How Shelly Rice transformed the Memphis organization

Shelly Rice recalls the days when the weekly Frayser Exchange Club meetings had only a handful of attendees in the early to mid-2000s. He believed the long-standing civic organization felt closer to demise. than to turn the tide.

A firm believer in what civic organizations can do for a neighborhood, Rice had seen several groups such as the Kiwanis Club and Lions Club leave the community. He didn’t want the Exchange Club to leave too.

Rice became president of the Frayser Exchange Club – almost by default, he jokingly admits – in 2006. Over the past 16 years, the Exchange Club has reappeared as a vital community asset under Rice’s leadership. It is now a space where the residents of Frayser can share their successes and hear from others who are trying to improve the Memphis neighborhood.

Frayser Exchange Club President Shelly Rice at the Frayser Connect building on Tuesday, January 4, 2022. Rice, who was born and raised in the Frayser neighborhood, has been president of the civic club for over a decade.

“I grew up at a time when civic organizations were important to the community,” he said. “I just felt he had a lot of potential because there were so many good people and so many people wanted to see Frayser succeed.”

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Increased reach of the Frayser Exchange Club

The Frayser Exchange Club, a local branch of the national community service organization, began in 1969.

Every Thursday at noon, the leaders of the Frayser community and other civic leaders gather – practically these days – to hear the latest announcements in the neighborhood and a keynote speaker. Speakers often range from political leaders like Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland or Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris to Frayser leaders like Lifeline to Success founder DeAndre Brown.

Rice, 71, attracted these speakers as part of the Exchange Club’s revival.

Frayser Exchange Club President Shelly Rice at the Frayser Connect building on Tuesday, January 4, 2022. Rice, who was born and raised in the Frayser neighborhood, has been president of the civic club for over a decade.

“For me, that’s how you get people involved,” he said. “You build on it. Then people in other parts of the community hear about good things about your community and then they want to see how you do it. What makes you successful that we haven’t been able to exploit. That’s kind of how it started and for me, it kind of blossomed. I really believe it’s flourishing right now.

Even though the Exchange Club has not met in person since March 2020 due to COVID-19, the weekly meetings are attended by more people than ever before. Rice’s decision at the start of the pandemic to hold meetings virtually on Zoom bolstered the momentum of the organization he has built in previous years.

Rice, a retired broker, begins and ends each meeting. Before the pandemic, around 20 to 40 people attended meetings in any given week. Now that meetings are on Zoom, up to 70 or 80 people are attending. The December 9 meeting received at least 52 additional views on Facebook as the organization’s footprint continues to expand.

There is no charge or official way to join the organization beyond attending meetings. Before the pandemic, there was an offer to have lunch at in-person meetings that cost $ 5, but other than that others could attend meetings for free.

A personal investment in Frayser

Rice’s love and desire to see Frayser thrive began at a young age, long before her involvement with the Exchange Club.

He now lives in Hardeman County, but he and his family grew up in Frayser. Rice’s commitment to the neighborhood has not wavered through her continued work, even beyond the Exchange Club.

Part of that desire continues a legacy established by her father, Ed Rice. The neighborhood community center, a prominent Frayser space, is named after her father, in recognition of his work as a longtime advocate for the neighborhood.

“I took so much from him, I hope I at least have some,” Rice said of her father.

Rice also serves on the board of directors of the Frayser Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit agency dedicated to the issue of housing in the neighborhood.

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Frayser Exchange Club President Shelly Rice at the Frayser Connect building on Tuesday, January 4, 2022. Rice, who was born and raised in the Frayser neighborhood, has been president of the civic club for over a decade.

Steve Lockwood was executive director of Frayser CDC from 2002-2020 and has said his good friend was one of the most generous people he has ever met.

“He’s remarkably humble,” Lockwood said. “For a guy to be such a leader and be so quiet about it is a pretty remarkable and quite unusual but wonderful combination.”

Rice’s relationships with many key Frayser executives also contributed to the success of the Exchange Club. Legacy of Legends Community Development Corporation executive director Charlie Caswell credits the Exchange Club with strengthening the neighborhood.

“It gives people hope and encouragement to know that you have so many engaged stakeholders and people standing up for the community,” Caswell said. “Frayser encourages us despite the news that we see several nights when you see the murders and other things happening. You can always look to turn and hear at the weekly Exchange Club the good things going on.

Rice has no plans to step down immediately, but everyone is aware that the day will finally come – although her legacy in revitalizing the Exchange Club is already assured.

“The exchange club must continue to Frayser and must be a vocal and active part (of the community),” Rice said. “Doesn’t need to be a partisan organization and therefore doesn’t need to be a person or group dictating who the speaker is… As long as they somehow have Frayser as a key point of what makes them There is a lot of stuff in Frayser Great country Great people Great people We’ve had ups and downs, but everyone’s got them.

Omer Yusuf covers the Ford Project in Haywood County, residential real estate and tourism for The Commercial Appeal. He can be contacted via email or followed on Twitter @OmerAYusuf.

Frayser Exchange Club

The Frayser Exchange Club meets at noon every Thursday. For information on Zoom or to learn more about the organization, email Shelly Rice at The Frayser Focus Facebook page sponsored by The Frayser Exchange Club also offers live streaming of all meetings.