SOS Academy helped me Choose901
By Jeff Riddle
I first learned about SOS & its mission through seeing the SOS Campus when I visited Memphis in March 2011 when I was interviewing for the great teacher training program called Memphis Teacher Residency. The mission and opportunity laid out by the SOS Academy intrigued me enough to reach out via email to the executive director upon a return visit the following May. Philip Walkley arranged to pick me up from the MegaBus station early one morning and he took me to Bryant’s Breakfast as any wise person would to in an effort to WOO (winning others over - Strengthsfinders) somebody from East Tennessee to Memphis. After delighting in my inaugural biscuit sandwich, Philip told me about the concept of intentional neighboring also known as incarnational ministry (referencing John 1:14) as he drove me around Binghampton. I noticed him pointing out where such and such lived who either had worked with SOS in the past or had been working for the betterment of the community in various other capacities.
The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I was working in a cubicle job where our company was allowing folks with less than prime credit scores live out the “American Dream.” I was not good in this setup and felt purposeless. I was very passionless about this work. What I saw on the other side of Tennessee was something that drew me in and made want to know more. I saw people whose vocations were about more than a paycheck or vacation days. They were about giving life and dignity. Memphis as I was seeing it had robust non-profit community that was seeking out the challenges or obstacles of the city’s poverty and taking them on full steam ahead.
I began to see how many people were catalyzed through SOS’s long tenured ministry in the Binghampton and Orange Mound neighborhoods. Students caught their vision for empowering people and neighborhoods. This became apparent that a summer spent on a roof in Memphis with middle and high schoolers left a lasting impact on a staffer and a homeowner. So much so that many former staffers live in the neighborhoods and homeowners still talk about the young people that had served with them to restore a roof. These were human, dignifying interactions.
The SOS Academy was the perfect learning space for me to witness and experience a very different way of living out the Christian life than I had seen previously. I really witnessed a different way to view work and its meaning through the examples of philanthropic efforts by Memphis businessmen. SOS helped expose me to work that was being done by Christians to advance Memphis and other parts of the world. The internship gave me a space to thrive and learn more about my own gifts (did you see my previous reference to WOO…that’s one of my strengths, we went through Strengthsfinders together during the SOS Academy). This discovery was a mere affirmation of something I already knew about myself. God gifted me with the energy and ability to connect people…this really came to life in my role at SOS as the homeowner relations intern and various other hats I wore during my time with SOS.
When my second year with SOS was winding down, I was given the opportunity to lead Serve901 under the umbrella organization, City Leadership. City Leadership is a non-profit consulting firm best known for the Choose901 campaign. Choose901 acts as megaphone for the good things happening in the city. Serve901 acts as a means to show college students the city through service-learning trips. Annually Serve901 hosts over 1000 people to the city to engage, serve and learn Memphis. We hope our participants will catch vision for how they live amongst others and align their vocation with meeting the needs of others.
I am a huge proponent of spending a summer with a ministry like SOS or doing a post-college gap year program like the SOS Academy. I had not spent a summer doing camp staff and unfortunately ended college with a degree, but without a plan. Experiences like enduring Memphis heat on mission with peers doing the same hard thing will spit you out on the other end a different person. Living life in community like I did with my fellow Academies will hopefully help you learn how to truly live. I am forever grateful for the deepening of my worldview that SOS offered me through the Academy.