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Undertaking an Adventure

Undertaking an Adventure

Periodically, we mention our entrepreneurs at My Cup of Tea. Cheryl, Deborah, L. Cool and Rosalyn, with the support of volunteers, started micro enterprises to generate additional income in the areas of monogramming, sewing, furniture refurbishing, and jewelry-making and wig sales.

We began referring to them as entrepreneurs in the traditional American, capitalist context in which a person has an idea and takes the steps to monetize and hopefully profit from it. The word entrepreneur is a fairly modern word in that it is less than three centuries old. It comes from the French word entreprendre, which means “to undertake” or when referring to a person “adventurer.” Clearly, the My Cup of Tea entrepreneurs hope to make a profit, but the original meaning of the word may be more apropos in that each are undertaking an adventure requiring hard work, ingenuity, and courage.

Furniture Refurbishing (L. Cool)

Cool was hired at My Cup of Tea to perform general maintenance and to the keep the grounds. She does both with pride and great skill. As a child, L.’s mother would give her the job of putting together a piece of furniture or a shelf

purchased on a shopping trip, and she delighted in the task. At home, L. tinkers in her garage and enjoys woodworking. These abilities opened the door for L. to work with My Cup of Tea volunteer, Shelley, who has broad experience restoring and selling antique furniture. Shelley has helped L. learn to identify antiques and has helped L. gain experience in the use of various refurbishing and refinishing techniques.

Besides her skills and love for the work, what makes L. Cool so good at working with furniture is patience and persistence. The pieces she refurbishes didn’t devolve into disrepair overnight and restoring them to greatness doesn’t happen overnight either. L’s own experience with addiction required three failed attempts to get sober before she was finally successful. This year, L. celebrates 26 years of sobriety and a growing small business.

Monogramming (Cheryl)

Cheryl can monogram almost anything. From towels to purses to My Cup of Tea uniform shirts, Cheryl beautifully personalizes all sorts of items for customers.

Like the other entrepreneurs, Cheryl monograms to make extra money, but more than that she has a gift for bringing joy to others, and monogramming is one way she does it.

Cheryl is full of energy and knows many of our customers by name – but they all know her. They remember how enthusiastically they are greeted, how knowledgeable Cheryl is about our products, and how interested she is in them and their stories. Cheryl puts this same love and energy into the monogramming projects she does.

Jewelry and Wigs (Rosalyn)

You may know that Roz’s initial business was selling wigs. There is even a wig shop behind The House in Orange Mound. We helped launch Roz’s wig business because of her years of experience working in hair salons and her amazing creativity. Roz is the person at My Cup of Tea who does most of the

wrapping and decorating of gifts and packages. However, there is substantial competition for selling and styling wigs, and Roz needed another outlet for her creative gifts.

With the help of My Cup of Tea volunteer, Catherine, a very successful small business owner, Roz has begun making beautiful jewelry. Her offerings include stylish earrings, bracelets, and necklaces. All of her items are reasonably priced and make wonderful gifts.

Beyond selling jewelry and wigs for extra income, Roz uses her creativity as a welcome distraction from the challenges she faces as the primary caretaker for her brother who is recovering from two strokes.

Sewing (Deborah)

Deborah sews for My Cup of Tea and for her own sewing business, Deborah’s Creations. She learned to sew in a Home Economics class in middle school. At our recent Holiday Open House, Deborah’s festive Teacup Pouches were one of

our biggest sellers. The hot and cold therapy wraps that have been wildly popular over the last couple of years were sewn by Deborah as well as our tea cozies and aprons.

Deborah is an accomplished seamstress, but she is always willing to learn and has benefitted from working with her friends and our volunteers, Sandy and Beverly. Deborah’s pieces are so beautiful and popular because she strives for perfection in her work - not to receive any personal credit, but to please others. To be sure it’s right, Deborah spends hours sewing despite a health condition that makes it very painful to sit for long hours. She often steps away from the sewing machine to ease her pain but comes back a short time later to finish the job.

Conclusion

This holiday season, if you are able, please consider supporting one of entrepreneurs. There items are exclusive to The House, but if you can’t stop by, call us to hear what they have available, and we’ll even send pictures. Also pray for the manageable growth of their businesses and that we would identify other entrepreneurial opportunities for our other employees at My Cup of Tea who desire to pursue them. And, as always, thank you for undertaking this adventure with us.

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3 Reasons We Ask for Donations

3 Reasons We Ask for Donations

In the seven years since My Cup of Tea launched as a ministry in the Orange Mound community, we have experienced many changes.  Women have come to us for help and jobs, left us for all kinds of reasons, and then have come back again. We have been a part of births, illnesses, and deaths. We have celebrated milestones, grieved disappointments, encouraged each other, apologized to each other, and learned from each other.

