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FirstWorks Thanks Valero!

24 Feb

The children, staff, teachers and volunteers enrolled in the FirstWorks After-School Children’s Program, under the leadership of Frederick Cunningham, Executive Director, were thrilled to learn  they were the recipients of a Valero Memphis Refinery grant in the sum of $7,000!

Children, volunteers, board members, and teachers from the FirstWorks After School Program thank Valero for their generous donation to their program.Left to right first row:Joseph Hardeman, Demont McWright, Donte Gillard, Herman Peterson, Jr., Kenarius Carter, Keniah Curry, and Karen Oppenheim, FirstWork Board Chairperson for 2011.Left to right back row:Frederick Cunningham, FirstWorks Executive Director, Kristian Terry, Angelica McWright, Tiffany Black, Megan Henry, Launtrest Readus,Kobey Readus, and Ladessa Johnson

FirstWorks, an academic mission program, meets two afternoons a week for dinner, served by volunteer “Kitchen Angels,” and tutoring.  The program enrolls “at-risk” children and youth from zip codes surrounding Highland Heights United Methodist Church, at the corner of Summer and Highland.  In addition to stressing academic achievements, the program aims to teach the children life skills, give them career choices,  and build self-esteem by surrounding them with caring, educated adults.
Barbara Keeler, Valero employee and former FirstWorks volunteer through the Junior League of Memphis, nominated this very special mission program.
FirstWorks was one of 30 different agencies in the Memphis area that benefited from the $350,000 raised through the annual golf benefit, “Valero Texas Open Golf Classic.”
A festive luncheon was held honoring the grant recipients.

To find out more about FirstWorks, to donate, or volunteer, please visit:

Annesdale-Snowden Food and Goods Drive Benefits FirstWorks

24 Feb

The beautiful, historic Annesdale-Snowden Neighborhood Association once again showed their generosity to those less fortunate by holding a “food and goods” drive recently.  Initiated and coordinated by resident, Ian Randolph, the donations will benefit the children and families of Firstworks, Inc.

Ian Randolph, organizer of the drive, with some of the generous donations from his neighbors.

FirstWorks, under the direction of Frederick Cunningham, Executive Director,  is a faith-based academic after-school program for at-risk children and youth who live in the zip codes surrounding Highland Heights United Methodist Church at the corner of Summer Avenue and Highland.
Every year, Randolph, a long-time FirstWorks Board member, contacts the residents of his neighborhood association by email and lets them know a “drive” is being planned. The email lists the most urgent needs of the FirstWorks Food Pantry that includes non-perishable food and hygiene items. On a Friday evening he leaves a plastic bag on the front porch of each of his neighbors with the list attached.  Early Saturday morning, starting at 8:00 a.m., Randolph drives by each home and picks up their donations and delivers it to FirstWorks.
Randolph said of this heart-warming annual event, “The residents of the Annesdale-Snowden Neighborhood Association always look forward to this.  We love to help FirstWorks. It gives us a chance to do something good as a neighborhood.”

Annesdale-Snowden Neighborhood Association members and some of the items donated to the food and goods drive for FirstWorks, Inc.

This is the fifth year this generous neighborhood association has contributed to the welfare of the families who enroll children in the FirstWorks Program.

At-Risk Youth Learn to Serve

1 Dec

“Everyone can be great…because anybody can serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.FW Thanksgiving Lessons



The youth enrolled in the FirstWorks After-School Program learned the value of service and the importance of giving back this Thanksgiving.


They were invited by Executive Director, Frederick Cunningham, to help serve dinner on Wednesday November 23,  in the large fellowship hall at Highland Heights United Methodist.


The hall was packed with hungry families who attended the “Jacob’s Well” outreach program, housed at the church.  The kitchen was filled with volunteers arranging an abundance of food as they formed an assembly line to feed several hundred citizens who came to enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings.

FW Thanksgiving Lessons 2Cunningham, who mentored FirstWorks youth, Keyonte Morris-Loper, 13 years old, showed him how to wear plastic gloves and where to stand when serving.  He also taught him a very valuable life lesson.

