Over a period of about two years, April Powell became associated with The House at Orange Mound and then became employed at My Cup of Tea (MCOT). The slow process—similar to the waiting time while tea steeps—changed her life.
“I moved to Orange Mound from South Memphis and stayed with my children’s father. I’m a stay-at-home mom,” began the petite, attractive, 38-year-old mother of a five-year-old girl and three-year-old boy. “I was sitting around and wondering what to do. I needed something more.”
She had passed The House on the corner of Semmes and Carnes and knew it provided community services. One day she stopped. She learned that The House offers many free classes for Orange Mound women, like GED catch-up classes.
“I didn’t need all that. I was a third year college student and had worked in health care and as an administrative assistant. I had the basic skills,” she said.
Then she heard about a Bible study. “Mmmmmm,” she mused. “I’ll check that out.” She went and kept coming back. “I was blown away! The volunteer teachers broke the Word down and enlightened me. I was like, ‘Wow!’” she exclaimed.
As she spent more and more time at The House, she made new friends and saw new ways of doing things. “I enjoyed meeting women from the community. The House was giving me and them skills to take in and to use in life,” she said.
She describes The House this way: “There’s an openness to others, to serving and showing empathy to neighbors. There’s an encouragement to take the opportunities given to you. The House is a little light shining in the community.”
Powell knows there are many problems in the Orange Mound neighborhood and many, many women have overwhelming concerns. Yet she’s noticed that The House welcomes all. “We accept all women and give them a chance,” she said. She cites her own experience as one she would like all women in Orange Mound to have: “The thing that has kept me here and grounded me is the love and hope from the women. There is so much.”
In addition to becoming a Bible study regular, she began taking classes and completed them. “I could see that everything that I was wanting to do, I was getting the experience to do it here at The House,” she said. Then she laughed as she remembered thinking, “Lord, are you speaking to me?”
She particularly enjoyed a hospitality class. “I learned how to set a table and do a proper place setting, and how to make high backs for chairs and dress up a chair,” she said.
When the tea program came up, Powell was among those House regulars asked to volunteer for it. Volunteering at MCOT increased her skills as well. “It showed me how to do shows, and make tea, and design crafts,” she said.
In the process she learned a lot about tea. “We have a great product and so many flavors. We are teaching healthy lifestyles. When someone wants sugar, we suggest honey,” she said.
Tea knowledge gave her another skill: selling. Her confidence soared with success. She and other MCOT volunteers exhibited at the Memphis Farmers Market, were a vendor-selling team at the Racquet Club, and hosted tea parties at Bellevue Baptist Church, Orange Mound Gallery, and Second Presbyterian Church.
Meanwhile, her confidence grew in the Lord. “I volunteered for a year and a half and I didn’t lack anything. God did miracles with my money. He has built me up and given me more boldness. I’m able to be in front of people,” she said.
Once it was able, MCOT hired Powell and the other volunteers. They have been employed since October 2015.
Powell appreciates Carey Moore, the woman with the founding vision for The House and then for MCOT. “Miss Carey keeps pushing for us to be better. All things are possible. She keeps pushing, no matter what,” Powell smiled.
When asked to explain this a bit more, Powell said, “If you want to move higher in life, you’re going to have to change up some things and learn language and etiquette.” Powell likewise appreciates the volunteers from Second Presbyterian who regularly come and serve the Orange Mound community and The House. “They’re teaching us how to do things. We have to be the best representatives of who we are,” she said.
But best of all, Powell sees how God is working in her life and blessing her through her association with The House and MCOT. “God is making me non-judgmental. I am not in a hurry. He’s given me a lot of patience,” she said. “He’s given me a vision that the same things I am learning here can be taught in South Memphis.”
Powell encourages other Orange Mound women to do as she did: stop by The House and enjoy the friendship and love that are obviously present! “We are here for one another. We want you to go beyond where you are right now,” she said.
Based on her own life, Powell said that “God has given me a solid foundation. He is in control.” Then she added with a confident twinkle in her voice, “There ain’t no telling what God will do!”
- Robin Gallaher Branch