Family Uses Instagram to Spread their Love for Early Literacy

Gerald Fanion IV age three years old LOVES books, often snuggling them as he sleeps each night. His mother, Dr. Sha Fanion, a former elementary school principal and current educational leadership coach, is passionate about literacy. Dr. Fanion read to Gerald in utero and she and her husband have not stopped reading to him since he was born! In fact, she immediately signed Gerald up to receive books from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library through Porter-Leath’s Books from Birth program.

“One of my favorite quotes is ‘Students become readers on the laps of their parents.’ The more you expose children to books, the more they will gravitate towards books … The love of reading starts at home” she said. Gerald Fanion III also helps to develop his son’s love for reading. He checks the mail each day and when the monthly book arrives, Mr. Fanion announces it as he enters the house. This gesture signals to his son that reading and books are something that should spark excitement. The Fanions encourage Gerald IV to wait until bedtime to open his newest book, further building their son’s anticipation to open the new story.

The Fanions also spread their love of literacy with others. When Dr. Fanion was pregnant with Gerald, she asked for books as her baby shower gifts. As she read with Gerald, she would often post a picture on Facebook of what they were reading. So many people began asking about the books and what titles Dr. Fanion recommended that she created an Instagram account to share Gerald’s reading journey. Today, @geraldivlovesbooks, has over 2,200 followers and is a great way to share new and interesting books with other families. His Books from Birth selections are included in his library’s rotation of featured titles!

Dr. Fanion encourages parents to enroll their children in Books from Birth, citing the accessibility and quality as major benefits for parents. She explained that literacy skills can build vocabulary, writing, language and critical thinking skills, so it is foundational to students’ confidence and success. “The lack of access to books is a huge equity issue … this program is a great way to help bridge that gap,” she said. Dr. Fanion added “Whether you can afford to buy books or not, they are coming every month … if you can sign up, absolutely do it.”

at Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Porter-Leath Hiring Event - December 9th

Porter-Leath Hiring Event - December 9th at 2869 Park Avenue, Memphis, TN 38114

Porter-Leath is investing more in top talent than ever before! If you havn’t checked us out lately or are new to Porter-Leath, consider starting a great career serving children and families throughout Memphis and Shelby County. We offer:

  • New, Higher Starting Pay Scales
  • $1,500 Sign On Bonus
  • Comprehensive Benefits Package
  • Inclusive Work Culture
  • Professional Development Programs
  • Best-in-class Early Childhood Facilities

While we have great opportunities across our organization, we have specific needs today for Preschool & Early Head Start Teachers, Assistant Teachers and Residential Monitors. Porter-Leath will be receiving resumés and give on site interviews. Our HR team will be there to answer questions about Porter-Leath's generous benefits, high-quality facilities and positive workplace culture.

Give yourself a holiday gift by exploring open positions at a workplace with a positive and supportive culture, strong benefits package and a generous sign on bonus! Contact Patrice Berry, HR Recruiter, at with questions, or if you are unable to attend the event but would like more information.

(PRO TIP: Get a jump on the application process by viewing open positions and uploading your employment documents at

at Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Family Finds Support from Parent Educator During One of Life’s Most Difficult Times


The bond between a parent educator and a caregiver is special. Ethel Gallaher first met Porter-Leath Parent Educator, Angela Lee, when she visited the house to meet with Mrs. Gallaher’s daughter, Sharonda Carruthers and two grandsons, D’Kylynn and DeLynn. 

Sharonda enrolled her family into Porter-Leath Cornerstone in 2019 to help her two little boys prepare for Kindergarten. Cornerstone pairs caregivers with parent educators who use an evidence-based curriculum called Parents as Teachers to offer support in building positive parent-child interaction and to ensure children meet developmental milestones. When Sharonda’s work schedule prevented her from attending the bimonthly home visits with Angela, Mrs. Gallaher stepped in as their caregiver, so that the boys could continue to benefit from the program’s services. 

As a former educator, Mrs. Gallaher knew that her grandsons would benefit from practicing foundational learning skills and loved that Porter-Leath was willing to come to her home. She explained, “Growing up, I wish I had this kind of program for myself with my mom, so doing it for the kids, it has been really helpful to me to keep them motivated.” The youngest brother, D’Kylynn, is also on the autism spectrum, so Angela brought Mrs. Gallaher tools and resources that could help him develop positive social skills. 

Sadly, in May 2021, the boys mother, Sharonda, passed away from COVID-19 at age 42, and Mrs. Gallaher and her husband become the primary caregivers for the two boys. Angela partnered with the family to survive a very difficult time. She helped Mrs. Gallaher navigate new technology when the boys had online learning and ensured the boys had access to age-appropriate toys, school supplies, books, and even grief counseling. 

D’Kylynn and DeLynn - now ages 4 and 6 years old - continue to live with their grandparents and look forward to seeing what new activity or lesson ‘Ms. Lee’ might bring on her next visit. Beautifully, Mrs. Gallaher and Angela have developed a tight bond, communicating regularly to talk about the boys, life, and how Porter-Leath can offer continued support. As the boys age out of the program, she intends on staying in touch with Angela to report on the the boys’ progress. Mrs. Gallaher counts Angela among her family members, which is high praise coming from a woman who feircely loves her family! 

If you or someone you know might benefit from home visitation serices, visit Porter-Leath Cornerstone at to learn more and reach out!

at Wednesday, November 17, 2021

NEXT Memphis Welcomes Second Cohort of Childcare Centers

MEMPHIS, Tennessee – NEXT Memphis, an initiative of Porter-Leath, announces its newest cohort with the addition of twelve childcare centers that will participate in its shared services program model. The cohort will join a network of standout centers that will directly increase educational outcomes for children, family-level outcomes for parents, business viability, and overall childcare center quality. Participating centers are:


All participating centers were selected based upon rigorous evaluation of existing practices, as well as having demonstrable passion for children and families, willingness to innovate and alter business paradigms, established history in serving high need neighborhoods, and in-depth viewpoints and approaches to excellence.

“NEXT Memphis welcomes its second cohort of excellent childcare centers with enthusiasm. The leaders at each of these partners represent some of the most passionate, and community-driven minds in our city. We are honored to support them as they do the great work of preparing children for Kindergarten, and supporting families with the care and resources needed to thrive,” said Chloe Moore, NEXT Memphis Program Director.

The new partners join NEXT Memphis’ inaugural childcare partners including: Gateway Learning Academy, Hope House Daycare, I-Rise Christian Academy, KIDazzle Child Care, Lambs & Ivy, Perea Preschool, Yale Road Learning Center, and Calvary Place Child Care Center. NEXT Memphis will continue to grow serving an estimated 4,000 children and families by 2022.

NEXT Memphis Background
NEXT Memphis was developed as a shared-service program model that helps independent childcare providers reduce costs and improve outcomes so that they can direct more of their attention and resources to the classroom and families. The initiative draws on Porter-Leath’s experience of helping ensure that more children enter kindergarten ready to learn, that more families are thriving, and that childcare professionals have the resources and care they need to grow in their profession. Through NEXT Memphis, families have access to wraparound services, helping parents set and achieve goals and connecting them with community resources.

Learn more about NEXT Memphis at

A Long Journey to Success for a Former Sarah’s Place Youth

At the young age of 15, Cristen was placed into Porter-Leath’s Sarah’s Place program. Cristen’s turn-around success story can inspire anyone who has faced hardship in life. Before coming to Sarah’s Place, Cristen was in junior high and began to sell drugs in order to help his mother pay the bills. Eventually, his mother was evicted, leaving Cristen homeless and searching for friends to stay with for days at a time. After getting into a car accident that put him in the hospital, Cristen began a short path that led him to Sarah’s Place for a 6-month stay. Sarah’s Place turned Cristen in the direction of a successful life through independent living programs and the job development programs, while Cristen was simultaneously able to earn several certifications, such as his GED. When interviewed about how Porter-Leath and Sarah’s Place affected his life Cristen said, “Because of the tools given to me at Porter-Leath, I’ve never been arrested, and I’ve always kept employment and a roof over my head.” Cristen has now found his passion in the food & restaurant business where he is currently working to expand his skills and saving to open his own business. Cristen’s goal is to use his experience to inspire and mentor children that are in the same situation he was able to grow from to become the successful man he is today. 

Porter-Leath Foster Grandparent Makes Impact through Time Spent Volunteering

“Listen to your teacher, and listen to  your parents. I love you all, and I’ll see you tomorrow!” This is how Maxine Nolan leaves her classroom of 22 children at John P. Freeman Optional School after every day. She is an AmeriCorps Seniors volunteer and spends her weekdays connecting with children and mentoring them to help build confidence and life skills. 

Five years ago after retiring from a local hospital, Mrs. Nolan became an AmeriCorps Seniors volunteer through Porter-Leath’s Generations program, and has relished every minute of her experience. 

Monday through Friday, she serves in a classroom of students she calls “her children,” and cheerfully assists the teacher each day, talking with the children and offering them words of encouragement. She found that some children just need some attention, and she is more than happy to give them hers through her reassuring words and hugs. 

Volunteering isn’t new to Mrs. Nolan. As she explains, “I’ve always volunteered. My grandmother volunteered too, so it’s just in my genes.” Like her grandmother, Mrs. Nolan passes down her love for volunteering to others. She gathers friends and family to volunteer downtown at Thanksgiving. 

Since her children are all grown and have moved to other cities, she looks forward to seeing “her children” in the classroom. She says that it brightens her day, and she likes to return the favor by greeting students with a cheerful smile and a “Good morning!” when they arrive for class. However, what is most rewarding to Mrs. Nolan is the chance to see how students mature in behavior and academic skills from the beginning to the end of the school year. It fills her heart with joy to hear them show respect by using the magic words like “excuse me,” “thank you”, and “please,” and to see them master tying their own shoe after the many lessons she has given them. 

These brief moments help her know that she has made an impact on the next generation. “I won’t forget these children, and I’m quite sure they won’t forget me!”

at Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Enrollment, Employment and Education Extravaganza

Porter-Leath will host a series of student and employee recruitment fairs:

Sept. 21st - Porter-Leath Early Childhood Center | American Way
4207 American Way, Memphis, TN 38118
5:00 - 7:00 PM

Sept. 27st - Benjamin L. Hooks Library
3030 Poplar Ave, Memphis, TN 38111
2:00 - 6:00 PM

Oct. 8th - Porter-Leath Early Childhood Academy | Frayser
3060 Baskin, Memphis, TN 38127
3:00 - 7:00 PM

Porter-Leath is seeking teachers, assistant teachers, and family service workers. Candidates will be eligible for sign-on bonuses starting at $750 for full-time positions and $250 for part-time positions. Benefits include competitive salaries, medical, dental and vision insurance plans, career advancement opportunities, an employer match to 401k contributions, and a team-based work environment. Candidates should arrive masked and professionally dressed, with a resumé, and be prepared for an onsite interview should they qualify for a position. To view current job openings, please visit

Porter-Leath Preschool is enrolling children ages 2 to 4 years old for high-quality early childhood education at five locations in Memphis. In addition to competitive tuition rates, Porter-Leath Preschool accepts DHS Child Care certificates. Early Childhood staff will be on hand to answer questions about services offered, and to walk caregivers through enrollment. To learn more about Porter-Leath Preschool visit

The recruitment event will also host ShotRx who will be administering COVID vaccines and the Delta Health Alliance to help educate and share facts about COVID-19 vaccines.
at Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Memphis Opportunity Scholarship Trust Announces Porter-Leath as Partner School

Memphis Opportunity Scholarship Trust (MOST) is announcing Porter-Leath as a partner school and a new option for future MOST scholarship students. Students who receive scholarships through MOST and graduate from Porter-Leath Preschool can carry the scholarship forward to their next school. 

“Porter-Leath’s attentiveness to early childhood learning translates into their students going on to excel in Kindergarten through 12th grades. We are proud to add them to our fantastic list of partner schools and look forward to watching the students succeed,” said Abbey Cowens, Executive Director of Memphis Opportunity Scholarship Trust.

“Porter-Leath is extremely honored to work with such an incredible and like-minded organization as MOST. Both of our missions run toward a common goal of providing access to quality education. This is just another way that Porter-Leath is living its promise to help provide the best early childhood experience to every child, regardless of zip code or income. This collaboration will deliver a positive impact for children, their families, and their future education,” said Karen Harrell, Porter-Leath Senior Vice President of Early Childhood Services.

Together, MOST and Porter-Leath will give children’s families an opportunity that might not have been available without this partnership, and will ensure children receive high-quality education beginning in preschool.

About Memphis Opportunity Scholarship Trust
Memphis Opportunity Scholarship Trust (MOST) believes that every child deserves an equal opportunity to receive the education that best fits their needs. By providing need-based scholarships, MOST strives to help bridge the educational gap in Memphis.
at Monday, September 20, 2021

Porter-Leath to Host Two-Day Employee Recruitment Fair

MEMPHIS, Tennessee – Porter-Leath recently announced that it will host an employee recruitment fair on Thursday, August 5, and Friday, August 6. Porter-Leath is seeking teachers and non-instructional staff to provide high-quality education and social services to children and families in Memphis. Porter-Leath has an immediate need for new team members to fill openings in administration, Early Head Start, NEXT Memphis, preschool, and social services.

