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Community Development

More in Store than Ever Before

With two working parents and two children under 10, the Melendez family was constantly on the go.

Nora Melendez enjoyed preparing the family’s meals, but with limited grocery store options near their home in Pascagoula, MS, she faced challenges getting to a grocery store with affordable and healthy food options.

“During the week, I didn’t have time to make the trip, but picking something up nearby could cost twice as much,” Melendez says. “It was always a choice between cost or convenience.”

Always cost-conscious, Melendez planned her weekends around trips to faraway stores. The lower prices were worth the trip on paper, but Melendez grew tired of spending her weekends on the road instead of with her family.

Melendez was able to reclaim her weekends thanks to HOPE’s Mid South Healthy Food Initiative, a program that provides commercial loans to open grocery stores in “food deserts,” areas lacking stores that offer healthy, affordable foods. With a loan from HOPE, a new Shoppers Value grocery store opened its doors in Pascagoula on June 1, 2017.

Shoppers Value operates on a cost-plus-10-percent model that has allowed Melendez to substantially cut her grocery bills and her mileage. Melendez was also surprised to discover that Shoppers Value offered a wider selection of the Hispanic foods she and her family enjoy.

“We are from Puerto Rico and we like to prepare the traditional foods served there,” Melendez says. “Shoppers Value carries the items we like to cook at home at prices we can afford.”

“Shoppers Value really focuses on serving the community,” Melendez continues. “I’m much happier now and I’m able to spend my money and my time closer to home.”

Going New School

The 448 sixth- through ninth-grade students at Memphis Rise Academy, a charter school in Memphis, Tenn., don’t come from privileged backgrounds. Nearly 90 percent of students qualify for the free or reduced lunch program, and their annual family incomes rarely top $40,000.

These students see an education at Memphis Rise as the key to their future success, committing themselves to a rigorous academic program and thriving in an environment where hard work and achievement are celebrated. The results are impressive. Memphis Rise ranks among the top 5 percent of schools in Tennessee in terms of end-of-year testing.

Memphis Rise achieved that remarkable success in a hand-me-down building and a group of modular classrooms. When Memphis Rise began planning the construction of a new high school that would match the caliber of its programming, the school’s administration appealed to HOPE for help in making the facility a reality.

“We purchased the land for the building in March of 2016, with the ambitious goal of moving into the completed building in August of 2017,” says Jack Vuylsteke, Memphis Rise Academy’s founder and head of school. “We were working with a national lender, but it was a slow process.”

When the glacial pace of the paperwork threatened to delay construction, Vuylsteke called on HOPE to provide needed financing.

The new high school opened its doors just in time for the 2017 school year. “We would not have opened the building on time without HOPE,” Vuylsteke says.

The new building’s bright classrooms offer a stimulating backdrop for challenging courses. A well-equipped science lab and art studio encourage hands-on participation, and the building offers ample space for school assemblies and performances.

“This building gives Memphis Rise a sense of permanence and viability for the long term,” Vuylsteke says. “Our students and families see the building as an investment in them. In fact, the building’s cornerstone is inscribed with a dedication to the founding families of the school. The new building has also helped define our investment in the community. We are planting a flag in this neighborhood where our families live.”

Memphis Rise ninth-grader DeMarcus Brooks’ plans include becoming a zoologist, traveling the world, and helping other people realize their dreams. Brooks hopes to attend college at Duke, Notre Dame, or the University of Alabama, and he’s confident that with a Memphis Rise education, he’ll get there. Attending the opening ceremonies for the new high school only added to Brooks’ pride in his school.

“I remember thinking, ‘This is going to be my building,’” Brooks says. “I’m going to get to go from my first high school class to my last high school class in this
building that has everything I need to get a good education. My classmates and I are proud that Memphis Rise is our school and that this is our building.”

Brooks pauses, then adds one more item to his bucket list.

“You know, Mr. Vuylsteke and some other people worked hard together to build this great school for kids. Someday, I’d like to do that, too.”