school can do. Whirlpool® is discovering attendance rates are increasing along with participation in the classroom. This is amazing stuff. 

We read a lot about children doing better in school with healthy meals, adequate school supplies, and some nice clothes, but increasing attendance and student classroom participation by having clean clothes? Most of us assume it is a given that kids are going to school in proper clean clothes.  At Agape North we know that is not the case. Agape North was founded to create a sustainable way for businesses and other organizations to purchase custom apparel from us and in turn give back to schools in their community (or internationally) in the form of school uniforms. We see that a new uniform brightens a student’s day and helps them improve in school. 

By keeping clothes (including school uniforms) clean Whirlpool® has discovered that their products can improve attendance and classroom participation even further. We applaud their efforts and encourage the administrators, teachers, and our customers to take a moment and watch this three minute video:

It may change your school for the better. We know from Whirlpool’s efforts that this works, but they are only going to be able to reach 30 schools in the second year of their pilot program.  At Agape North, we know of dozens of schools that could use these appliances

The next time you upgrade your washer and dryer at home, please consider finding a school in need and working with a plumber to install them. You will impact the lives for hundreds of students, and just think, it took just a little laundry soap.

Introducing: Tier One

Introducing: Tier One

Hey! This is Josh the Creative Director taking over the blog for a bit to tell you about something awesome! Since joining the team in February, I've been thinking of a way to expand Agape's usual private line into something even more fun, creative, and city wide.

I think we do an amazing job of working with schools, churches and local companies to make a difference in the Memphis education scene. With Agape North, you could order a custom shirt online or even come in to our headquarters and buy a piece from our private line. 

Coming on as an artist, I saw immediate potential with our private line as a creative outlet for myself and as an opportunity for Agape North to reach more of Memphis. So I'm stoked to announce a new Agape brainchild; The Tier One Collection

Every few months, Agape North will release a brand new, small-batch, Memphis themed T-shirt that will only be sold in select local shops. For every shirt purchased, Agape North will donate a school uniform shirt to an underserved school here in Memphis. So not only will you get a high quality ( Ya'll. Comfort Colors. For Real. ) and unique T-shirt to rep this awesome city, you'll also be helping kids get a better education experience. That's what I call a win win! 

We're kicking off The Tier One Collection at the Rev in East Memphis Thursday, March 9. If you haven't been to the Rev yet, it's awesome! Grab some freshly brewed tea, browse their inspiring storefront and chat with the Rev girls about international missions and how you can be a part of the revolution!

So if you've got some free time and want an awesome T-Shirt and great company, visit the Rev to pick up the first shirt of The Tier One Collection. Only 24 shirts have been printed and when they're gone, they're gone. So book it to the Rev before they're sold out and you can make a difference in Memphis today.

Houston Middle and Freedom Prep: Together We Are Better

Michael Ruiz, Houston Middle Assistant Principal, engaging in conversation with Freedom Prep scholars during Houston's annual Giving Day with Agape North.

It really started about 3 years ago.  I was a brand new administrator at Houston Middle School, and Agape North was a fairly new company looking to make connections with local schools.  I met Joe Williams in my office, and he began sharing his vision for how Agape North, a custom apparel company, could partner with Houston Middle School to give school uniform shirts to local students in underserved areas.  Growing up as a missionary kid in Taiwan and working with orphanages in the Dominican Republic, partnering with Agape North seemed like a no-brainer.  I loved their passion for serving others, especially children, and was excited about the opportunity to get involved.  We began to use Agape North as our primary provider for our annual class t-shirts.  Each homeroom designs and wears the shirts for special events throughout the year, including spirit days and field day.  We love our shirts, but more importantly we love what they represent.

Two years ago, Agape North partnered us with Freedom Preparatory Academy in Southwest Memphis.  We had the opportunity to travel to their elementary school and hand deliver school pride t-shirts to each student.  We took a group of HMS students along with us so they could directly witness how their class t-shirts helped create t-shirts for the kids at Freedom Prep.  We were overcome by the welcome we received while we were there and amazed at the discipline and focus of their students.  The teachers and staff at Freedom Prep place a strong emphasis on instruction, student achievement, and college preparedness.  This was evident in the celebration we witnessed where students were called to the center of a circle (created by students and staff) and recognized for their successes.  College memorabilia lined the walls and each teacher provided a personal touch by hanging a flag of the college they graduated from outside their door.  It was truly an inspiring sight to witness.  We knew there was something special about this school, and we asked Jason Baker from Agape North if we could partner with this school in years to come.

  Houston Middle visits Freedom Prep to deliver school pride t-shirts and learn about the important work of Freedom Prep Academy.

Houston Middle visits Freedom Prep to deliver school pride t-shirts and learn about the important work of Freedom Prep Academy.

It wasn't until our second year of visiting Freedom Prep that I met Courtney McNeal, a community outreach specialist for the school.  She gave us a tour of their school and also set up some time for our students to interact together.  The students formed mixed groups of HMS students and Freedom Prep students and were given a series of questions to help them become acquainted with each other.  This was such a valuable opportunity for our students to find things in common with students across Memphis who they might not have the chance to meet if it were not for this experience.  They shared laughter and made friendships.  It was an experience that our students continued to talk about even after we left.  Freedom Prep has made an impression on all of us.  Courtney McNeal and I began sharing stories and contact information.  We made a commitment to look for more opportunities to partner our two schools together in the spirit of unity and community.

  Houston Middle and Freedom Prep students engage in small group discussion.

Houston Middle and Freedom Prep students engage in small group discussion.

About a month later I received an email from Ms. McNeal expressing an interest in having each of our schools host each other in a friendly basketball game.  I thought this was a great idea, and we quickly set dates that would work for both our basketball teams and cheer squads to be a part of two nights.  On February 16, we hosted Freedom Prep at Houston Middle.  It was important for us to make them feel like they were a part of our family.  After all, we had been to their school twice, but had not yet had the opportunity to host them.  We had a lot of fun having our two basketball teams compete, but what our students enjoyed most was the time following the game where we engaged in a Snapchat challenge.  Our cheer and basketball teams were able to work together to come up with a quick Snapchat video that ranged from hilarious dance moves, impressive flips, and of course - the mannequin challenge.  We also called our friends at Agape North and they provided a shirt for all the students on the teams as well as the staff who helped coordinate the event.  It was truly a night of fun, fellowship, and community with our friends from across Memphis.

A week later we traveled to Freedom Prep where they hosted us in a community basketball game.  They made us feel at home and were so hospitable.  They provided us with a meal, gave each of us a Freedom Prep beach ball (how awesome is that!) and engaged our students in a dance off challenge!  I'm pretty sure Freedom Prep has us beat when it comes to dance skills!  But we all had a great time and enjoyed reconnecting with our new friends.  We cannot wait for the next time our two schools are able to unite for the greater good.  I am grateful for companies like Agape North who truly bring our Memphis community together.  Truly, together we are better.

Michael Ruiz / Assistant Principal, Houston Middle School

High Expectations, High Support

A recent New York Times article, Schools That Work, highlighted two characteristics of schools who repeatedly achieve results they are aiming for: high expectations and high support. Agape North exists to help people thrive through giving, ultimately to provide schools with high support in order to help them achieve. We continue to be excited about the partnership that has developed between Regency Homebuilders and Cornerstone Preparatory Elementary School in Binghampton in Memphis. 

Blair Perry, Director of Campus Operations at Cornerstone Prep, has provided some reflections on their partnership with Regency:

Capstone Education Group operates two schools and educates over 750 students at our Lester Campus: Cornerstone Prep (Pre-K - 5) and Lester Prep (6-8). We consider ourselves fortunate for the opportunity we’ve been given to serve the students and families of Binghampton. Unfortunately, like most schools, we’ve been given an enormous task and limited resources with which to accomplish it. As a result, we rely heavily upon the help of volunteers who enable us to use more of our resources on direct supports to students in the desks. Simply said, we need great partners in order to be most successful in our work.

Admittedly, my first contact with Regency Homebuilders and Agape North came with a great deal of hesitation and reservation. I’d experienced “help” before from “partners” that proved to be more trouble than they were worth. I knew that the uniform donation would be great, but I expected their investment would stop shortly thereafter. Yet, Regency Homebuilders and Agape North have proved to be tremendous partners, time and time again. Before we even handed out any uniforms, the Regency staff plugged-in by sponsoring classrooms and providing a much-appreciated staff lunch. But the biggest help came when they brought their full staff on campus for a day of service.

 Regency Homebuilders visits Cornerstone Prep for their first ever school uniform Giving Day. They were able to give back school shirts because they purchased company apparel through Agape North.

Regency Homebuilders visits Cornerstone Prep for their first ever school uniform Giving Day. They were able to give back school shirts because they purchased company apparel through Agape North.

For several hours on a Friday morning, the staff of Regency Homebuilders painted columns, swept out boiler rooms, planted flowers, installed door sweeps -- the list was enormous. Work that would’ve taken significant amounts of time, energy, effort, and (quite frankly) money were knocked out in just a few hours. Further, at the end of the day, they walked around campus with me asking for a wishlist of projects they could partner with us on accomplishing for years to come. We immediately began planning for another blitz this spring. What started as a simple uniform donation has become a beautiful partnership. Check out a short highlight video from the Regency Day of Service below!

This uniform donation served simply as a point of connection for a much greater and significant partnership. Regency Homebuilders and Agape North came to us, asked us what we needed, and partnered with us in filling the needs they were able to meet. Without a single doubt in my mind, because of the support provided by this partnership, Cornerstone and Lester Preps are better able to accomplish our mission of equipping students with the knowledge and wisdom needed to succeed in college and to become leaders in their community.

Blair Perry / Cornerstone Preparatory Elementary, Lester Campus

The Extra Mile

The partnership between Grace Evangelical Church and Agape North initially began through the Grace Evan youth group using the Agape North t-shirt design and creation expertise and services. During a Grace Evan staff meeting the youth group leadership shared the Agape North community give-back concept in which a percentage of purchased shirts lead to the creation of separate shirts to be donated to a community partner school. Grace Evan was partnered with the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) school, specifically KIPP Memphis Preparatory Elementary (KMPE).

Immediately after the staff meeting the Grace Athletics team met with our youth program leadership to learn more. Within weeks Grace Athletics met with KIPP KMPE to learn how we could offer our services – reaching an unchurched world through maturing believers through athletics and sharing of the Gospel. The KIPP KMPE and Grace Athletics relationship was born. Principal Sarah Jensen, an enthusiastic and visionary leader, saw the potential to offer to her 1stand 2nd graders. Similar to Agape North, Grace Athletics provides scholarship give-back opportunities to serve our greater community. A KIPP flag team was formed and joined the Crosscheck football league. Furthermore, a 1st and 2ndgrade set of teams were formed and joined our Crosscheck basketball league. Additionally, through our initial KMPE contacts Grace Athletics has branched out to a second KIPP school, Memphis Academy Elementary, to form two 3rdgrade flag football teams and a 4th grade basketball team within our Crosscheck leagues.

Our goal is to continue our relationship with KIPP and follow their vision; each year the school adds another grade to their school we form teams in our leagues to maintain our relationship with the players and families – former and new.

Agape North has the right mind-set; to make a difference requires giving of self, and giving back. Grace Evan and Grace Athletics agree. Our relationships with schools such as KIPP provide opportunities to foster a cross-cultural, demographically mixed, and Christian environment to our youth.

Scott Elliott / Athletic Director, Grace Evangelical Church

Interview: Emily Cupples

We recently sat down with Emily Cupples of City Leadership/Teach 901 to talk Memphis, education, and of course, a little Memphis food. Agape North is grateful to partner with City Leadership on some of their apparel throughout the year to give back to various Memphis schools.