A duplex on Semmes was renovated to host our tea operation and just two short years later, we moved to a larger, renovated Victorian-style home that we fondly call The House. We started our enterprise with a modest number of teas for sale. Today, we have 70 teas and at least one customer in every state except for Alaska and South Dakota. From 2020 to 2021, sales of tea and tea products increased by almost 35%.

Yet, with all that change and growth, we have applied for more grants and asked people like you for donations more than at any time in the last seven years. If you’ve noticed and you’re wondering why we ask, here are three important reasons.

Pragmatism

The first reason is a pragmatic one. While we could not be happier about the popularity of our products and the robust sales we have enjoyed, especially during the holidays, My Cup of Tea would have to sell nearly 60,000 boxes of tea annually to cover our expenses. We have 17 employees, and like most businesses, personnel-related costs consume the largest portion of our budget. And that’s a good thing, since a primary part of our mission is to provide jobs to Orange Mound women. Our second largest expense is the tea itself. As you probably know, we import tea from all over the world to ensure we are selling a superior product. Then, like all businesses, we have expenses related to our facilities, marketing, and professional services like accounting.

The bottom line is that without donations and grant funding, the business activities that provide the jobs for women would not survive.

Inclusion

The second reason we continue to ask for money is that we want to include as many people as we can in our cause. While we have some opportunities for volunteers to donate time and expertise, those opportunities are limited because so much of our day is spent filling orders. Also, not everyone can donate their time because of work, family obligations, or physical limitations. However, donating, even a small amount, directly impacts the lives of the women we serve. We are able to keep them working and earning a paycheck, and we are able to meet emergency needs that arise in their lives. It is for this reason we launched The Blend a few months ago. The Blend allows those who want to engage with us on an ongoing basis to contribute as little as $10 per month to support our work.

Sustainability

“Couldn’t a person just buy the tea to support My Cup of tea,” you might wonder.

Of course, and we encourage everyone to purchase tea for yourself, your family, friends, and coworkers. Most of us, however, will try a product once because it looks interesting or because someone told us good things about it. Whether we continue to purchase that product depends on many factors – quality, convenience, practicality, price, etc. This is why we are always excited to win a repeat customer. But a person who gives their hard-earned money to an organization expecting nothing in return is a committed supporter of the work and often will give again monetarily or in other ways. The regular repeat customer and the donor are the keys to long-term sustainability.

Changing the poverty cycle that may have existed for generations in a family and affecting revitalization of a community is not a sprint, but a marathon. We have taken important steps to ensure that My Cup of Tea thrives for many years to come, and one of those steps is building a base of financial support to sustain our work through the best and worst of economic times.

To be clear, if you are regularly purchasing tea, please continue. Those purchases create the physical work each woman at The House does. But if you want to invest in their lives more, then consider donating to us. The Blend, as mentioned, is a monthly donor network that comes with gifts and benefits for giving each month. If you would like to make one-time or periodic donations, you can do that here. And we also accept checks at 3028 Carnes Avenue, Memphis, TN 38111. All of these gifts are tax-deductible.

Finally, if you ever have any questions about our products or how we use your donations, email us. We are happy to discuss those issues with you.

And thank you for standing with us and the women of Orange Mound for all these years.

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Poverty about More than Money

Poverty about More than Money

When most people contemplate poverty, they think about a severe lack of income, which is partially correct. We are all familiar generally with the Federal Poverty Guidelines, which determine what kind of assistance one is eligible to receive and how much. The 2022 guidelines define poverty as a family of four with income of $27,750 or less.

Internationally, the World Bank labels anyone who lives on $1.90 per day or less as living in poverty. Other economists, sociologists, and organizations they represent have developed thresholds of $3.10 per day and $7.40 per day. In most places in the world, the definition of poverty boils down to what it costs to purchase adequate food, shelter, and clothing.

There is no doubt that these basics (food, shelter, clothing) are essential for one to overcome poverty, but addressing the issue from an exclusively monetary standpoint misses the mark. It reminds me of a quote from my high school history teacher,

“Money can’t buy you happiness, but you can be sad in a better part of town.”

I think Mr. Freeman was trying to grab our attention with a joke, but there is a broader point. If we could meet the basic needs of those living in poverty, which we should strive to do, there would still be a dearth of other critical resources – some that money can’t buy.

The ministry Compassion provides a broader definition of poverty,

"Poverty is hunger. Poverty is lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor. Poverty is not having access to school and not knowing how to read. Poverty is not having a job, is fear for the future, living one day at a time. Poverty is losing a child to illness brought about by unclean water. Poverty is powerlessness, lack of representation and freedom."