Porter-Leath’s mission is empowering children and families to achieve a healthy, optimal and independent lifestyle. Its professional team brings vital early childhood resources and family services to local children, educators and families. Porter-Leath offers competitive salaries, professional development plans, career advancement opportunities, 401k and a team-based work environment. A sign-on bonus is also available for open positions.

The job fair is Thursday, August 5, from 2pm-6pm, and Friday, August 6, from 10am-2pm at Porter-Leath, 3400 Prescott Road; 38118. Candidates should arrive masked and professionally dressed, with a resumé, and be prepared for an onsite interview should they qualify for a position. For more information, email Patrice Berry at

Recognized as a Top Mid-Size Workplace by WorkplaceDynamics and The Commercial Appeal, Porter-Leath offers team members the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of children and families on a daily basis.

For other job openings, please visit

at Monday, August 2, 2021

Porter-Leath Encourages Community to Foster Love this June

Porter-Leath is seeking foster parents who can provide safe and loving homes for children from unstable environments. Children qualify for foster care when they have been removed from their home due to neglect, abuse, homelessness or other challenges.

Currently, there are over 8,800 children in Tennessee’s foster care system – 1,100 of which are here in Shelby County. Foster parents can help children maintain vital connections and often keep sibling groups together. The greatest need is with teenagers.

“Foster parents can provide stability during difficult times in children’s lives,” said Porter-Leath’s President, Sean Lee. “We need more individuals and families who are willing to open their homes and provide Shelby County children the care and safety they need to thrive.”

Since its inception in 1850, Porter-Leath has cared for children without stable families, while continually broadening its programs to fill the community’s needs. The primary goals of Porter-Leath’s foster care program are children’s health, safety, and permanency achieved through either reunification with biological family or adoption.

Once an applicant has been approved, they will complete TN KEY (Knowledge Empowers You). KEY is Porter-Leath’s training program to help meet the needs of foster children, understand their feelings of loss, and identify parenting strategies for success. To learn more about how to become a Porter-Leath foster parent, please contact Lisa Arnold by calling (901) 577-2500 ext. 1179.

at Monday, June 14, 2021

Porter-Leath Continues Preschool Programming after Shelby County Schools Destroys Nationally-Renowned Early Childhood Education Partnership

MEMPHIS, Tennessee – Porter-Leath will continue providing preschool services for children and families in the upcoming school year, while SCS chooses to absorb additional dollars that could be used to support children and families. SCS has continually decreased Head Start funding available to Porter-Leath, making continued operations in Porter-Leath centers using Head Start resources impossible without significant cuts that would diminish quality and increase risks to health and safety for children, families, and staff. Despite ongoing negotiations, Porter-Leath learned on a statewide phone call from SCS staff that the District will end the partnership at the conclusion of the current contract, which ends June 30, 2021.

Porter-Leath Preschool will continue to use its high-quality programming model and structure. Eligible families will be able to access State of Tennessee Department of Human Services resources—and for the first time, Porter-Leath Preschool will also be open to any family with preschool-age children at the following locations:

  • American Way Preschool & Early Head Start (4207 American Way) - 170 children 
  • Cottonwood Preschool (5221 Cottonwood Road) - 156 children
  • Early Childhood Academy (628 Alice Avenue) - 142 children
  • Early Childhood Academy in Frayser (3060 Baskin Street) - 170 children
  • Frayser Preschool and Early Head Start (3274 Range Line Road) - 88 children
  • Porter-Leath and University of Memphis Early Childhood Academy (opens January 2022) - 268 children

The Porter-Leath and SCS partnership solidified Shelby County as a national leader in providing high-quality early childhood services. Accomplishments include $49.5M in private funding raised by Porter-Leath for the construction of four state-of-the-art Early Childhood Academies along with increased school readiness results, with end-of-year scores now consistently in the 72% to 82% range vs. 61% prior to the start of the Head Start partnership in 2014. Porter-Leath was commended in a national statement by then-Director of Head Start Dr. Deborah Bergeron, for its partnerships across Early Head Start, Head Start, and Child Care Partnerships as a leading example in the United States. 

Porter-Leath elevated early childhood outcomes in Shelby County by creating and implementing the Teacher Excellence Program (TEP) in 2017 to improve the skills and teaching practices of educators, including SCS teachers and teachers in local preschools and childcare classrooms. Private funds were raised by Porter-Leath in 2020 to allow each TEP Instructional Coach to obtain their Certificate in Early Education Leadership from the Zaentz Professional Learning Academy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Porter-Leath raised $160,000 to conduct community-wide research of the early childhood workforce by Bellwether Education Partners. The research informs long-term strategies to attract more professionals into early childhood positions in Memphis. Porter-Leath connected Memphis with numerous national partnerships to meet children’s developmental, physical and emotional needs. Partnerships include Momentous Institute, LENA, and Sesame Street in Communities which provide evidence-based resources, strategies and support for educators and caregivers. 

SCS’s total Head Start grant has increased from $20.1M in 2014 to $25.6M today and the District has discretion on how to spend it to meet Head Start standards. Over the last seven years, Porter-Leath's Head Start grant has fallen $701,000 while SCS' budget for Head Start has increased $4.5M. This means that SCS has kept a rising amount of the Head Start funding for administration of the grant while shorting services and vital resources for families.

“We were not included in the Reimagine 901 Plan by the District, but had responded to three issued, then canceled, RFPs from the District. We remained in negotiations with SCS, including Superintendent Dr. Ray directly, and were appalled to learn indirectly of the District’s move on a statewide phone call this morning,” said Sean Lee, Porter-Leath President. SCS is walking away from millions of dollars of private investment in infrastructure and quality improvement, but Porter-Leath will continue to utilize those investments to serve families going forward. We know that the best place for children and families is with Porter-Leath.”

Porter-Leath Board of Directors Chair, Jason Dombroksi shared “This is a disappointing development in light of the seven years of what we believed to be partnership and after Porter-Leath’s dedicated efforts to bring capital and innovation to Shelby County’s investment in early childhood services. Despite lack of communication, engagement, and professionalism from SCS, we are committed to serving children and families using our proven best-practices in early childhood education.” 

Porter-Leath Response to SCS Press Release Issued Thursday, June 10th:

  • The annual Porter-Leath contract services 3200 children under the Head Start contract: 1520 in full service, and 1680 in wraparound services. This can be verified by Porter-Leath’s contract with the District. Additionally, Porter-Leath serves 600 children through Fund I and 120 children through VPK.

  • Porter-Leath requested the true cost of services for Head Start. Over time, Porter-Leath’s reimbursement contract with SCS has declined, while SCS has absorbed federal increases, with no difference in number of children served or scope of services. The total grant has increased to $25.6M, while Porter-Leath’s share has decreased from $16.7M to $16.03M since 2014. The number of children served by the grant has remained the same each year:

  • Porter-Leath is not offering fewer services. The only change in service proposed was that SCS would pay health care providers instead of Porter-Leath. Porter-Leath would continue to coordinate health services.

  • There will be a major disruption of services for children and families, as SCS will immediately lose five centers owned or leased by Porter-Leath that serve 1,000 children and families each year.

  • Porter-Leath agrees that SCS is out of compliance with Head Start and was trying to help bring the District into compliance. SCS treated Porter-Leath as a subrecipient of HHS funds and is thus obligated to pay Porter-Leath’s federally approved indirect cost rate. Head Start standards require SCS to pay Porter-Leath’s federally approved indirect cost rate of 13.4%. SCS agreed to fund this percentage, but required equal cuts elsewhere in the budget to maintain the total overall cost.

  • SCS Pre-K Growth outcomes represent results achieved directly by Porter-Leath for 3920 children, who are included in the 5,600 children cited by SCS:

    • Separately, Instructional Support gains are the result of Porter-Leath’s Teacher Excellence Program investments, which provides practice-based coaching and evidence-based support for early childhood educators.

Porter-Leath Statement on Head Start Compliance

Porter-Leath is focused on providing a high quality early childhood option for children. While doing so, we also must correct the record being given around compliance.

The compliance issue mentioned by SCS during negotiations with Porter-Leath and agreed to by Porter-Leath's attorney was solely with the way SCS created the contract with Porter-Leath. SCS chose from 2014-2021 to treat Porter-Leath as a contractor when it was actually a federal subrecipient. The audit referenced in media reports was a District-hired consultant who audited the District's contract (not Porter-Leath) and determined SCS was out of compliance with its contract. While both parties agreed that the contract was out of compliance, there was not agreement on the method the District proposed to fix their noncompliance, which was to first eliminate many positions and indirect costs and then to limit them to only 3.6%. This left too large a quality gap that we would have to fund raise for Porter-Leath to say yes to the offer. Prior statements about Porter-Leath being the sole cause of the District having to recompete for the grant in 2019 are also not accurate to the District's own 2015 report to the SCS Board indicating nine (9) total Grantee deficiences and four (4) additional non-compliance items - all 13 of which were in SCS owned facilities. 

Porter-Leath was an excellent partner for Shelby County Schools throughout the seven years as evidenced by the District's efforts to first award Porter-Leath the Head Start RFP and then spend days attempting to negotiate a new contract. To state now that somehow Porter-Leath's performance was not up to standard is unfortunate and unfounded.

Porter-Leath's Next Steps

Porter-Leath is proud to continue serving the Memphis community using its innovative and research-based best practices.

All children and families deserve access to high-quality early childhood services, and that is exactly what Porter-Leath has proven it can deliver. As Shelby County Schools continues to repeat the same inaccurate statements and disrupt families, Porter-Leath stands by the information and facts that we have previously shared and is currently enrolling families for the upcoming academic year. 

Porter-Leath’s quality and outcomes are indisputable and our preschool sites are prepared for an outstanding school year beginning in August. Staff members look forward to seeing next year’s students and would love to host any family who is looking for the best preschool option for their two to four year old child on a tour of our locations. To enroll your child, please visit or call 901-577-2500 x 1146.

at Thursday, June 10, 2021

A Commitment to Infant Mental Health

As the Early Success Coalition works to build the capacity of the early childhood workforce, a key priority is advancing the understanding of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health through professional development for healthcare providers, early childhood educators, childcare providers and home visitors. 
Infants and very young children are all too often left out of conversations around mental health, but early experiences and environments can affect emotional well-being across a lifespan. Exposure to toxic stress can have a disruptive impact on a young child’s brain, resulting in the potential for lifelong physical and mental health issues. 

The Early Success Coalition takes a number of different approaches to address needs related to early mental well-being. To address the shortage of healthcare providers who are trained in infant and early childhood mental health practices we provide workshops and advocate for the integration of these practices into a wide range of environments that reach young children and their families.  o advance knowledge of best practices in infant mental health, we have also provided over 50 hours of training this year for teachers, home visitors, and childcare providers, who often work in conjunction with parent and young children.

Early identification and intervention can mitigate the negative effects of toxic stress and promote better outcomes, so we partner with pediatric clinics to provide screenings for key factors that affect early emotional health, such as positive parent-child relationships. 

We provide childcare centers, pediatric clinics, and home visiting programs with social-emotional resources that can be distributed to parents to assist them in creating a positive environment that fosters healthy child development. Through these methods, we are working hard to ensure that all children experience safe and nurturing relationships to promote positive mental health.

Visit to learn more about the work of the Early Success Coalition  and its members or contact Kellie Mitchell, Early Success Coalition Director at

Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth Recognizes Porter-Leath Staff member with the Jim Pryor Child Advocacy Award

The Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth honored several Tennesseans this week for their efforts on behalf of children.

Awards were presented at the agency’s annual Children’s Advocacy Days event, which serves as an opportunity for children’s advocates, service providers and others to come together to listen to speakers, leaders and peers who share the goal of improving outcomes for children, youth and families.

Of the five honorees that were recognized, one was from Porter-Leath! Sandra Allen, a founding board member and former president of the Association of Infant Mental Health in Tennessee, was awarded the Jim Pryor Child Advocacy award. Allen serves as the senior adviser to the Early Success Coalition.

Recordings from the 2021 event can be found at

at Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Opening Soon: New Early Childhood Academy in Frayser

Porter-Leath to host virtual Grand Opening on March 26

MEMPHIS, Tennessee – Porter-Leath is proud to announce the upcoming opening of its newest Early Childhood Academy which will house preschool children ages six weeks to five and Porter-Leath’s Teacher Excellence Program. Made possible by community partners committed to high-quality early education for all Shelby County children regardless of ZIP code, the Early Childhood Academy in Frayser is a state-of-the-art preschool and teacher training institute that will provide comprehensive early childhood education and support for 248 students, as well as professional training and development for preschool teachers and early childhood educators in the area. A virtual ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held on March 26 at 10 am and will be livestreamed to Porter-Leath’s Facebook page ( and YouTube channel.

"We are excited to celebrate the grand opening of our newest Early Childhood Academy in Frayser,” said Sean Lee, President of Porter-Leath. “This incredible space continues our model that brings together the very best people, programming and partners to improve the lives of children and their families throughout Shelby County.”

More About the Early Childhood Academy in Frayser

Built by Flintco and designed by national early learning facility specialist RDG Planning and Design, the 16-classroom, 35,501-square-foot facility will serve 248 students as the second in a series of four new early childhood academies. Like the first Early Childhood Academy in South Memphis opened in 2017, the Early Childhood Academy in Frayser is a model of excellence for the education of young children, weaving local culture, history and geography into safe, inviting spaces that encourage play and exploration. Its child-friendly architecture utilizes natural light, musical elements, lush landscapes and bright colors that enrich learning opportunities.

