We are pleased to share with you this month the work of Kelcey Johnson. Kelcey graduated from MTS in 2013 with an M.A. (Religion) including a Graduate Certificate in Addiction Counseling. He was on staff with the downtown Memphis Hospitality Hub for a number of years before taking over as Executive Director in 2018. The Hub is the premier organization in Memphis devoted to helping people exit homelessness.
1) Kelcey, what have been your major accomplishments at the Hub since you took over as Executive Director? “We’ve increased our fundraising and project completion rates tenfold. There was a time when we could do very little for families, but we’re now able to shelter a family in a hotel while we try to find shelter space or permanent housing. Our relationships with [local colleges] have grown stronger, and we host as many as 25 [college] interns per semester. This pool of young servants is the primary place from which we draw candidates for permanent employment.”
2) What are you excited about these days at the Hub?
“Even in the midst of a global pandemic, Memphis is still growing and changing and the Hub continues to respond to the ever changing needs of the homeless community. For too long we have seen women who are experiencing homelessness treated last and given the leftovers. Most of our city’s resources are designed to serve homeless men, while women make up 37% of the homeless population. There has been a genuine push to change this narrative; our city, county, and local philanthropists have partnered with us to build a state of the art women’s shelter surrounded by a community plaza that will serve as a place of respite for the people we serve.”
3) Have there been any special challenges or opportunities at the Hub because of the pandemic?
“The pandemic caused our counseling center to close, and being forced to shut down our best women’s shelter led us to open up a new one with the help of Room in the Inn and First Presbyterian Church, as well as countless partners who provided meals, clothing, and hygiene items.
We were also able to partner with the city to assist in sheltering 185 people, including families with children at two local hotels so that they could “shelter in place” and not be outdoors.
And, a gracious benefactor helped us purchase what is now called “HubHotel” in midtown where we are currently sheltering up to 28 women. We have found jobs for many of our women; to date 30 have been permanently housed.”
4) How can the MTS community support the Hub?
“Students should seek to volunteer, provide meals for the people that we shelter, and be intentional about collecting hygiene items and new socks and underwear for our guests.”
5) What’s something you gained from MTS that continues to shape your work?
“Being at MTS was transformative for me. Especially valuable in the work that we do at the Hub was the counseling experience and mock interviewing that we did while I was working on my Graduate Certificate in Addiction Counseling. I’m currently teaching students who intern with me the exact same lessons that I learned at MTS: self-care, empathy, attentive observation for verbal and non-verbal information (body language), seeking resolution, and termination. I always hated the group projects at MTS, but if you are to be a successful outreach agent, you will learn quickly that ushering a person through the recovery process or helping a person to exit homelessness is never done effectively by one person or even one agency–it’s a group project.”
Visit hospitalityhub.org to learn more about this wonderful organization and how you can support Kelcey and his community of guests, staff, interns, and volunteers.–Nathan Brasfield, Coordinator of Academic and Alumni Affairs