“I believe,” said Cunningham, “it is important that the children at FirstWorks are taught moral values.  It is vital they learn that even though they don’t have a lot of material possessions and many of them come from near-poverty themselves, that whatever our circumstances, we all must give back. Generosity and kindness are not hereditary –  it is learned behavior that must be taught.  Inviting them to help serve this Thanksgiving dinner helped to teach them the importance of giving back.”

FirstWorks, Inc., a 501 c 3 mission, is an after-school academic program for at-risk children and youth living in the zip codes surrounding the intersection of Highland and Summer Avenue.   The program meets twice a week for dinner, tutoring, life skills enhancement, and career advice. Twice monthly, the children are treated to Saturday outings to visit museums, go skating or fishing, or attend ball games.



Germantown United Methodist “Kitchen Angels” Serve FirstWorks

3 Nov


Happy to serve children, staff and volunteers at FirstWorks is the Horizon Sunday school class from Germantown United Methodist Church left to right standing: Missions Leader, Jan Davis, Linda Colebank, Susie Fields, Connie Troxel, Frederick Cunningham, FirstWorks Executive Director, Sue Clark

As the children enrolled in the FirstWorks After-School Program eagerly jumped off the bus transporting them to Highland Heights United Methodist Church, they were greeted with smiles, hugs, and the welcoming aroma of a home-cooked meal.

Members of the Germantown United Methodist Church Horizon Sunday school class were the “Kitchen Angels” for the evening. They had lovingly prepared a delicious meal of salad, beans, barbecue sandwiches and cookies for the children, the FirstWorks staff, volunteers, and tutors.

Serving a meal for 60 children and adults can be daunting. But they quickly formed an assembly line and efficiently fed everyone in record time – as well as those who came back for seconds! Everyone enjoyed the meal and the warm fellowship provided by these visiting Kitchen Angels.

Once a year this devoted Sunday school group serves dinner for the FirstWorks children as part of their missions project. Jan Davis, Horizon mission leader, commented on their visit, “Oh, we so enjoy helping this wonderful children’s program by coming out to serve dinner for them!” Serving FirstWorks is just one of the missions of this motived Sunday school group. They perform a different mission every month.


Forming an assembly line, the Horizon Sunday school class from Germantown United Methodist Church serves a delicious barbecue dinner to hungry children enrolled at FirstWorks Left to right standing: Bill Troxel, Linda Colebank, Sue Clark, Connie Troxel, Susie Fields, Back row standing: Jim Fields

FirstWorks, Inc., a 501 c 3 mission, is an after-school academic program for at-risk children and youth under the direction of Frederick Cunningham, Executive Director. The program meets twice a week for dinner, tutoring, life skills enhancement, and career advice. Twice monthly, the children are treated to Saturday outings to visit museums, go skating or fishing, or attend ball games.

To find out more about FirstWorks, to volunteer, or donate, please visit:

FirstWorks Focused on “Whole Child”

3 Oct

A family enrolls their excited children in the FirstWorks After School Program for the fall.

Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, the large white school bus with the bright green “FirstWorks” logo makes it rounds to the homes of 40 families surrounding Highland Heights United Methodist Church. The children and youth excitedly jump on the bus to be transported to a very special after-school academic program housed at the church.

A 501 c 3 mission, FirstWorks, under the leadership of Frederick Cunningham, the agency’s new Executive Director, welcomes at-risk children to be tutored and guided by caring professionals and volunteers.

Upon arrival, the children are greeted with hugs and smiles from Cunningham, the volunteer tutors, and teachers awaiting them. The “Kitchen Angels,” volunteers who contribute and serve dinner to the children, have prepared a healthy, delicious dinner.

After dinner, the children are guided to their classrooms for study time and homework assistance on Tuesday nights and on Thursdays the children are encouraged to express their artistic side with crafts and music projects. Guest speakers visit on occasion to inspire and advise them on sound career choices and life skill issues.

This year the program’s theme focuses on the “whole child”, their present, and their hopeful futures.