Children who enter Kindergarten on track to achieve grade-level reading by the third are nearly five times more likely to graduate high school. The Academy’s programming is built on evidence-based Early Head Start and Head Start models that are bolstered by supportive wraparound services and training programming to ensure Kindergarten readiness. The result is the highest-quality preschool setting for area children and families.

Academy Location:
3060 Baskin Street,
Memphis, TN 38127

The Teacher Excellence Program

The Early Childhood Academy in Frayser will include a laboratory teacher training center to equip early childhood educators with valuable skills that enhance teacher effectiveness, increase student achievement, and maximize classroom and family engagement. Developed in partnership with Shelby County Schools, the Teacher Excellence Program will use the expanded space in Frayser to further its mission of providing high-quality professional development and coaching for preschool teachers at Porter-Leath as well as for teachers throughout Shelby County—including Shelby County Schools, the Achievement School District, First 8, charter operators and private day home/care operators.

In addition to classroom learning, mentorship and lectures from guest speakers, a team of highly-trained Relief Teachers will be used to relieve Teachers in classrooms so that they can attend intensive professional development at the newest academy. Resources for the Teacher Excellence Program at the Early Childhood Academy in Frayser will include a training center, observation bays, and audio/video technology.

Executive Leadership

  • Sean Lee: President
  • Karen Harrell: Senior Vice President of Early Childhood Services
  • Dr. Kelley Nichols: Vice President of Teacher Excellence
  • Towanda Peete-Smith: Head Start Director
  • Sheronda Smith: Early Head Start Director

Other Early Childhood Academy Locations

Along with its newest location in the Frayser neighborhood, Porter-Leath’s Early Childhood Program also oversees the operation of its original Early Childhood Academy—opened in 2017—at 628 Alice Avenue, Memphis, TN 38106.

Two additional Early Childhood Academies are anticipated to open by 2022, each incorporating the Teacher Excellence Program and designed to empower children and families to achieve healthy, optimal and independent lifestyles.

Porter-Leath Expands Successful Cornerstone Program to Fayette County

Service supports young families with evidence-based Parents as Teachers (PAT) curriculum

Porter-Leath is excited to announce that its Cornerstone program is now available to families in Fayette County. Using the evidence-based Parents as Teachers (PAT) curriculum, Cornerstone is an early childhood visitation program that works directly with prenatal mothers, as well as families with children from birth to age 5. Certified Parent Educators meet with caregivers and families twice a month to give newborns and preschool children the best start in life by providing educational and developmentally appropriate activities and tools.

“We are thrilled to bring the Cornerstone program to families in Fayette County,” said Kim Thomas, Cornerstone Manager. “The services this program provides have been a proven difference-maker in the lives of parents and young children.” By helping parents become their child’s first teacher, the program builds healthy caregiver-child relationships, and enables families to support the physical, mental and emotional development of their child. 

The bi-monthly visits are voluntary, provided at no cost to families and are currently available in a virtual format. The curriculum includes topics such as preventative health, healthy parenting practices and self-sufficiency. The program also provides monthly caregiver meetings to give parents an opportunity to network with other families and learn more about community resources.

Learn more at To enroll, contact Kim Thomas at or (901) 577-2500 ext. 1019

at Thursday, March 4, 2021

Porter-Leath Announces New CFO: Nonprofit Veteran Paul Makris

MEMPHIS, Tennessee – Porter-Leath, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering children and families, is proud to welcome Paul Makris to the organization as its new Chief Financial Officer. “We are thrilled to welcome Paul to the team.” said Sean Lee, President of Porter-Leath. “His business acumen and commitment to nonprofit work make him a perfect fit for our organization.”

Paul Makris named new CFO of Porter-Leath

With 15 years as a C-level executive and 13 years in nonprofit leadership, Makris brings passion and know-how that will be instrumental to Porter-Leath’s mission and continued organizational growth. Holding an MBA and a BSBA from the University of Arkansas, he is the former CFO of West Cancer Center PC. Makris also served as CFO at Christ Community Health Services and CFO and Executive Director of Operations at Christ United Methodist Church.

“It is an honor to be joining a nonprofit institution that provides high-quality resources and services for local children and families,” said Paul Makris. “I am excited to support Porter-Leath’s mission and contribute to its legacy of success.”

Porter-Leath is a $44M agency with 660 employees, which serves 50,000+ children and families each year. Its finance team maintains fully funded programs through budgeting, accounting and reporting of public and private resources. As CFO, Makris will play a key role in sustaining services by managing complex revenue streams and providing strategic financial management for the agency.

at Thursday, February 11, 2021

United Way of the Mid South Offers Free Tax Prep in Collaboration with Le Boneheur and Early Success Coalition

Beginning Monday, January 18, United Way of the Mid-South will launch our 19th year of our Free Tax Preparation program, in conjunction with the IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.  We will again prepare and file taxes -- for free -- for low-to-moderate income families. Providing IRS-certified tax preparers, our Free Tax Prep program helps eligible Mid-Southerners -- individuals and families whose household income was below $57,000 in 2020 -- take advantage of every applicable deduction, like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).  Helping customers achieve economic mobility, a goal of our United Way, our Free Tax Prep program allows individuals to have additional dollars to use at their discretion, by passing up private and commercial tax preparers with huge fees, by paying nothing to get assistance with filing, and by receiving and keeping the entire amount of their refunds.   

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic last spring and in consideration of the health and well-being of both tax preparers and tax filers seeking help with their tax returns, United Way of the Mid-South innovated its process to minimize face-to-face tax preparation, by implementing a creative, low-risk alternative - a Drive-Thru Drop-Off solution. Having received national recognition from the IRS Commissioner and United Way Worldwide, this same method will be used for the 2021 tax season. Filers can walk or drive through Free Tax Prep locations and receive quality tax preparation and assistance with how to best utilize their refunds.

“Economic mobility is a pivotal factor in addressing generational poverty,” said Rev. Kenneth S. Robinson, M.D., President and CEO, United Way of the Mid-South. “So, it’s important that Mid-Southerners understand how to file their taxes correctly to ensure they get the most out of their returns, especially when an even larger portion of our community is facing financial hardship during the pandemic. More than ever, our United Way feels compelled to help our neighbors avoid predatory fees, claim maximal tax credits, and keep every dollar they receive in refunds. No doubt, this will truly assist low-to-moderate income families in moving “from where they are to where they dream to be.”

This year, United Way of the Mid-South is partnering with Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital and Porter-Leath’s Early Success Coalition on a newly created Tax Impact Project (TIP). TIP will use the combined resources of Le Bonheur, Early Success Coalition and our United Way to reach the largest customer base possible in the Memphis area. By allowing United Way’s Free Tax Prep/VITA program to add additional mobile tax prep sites, the partnership will provide free tax preparation to more individuals who are eligible for EITC and might have used “paid” preparers in prior years, and will increase the number of unduplicated households receiving EITC refunds annually by 2,000 over three years.

“Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital is focused on helping children grow up healthy, safe and well. I am elated that Le Bonheur and our partners are working to ensure families have access to trusted resources and information through Free Tax Prep,” said Michael Wiggins, President and CEO, Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital. “We are committed to helping families learn about and utilize this community resource.”

“The Earned Income Tax Credit has been hailed as one of the most effective anti-poverty policies in American history, and the Early Success Coalition is thrilled to play a part in helping all qualifying Memphians take advantage of this opportunity,” said Kellie Mitchell, Director, Early Success Coalition. “It’s rare to provide a service that puts money directly back in the pockets of local families.  With EITC, we can ensure working parents retain the funds they’ve earned to provide for their children and families at no charge to them.”

United Way’s Free Tax Prep will operate the Drive-Thru (or Walk-Up) Drop-Off model at 23 sites -- five super sites, four mobile sites and 14 partner sites -- where customers can drop off the appropriate documentation and pick up their returns when completed. Filers should bring a photo ID for themselves and their spouses, social security cards and birthdates for themselves, spouses and dependents, all W2s,1099s and information on any other income, total paid to daycare and the daycare’s tax ID number, and account information for direct deposit. If married filing jointly, both spouses must be present. This socially distanced approach provides a safe and effective way for customers to have their taxes filed by a professional with minimal contact.

To learn more, please visit

Early Success Coalition Connects Families with Community Resource Providers

The Early Success Coalition is a collective impact initiative housed at Porter-Leath that promotes shared, evidence-based practices proven to improve early childhood development and school readiness. (Visit to find out what resources your family could receive!)

The Coalition partners with and promotes agencies and organizations in Shelby County, which provide essential services to families that lead to healthy births, safe and nurturing relationships, and positive educational outcomes for children. 

Despite the pandemic, the Coalition provides parenting classes and delivers counseling and social-emotional guidance for parents served by partner healthcare clinics. Connecting to providers virtually, parents can get guidance on topics like developing relationships with their young children, building language development through “serve and return,” and how to manage postpartum depression. 

Mother and daughter spend quality time bonding, while reading one of their favorite stories.
Mother and daughter spend quality time bonding, 
while reading one of their favorite stories. 

The Coalition also continues to raise awareness of home-visiting and center-based programs through a web-based promotional campaign, ensuring that new and expecting parents have access to resources available to help their family thrive. 

But families are not the only recipients of the Early Success Coalition’s work. Since the onset of the pandemic, the Coalition has also offered over 50 hours of free virtual training to early childhood professionals across Shelby County, strengthening their knowledge and services. 

By connecting over 70 members, representing pediatric and family providers, nonprofit organizations, education systems, and governmental agencies, the Early Success Coalition is able to lift up the work of these agencies and ensure families know about the community resources available to them, especially during these challenging times. 

Parent Educators Find New Ways to Connect with Parents and Caregivers During the Pandemic

The hallmark of Porter-Leath’s Cornerstone program is the connection that parents and families have with their parent educator. Each parent educator has a caseload of 20 families who receive personalized check-in meetings. Families also enroll knowing that they can contact their parent educator at any time with a question or need that may arise between meetings. 

Porter-Leath parent educators transformed their services during the pandemic, while keeping an eye on their goal of preparing caregivers to raise strong families. The check-ins moved online or over the phone, and monthly group connection meetings continue with a few twists! 

Through their virtual visits, parent educators discovered families’ need for social interaction and preschool or kindergarten readiness tools for their children. This September, the Cornerstone program hosted a Drive-Thru Group Connection Parade. “The event helped us formally meet families that enrolled during the pandemic and to see and maintain a connection with our families who have been in the program over the last year or so,” reflected Kim Thomas, Cornerstone Supervisor. 

Parent Educator, Yolanda Touray (Right), and
Cornerstone Supervisor, Kim Thomas (Left)
await families for their first drive-thru event. 

During the drive-thru event parent educators had a quick, face-to-face greeting and provided the families with tools and resources from their evidence-based curriculum, Parents as Teachers. They shared information like ways to keep families healthy through nutritious meals and tips for how to create age specific routines for their children. 

Porter-Leath also gave each child under 5 years old tangible items so caregivers could enhance their parent-child interactions at home and help the child reach developmental milestones in four key areas: cognitive, social-emotional, language and motor skills. For example, children six months and younger received soft washable books, wrist rattles, mats for tummy time, while two and three year old children received lacing/ threading toys, and doodle boards to practice their fine motor skills through writing and drawing. 

The parade garnered such positive feedback that the parent educators hosted another drive-thru event in October. Rather than have parents or children wear costumes for halloween, the parent educators greeted families as their favorite children’s book characters and shared information on early childhood literacy. Families had a blast trying to guess the characters and hearing more about the key messages from each educator’s chosen book! 

Parent Educator, Angela Lee dressed up for her families as her favorite children’s book, Ladybug Girl and the Rescue Dogs by David Soman and Jacky Davis!

Parent Educator, Angela Lee dressed up for
her families as her favorite children’s book,
Ladybug Girl and the Rescue Dogs by David Soman and Jacky Davis!

Easy As 1, 2, 3: A parent’s perspective on what makes Porter-Leath special

Myrika Williford took her volunteer role on Porter-Leath’s Preschool Parent Council seriously. As a representative for Early Head Start, Myrika provided feedback from parents to the site manager and worked collaboratively with members of the council and Porter-Leath staff to make decisions that affect the Preschool Program. 

She is also on a mission to educate parents on why it is important to volunteer in their child’s classroom and to recruit new families to enroll in Porter-Leath. 

“I encourage parents to look into Porter-Leath because they have a lot to offer. I tell parents, it is not a daycare, it is a school. We do it the Porter-Leath way, meaning that the kids don’t play all day they learn!” she said. She even created a video of the classroom, so that parents could see their child’s routine. “Parents see their child engaging in the class and are excited to say ‘That’s my child!” she explained. 

Myrika’s children are her personal proof that high-quality early childhood education works. She has three daughters - Rayn, Trinity, and Autumn - one in Early Head Start and two in Head Start at Porter-Leath. 

“My oldest daughter, Autumn, sat down with me one day and asked to read a book,” Myrika described “but before reading the book she stops me and says ‘Mom, look at the cover of the book. The author is the person who writes the book and the illustrator is the person who draws the pictures.’ I couldn’t believe that was coming out of her mouth!” 

The next time she volunteered in the classroom, she recognized Autumn was modeling behavior from her teacher’s process of reading with the class. 