Another definition from educator, Dr. Ruby Payne that we’ve used before is,

“it’s [Poverty] a lack of resources: financial, emotional, mental, spiritual, physical, support systems, relationships, role models, and knowledge of hidden rules.”

 

What these two views of poverty have in common is that they are more inclusive than just lacking financial resources, and some of the absent resources cannot be bought - specifically, relationships and how one feels about oneself.

People living in poverty often describe themselves as ashamed, inferior, or powerless, according to the Chalmers Center. The relationships they have are mostly limited to people living in close proximity and struggling with the same poverty-related issues. This limits a person’s ability to connect with opportunities for education, housing, mental health services, etc. or to effectively navigate complex systems. How? Well, we all the know the saying, “it’s not who you are, but who you know.” Knowing who to ask, or even better, having a friend or acquaintance who knows the answer is a resource most of us take for granted. However, for the under-resourced, the lack of relationships is most often a guarantee of failure.

Another aspect to relationships that most of us don’t appreciate is the emotional and physical support relationships provide. Many living in poverty are single parents with no system of support. My wife and I have raised four children that are all born two years apart. We lived two doors down from my in-laws. My dad, stepmother, and sister lived 15 minutes away. My sister-in-law and her family lived 25 minutes away, and we were part of a church family. All were resourced and able to help us when needed, and we were still exhausted at the end of each day. Imagine a mother or father living at the poverty level with multiple small children and no one to offer encouragement, a ride, or a respite.

As daunting as a lack of relationships is, a poor self-image may be the most damaging. Feeling ashamed because you needed help or couldn’t provide for your children leads to a resistance to asking for all that you need or accepting what well-meaning people give even though it’s not what helps. Believing you are inferior results in staying quiet, rather than advocating for yourself and your family. And a sense of powerlessness, breeds an attitude of, “It won’t matter anyway, so why try?”

Let me acknowledge that we have written a lot about poverty already, and we will write more about it in the future. It is because we want our customers and supporters to understand that poverty is complex and people, no matter how hard they work, don’t overcome it in a short time. Because poverty is complex, we approach our mission more broadly than simply focusing on workforce development.

We provide jobs to help meet basic needs, but also to address feelings of inadequacy and so that everyone can experience the dignity of work. We incubate relationships between the women who work here, but also between the employees and the volunteers whose networks are far more expansive than those of the employees. We encourage the women to speak up, either in a group or one-on-one, about their needs, their struggles, and how we can help. And we offer Bible study and prayer, because we want them to know that we are all broken, but in Christ none of us has to be ashamed.

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Dancing in the Streets Again

Dancing in the Streets Again

An Answer to Violent Crime in Memphis

     The first week of September in our city has been fraught with anger, anxiety, and fear. A young mother of two was kidnapped and murdered while jogging, and a separate city-wide shooting spree killed four and injured three. Many have eloquently written laments for Memphis, and many have spoken on behalf of all of us who are caught in the vice of despair. Words and waiting… watching and wishing…

     Many were awakened to the inexplicable violence because it crossed an invisible barrier from our poorest neighborhoods to our wealthier ones. The kind of violence that many of the women in Orange Mound have become accustomed to exploded into communities considered to be “safe.” No longer could we acknowledge a crime problem in Memphis via nameless statistics, but instead we were able to put a name and a face to a number.

     For years now at The House, we have listened to, counseled with, and prayed for women who lost a husband, a child, a grandchild, a close friend to gun violence. We have also sought healing for women whose child or relative was a perpetrator of a violent crime.

 

     So, what do we do?  Who can fix us?

 

 

     Torrey Bates, of For the Kingdom, wrote in his most recent newsletter:

 

“The question isn’t, ‘Is the violence out of control?’ We each know that is a resounding YES. The question should be, ‘What do we do as children of God and bearers of His light in times like this?’”

 

     He continues:

 

“The issue we are dealing with is spiritual (Ephesians 6:11-12). Throughout the Bible, when a city was in disarray like we are, a remnant of believers’ first reaction was to bow before God, confess, and look to Him for wisdom before they stood up to take action.

 

     At the heart of God is loving our neighbors as we would love ourselves. Spiritual work starts first at home and then out to our neighbors loving them as we do ourselves. The work of loving our community is not a transactional one or for the soldiers, but for all of us to play a role in taking action out of love and giving the least of those what they need in order to rebuild the fabric of our city.”

 

     Jesus Christ writes through Solomon in Proverbs 11:10:

 

“When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices”.

 

     Someone broke that verse apart for me years ago.