Cunningham explains FirstWorks’ aim, “We are so excited! We are planning a change in direction in that we have enrolled children from this neighborhood – near the church. That is our target population. These children, many who live in poverty, come from uncertain backgrounds and face many obstacles to creating a certain future. Every day they are tempted with drugs and crime due to lack of supervision, and a lack of guidance. We have tried to “walk in their shoes” to see what we can do as an after-school program to help them graduate to the next step in life. Our long term goals include guiding each child to college or trade school. Academics, life skills, and self esteem are the areas we concentrate on with these children.”

Further down the road, FirstWorks plans to become a model for other non-profit children’s programs. Cunningham stated he foresees planting satellite locations of FirstWorks throughout the county.

Among the many activities planned for the children include a “girls night out” to help the female children bond with their mothers and female members of their families. They will be invited to the church to have their hair styled and given fashion advice. They will be encouraged to discuss female issues with teachers and other role models. The male children will also have a “boys night out” to bond with the male members of their families with a visiting barber to style hair and enjoy a pizza dinner. The children also enjoy twice a month outings on Saturdays when the bus takes them to educational and sports outings such as the Children’s Museum, fishing, or skating.

FirstWorks, Inc., in its 25th year, was founded at downtown’s First United Methodist Church by the Rev. Thomas Wilson to support at-risk children and youth. The program was originally named “Final Net.”

Union Avenue Church Sale Benefits Inner City Kids

20 May

Left to right: Rev. Birgitte T. French, St. Luke's United Methodist Church Associate Pastor, Karen Oppenheim, FirstWorks Board Chairperson, from Germantown, Tony Jenkins, FirstWorks Bus Monitor, Rev. Mark Matheny, St. Luke's United Methodist Church Senior Pastor

A few weeks ago, in Midtown Memphis all eyes were focused on Union Avenue United Methodist Church.

The once majestic building with the unique round-domed sanctuary was now surrounded by a chain-link fence littered with protest signs. Despite months of controversy, lawsuits, and disagreements over the sale of the building, the fight was finally over.

Its small, but dedicated, congregation, lead by Rev. Birgitte T. French, had struggled financially for many years to keep the building in good repair. However, despite their best efforts, they made the practical decision to merge with the congregation of St. Luke’s United Methodist and sell the building to CVS Pharmacy.

Meanwhile, just as the wrecking ball began to methodically knock down the walls of of the church, a small group had gathered across town at St. Luke’s United Methodist for a celebration of sorts.

While they were sad that Union Avenue UMC would soon be gone, the former congregation was thrilled to be donating proceeds from the sale to several worthwhile ministries.

Rev. Mark Matheny, St. Luke’s Senior Pastor, and Rev. Birgitte T. French,  St. Luke’s Associate Pastor and former Senior Pastor at Union Avenue UMC, were delighted to present a check for $50,000 to FirstWorks!  Karen Oppenheim, Chair of the FirstWorks Board of Directors, accepted the gift of behalf of the organization.

Children and youth enrolled in the FirstWorks After School Program, along with their teachers and volunteers, on the front steps of the former Union Avenue United Methodist Church when the program was housed there

FirstWorks, an after school, academic, faith-based program,  is a 501(c)3 mission that enrolls at-risk children and youth from inner-city ZIP codes.  The program was housed at Union Avenue UMC before the building was sold.

Twice a week the children were brought to the church for a home-cooked meal served by volunteers, followed by tutoring, career counseling, crafts, and to listen to inspirational guest speakers.  Two Saturdays a month the children are treated to educational and sports outings.

Rev. French, FirstWorks former Executive Director, said of the donation, “It was such a blessing personally to be with FirstWorks for 5 1/2 years.  It is a dream come true to know this money will multiply many times over.”

Karen Oppenheim added her feelings upon receiving the check for FirstWorks, “This financial gift will benefit all of the children in our program now and for many months to come. It is also a celebration of the commitment made to FirstWorks by all of our teachers, volunteers, and supporters throughout Shelby County.”

The FirstWorks After School Program has since relocated to Highland Heights United Methodist Church, at the corner of Highland and Summer.

At the conclusion of the meeting, St. Luke’s Rev. Matheny spoke his sentiments about this holy turn of events, “We applaud FirstWorks and its commitment to reach, just like Jesus taught….the least and the last.”