Myrika shared that the consistent high quality of teachers and administration at the different Porter-Leath sites have given her confidence that her children are cared for and that they will be prepared for kindergarten. She has even noticed that Autumn and Trinity have become more independent and will teach Rayn things they learned at school. Amazed, she explained, “If I teach Autumn something new she becomes so excited she will turn to Trinity and will say ‘okay now, we need to focus’ and I can tell she wants to help her sisters grow.” Additionally, Myrika praised Porter-Leath for assigning family service workers to help parents set and reach goals. “My family service worker is awesome,” Myrika exclaimed “She provides counsel and checks on me mentally, physically, emotionally to make sure I can give my best to my girls.” 

Myrika’s key piece of advice to parents regarding Preschool: “Do not hold your child back. You will be amazed at what your child can do once you give them an opportunity to go to school. And I would say check out Porter-Leath, of course!” 

Brianna Stewart: A Books from Birth Graduate’s Perspective on Reading and Learning

The Stewart family readily admits that reading is just part of their routine. Like packing their lunches for the next day or placing their backpacks by the door, the Stewart girls know that they can count on choosing a book to read with their parents before bedtime. Ebonye Stewart shared that these brief times of connection is particularly helpful to her as she raises her oldest daughter, Brianna. “Reading is a time when we are actually able to sit down for a few minutes and bond as a family,” she explained.

“If I know something is on her mind, I will let her pick out a book and as we read the story, I can ask her questions which segue into learning about what she might be thinking.”
Brianna, a third grader, is a voracious reader. She described why reading early in life has been beneficial as she continues to grow and learn. “It was important for me to read early because it prepared me for school and chapter books and homework. I read for twenty minutes before I go to bed and it is part of my routine,” she remarked.
Ebonye attributed her daughter’s love of books and academic success to reading with Brianna beginning at birth. This routine was supported as Brianna received monthly books
from Porter-Leath’s Books from Birth Program.

Brianna said that it was special to receive the various books that were addressed to her. She now reads with her younger sister, Bailey. She points out pictures and shapes just as Ebonye did with her, and helps Bailey sound out unfamiliar words. Brianna even shares some of her favorite books from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, including The Mine-o-saur and Madeline, which in her words, “gives a valuable lesson that sharing is caring.”

Ebonye has seen first hand as both her daughters continue to evolve into strong readers and students. In fact, one of her proudest parent memories was a few years ago when Brianna read and tracked her reading time all summer. At the end of the summer, Brianna had read for so many hours that she was invited to a special children’s reception in Nashville to meet the former Governor and Mrs. Haslam in their home. Ebonye’s advice to parents of young readers would be to figure out a topic your child loves and find a book about it. She added, “Reading is everything! If it is science, if it is math, whatever the subject is you can find a book that interest your children and that will really help them grow.”

Now, Brianna sets goals for herself using her school’s Accelerated Reader program. She challenges herself with longer chapter books and multi-book series. While the Stewart family continues their tradition of reading before bed, they also make time to give back to the Books from Birth Program with their time and financial gifts. “There are a lot of great organizations in Memphis, but this particular one is just so important,” Ebonye stressed. “The ability for children to have access to early literacy tools … can help them increase vocabulary, reading comprehension and if you can read, you can make it through a lot of things.” Indeed, reading can take you far in life. In fact, it just may take you to the Governor’s mansion one day!

Former Sarah’s Place Resident Chooses to Face Life Head On

Jamilla Counts did not have an easy childhood growing up in Chicago. She dealt with abuse and trauma, including witnessing the murder of her own mother. These experiences left her filled with anger and frustration. After losing her biological mother, Jamilla was placed with a foster family, including a woman she called “Mama Strong.” Mama Strong took Jamilla in and eventually they moved to Memphis.

Jamilla’s new home had structure and love, and gave her the opportunity to help in the family business, but she still felt like something was missing inside. Consequently, Jamilla ran away from her foster home when she was a teenager. This rebellion led her to be placed in the state’s custody and housed at Porter-Leath in what is now called Sarah’s Place, a residential facility that provides a safe and nurturing environment, and therapeutic services to children experiencing troubled times.

During her time at Sarah’s Place, Jamilla learned what she calls “survival skills,” and received counseling. She learned responsibility through daily chores; she earned an allowance and learned about budgeting; she even practiced independence by cooking for herself. Her favorite thing to cook was Rice Krispies® Treats, which she still loves!

Jamilla remembered one counselor with whom she felt most comfortable sharing her struggles. This counselor always gave her full attention to Jamilla. A behavior Jamilla mirrored later when she became a substitute teacher. “It’s okay to stop and listen when a child needs your attention because you just might be saving that child’s life,” Jamilla explained.

Jamilla’s experience at Porter-Leath taught her internal strength, good choices, and what she calls “not getting in the way of your own success.” Today, Sarah’s Place continues serving teens and provides individualized treatment plans. Trained counselors provide counseling, as well as training on aggression replacement, self-discipline, and positive relationship building.

Jamilla shares her story, so that individuals struggling with similar trauma can find comfort and hope in connections with others. Jamilla highlighted that, “we must face our demons head-on,” adding, “children must learn at a young age how to address what’s going on inside them – their anger, their frustration, their pain.” She feels that places like Porter-Leath help children release the painful 

Educating the Next Generation: AmeriCorps Member Gains Experience to use in Future Career

Makia Hampton aspires to be a therapist in a local school, so after finishing her bachelor’s degree at the University of Memphis, she looked for ways to gain experience working with children in an educational setting. “My ultimate goal is to some way, somehow prevent people from becoming statistics” she remarked and added that “getting assistance when you are young … can help people avoid risky behavior later in life.” 

As a native Memphian, Makia looks for ways to pour into the people of Shelby County and being part of Porter-Leath’s AmeriCorps class of 2019 has provided clarity for her future profession. As an AmeriCorps member, Makia provides special enrichment services inside Porter-Leath Preschool classrooms. She visits the classrooms at Covington Pike Head Start a few times each week and pulls students who need extra practice on foundational literacy skills like letter recognition, phonics and vocabulary to work with her individually or in small groups. 

This enrichment has proven to be a positive method for helping those students who may lag behind their peers in literacy scores. In fact, results from testing at the end of the academic year (2018-2019) found that nearly all of the 264 students across Early Head Start, Head Start and Pre-K classrooms who received support from AmeriCorps members demonstrated improvement in their language and/or literacy skills throughout the year. Makia reported that providing extra enrichment time can help children build confidence in the classroom. 

The teachers appreciate the AmeriCorps members’ assistance in the classroom and they have been a great resource and source of seasoned advice for Makia. Her experience with AmeriCorps has helped her learn how to measure the temperaments of various children and how to pivot lessons to address their specific needs. “This is the most important time for a child’s growth,” she said. She believes early childhood sets the tone for children’s behavior, demeanor and academic success. 

The living stipend and educational scholarship provided by the AmeriCorps program has helped Makia pay for next semester of graduate school. She is currently studying Psychology in her graduate program at the University of Memphis and wants to pursue her clinical Ph.D. 

Giving Thanks for Volunteers: Lessons from the Foster Grandparent of the Year

“I want children to grow up and know that they are somebody ... that they are important.” This sentiment is just one of the many reasons why Regina Walker volunteered as a Foster Grandparent. Ms. Walker routinely volunteered her time as a Foster Grandparent for many years.  Granny Walker, her newest moniker, was encouraged by a fellow church member to give back and join Porter-Leath's cadre of Foster Grandparents. She was even named Foster Grandparent of the Year at the 2018 Foster Grandparent Recognition luncheon. Walker, who often chooses to quietly observe the class, while helping the teacher cut, fold or organize, described one of her roles as a modeling respect for the teacher. 

When not preparing materials for the class or sorting assignments into students’ folders, Walker enjoyed helping students with their assignments both one-on-one or in small groups. She recounted one special friendship that formed between her and a  student that needed extra help with work. She mentioned to him one day that he was a super star on the computer! After she recognized his aptitude for computers, she found he would ask her for help when he needed it. Granny Walker enjoys giving students trinkets like pencils and erasers for their birthdays. She uses it as a opportunity to teach students about altruism and gratitude. 

Granny Walker, worked for 21 years at Shelby State Community College (now Southwest Tennessee Community College) and then for the University of Memphis. She always wanted to be a teacher but an an aneurysm and a stroke prevented her from finishing the coursework. Walker views her Foster Grandparent work as a second chance to have an impact on children and the classroom. She views her time with the class as a blessing, and stated “there are so many children who don’t have anyone,” adding that she would not trade her time serving students for any other activity. 

*Note: Foster Grandparents have not been able to be physically in the classroom this academic year because of COVID-19, but hope to return in 2021.*

University of Memphis, Porter-Leath, RedZone to break ground in Orange Mound

The University of Memphis and Porter-Leath are partnering to launch a new, innovative Early Childhood Academy located alongside the Orange Mound neighborhood’s RedZone Ministries. The Academy is designed to help address a critical need for early childhood care in the Memphis community.

 Construction and design plans are being finalized with the support of $15 million raised in private contributions. Groundbreaking is scheduled for November 11th.

The partnership will provide a research-based educational facility to serve children ages 6 weeks through 5 years old, where care is most crucial and underprovided in Shelby County. The Early Childhood Academy will feature state-of-the-art research and observation technology, wraparound services for children and families, child-centered and developmentally appropriate spaces for learning and training facilities for current and prospective early childhood practitioners.

“The University is excited to partner with Porter-Leath and RedZone, and we look forward to extending the University further into the Orange Mound community,” said Sally Parish, UofM associate vice president for educational initiatives. “The impact of this project is significant, not only in providing quality early childhood care and wraparound support for children and families in our community, but also on the research, practice and laboratory education it provides for the field of child development, particularly in urban education settings.”

The site will feature 18 classrooms that will serve nearly 300 local children. The site design has been inspired by the community and neighborhood traditions of Orange Mound. Through intentional design, the space should evoke feelings of community and home with unique features like the addition of a front-porch façade on each classroom that opens into a natural playscape designed to promote play-based learning. 

The Academy will also feature works of local artists in its “Main Street” lobby, as a way to highlight the rich artistic and cultural heritage of Orange Mound. An open proposal process inviting local artists to make presentations for consideration in the academy will be announced soon. 

“Through a partnership with the UofM Child Development & Family Studies program, the Early Childhood Academy will provide a state-of-the-art facility to prepare future early care and learning professionals through observations and in-classroom practice as well as experience working with families of young children,” said Dr. Loretta Rudd, UofM clinical associate professor and program coordinator, Child Development & Family Studies. 

“We expect that graduates of the CDFS Early Care and Learning, Early Intervention Specialist and Pre-School and Childcare Administration degree programs will have a significant impact in the profession given their opportunity to observe and train in this world-class facility.”  

Porter-Leath has been dedicated to empowering children and families to achieve a healthy, optimal and independent lifestyle for more than 170 years. The agency now serves more than 10,000 children and families each year through their program focus areas that are designed to meet developmental, health and social needs at the earliest opportunity. 

“Porter-Leath is thrilled to partner with the University of Memphis and RedZone Ministries to not only provide world-class facilities, but also deepen our continuum of support for children and families in the Orange Mound neighborhood,” said Sean Lee, Porter-Leath President. "Families will be supported, children will be prepared for kindergarten success, early childhood teachers will be developed and a vital neighborhood will be strengthened by our partnership.” 

The preschool will serve 48 Early Head Start children and 200 preschool-aged children. Porter-Leath has submitted a plan to Shelby County Schools, the Head Start grantee, to transfer students from the nearby Hanley Head Start Center in Orange Mound.

In addition to Head Start and Early Head Start spaces, a select number of childcare spaces will be reserved at the Early Childhood Academy for UofM students, faculty and staff. The new Center is the latest in a series of additions and expansions to the University Schools educational compendium which seeks to provide the children of our community with educational experiences that enhance their development from birth to graduation and promote dynamic research, collaborative partnerships and innovative practices. Through the addition of this Center, the UofM will reach more than 1,000 children from birth to graduation through five University Schools.

“We are encouraged by our progress and are grateful for the partnerships established with Porter-Leath and the University of Memphis,” said Howard Eddings, RedZone CEO. “As we have creatively worked to be a part of the transformational work that’s taking place in the lives of children, families and the Orange Mound community, we believe this collaboration will certainly be a value add to the neighborhood, serve to build additional assets and will leverage additional resources as well.”

A limited, socially distanced groundbreaking ceremony will be hosted on-site on November 11 at 10 a.m. and will also be made available to the public online. For more information, email

CONTACT: Chuck Gallina | 901.678.1756 l

at Thursday, October 8, 2020

Building Up Our Teachers

Congratulations to Porter-Leath Pre-K teacher, Kimberly Knox, for earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education! Kimberly is excited to work with her children at Memphis Scholars Florida-Kansas this school year as we celebrate her achievement. 

Porter-Leath promotes professional development for all staff through our tuition reimbursement program.

During her studies, Kimberly said she kept her favorite quote nearby which is, “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” 

Kimberly will definitely be in style teaching her students this year from her virtual classroom this year!