Enjoy Emily’s story below!

What is City Leadership and how does Teach 901 fit into the brand?

City Leadership is a non-profit consulting agency in Memphis, TN. John Carroll founded the organization in 2010 with the mission of maximizing non-profit leadership in the city of Memphis. Through City Leadership’s work, we found there were several nuances surrounding relocation to the city of Memphis and that was preventing highly specialized individuals and professionals from relocating back or to Memphis. In 2012, City Leadership rolled out Choose901 as a campaign to highlight the amazing and awesome pieces of Memphis, thus aiding in talent recruitment and leadership maximization. Teachers are the largest workforce in Memphis and the most sought after professionals in America. Having such a massive impact, teachers deserved their own campaign alongside Choose901 and so was born Teach901.

How did you decide to devote your life’s work to education equality/recruiting?

I was raised in a low income family and attended failing schools. Through factors outside of my control – race and demographics- I was allowed to attend a private school and receive a higher quality education for a time period. With high tuition rates, only people within a specific class and income bracket could attend, however, I was granted admission. I attended the school for all of my lower elementary and middle school years, building a strong foundation and an array of deductive reasoning skills. For high school and junior high school, I attended a failing school and the difference was insurmountable. The achievement gap was a wide canyon between my peers and myself, and this achievement gap has manifested into an opportunity gap, self perpetuating the cycle of poverty. I could not control that I was awarded a stronger/better education, and neither can our students today. Every student deserves to build a strong foundation and array of deductive reasoning skills regardless of race, demographic, or income class. Education brought me out of poverty, and I owe it to education and its students to ensure any that want it have the same opportunity

How does City Leadership and Teach 901 define success?

Success looks different for everyone and every organization. There is the 30,000 feet up definition of success and the micro definition. One could say success is going through every possible action utilizing all resources available with no necessary defined end point. We use that definition is some cases and in other specific ways. A specific way could be to say we need X number of website visitors. Regardless if you tried all courses of actions and utilized all available resources, if you didn’t hit X number that’s not a success and vice versa.

Describe a recent Teach 901 success story.

Teach901 set out to recruit and connect 100 teacher hires with schools in Memphis for the 2016/17 school year. Prior to the first day of school, Teach901 had connected 181 hired teachers in Memphis charter schools and Shelby County Public Schools.

Why did City Leadership/Teach 901 decide to link up with Agape North?

Schooling is a difficult process for parents, students, administrators, teachers and the overall education community. From curriculum design, to homework assignments, bus routes, lunch plans, and school culture, I’m not sure how parents and teachers do it. With all the moving pieces that have to consistently fit together, it’s a miracle school begins and ends every day. Agape North is taking away one of those obstacles for parents and schools by alleviating the concern of uniforms and clothes. Teach901 recognizes the value and magnitude this can have for a child, and wanted to partner to extend Agape North’s impact.

What did you take away from the City Leadership/Agape North Giving Day at Memphis Delta Prep Elementary?

The City Leadership/Agape North Giving Day was extremely eye opening for me in a lot of ways. Whereas we adults get frazzled and stressed about the idea of schooling, students are genuinely excited about the process. Hundreds of students arrived at MDP with so much eagerness to learn and sharpen pencils, I bet you could bottle it up and sell it if possible. If we can match resources with students’ eagerness, I can’t imagine where schooling would go.

According to Emily Cupples, what’s the most underrated restaurant in Memphis?

My kitchen. HA kidding a little bit, but not really. I subscribe to a CSA from a local farm in Memphis, and combine those groceries with staples from any of Memphis’ several farmers’ markets and I get a product that is pretty hard to beat. If I were to pick a restaurant, I would have to pick Maciel’s in Downtown Memphis. It’s a local authentic taco shop.

Follow the work of City Leadership and Teach 901 – @choose901 and @teach901.