Juice Orange Mound’s Britney Thornton sees a wealth of possibility in the blight and ruin. (Courtesy photo)

Britney Thornton and Alisha Gordon – separated by about 17 hours and 1,100 driving miles – are connected by their mutual commitment to help grow the communities they serve – Orange Mound in Memphis and Harlem, New York.

An Orange Mound community initiative has been crafted to take 15 single mothers from poverty to savvy business women next year. Juice Orange Mound will kick off the innovative project in the new year with some help from a women’s program in New York’s historic Harlem.

Harlem program director Alisha Gordon (Photo: Ashli Clark)

“We started our program in May, right in the middle of the pandemic,” said Gordon, consultant and proprietor of The Current Project in Harlem. “Our focus was on the mental wellness of four single women in Harlem. We will partner with Juice Orange Mound (JOM) to focus on entrepreneurship in this next phase.”

Thornton, founder of JOM, said the joint project will explore how ecommerce and running an online business can create wealth and independence for single mothers, who also head households, during the Juice Business Incubator (JBI) project.

“The six-week program is going to be all-electronic,” said Thornton. “The idea is to establish a business incubator to provide mentorship and resources for women in various stages of business development.”

Tier I subjects are ready to test the waters. Tier II entrepreneurs have already begun to engage the market and Tier III women run a brick-and-mortar business that presently is unprofitable.

Juice Orange Mound has the Verizon Foundation to thank for the $40,000 grant fueling the initiative.

The Orange Mound-Harlem joint venture will not only draw two historic African-American communities together, while taking on the digital divide that has left so many behind.

According to the U.S. Census, some 45 percent of the households in the Census tracts that include Orange Mound are headed by women.

“I brought four women together to actualize their dreams and visions,” said Gordon. “The Current Project was born out of my own experiences as a single mother and my struggle to attain a social and economic benefit for my family.

“The first phase dealt with mental health and wellness,” said Gordon. “Our approach is a narrative therapy. Single mothers got a chance to unpack all their negative experiences by telling their stories. Shame is always at the root. So, the discovery becomes, ‘Oh, so I am depressed,’ or ‘Oh, so I do have those issues around money.’”

The four Harlem women also tackled financial literacy. The next move will involve developing financial independence through entrepreneurship or securing employment upon which the family can thrive.

Gordon will consult with Thornton and JOM participants to provide both mental wellness and financial independence to the JBI. Thornton, will in turn, share resources and expertise to women in The Current Project, to advance entrepreneurship and independence.

Beyond the six-week initiative, Thornton hopes that other business sponsors will invest in extending the program beyond Orange Mound.

Single mothers in Orange Mound who are interested in the program may call: (901) 300-6621, for additional information.