NEXT Memphis Visits the cityCURRENT Radio Show

at Monday, June 29, 2020

NEXT Memphis Announces First Cohort of Eight Childcare Centers

MEMPHIS, Tennessee – Porter-Leath’s NEXT Memphis initiative recently announced the inaugural cohort of childcare centers that will participate in its shared services program model. The network of standout centers will directly increase educational outcomes for children, family-level outcomes for parents, business viability, and overall childcare center quality. Participants are:

  • Gateway Learning Academy
  • Hooks-Dimmick Child Care
  • Hope House Day Care, Inc.
  • I Rise Christian Academy
  • KIDazzle - Flying Start Child Development Center
  • Lambs & Ivy School
  • Perea Preschool
  • Yale Road Learning Center

Participating centers were selected based upon rigorous evaluation of existing practices, as well as having demonstrable passion for children and families, willingness to innovate and alter business paradigms, established history in serving low-income neighborhoods, and in-depth viewpoints and approaches to excellence.

NEXT Memphis background

NEXT Memphis, at its essence, is for the community. Developed as a response to local research supported by First 8 Memphis, NEXT Memphis is a shared service program model that helps independent childcare providers reduce costs and improve outcomes, so that they can direct more of their attention and resources to the classroom and families.

NEXT Memphis’ model will ensure that more children enter kindergarten ready to learn, that more families are thriving, and that childcare professionals have the resources and care they need to grow in their profession. Through NEXT Memphis, Porter-Leath will offer wraparound services to families, helping parents set and achieve goals and connecting them with community resources.  

Cohort initiative plans

The current total enrollment for the cohort is 800 children, with the potential licensed enrollment of 1,600 children. As one component, NEXT Memphis will focus on boosting enrollment, which will greatly strengthen each center’s sustainability, as well as help more children and families benefit from top-quality care. When fully enrolled, an estimated $7.1M[1] in additional revenue will be attained for the centers, all of which are Minority/Women-Owned Businesses. Centers will reinvest in quality enhancements for their childcare, such as increased teacher wages and facility improvements.

Since the start of COVID-19, NEXT Memphis has worked with local philanthropy to supply community partners with hard-to-find supplies—such as cleaning solution, gloves, disinfectant, toilet tissue, paper towels, garbage bags, can liners, and bleach—so that centers can continue to safely serve children.

In addition to its local focus, NEXT Memphis has partnered with the Tennessee Department of Human Services to provide comprehensive support and care coordination to families whose children are enrolled in a partner center. These services support families in pursuing their own goals and navigating crisis situations, whenever needed.

As Memphis and Shelby County begin to fully reopen, comprehensive services will begin to ensure that:

  • Children thrive in their development and enter kindergarten ready to learn
  • Families are supported with wraparound services and quality childcare
  • Staff feel completely equipped to increase quality of service and business sustainability

While focusing on its initial cohort of 11 direct partners, NEXT Memphis will add childcare providers to a second and third cohort over the next two years, establishing an estimated partner portfolio of 40 childcare centers and 4,000 children and families by 2022.

“To me, childcare professionals are unsung heroes in our community. The care and services they provide not only allow parents to go to work and/or school, but truly shape the next generation in their most precious years. It is an honor to partner with First 8 Memphis and the philanthropic community to do our part in uplifting Shelby County’s brightest potential,” said Chloe Moore, NEXT Memphis Program Director.

[1] This estimation is based on figures before COVID-19. It calculates vacancies in February, times the average fee charged, and assumes year-round service (52 weeks).

RSVP: A Volunteer Program for Senior Adults

The Generations Program houses two volunteer experiences - Foster Grandparents and RSVP - which engage seniors 55 years of age or older. Unlike foster grandparents who serve in Porter-Leath Preschool clasrooms, RSVP partners with community service organizations in DeSoto County to place senior volunteers at a variety of assignment options. Volunteer positions are flexible and are designed to keep seniors active and create opportunities for them to use their knowledge and experience to benefit their communities.

June Lord is a recently recruited RSVP volunteer who serves her community each week in a food pantry housed at Sacred Heart Southern Missions. Ms. Lord spent the last decade caring for her husband. After her husband passed away, Ms. Lord moved to the Mid- South to be closer to her daughter and grandchildren.

While she found social engagements and time with her family rewarding, Ms. Lord looked for a way to get involved and to give back to her new found home. “I saw an article that talked about an event hosted by Porter-Leath called “Variety is the Spice of Life” and I really liked that! ... I went online and learned about the history of Porter-Leath and wanted to see how I could volunteer,” Ms. Lord said.

She was contacted by Merracle Jordan, Porter-Leath’s RSVP Coordinator, who explained the process of connecting volunteers with service placements. The two women had an instant connection and Ms. Lord was proud to call the Porter-Leath staff member her personal miracle!

“I knew the level of vetting that I was going through and the vetting that the positions were given and felt really comfortable that my placement would be safe and that my time would be valued,” she reported.

Ms. Lord uses her previous experience in the business world to assist with clerical work and serving others at the food pantry. She finds providing food to those in need incredibly rewarding. “You do things for people and you know you don’t expect to get anything back, but I think I receive more than possibly they do!” she added. Ms. Lord proudly announced that she is nearly 89 years old, but she volunteers her time as she can. DeSoto County is lucky to have the service of one of its newest residents!

Little Engine Playhouse Visits Memphis

MEMPHIS, Tennessee – The Dollywood Little Engine Playhouse Tour, presented by Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, makes its next stop in Shelby County to area public libraries. Presented in partnership with Penguin Books, the Tour adapts Imagination Library books into 20-minute sing-along musicals for young children

The Imagination Library is the flagship program of the Dollywood Foundation. The book gifting program mails free, high-quality books to children from birth until they begin school, no matter their family’s income. The Imagination Library brings children's books to the stage by way of the Little Engine Playhouse, which travels to schools, libraries, and other children’s venues across Tennessee and around the country.

Porter-Leath’s Books from Birth Program is the largest of 1,700 Imagination Library affiliates. In partnership with the Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation, the program mails age-appropriate books to nearly 45,000 Shelby County children from birth to age five each month at no cost to families.

“As the local affiliate of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, Porter-Leath's Books from Birth Program is excited to welcome a little bit of the Smoky Mountains to the Bluff City," said Wynett Jones, Books from Birth Program Director at Porter-Leath.

Audiences will enjoy the theatrical adaptation of “Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon,” which delivers a positive, anti-bullying message. When Molly Lou Melon starts a new school, the school bully makes fun of her on her very first day. With advice from her grandmother, Molly Lou proves that her perceived flaws are really her talents. “Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon,” is written by Patty Lovell, with illustrations by David Catrow. The stage adaptation of the story is engineered by long-time Playhouse director, Brian Hull.

Free Public Shelby County Showtimes:

  • Tuesday, Feb. 4, 1 p.m. - Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, 3030 Poplar Ave, Memphis, TN
  • Thursday, Feb. 6, 5 p.m. - Collierville Burch Library, 501 Poplar View Parkway, Collierville TN
  • Friday, Feb. 7, 11:30 a.m. - Germantown Community Library, 1925 Exeter Road, Germantown, TN
  • Wednesday, Feb. 12, 4:30 p.m. - Bartlett Public Library, 5884 Stage Road, Memphis, TN


About Porter-Leath

For over 170 years, Porter-Leath has been the primary resource for Memphis' at-risk children and families. By focusing on the essential building blocks of healthy development, Porter-Leath not only gives them access to the tools they need, but also a sense of hope. Porter-Leath helps build stronger children, stronger families and a stronger Memphis through its mission of empowering children and families to achieve a healthy, optimal and independent lifestyle. For more information, visit

Dolly Parton's Imagination Library

Since launching in 1995, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has become the preeminent early childhood book gifting program in the world. The flagship program of The Dollywood Foundation has mailed well over 100 million free books in Australia, Canada, The Republic of Ireland, United Kingdom and the United States. The Imagination Library mails more than 1.4 million high-quality, age-appropriate books each month to registered children from birth to age five. Dolly envisioned creating a lifelong love of reading, inspiring them to dream. The impact of the program has been widely researched and results suggest positive increases in key early childhood literacy metrics. Penguin Random House is the exclusive publisher for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. For more information, please visit

About Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation (GELF)

The Imagination Library was established in 1996 by Dolly Parton as a gift to the children in her hometown of Sevierville, TN. The program mails one new, age-appropriate, high-quality book each month to registered children, from birth until age five. With vital financial support from the Tennessee General Assembly, foundations, individuals, and corporate sponsors, Governor’s Early Literacy Foundations funds half the cost of books for the Imagination Library affiliates in each of Tennessee’s 95 counties. For information on how to support your local Imagination Library program or enroll a child, visit or call toll-free, 1-877-99-BOOKS.

Connecting with Compassion: Nancy Young Uses Her House to Help Children Find a Safe Home

Nancy Young has a passion for raising children to be strong, smart and independent. In 2009, after her children and grandchildren became adults, Ms. Young saw a report on the news about Porter-Leath’s need for foster parents and decided to pursue her certification. She wanted to open her home to provide children a safe and loving home, as long as they needed it.

“I saw so many children in Memphis who were being mistreated in different ways and I just wanted to help out,” she said. Currently, Ms. Young is fostering four children ages 2 to 5 years old. Ms. Young, affectionately called “Grandmama” adds that being a foster care parent helps her maintain her health because she is always moving. Her mind stays sharp because she spends a lot of time with the children, engaging them in conversation, playing games and working with them on homework. There have also been bumps along the road. She recalled a young boy who came to her house and struggled at school because he did not know his alphabet. His frustration grew into daily tantrums, but Ms. Young, undeterred by his outbursts, patiently worked with him for six weeks at the end of which the child began reading.

Ms. Young shares that Porter-Leath has always been there when she needed guidance or assistance with a child, and credits her faith for providing her with compassion. “I pray every day, ‘God, please help me to be the best foster mama that I can be’ and I do that even before a child comes into my house,” she states. Ms. Young believes the adage, ‘you reap what you sow’ is never more evident than when you are raising a child. “If you yell, they will yell, but I have to remember that they are children,” she adds. “If you practice patience and kindness, chances are, they will emulate that too.”

The ultimate goal of foster care service is reunification with parents or family members who can provide a safe permanent home. Over the past decade, Ms. Young has had many children live in her home with most staying only a few months. Ms. Young’s ultimate compliment came when the parents of a former foster child said that they wanted Ms. Young to continue to be in their child’s life. She now serves as a surrogate grandmother to that young girl and a special friend to her parents. To find out more about Porter-Leath's foster care program visit

Preschool teacher facing trauma through the eyes of a 4-year olds

Preschool is a place where teachers facilitate learning through play, where young children are discovering the world around them, making friends without a care in the world. A place where most teachers have a background in early childhood or child development, training in early care best practices and anticipating preparing young children for higher learning.  Preschool teachers often expect children to show up with a clean slate ready to absorb information, but unfortunately, young children are showing up with far too many cares in their world that are impacting them socially, emotionally and academically.  

When teachers are busy educating our youngest minds, it is about lesson plans, curriculum, classroom environment, school readiness and soliciting parental support. These are just a few expectations or requirements of pre-k teachers. Nevertheless, teachers are ill-equipped and unprepared to meet the needs of our young children.  Unfortunately, few colleges and universities provided early childhood courses on the impact of trauma on a young child’s brain, self-regulation in the classroom, adverse childhood experiences, teacher self-care or how to work with young children of parents impacted by trauma. Yet more and more preschool teachers are faced with this critical issue every day.

Preschool student Tevon is a bright four years old male child in his first year of preschool. He enjoys coming to school daily where the preschool van picks him up and drops him off at home in the late afternoon. Tevon likes to play with small cars and blocks but you can always find him in the housekeeping area reenacting snapshots of his home life experiences. 

The teacher greets each child at the door daily to create a positive climate and to observe any behaviors or emotions that she may need to help manage throughout the day. Tevon greets the teacher one morning and asked her, “why he had to wear the same clothes from yesterday?” During breakfast he takes the biscuits from the bowl to place in his pocket as his peers proceed to tattle to the teacher about his food hoarding.  

Tevon feeling embarrassed and ashamed stands up from his chair and throws all of the bowls, utensils and food off of the table, as well as his chair across the room while crying and screaming, “leave me alone’” at the top of his lungs. The teacher immediately tries to calm him down by assuring him that he is safe and rubbing his back. Once he is calm, Tevon shares with his teacher that he is hungry at home. He also shared that he witnessed his mom argue and physically fight the next door neighbor the day before and that he wants to live in another house because his house is loud and has too many bugs.

Furthermore, Tevon lives with his mom who works 2 jobs and has an elementary-aged sibling who cares for him after school. The teacher spoke with mom on the phone regarding Tevon’s behavior and conversation and mom confirmed his home experiences and is working 2 jobs to move out of the infested apartment. Mom also expressed concerned about his aggressive behavior at home.

Unfortunately, this is only one of many preschool teachers' stories in many communities across this country. Teachers facing the trauma of young children in the classroom without the appropriate training or skill set on how to best support children with challenging behaviors as it relates to trauma. Data shows that more than half of all U.S. children have experienced some kind of trauma in the form of abuse, neglect, violence, or challenging household circumstances—and 35 percent of children have experienced more than one type of traumatic event, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These adverse childhood experiences can have impacts that extend far beyond childhood, including higher risks for alcoholism, liver disease, suicide, and other health problems later in life.

Traumatic experiences can actually change the structure and functioning of a child’s brain through the activation of stress response systems. When exposed to a stressor, the body responds through a “fight,” “flight,” or “freeze” response that activates several systems in the body and releases stress hormones that are designed to be protective for survival.  However, this response becomes dangerous to the brain, rather than protective, when repeated traumatic experiences lead to an over-reactive stress system. As described by one pediatrician, these children are living in a “constant state of emergency,” and it has very real implications for their brain development and social functioning. 

For teachers, who are directly exposed to a large number of young people with trauma in their work, a secondary type of trauma, known as vicarious stress, is a big risk. Sometimes called the “cost of caring,” vicarious trauma can result from “hearing people’s trauma stories and becoming witnesses to the pain, fear, and terror that trauma survivors have endured,” according to the American Counseling Association. A significant number of children experience trauma, and the effects can be profound. It is imperative, therefore, that early childhood settings be safe, trauma-sensitive spaces where teachers support children in creating positive self-identities. (Cole et al.2013). To fully understand children’s challenging behaviors, it is imperative that teachers communicate with children’s families regularly to understand whether the behavior is seen in the classroom might be connected to traumatic experiences (Wright 2014).

Patricia Jennings, associate professor at the University of Virginia and author of the new book The Trauma-Sensitive Classroom, says that childhood trauma can have severe immediate and long-term consequences for students’ cognitive, social and emotional development.“We know enough about the science to know that teachers can make a huge difference,” said Jennings. “The school environment is one of the places where students who are exposed to real challenges at home can find safety and stability.”

“The adults in the school environment may be the most stable and mentally well people [some children] have contact with,” said Jennings. “Their teachers can become role models for them for what a healthy adult is like. School can become a sanctuary for kids like this.”In Jennings’ work, she focuses first on helping teachers develop resilience, self-awareness, and self-regulation -- and then on how they can teach these tools to children.  She said that teachers need to learn how to manage their own stress that comes with navigating students’ trauma-related behavior.

The Momentous Institute in Dallas, Texas has been working to build and repair social-emotional health since 1920 and has invested in research and training with trauma-informed strategies that strengthen social-emotional health. The Momentous Model for social-emotional health begins with the foundation of safe relationships for children. As preschool teachers look into the innocent faces of 4-year-olds who have experienced trauma, teachers can become better prepared to deal with trauma in the preschool classroom with these informed practices:

  • Ensure children feel safe
  • Build trusting relationships with students
  • Create trauma-sensitive spaces
  • Ask the question - “What happened to this child?” 
  • Depersonalize the behavior
  • Identify your own ACE’s or trauma
  • Expose children to social skills - self-awareness, self-regulation, resilience, empathy
  • Develop opportunities that promote diversity of self-identity
  • Collaborate with resource staff that support families
  • Consistent communication and engagement with parent(s)
  • Practice self-reflection, coping strategies and self-care
  • Connecting with colleagues to talk through and process experiences

According to the Education Law Center, an estimated two in three children are exposed to traumatic experiences that have the potential to impact brain development, social functioning, and ability to learn and engage in school. Recognizing and addressing this issue must become a focus for our educational system. Trauma-informed approaches, which have been supported by research evidence in fields such as mental health and child welfare, recognize and address the implications of traumatic experiences for students. 

Trauma has the potential to affect all students and teachers, and implementing a trauma-informed approach as early as preschool has the potential to transform the educational landscape and positively impact communities.

Local Law Enforcement Leaders and Lawmakers Advocate for More Resources for Early Childhood Education

On December 10th, Porter-Leath hosted national nonprofit, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids (FCIK), and local law enforcement leadership to highlight key findings from a new report, “Early Childhood Educators: Our Partners in Crime Prevention in Tennessee”. Porter-Leath is proud to have local supporters advocating for more resources for our high-quality Preschool program that ensures children are ready for kindergarten. Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich, Memphis Police Director Mike Rallings and Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner visited Porter-Leath’s Early Childhood Academy along with lawmakers Sen. Raumesh Akbari and Rep. Antonio Parkinson, to read to pre-K students and show their support for early childhood education. They stressed the benefits that early success in school can have on reducing crime later in life.  

“We’ve known for a long while that there’s a connection between early childhood education and crime avoidance,” explained Memphis Police Director Mike Rallings. “Putting them on the right path as they’re just beginning school is a vital step in keeping them away from crime as they grow up.” According to the report published by FCIK, investments in high-quality early childhood education (ECE) can result in positive longterm outcomes like better school performance, fewer school dropouts and lower instances of crime. Sheriff Bonner added, "We can’t arrest our way out of crime. High-quality Pre-K fights crime by readying kids for success." 

Statistically, 6 out of 10 prison inmates do not have a high school diploma*, and many are functionally illiterate. Early childhood education programs such as Porter-Leath’s Preschool aims at getting the students to the appropriate reading level so they are ready to begin kindergarten, thus setting them up for success. This success helps to steer children away from a life of crime, and gives them a better chance at escaping the cycle of poverty. “We are trying to stop these kids before they get incarcerated with us, we are trying to say to the community, invest in our children now,” Sheriff Bonner said. Weirich added, “The sooner we can get our kids to school, the better for them and the better for all of us.”

Senator Raumesh Akbari with Porter-Leath Early Head Start Student

FCIK's report also found that high-quality preschool programs share certain key features, including highly-qualified teachers, developmentally-appropriate standards and curricula, appropriate teacher-child ratios, small class sizes, monitoring and quality-improvement systems, and screening and referral to needed services. 

To echo the importance of early childhood education, Joshua Spaulding, National Director for Fight Crime: Invest in Kids (FCIK) explained, “Youth that have participated in high-quality early childhood education are much less likely to be involved in the criminal justice system.”  

Furthermore, Spaulding mentioned that there is a need to ensure a sustainable early childhood workforce through increased wages and a streamlined certification process.  State lawmakers agree and look forward to taking this on in the upcoming legislative session. According to Sen. Akbari, "When you even look at the history of us still having voluntary pre-K and early childhood education as opposed to mandatory, and if you look at other areas of the South like Mississippi, Tennessee is ahead of the curve, but Georgia is kicking our butt."  Rep. Parkinson added, “ This needs to be our priority. It needs to be our priority in funding. It needs to be our priority in policy.”


For more on this story, review highlights from local media: 

Local Memphis 24 (ABC)

WMC Action News 5 (NBC)

Fox 13 (FOX) 

WREG News 3 (CBS)

Note: *7 Ewert, S., & Wildhagen, T. (2011). Educational characteristics of prisoners: Data from the ACS.

Porter-Leath launches NEXT Memphis for Child Care Partners

MEMPHIS, Tennessee – Porter-Leath recently announced the launch of NEXT Memphis, a new initiative to increase the number of high-quality child care centers by offering significant resources, training, and support to community child care providers. Porter-Leath will recruit the inaugural class of 10 providers in late January 2020. Over the next 3 years, NEXT Memphis will build a network of 40 providers, serving over 7,000 children and families.

NEXT Memphis is a shared service program model that helps independent child care providers reduce costs and improve outcomes, so that they can direct more of their attention and resources into the classroom and to families. Through NEXT Memphis, Porter-Leath will offer wraparound services to families, helping parents set and achieve goals and connecting them with community resources. NEXT Memphis’ model will ensure more children enter kindergarten ready to learn; more families are well; and child care professionals have the resources and care they need to develop in their profession.

The initiative developed as a response to local research supported by First 8 Memphis. The research explored how child care providers in underserved communities wanted to develop their centers and sustainably increase high-quality services for both children and families. Results from this research found that providing back office support, professional development and access to social services would strengthen the businesses, increase the quality of classroom instruction, and offer more support for children and families. 

NEXT Memphis also brings expansion of Porter-Leath’s Teacher Excellence Program to child care operators, which helps increase classroom engagement and achievement through teacher training, coaching, instruction and observation. 

Porter-Leath announced that Chloe Moore will serve as NEXT Memphis’ Program Director. Moore most recently served as a Continuous Improvement Specialist at Seeding Success and previously served several local, national, and international non-profits. “Chloe has a proven track record of improving outcomes for children and families in our community,” said Porter-Leath’s President Sean Lee. “We are thrilled to see her continue her work at NEXT Memphis, expanding quality child care opportunities.” Moore is a native Memphian, and holds a Bachelor’s of Arts in Anthropology and Sociology from Rhodes College.

“Child care centers play an invaluable role in community life,” said Moore. “With NEXT Memphis, we can build and sustain high-quality programs that help them continue to succeed. Child care directors and teachers have have been heroes in the community for decades, and I do not know where we would be without them. NEXT Memphis recognizes this, and also knows how these professionals want and need more resources to do their work. Our goal is to ease the burdens on child care professionals, so that the majority of their time is spent where their passions are - with children and families.” Interested child care providers should contact Chloe Moore at (901) 577-2500.

NEXT Memphis joins Porter-Leath’s comprehensive range of early childhood services in supporting children’s social, emotional and cognitive growth. By partnering with quality child care providers in Memphis’ highest need neighborhoods, Porter-Leath is living its promise to help provide the best early childhood experience to every child, regardless of zip code or income. NEXT Memphis will directly increase educational outcomes for children, family-level outcomes, and child care center quality.

at Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Porter-Leath Given Two Community Awards for Work with Children

Porter-Leath was recently recognized with two awards for living out its mission of empowering children and families to live a healthy optimal and independent lifestyle.

This September, Porter-Leath was recognized by the Child Advocacy Center with the James G. Hughes Community Advocate Award. This annual award is given to a person or organization whose efforts in Shelby County demonstrate a commitment to the safety and well-being of children. Porter-Leath was recognized for our commitment to having 100% of our employees attend the Stewards of Children program to help protect children from sexual abuse. So far we have trained over 600 of our 650 employees thanks to the organizational efforts of Gwen Price, Porter-Leath's Director of Contract Management.

Additionally, each year the Tennessee Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics provides an opportunity for its members across the state to nominate colleagues and community members to be recognized for making a significant contribution to the welfare of children. We are excited to announce that Porter-Leath was honored with the "Friends of Children" award by the TNAAP at its Excellence in Pediatrics Annual Awards ceremony on September 13, 2019 in Franklin, TN. The award recognizes groups for their commitment to children's health advocacy in Tennessee and highlighted Porter-Leath's work with children and families in Shelby County. (You can learn more about Tennessee Chapter of the AAP by visiting:


Posted by Mary Braddock at Monday, September 23, 2019

Porter-Leath Announces the Construction of Three New Early Childhood Academies

Porter-Leath is thrilled to announce the construction of three additional Early Childhood Academies over the next three years! By building world-class facilities in Memphis’ highest need neighborhoods, we are living our promise to help provide the very best early childhood experience to every child, regardless of zip code or income. We look forward to engaging the parents and stakeholders in each neighborhood in ways to continue improving early childhood education equity and quality for all children.

The new Academies follow the opening of Porter-Leath’s first Early Childhood Academy on Alice Avenue in 2017. With four Early Childhood Academies in Memphis by 2022, we are fulfilling our mission of empowering children and families to achieve healthy, optimal and independent lifestyles.

Construction on the first Academy will begin in 2019 and be complete in early 2021. The second Academy will start in 2020 and be complete in 2021. Finally, construction of the third Academy will begin in 2021, with completion in 2022. In addition to expanding our Teacher Excellence Program to all three locations, Porter-Leath is partnering with the University of Memphis at the second Academy to provide teacher and practitioner training through research, observation and instruction.

Porter-Leath has asked Shelby County Schools' Head Start Policy Council and the School Board to approve the move of Delano Head Start enrollment to the new Frayser Academy, Hanley Head Start enrollment to the second Academy, and Cottonwood Head Start enrollment to the third Academy once construction on each is complete. Porter-Leath and SCS share a commitment to making Shelby County's Head Start program the benchmark for all other Head Start programs in the nation, and we are confident that they will approve the moves. Porter-Leath will fund all three building projects through private dollars and at no expense to SCS.

"Quality programming is best reflected through quality facilities," said Sean Lee, Porter-Leath’s President. "All children and families in our Preschool program get the absolute best in teaching and wraparound services, and we are thrilled to provide new facilities as our next step in creating an equitable, quality early childhood education program in Memphis that will be the leader across the United States. Funding for these buildings is by far the largest gift and private investment in Head Start in Shelby County and is a key indicator of how much impact the program has on our community's future."

Porter-Leath's long-term goal has been to support the turnaround of Head Start in Shelby County. The program was good, but we wanted to make it the best in the US so that children could enter kindergarten ready to learn and then read at a third grade reading level by third grade. Since becoming the sole contractor for Head Start five years ago, Porter-Leath programs and staff have increased innovation, quality, and outcomes for children and families.

Posted by Mary Braddock at Friday, August 16, 2019

27th Annual Rajun Cajun Crawfish Festival benefiting Porter-Leath Sunday, April 28

MEMPHIS, Tennessee – The 27th Annual Rajun Cajun Crawfish Festival benefiting Porter-Leath will be held on Sunday, April 28 from 11 a.m. through 7 p.m. at Wagner Place and Riverside Drive, between Union Avenue and Beale Street. Each year, the festival supports free programs and services that fulfill Porter-Leath’s mission of empowering over 50,000 Mid-South children and families to achieve healthy, optimal and independent lifestyles.

Recognized among Memphians as the unofficial start of spring, Rajun Cajun is one of the few Memphis festivals that maintains free admission. The festival offers fun for all Mid-South families, including crawfish bobbing, eating and racing contests. And children ages 12 and under can play a wide variety of age-appropriate games at the Kids Area on Riverside Drive.

