Moving to a new home is never easy. An excess of old, forgotten objects all turn up and make it hard to choose what to keep and what to get rid of. For Meritan, however, the rigors of the moving process will be long forgotten once the nonprofit organization finally moves into its new home at 345 Adams Avenue.
Founded in 1961, Meritan is a health and social services nonprofit based in Memphis, but provides services all around Tennessee, Arkansas, Georgia, and Mississippi. For the Mid-South, it offers a wide range of expansive services, including foster care, in-home care for the elderly and disabled, housing opportunities for people with AIDS, senior employment programs, and residential services for individuals with physical or intellectual disabilities. The residential care helps with the completion of daily activities like buying groceries, shopping, doing laundry, meal preparation, and reintegration into society.
One of their more recent programs, however, has focused on solving the issue of elder abuse. “The newest thing that we’ve been doing for a couple of years is our Coordinated Response to Elder Abuse [CREA],” says Melanie Keller, president and chief executive officer of Meritan. “The organization itself is called CREA, but the Plough Foundation works with several organizations in Memphis to address elderly neglect, so we work with a lot of other nonprofits and local government agencies.” Meritan’s main goal for CREA is emergency housing placement or relocation for seniors currently living in a neglectful home. While there are occasionally referrals from nursing homes, many of Meritan’s interventions are required out in the larger community. “It’s either willful neglect and abuse, maybe something like financial exploitation, or simply people who don’t know what their resources are and don’t know how to help people who are old and sick.”
While its main Poplar location has provided Meritan a stable platform almost three decades, preparations began for a move three years ago. Making sure they had the right location was imperative. “There was one property in Bartlett that we didn’t even bother to look at,” says Keller. “I mapped it out and saw that it would take somebody from South Memphis two and a half hours through bus changes to get to it, so that wasn’t an option.” Meritan’s main focus is to care for the elderly and disabled, many of whom have to take public transportation to get around town.
After a thorough process, Meritan settled on the Adams Avenue property. Formerly owned by Memphis Bioworks Foundation, the new space provides both functional and financial improvements over the old Poplar offices. Many of the accessibility issues that a four-story building presents for senior and disabled citizens are removed. A designated training area will be available for tech-centered classes where Meritan teaches seniors how to use iPads, tablets, and other types of modern technology to ease a transition back into the workforce. Foster parents, instead of sticking their kids at a desk or cubicle during training, will now be able to drop them off in a designated play room. It will contain entertainment amenities like a foosball table, TV, and computer, and also have comfortable furniture for relaxation.
On the financial side, owning its own building will free up Meritan to focus more on its myriad services. “It was a land lease,” says Keller, “and immediate repair needs are about $575,000. That doesn’t include ongoing maintenance or the cost of the land lease, so it made more sense to us to move and own our own building.” 345 Adams places Meritan right on the cusp of the Edge district, near Victorian Village. It had stood vacant for seven years, and required a complete gut job to be repurposed for the organization’s use. The new headquarters will measure 17,000 square feet, and Meritan is running a campaign to fund the move. “We’re trying to raise $2 million, because every dollar we don’t have to use towards the new building is money that can go towards our services. And I would much rather spend money on helping a senior victim of elder abuse than a mortgage.”
On the fundraising front, Meritan is perhaps best known for its Midnight Classic Bike Tour. Held annually at Tiger Lane, the 15-mile ride held its 18th iteration in August. For the holiday season, Meritan focuses on its Silver Bells program, which kicked off on November 7th. Silver bells are placed on a Christmas tree, each bearing the name of one of the seniors under Meritan’s care. When a donor selects a bell, they adopt a senior and gain access to the recipient’s Christmas shopping list.
“It usually includes simple items like pots, pans, towels, sheets, robes, or slippers,” says Keller. “Or, they can make a financial donation, and that goes toward anyone who wasn’t adopted. We then go out and purchase items on their Christmas wish lists.” When everyone’s holiday gifts have been paid for, the leftover money is set aside for Meritan’s other services.
The new Downtown location will give Meritan a more accessible base of operations than its previous Poplar offices, with easy highway access to the downtown area making a commute for some of Meritan’s patients much easier. Moving an entire organization is never easy, but Keller is up for the challenge and looking forward to the new home. “Take moving your house you’ve lived in it for almost 30 years, and there’s the whole process of going through ‘what do i need, what can I keep?’” says Keller. “We have a lot of records, and there are some we are required to keep for a very long time. It’s a good kind of stress, but I’ll be happy when it’s all over.”
For more information about Meritan and its services, visit meritan.org