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