With 17,000 pounds of fresh Louisiana crawfish and over 35,000 attendees, Rajun Cajun is the largest one-day crawfish festival in the Mid-South. The festival will feature live swamp soul, rhythm & blues and  funk fusion entertainment from Marcella + Her Lovers on the Southland Park Gaming and Racing Main Stage, Nick Black on the Orion Federal Credit Union Beale Street Stage, and Freeworld on the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Riverside Stage.

“Over the past 27 years, Rajun Cajun has become a social, cultural and musical tradition in Memphis that unites individuals and businesses around supporting children and families in our community,” said Rob Hughes, Vice President of Development at Porter-Leath. “And with free admission, Rajun Cajun is a special experience everybody can share. Remember, ‘eat crawfish, help children!’”

Twenty-four gumbo teams will compete in the annual Cash Saver Gumbo Cook-Off to claim this year's skillet trophy and cash prizes. And festival-goers can purchase Monogram Foods Swamp Tent tickets at $125 per person and $225 per pair for a VIP experience with unlimited crawfish, Cajun buffet, beer and soft drinks from noon until 6 p.m. Swamp Tent ticketholders will also enjoy two drink tickets, each good for a margarita or hurricane. The Confluent Strategies Crawfish To Go station will be located at the corner of Riverside Drive and Union Avenue. In addition to crawfish, over 24 food trucks will offer everything from BBQ, to burgers, to traditional carnival fare.

To learn more about the 27th Annual Rajun Cajun Crawfish Festival, register your Gumbo Cook-Off team, or buy Swamp Tent tickets, visit

Porter-Leath Announces Books from Birth Spring Luncheon

Memphis, Tennessee – Porter-Leath recently announced its Books from Birth Spring Luncheon, at the FedEx Event Center on Thursday, April 11 at noon (doors open at 11:30am). Presented by International Paper, the luncheon will feature a about the necessity of early literacy by l of Memphis’ foremost literacy advocates.

The panel includes Dr. Kandi Hill-Clarke and Dr. Jason Yaun. Dr. Hill-Clarke is the Dean of the College of Education and a McRae Endowed Professor of School-Based Clinical Practice at the University of Memphis. Prior to joining the University of Memphis in January 2017, she served as Dean of the College of Education at Indiana State University. Dr. Hill-Clarke began her career as an elementary teacher with Germantown Schools. She earned a Bachelor of Science in elementary education at LeMoyne-Owen College, a Master of Science in Reading Education at the University of Memphis, and a Doctor of Education in Instruction and Curriculum Leadership with a concentration in Reading Education, also at the University of Memphis.

Dr. Yaun is an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and a physician in the general pediatrics department at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital. Born and raised in Memphis, Dr. Yaun has always been an avid reader who has transformed his personal passion into a community mission as a champion of early childhood literacy. He completed his medical school and pediatrics training at UT Health Science Center. Since 2015, Dr. Yaun has served on the boardBooks from Birth. He has also brought the Reach Out and Read program to Le Bonheur where physicians free books for children from 6 months to age 5 during every well-patient visit.

Porter-Leath's , mails monthly, age-appropriate books to 46,000 Shelby County children age five. The books facilitate reading time with children, helping parents and caregivers create language-rich homes that yield lasting results beyond early childhood. 2017 over 6,000 Porter-Leath Preschool children Books from Birth, advancing Porter-Leath’s early childhood goal of achieving kindergarten readiness for all Shelby County children.

“We are thrilled to provide age-appropriate books for 70 percent of children through Books from Birth” said Sean Lee, Porter-Leath’s President. “We will continue to work toward ev.”

FedEx Event Center is located at 415 Great View Drive East. Luncheon tables of 10 are $750, and sponsorships are available. To learn more, visit

17th Annual Toy Truck to Help Thousands of Local Children Served by Porter-Leath

MEMPHIS, Tennessee – International Paper will present the 17th annual Toy Truck to collect toys for 6,200 children, ages birth to age 5, served by Porter-Leath’s Preschool program. The toy drive will be held at the Poplar Collection Shopping Center from Wednesday, Dec. 5 through Saturday, Dec. 8. WMC Action News 5 will host the final stop on Friday, Dec. 14 and Saturday, Dec. 15.


Toy Truck, which began in 2000, invites local individuals, groups and businesses to fill a large truck with new, unwrapped toys for Porter-Leath Preschool children. The annual community campaign collects age-appropriate toys that promote early learning — such as dolls, trucks and building blocks.  This is the first year that Poplar Collection, home to Village Toymaker, hosts the toy drive. All gifts will be delivered to Memphis children who may not receive another gift over the holidays.

You can drop off new, unwrapped toys as well as cash, check or credit card donations from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Poplar Collection, 4615 Poplar Ave., from Wednesday, Dec. 5 through Saturday, Dec. 8, and from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m at WMC Action News 5, 1960 Union Ave, on Friday, Dec. 14 and Saturday, Dec. 15. Visitors can also see Santa Claus at the Poplar Collection from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and at WMC from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. All monetary gifts delivered to Toy Truck, and made online, will be matched by a Secret Santa in the community.

“Toy Truck has inspired so much support from our community over the years, which has helped facilitate countless opportunities at home for children to learn through play,” said Rob Hughes, Vice President of Development at Porter-Leath. “We welcome our neighbors to come support our kids again at the Poplar Collection!”

Porter-Leath has served as a Shelby County Early Head Start provider for 20 years. In addition, the organization is the sole Head Start contractor to Shelby County Schools. The organization provides over 6,000 disadvantaged infants and toddlers with a high quality early childhood education at no cost, while also supporting their development through nutritious meals, health screenings, disability services, and mental health services.

Since its inception in 1850, Porter-Leath has cared for children with life challenges while continually broadening its programs to fill the community’s needs. The organization’s comprehensive range of early childhood services — Cornerstone, Preschool, Generations and Books from Birth — engages the child, family and community in an immersive learning experience that supports early social, emotional and cognitive growth. To learn more visit


Pictured above: Jeanette Betancourt, Senior Vice President of U.S. Social Impact at Sesame Workshop with Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris

Sesame Street in Communities announces partnership
with ACE Awareness Foundation and Porter-Leath to provide resources and services to families and children

Memphis, Tennessee- Sesame Workshop, the non-profit educational organization behind Sesame Street, has announced that Memphis, Tennessee is the next community selected for Sesame Street in Communities (SSIC). SSIC is a nationwide initiative to support parents, caregivers, and community providers in their efforts to give all children, especially the most vulnerable, a strong and healthy start. Sesame Street in Communities selected Memphis because of the community’s existing collaborative efforts to improve the health and wellbeing of young children and families, and is partnering with the ACE Awareness Foundation and Porter-Leath to introduce the new initiative intended to advance support for local families and children under age six.

On Tuesday, December 4, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris will join representatives from Sesame Workshop, ACE Awareness Foundation, and Porter-Leath for a kick-off press conference to introduce the partnership. The press conference will be held at 10:00am at the Porter-Leath Early Childhood Academy with an interactive workshop for parents immediately following. 

“We’re thrilled to work with Sesame Street in Communities to bring more early childhood resources to young children living in Shelby County,” said Mayor Harris

“The Sesame Street characters are known to and loved by children everywhere. As a parent, I have seen firsthand how they stimulate wonderment and imagination, the building blocks for learning. SSIC will be providing our community with a range of tools from these beloved characters not only for amusement and entertainment, but for learning; it makes so much sense for Shelby County government to take a leadership role in assisting those who care for our children to reach and teach them as well as promote their social-emotional health by adopting the SSIC program.”

ACE Awareness Foundation and Porter-Leath will integrate Sesame Street in Communities into their programming, in-person events, and trainings. The ACE Awareness Foundation, which supports efforts to prevent adverse childhood experiences as well as mitigate their negative effects, will embed the Sesame Street in Communities resources into their programming at four Universal Parenting Places(UPPs) sites in Memphis. Since 2017, the UPPs have served local families and the community at-large by creating nurturing parenting environments and offering activities that strengthen family connections and enhance child development through counseling, emotional support, stress-reduction and parent-child activities. 

“It’s an exciting time at the ACE Awareness Foundation because of the partnership we’re developing with Sesame Street in Communities,” said Dr. Renée Wilson-Simmons, Executive Director of ACE Awareness Foundation. 

“It’s the name—Sesame Street—and all that it represents that is a plus for Memphis families, especially those who are coming to the Universal Parenting Places seeking help with family-related issues and concerns, both big and small, and could benefit from the additional resources that Sesame Street in Communitieswill provide to our sites.”

Porter-Leath, Tennessee’s oldest child-serving agency reaching 50,000 children and families each year, will embed Sesame Street in Communities resources into its professional development trainings for over 160 staff and use the Sesame content in its Cornerstone, Teacher Excellence, Books from Birth, Connections, and Preschool programs. Using Big Bird’s Comfy, Cozy Nest materials, Porter-Leath will also create five safe and comfortable spaces for children in Porter-Leath centers to help them cope during stressful experiences.

"Porter-Leath is thrilled about being a partner with Sesame Street in Communitiesas they launch in Memphis,” said Sean Lee, President, Porter-Leath.

“Porter-Leath is the leader in helping Memphis children and families succeed and we know that the Sesame Street in Communitiespartnership will continue to scale quality early childhood education resources in our area."

Sesame Street in Communities will also provide virtual courses, webinars, and videosthat can be embedded into programming to help children and families navigate challenges large and small. Using the power of the beloved Muppets of Sesame Street, the resources are designed to build coping skills and foster nurturing connections between children and the caring adults in their lives. All resources are available for free in English and Spanish at

“We are thrilled to develop partnerships to bring Sesame Street in Communitiesto Memphis, a city dedicated to helping its youngest residents get a strong and healthy start in life,” said Dr. Jeanette Betancourt, Senior Vice President of U.S. Social Impact, Sesame Workshop. 

“By working hand-in-hand with providers like ACE Awareness Foundation and Porter-Leath, together we can build a circle of care around all children—particularly the most vulnerable.”

Sesame Street in Communities is made possible by generous support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the nation’s largest philanthropy dedicated solely to health, and the Joan Ganz Cooney Fund for Vulnerable Children. In addition to Memphis, Sesame Street in Communitieshas partnered with Guilford County, NC, Los Angeles, CA, Kansas City, MO, Transylvania County, NC, and the Mississippi Delta. Over the next five years, Sesame Street in Communities aims to reach 35 local communities across the country.

View press coverage from formal announcement on Tuesday, December 4, 2018: Commercial Appeal, Daily Memphian, WREG, Chalkbeat



For over 160 years, Porter-Leath has been the primary resource for Memphis' at-risk children and families. By focusing on the essential building blocks of healthy development, Porter-Leath not only gives them access to the tools they need, but also a sense of hope. Porter-Leath helps build stronger children, stronger families and a stronger Memphis through its mission of empowering children and families to achieve a healthy, optimal and independent lifestyle.


The Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) Awareness Foundationis helping to create a Greater Memphis community—and catalyze a statewide movement—that understands the deep and long-lasting impactthat childhood trauma can have across the life span and supports innovative strategies that prevent toxic stress or lessen its negative effects on children and their families.  To support the healthy development of Memphis children, their families, and the community, the ACE Awareness Foundation developed Universal Parenting Places—UPPs.  These judgment-free zones are places where parents can go for help with family-related issues and concerns, both big and small. They receive professional counseling, information, emotional support, and referrals; participate in stress-reduction exercises, parent-child activities, and discussion groups; and build social support networks that extend far beyond the walls of the UPPs. Visit the ACE Awareness Foundation online at


Sesame Workshop is the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street, the pioneering television show that has been reaching and teaching children since 1969. Today, Sesame Workshop is an innovative force for change, with a mission to help kids everywhere grow smarter, stronger, and kinder. We’re active in more than 150 countries, serving vulnerable children through a wide range of media, formal education, and philanthropically-funded social impact programs, each grounded in rigorous research and tailored to the needs and cultures of the communities we serve. For more information, please visit


For more than 45 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve health and health care. We are working alongside others to build a national Culture of Health that provides everyone in America a fair and just opportunity for health and well-being. For more information, visit Follow the Foundation on Twitter at on Facebook at


The Joan Ganz Cooney Fund for Vulnerable Children was established in 2018 to support content development, training for service providers, research, and implementation for Sesame Street in Communities. Made possible by a generous gift from Joan Ganz Cooney’s late husband Peter G. Peterson, the fund honors Ms. Cooney’s pioneering work as Sesame Street’s co-founder by furthering Sesame Workshop’s commitment to helping children overcome challenges big and small.

at Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Senior Adult Festival for Volunteers in DeSoto County

SOUTHAVEN, Mississippi – The first ever “Variety is the Spice of Life” Senior Adult Festival will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 9 from 9 a.m. through 2 p.m. at Brown Missionary Baptist Church.  Hosted by Porter-Leath’s RSVP, the Festival is a community fair for senior adults in DeSoto County looking to energize their daily routines with volunteer service. 

 “Senior volunteers offer our community invaluable skills, experience and insights,” said Merracle Jordan, Porter-Leath’s RSVP Coordinator. “Their service provides unique benefits to the people they help, and our Senior Adult Festival connects them to the programs where they can make the greatest impact.” In studies, regular volunteering has been shown to benefit seniors’ social, physical and mental health.  

RSVP is one of the largest volunteer networks in the nation for people 55 and over. Porter-Leath RSVP provides a range of volunteer services from mentoring disadvantaged youth to helping stock food pantries to tutoring in local libraries. RSVP volunteers also enjoy supplemental insurance, on-the-job training and networking opportunities. 