Each One, Teach One at FirstWorks

6 Mar


FirstWorks students, Kiara Campbell, left, 2nd grade, is tutored by Jimesha Banks, 8th grade

At FirstWorks, “each one, teach one” is the fun way everyone learns.

The youth enrolled in this academic, faith-based after school program are becoming “teachers” for the younger children.
This year the older students, grades 8 through 12, who excel in their studies, have begun to help teach and mentor the younger children, grades 1 through 5, in the subjects of reading, math and composition.
Peeking into the FirstWorks classrooms at Highland Heights United Methodist Church on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, one can see the fellowship and camaraderie during these mentoring sessions between the older and younger students.
Memphis City School teachers are on hand to supervise each pair of students during these sessions.
This new mentoring program, developed by Dedric Hightower, FirstWorks high school teacher, has many benefits to both age groups.
As they study together, the sessions encourage the older students to interact with the younger ones – setting a good example of consistent study habits and goal setting.  The younger children, who look up to and emulate the older children automatically, see first hand how hard work and determination are character traits they must develop in order to stay in school and succeed in life. And it gives the younger students a new confidence that they, too, can do well in school.
The FirstWorks After School Program enrolls “at risk” children and youth from downtown ZIP codes.

FirstWorks students, Ja'Keriah Watkins, left, 2nd grade, is tutored by Moesha Banks, 8th grade

Two evenings a week they meet for dinner, served by volunteers called “Kitchen Angels,” followed by tutoring by Memphis City School teachers and volunteers from all parts of Shelby County.  The children are also visited by guest motivational speakers and given career advice.

Two Saturdays a month the program offers academic, sports, and fun outings for the children.

Booking It – The Commercial Appeal Article

6 Mar

Bringing Warmth – Commercial Appeal Article

13 Feb

Annesdale Snowden Food Drive Helps Inner City

27 Dec

Ian Randolph, Annesdale Snowden neighborhood resident and FirstWorks board member, picking up the first of many Schnucks grocery bags filled with non-perishable food items and infant supplies for inner city families.

Early last Saturday morning, a light dusting of snow covered the beautiful historic homes in the Annesdale Snowden HIstoric District neighborhood
as resident, Ian Randolph, drove door to door looking for grocery bags filled  with non-perishable foods waiting to be picked up on his neighbors’ porches.

Randolph, who is also a Firstworks Board member, had organized this holiday food drive to benefit inner city families.

Annesdale Snowden, a Memphis landmark, has a thriving, close-knit neighborhood association of 200 homes.   All had received a flyer and an email from Randolph asking them to please consider filling up the white Schnucks grocery bag he’d be leaving on their porch Friday evening.

Before 8:00 a.m. Saturday,  Randolph, with the assistance of his helpful teenage daughter, Amira, excitedly began to load up their mid-size SUV with the generous gifts of non-perishable food and infant  items given for those less fortunate.

Canned vegetables, meats, fruits and juices, large boxes of cereal, jars of jelly and peanut butter, infant formula,  diapers, and hygiene supplies were
collected.  The goods will be transported to the FirstWorks Food Pantry at Highland Heights United Methodist Church, at the corner of Summer and
Highland, for needy inner city families.

Randolph modestly said of his efforts to assist those who are struggling financially and need help putting food on their table this time of the year,  “A
food drive like this is easy to do. My neighbors are generous people,  with caring hearts. They want to help.  All I do is make it as easy as possible by
giving them a list of  what is needed ahead of time and placing an empty grocery bag on their door step.  The next day I drive by and pick up their donations.”

FirstWorks, a 501(c) 3 mission,  under the director of Rev. Birgitte T. French, Executive Director, operates a food pantry and an after-school academic program for “at risk” children and youth.  Clients are pre-screened and referred to the food pantry by the Metropolitan InterFaith Association, churches and other helping organizations. The food pantry’s hours of operation are Tuesday – Friday, 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.,  at 3476 Summer Avenue.

Any neighborhood association, business, or group that would like to organize a food drive for FirstWorks, please  contact Ian Randolph at 901.289.3411.  He
would be glad to help.

Special thanks to Schnucks for donating the plastic grocery bags for this event.

To find out more about FirstWorks, to donate,  or volunteer, please visit: