“They say it takes a village to raise a child,” said Jamie Casler, director of the J.V. Morsch Center for Social Justice. “I think it takes the Trevecca community to raise a nonprofit.”
Casler was referring to Trevecca’s role in helping to launch Stronger Than My Father, a nonprofit aimed at reaching out to at-risk youth. How the nonprofit came to be is a story filled with examples of community, weaving together a student’s dream, professors’ guidance, the Center for Social justice, alumni, employees, a business luncheon and a local church.
The Dream Begins
When Marcus Meneese, a graduate of Trevecca’s School of Graduate and Continuing Studies, came to Trevecca, he was pursuing more than a degree. While he was working toward a master’s degree in organizational leadership, Meneese also dreamed of starting his own nonprofit ministry to help at-risk teens through mentoring and after-school programs.
Meneese grew up in a two-parent home rooted in the church, and soon realized the rarity of that as he looked at his peers. Meneese said that his father challenged him and his brother to be ethical and hard-working. Ever since, he’s been passionate about mentoring youth, especially boys who lack father figures. He wanted to create Stronger Than My Father as a way to end the cycle of fatherlessness he saw developing in the lives of his peers and many minority populations.
In 2013, Meneese was enrolled in the master’s program at Trevecca and began working to make his dream a reality. At the time, he was interning for Bari Watson-Beasley, who brought up the idea of Meneese turning his dream into a nonprofit.
It wasn’t a coincidence that Watson-Beasley had previously served as the director of marketing and communications at Trevecca and was familiar with the University’s Center for Social Justice. So, she put Meneese in touch with the right people.
The Right Place
Trevecca’s J.V. Morsch Center for Social Justice exists to educate, impact and inspire social justice leaders to engage in their communities and make a difference in the world, says Casler, who serves as the director of the center. He remembers first hearing about Meneese’s idea for Stronger Than My Father when he was evaluating possible nonprofits to work with through the Center’s Neighborhood Empowerment Program.
“We want to be a blessing to our community,” Casler said. “Through the Neighborhood Empowerment Program, we determine nonprofits to work with over the course of a semester or a year. We work with people who are starting nonprofits and with existing nonprofits to increase capacity.”
While Casler oversees the Center for Social Justice, Iris Gordon, a full-time nonprofit attorney and consultant with the Center for Social Justice, consults with and advises the nonprofits in the empowerment program. To date, Casler estimates that the center partners with about 10 nonprofit organizations each year and more than 80 in the eight years of the center’s existence.
Meneese quickly found himself working with Gordon, which allowed him to bring his dream to fruition.
The Right Time
In the Center for Social Justice, Meneese had found the right place to help him get his dream off the ground. The next step was developing a board to help guide the nonprofit.
Meneese immediately thought of Cary Bush, a Trevecca alumnus and successful business owner, to be on the board. Meneese had met Bush at a Trevecca luncheon earlier that year, and just happened to sit down at Bush’s table. The two began to talk, and Meneese shared his idea of a nonprofit. Bush was interested and wanted to help.
With the help of Gordon and Bush, Meneese finished creating his board, and the nonprofit was soon born. Meneese was now able to begin living out the mission statement of his nonprofit ministry: to educate, inspire and transform today’s youth and families to fulfill their God-given purpose.
But Meneese wasn’t done yet.
Since Meneese has mentored youth for more than 14 years, he was passionate about wanting to incorporate a mentoring program into Stronger Than My Father. The only problem was finding a place to host the after-school program, Hope Leadership Academy.
Then, Meneese and Bush attended another Trevecca Association of Business Professionals luncheon, where they met Rebekah Meadows, who was working in Trevecca’s Office of External Relations at the time.
Meneese shared his dream with Meadows and discussed how he needed a place to house the after-school addition to his nonprofit. To his surprise, Meadows mentioned that her church’s pastor wanted to get the church more involved in the community.
Meadows then connected Meneese with the pastor of Smith Springs Church of Christ. The church board loved the idea of housing Stronger Than My Father’s Hope Leadership Academy, and opened up the church’s family life center for the nonprofit to use during the week.
After eight months of planning and saving, Hope Leadership Academy kicked off this fall, with a ribbon-cutting event on August 11. Nashville’s mayor, Megan Barry, spoke at the event.
“It was really a blessing and honor to have her come, and talk about how Nashville needs more programs like this,” Casler said. “I think people like Marcus really are ushering in the Kingdom of God into the brokenness of this world.”
More than that, Casler said Trevecca’s small role in helping Meneese make Stronger Than My Father a reality was a prime example of how social justice permeates Trevecca’s campus.
“Social justice isn’t just a program or a center here,” Casler said. “We’re a university where all students, faculty and employees are thinking in the mind-set of how to use our gifts, talents, skills and education to advance the Kingdom of God.
“This is the perfect example of employees, professors, students, the center, all working together and embracing the concept of biblical social justice and helping to launch this nonprofit.”