Brown Missionary Baptist Church is located at 980 Stateline Rd E., and the Senior Adult Festival will be held in the Church’s Fellowship Hall. The Festival is free and open to senior adults in DeSoto County. For more information, please call 901-577-2500 or email Merracle Jordan, RSVP Coordinator, at  

Posted by Mary Braddock at Thursday, September 27, 2018

More than a laundromat, this South Memphis center strengthens community and childhood literacy

Porter-Leath is passionate about providing literacy connections for children and their caregivers. The following article originally appeared Tuesday, August, 7, 2018 at


While caregivers wash clothes at the Social Suds Resource Center laundromat, children can interact with the facility's Pinwheel Playroom where they can play, read, and take home books provided by Porter-Leath's Books from Birth program. 

By the third grade, less than 25 percent of Memphis children are reading at grade level, and many of these children live in low-resource neighborhoods where they have limited access to convenient and no-cost places to read and play. 

By meeting people where they are, the Pinwheel Playroom creates easy opportunities for families to read together. 

In September, The Urban Child Institute will open the city's second Pinwheel Playroom, to be located at the Broad Street Christ Community Health Clinic. They are seeking recommendations for two more locations. 

Support for this story was provided in part by the Urban Child Institute; it is one article in a series highlighting the impact and importance of early childhood education. The Urban Child Institute focuses its grant making, advocacy and community support on kindergarten readiness and third grade literacy in an effort to improve the education, health and well-being of children and families in Shelby County.

PBS NewsHour Special about Porter-Leath to Air June 19, 2018

MEMPHIS, Tennessee – PBS NewsHour recently visited Memphis to report on Porter-Leath’s work in early childhood development and education. One of the most trusted news programs in television, PBS NewsHour has provided reliable reporting of national and international news for over 40 years. The program is seen by over 4 million weekly viewers.

Scheduled to air June 19, the feature will follow Peabody Award-winning correspondent John Yang through a school day at Porter-Leath’s state-of-the-art Early Childhood Academy which provides comprehensive early childhood education and support services for 224 students. The Academy is also home to the Teacher Excellence Program, Porter-Leath’s professional development program to train successful early childhood educators.

“We’ve developed proven systems that define and promote success for young children and their families,” said Porter-Leath’s President, Sean Lee. “We are so excited to share our story on this national platform”

Since its inception in 1850, Porter-Leath has cared for children with life challenges while continually broadening its programs to fill the community’s needs. The organization’s comprehensive range of early childhood services — Cornerstone, Preschool, Generations and Books from Birth — engages the child, family and community in an immersive learning experience that supports early social, emotional and cognitive growth.

Posted by Mary Braddock at Monday, June 18, 2018

Porter-Leath to Host Career Fair - Friday, May 18

MEMPHIS, Tennessee – Porter-Leath recently announced that it will host a career fair on Friday, May 18 to hire new team members. The organization is now seeking teachers, family service workers and non-instructional staff to provide high-quality education and support services. Present and future openings include:

  • Certified Pre-K Teachers
  • Early Head Start & Head Start Teachers
  • Assistant Teachers
  • Family Service Workers
  • Maintenance Technicians
  • Custodians
  • Development Officer
  • Parent Educator

Porter-Leath brings vital early childhood education and family services to over 6,000 Shelby County children each year. “Our career fairs provide the perfect opportunity for our community’s most dedicated and dynamic professionals to help advance our mission of empowering children and families to achieve a healthy, optimal and independent lifestyle” said Rob Hughes, Porter-Leath’s Vice President of Development.  

The career fair will be held from 1 – 4 p.m. at Porter-Leath’s Early Childhood Support Center, 3400 Prescott Road. Candidates should arrive professionally dressed, with a cover letter, resume and transcripts. Certified Pre-K teachers must have a bachelor's degree in Early Childhood Education or a related field, plus a Teachers License with Pre-K endorsement.

Recognized as a Top Mid-Size Workplace by Workplace Dynamics and The Commercial Appeal, Porter-Leath offers competitive salary, professional development plans, career advancement opportunities, 401k and 403b retirement plans and a team-based work environment.

Porter-Leath Welcomes Kelley Nichols as New Vice President of Teacher Excellence Program

Porter-Leath recently welcomed Kelley Nichols as the new Vice President of its Teacher Excellence Program, located at the Early Childhood Academy.  The Academy is a state-of-the-art preschool that provides comprehensive early childhood education and support services for 224 students in 16 classrooms. The Teacher Excellence Program is an early childhood teacher training program that provides professional development for Preschool teachers in partnership with Shelby County Schools. The Program teaches valuable skills that enhance teacher effectiveness, increase student achievement, and maximize classroom and family engagement.

As Vice President, Nichols will supervise the implementation and evaluation of the Academy’s Teacher Excellence Program. Before joining Porter-Leath, she worked as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Cornerstone Preparatory School, where she developed, managed and assessed teachers and coaches, as well as improved learning outcomes for children. She has also served in leadership roles at Aurora Collegiate Academy, Balmoral Baptist Church Pre-School and Shelby County Schools. Nichols has a Bachelor of Science in in Elementary Education from Crichton College, a Master of Science in Educational Leadership from Nova Southeastern University, and is working towards her Doctor of Education in Leadership and Management from St. Thomas University.

"Kelley’s proven performance in public, private and charter schools brings invaluable experience and insight to Porter-Leath’s Teacher Excellence Program,” said Sean Lee, President of Porter-Leath. “We look forward to using her talents to lead a program that intensively supports early childhood educators so that all children enter kindergarten ready to learn."

Early Childhood Academy Wins Best New Construction Award

Porter-Leath won big last night at the Sixth Annual Building Memphis Awards, the Memphis Business Journal’s real estate recognition program honoring projects that create a positive community impact. The Building Memphis Awards recognize excellence in architecture, design, engineering, development and construction, as well as investment, employment and impact in the surrounding neighborhood.

Porter-Leath’s Early Childhood Academy, Memphis’ premier early childhood institute for student and teacher development, was selected as winner in the Best New Construction category. Designed by national early learning facility specialist RDG Planning and Design, the 16-classroom, 32,000-square-foot facility weaves local culture, history and geography into safe, inviting spaces that encourage play and exploration and was built by Flintco.

Accepting the award alongside staff and project partners, Porter-Leath President Sean Lee shared, “This was really a 10-year labor of love from the moment we said this would be a great project for South Memphis. …Today there are 224 of the cutest little people who are getting the best preschool education that they won’t pay a penny for, thanks to donors like you and all the foundations and individuals who gave to this project.”

The Academy provides comprehensive early childhood education and support services for 224 Early Head Start and Head Start students — as well as professional training and development for preschool teachers and educators. The first and only one of its kind, Academy establishes a continuum of early childhood education, from prenatal to age 5, that defines and promotes success for young children and their families.

The Award is the latest recognition for the Early Childhood Academy, which won the Great Plains Chapter ASLA (American Society of Landscape Architects) Award of Excellence in September 2017.

Porter-Leath Launches New Parental Leave Policy

Porter-Leath recently announced a new parental leave policy that extends paid benefits to all new mothers and fathers. The policy, which took effect Jan 1. 2018, offers six weeks of paid leave to all new parents, including birth, adoptive and foster parents. 

Only about 12% of American companies currently offer paid maternity or paternity leave, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. Porter-Leath’s new parental leave policy extends full pay to parents who have been employed for at least one year without requiring them to exhaust their sick and vacation leave first. “We want to allow our team members to take their parental leave without sacrificing other benefits,” said Porter-Leath’s President, Sean Lee. The policy enables employees to use their parental leave to bond with their new child, while reserving their sick and vacation leave to manage their family’s health and enjoy their company.

“Our new parental leave policy empowers both moms and dads to take a hands-on role in their family lives,” said Lee. “We are proud to lead the community in progressive policies that not only attract and retain the best talent, but also advance our values of putting families first.” 

Porter-Leath’s parental leave policy adds to a proactive benefits package that encourages employee growth and development. Recognized as a Top Mid-Size Workplace by Workplace Dynamics and The Commercial Appeal, Porter-Leath offers competitive salary, career advancement opportunities, 401k and 403b retirement plans and a team-based work environment.

Porter-Leath Names Rob Hughes Vice President of Development

Porter-Leath recently promoted Rob Hughes to Vice President of Development, where he will plan and implement a comprehensive development plan to advance the organization’s mission of empowering children and families to achieve a healthy, optimal and independent lifestyle. He brings 10 years of fundraising experience to his new role.

Hughes leads the funding of programs and services for the 50,000+ local children and families the organization serves. He also supervises Porter-Leath's two largest fundraising events each year —Toy Truck and the Rajun Cajun Crawfish Festival, which have grown to become landmark Memphis community events that raise over $100,000 each for Porter-Leath.

Since joining Porter-Leath in 2009, Hughes has played a key role in organizational growth from an $8M agency with 180 team members to a $30M+ nonprofit with 600 team members. He has helped expand Porter-Leath's Preschool program to include over 6,000 students who receive a high quality education at no charge. He will also direct the combined development teams of Porter-Leath and Books from Birth, which recently merged with Porter-Leath to promote kindergarten readiness for all Shelby County children by providing free, age-appropriate books from birth to age five.

Most recently, Hughes assisted in the capital campaign for Porter-Leath’s Early Childhood Academy, a state-of-the-art preschool and teacher training institute that provides comprehensive early childhood education and support services for 224 students as well as professional training and development for preschool educators. The Academy opened in 2017.

“Since joining us in 2009, Rob has helped Porter-Leath reach some our most important milestones for children and families,” said Sean Lee, President of Porter-Leath. “We are excited to recognize his accomplishments and announce his promotion. Rob's leadership will help Porter-Leath generate the resources it needs to continue to grow and thrive.”

A Memphis native, Hughes earned an MBA from Christian Brothers University and is a graduate of the New Memphis Institute’s Embark program, NEXUS, and Leadership DeSoto.

Books from Birth Becomes Newest Porter-Leath Program

MEMPHIS, Tennessee – Effective July 1, 2017, Books from Birth merged to become Porter-Leath's newest program. Books from Birth (BfB), an affiliate of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, currently provides age appropriate books for nearly 70% of Shelby County children under age five. Children receiving books will not see a change in service, and all parents can continue enrolling their young children.

"We have admired the tremendous impact and measurable outcomes of Books from Birth. Combining it with Porter-Leath’s back office support and outreach capabilities, we expect the program to continue to grow and thrive as a universal intervention ensuring every child enters Kindergarten ready to learn" said Sean Lee, Porter-Leath President.

The Books from Birth Board of Directors will transition into an Advisory Council with two members serving on Porter-Leath’s governing board. Carol Seamons, Books from Birth Board Chair added, “Both organizations share a common vision of providing high-quality service for young children and their families. Our leadership looks to continue growing Imagination Library enrollment and expanding opportunities for early literacy in Shelby County.”

As part of the Porter-Leath family, Books from Birth staff will proceed raising funds for early literacy programming. Through the continued support of local donors and in partnership with the Governor's Books from Birth Foundation (GBBF), the program will remain at no cost to enrolled families.

“Nearly twenty percent of children enrolled in Tennessee's Imagination Library live in Shelby County.” said Tennessee First Lady and Memphis native, Crissy Haslam. “I am grateful for Books from Birth's continuing efforts to prepare young children for success in school and a lifetime of learning as they transition to a new home at Porter-Leath.”

“Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation is proud to be the major funding partner for this program,” said Theresa Carl, GBBF President. “We know that BfB will continue to thrive as a program of Porter-Leath, impacting even more of Shelby County’s young children and families.”

Robert Fockler, President of the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, sees the benefit of joining the two organizations. “This merger takes advantage of the strengths of both organizations: Books from Birth's staff can focus on putting books in the hands of every pre-school age child in Shelby County, and Porter-Leath -- already one of the best-managed agencies in our region -- can provide the strong guidance and back office that comes from being the leader in services to our children. It will make both efforts stronger.” he states.

Whether it is providing proven preschool education, supporting families with holistic wrap around services, or delivering age-appropriate books to a child, both organizations agree that layered investments in early childhood bring the greatest return to Memphis and Shelby County.

About Porter-Leath and Books from Birth

For over 160 years, Porter-Leath has been the primary resource for Memphis' at-risk children and families. By focusing on the essential building blocks of healthy development, Porter-Leath not only gives them access to the tools they need, but also a sense of hope. Porter-Leath helps build stronger children, stronger families and a stronger Memphis through its mission of empowering children and families to achieve a healthy, optimal and independent lifestyle. Books from Birth promotes kindergarten readiness and strengthens family bonds in Shelby County by providing age-appropriate books for all children from birth to age five. For more information, visit

Porter-Leath Opens Early Childhood Support Center!

Porter-Leath is excited to announce the opening of its Early Childhood Support Center at 3400 Prescott Road! The ECSC will allow Porter-Leath to best serve clients in growing quality programs that now reach over 50,000 children under age five in Shelby County each year and unify over 100 staff in one location.

The Golightly Early Head Start Center at the Manassas campus will continue to serve 56 children and Sarah’s Place will continue to provide around-the-clock care for teens and runaway/homeless youth, all without interruption.

Porter-Leath has launched the Preserve the Past capital campaign to revitalize the former administrative building located on the Manassas Campus. For more information,​ please contact Rob Hughes at 901-577-2500 x 1167.​