Donated Backpacks Provide Much Needed Resources for Memphis Youth

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Under overcast skies and light drizzle, Gary Harris unloaded 50 backpacks for needy students in the Memphis Empowerment Zone Schools (MEZS). Harris, who is TVA’s vice president of Industrial Marketing and Services, has a long history with Memphis, starting in 2004 when he was assigned to work for TVA in the district. For six years, he lived in Memphis with his family. During that time, he worked in many communities with organizations and city leadership, but more importantly, he got to know the people who would welcome him and make Memphis his second home.

“Memphis is a unique place, rich with culture and history,” says Harris. “Every community has a story, and the people in those communities are amazing and resilient. So whenever I get a chance to help, I am thrilled to do so on behalf of TVA.”

One of the relationships that Harris has built during his career with TVA is with historic Whitehaven High School, which is a part of MEZS. As a TVA leader, he has spoken to students during programs, served as “Principal for a Day,” and participated in other activities to encourage young people to continue on their educational journeys.

“We are so thankful for Mr. Harris,” says Dr. Vincent Hunter, principal of Whitehaven High School. “He understands the importance of connecting with students and making them understand how important they are. You can tell this isn’t just a PR exercise for him. He believes in the kids. We need more partnerships like the one that we have with TVA and Mr. Harris.”

Dr. Hunter is not only an administrator for the school, he is also an advocate for his community. He graduated from Whitehaven in 1982 and returned as a mathematics teacher in 1994. In 2004 after serving as vice-principal, he became principal. Over that time, he has had over 6,000 graduates pass through the school doors.

"In the last five years, our children have received over a half-billion dollars in scholarships, most of those in academics,” Dr. Hunter added. “We also have 30 graduates currently working for the school. So this is truly a community school.”

“Dr. Hunter’s hands are full," says Tiffany Taylor, assistant principal. "We carry a great responsibility to ensure that our students receive the best experience possible, but many of them are from underprivileged homes, are displaced, or live below the poverty line. This donation from TVA will help them not only carry their school supplies but also carry their personal belongings. It's good to be able to have people like Gary, who recognize the importance of empowering our young people. All we have to do is call, and he and TVA are there to help.” 

“I have a responsibility,” says Harris. “It is vital for us to make our children competitive – to give them a competitive edge for their future. This donation is about TVA’s relationship in the community and our dedication to the next generation of leaders. There is an emotional connection that must be established to create real change, and it starts with giving people what they need.”

MEZS is aimed at improving culture, climate, and curriculum at five schools, including Whitehaven High School. Within these schools are a number of homeless children who will be recipients of some of the backpacks. The remaining backpacks will be distributed to each school and used as competitive incentives for students to improve their grades.