 

     Hebrew for “righteous” is “tsaddiqim,” defined as the people who follow God’s heart and ways and who see everything they have as gifts from God to be stewarded for His purposes.

 

     Tim Keller adds that, “the righteous are those who disadvantage themselves for the community.”

 

     Thousands of righteous women have sung and run this week.  I heard the refrain, “Let this light of mine shine over Memphis Town.” The refrains were echoed across the world by like-minded righteous women holding candles and singing, “we shall overcome the dangers of our times.”

 

     The “rejoice,” in Hebrew means “dancing in the streets!”

 

     When the righteous prosper, according to Proverbs 11:10, even the poor neighborhoods can dance in the streets because the resources are pouring in and all of the needs will be met. Neighborhoods clean up and thrive, injustices are history, kids are parented, porches have swings, picnics abound, cars slow down, grass is mowed, people own homes, schools are respectable, teachers have sway, dads are present, jobs are secure, and gardens are everywhere.

 

     Jesus also said through Matthew’s Gospel in Matthew 18:19:

 

“If two of you, who are righteous, shall agree on earth in what they ask, it shall be done for them.”

 

     There is enormous power that exists when believers get in agreement with each other. This week alone, dialogue and demonstration has avowed that we are all in agreement and asking for peace and safety in our city.

 

     The Greek for “agreement” is sumphoneo.  It means there is a symphony, suggesting diverse instruments under the direction of a skilled conductor producing a masterpiece.

 

     Memphis can be God’s masterpiece again.

 

     Thousands upon thousands of us throughout our country, and even across the world agree, have sung about it, have run for it, and have prayed over it.

 

     There is a symphony accompanying the voices of women who are singing, “this little light of mine” will overcome! The darkness cannot isolate us, divide us, or discourage us.

 

     Our city is going to rise from the ashes. Where once we were the City of Churches, The City Beautiful of America, and the Capital of the Midsouth, we will be The City on the Bluff where children play freely in their front yards watching their parents dance in the streets.

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Grit-N-Grind

Grit-N-Grind

     The 901, especially its largest component, Memphis, is comprised of many distinct communities with their own traditions, histories, personalities, and venues. From architecture to eateries to neighborhood priorities, one can witness stark differences by simply crossing the street. These distinctions contribute to the incomparable aura that is Memphis. And if only one of these communities could be chosen as most representative of the community at-large, it would undoubtedly be Orange Mound. Yes, we’re biased, but here’s our case.

     It’s been more than a decade now since the phrase Grit-N-Grind was coined to describe the style of basketball played by our beloved Memphis Grizzlies during the Allen-Randolph-Gasol era. The city and its surrounding communities embraced the slogan, not just for applicability to basketball, but because it described a way of life for many Memphians.

     The median income in Memphis for an individual is $26,000 and less than $42,000 for a household. Only 31% of residents have educational attainment higher than a high school diploma. And we are all too familiar with the impact of crime on families, businesses, and neighborhoods. Making the ends meet for many is a daily grind and not for the faint of heart.

     Yet, there is pride and determination in our Memphis. We’ve seen bad times before, but we won’t quit, ever. We are perfectly capable of pointing out what’s wrong, so if you’re not from here, don’t be condescending by trying to tell us how we can improve. We love our barbecue, our blues, and our basketball, and we will line them up against your best any day, but we’re so much more than just those things.

     Like the city as a whole, Orange Mound’s median income and educational attainment are low – even lower than the dismal numbers citywide. Crime crept in during the 1980s and hasn’t left, and there is no doubt that putting food on the table and paying rent in Orange Mound is a gritty business.

     But Orange Mound knows good times too. It was once a thriving community for middle income African Americans who owned homes and businesses. The community is the home to elite athletes and scholars. Music legends played the Handy Theatre and civil rights icons like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. patronized Orange Mound businesses. Because of these attributes and more, there is a palpable pride in the neighborhood felt most intensely in conversation with people who have lived and attended school here. This group of Orange Mound residents won’t surrender their home to the plagues or poverty, crime, and blight.

     We hear the same sentiment from the women at My Cup of Tea. There is not a hint of resignation in their voices. No one has given up on the prospect of a thriving Orange Mound. The sentiment is more than “lip service” as some have purchased homes in the neighborhood, rather than moving. Others aspire to purchase a home in Orange Mound, rather than finding a way out. Each supports local businesses as often as they can, and some even volunteer for community organizations. Their goals to improve their own lives through employment at My Cup of Tea extend beyond their urgent needs to their neighbors and the Orange Mound neighborhood.

    So, this September 1st, please excuse us if we celebrate the 901 with a little extra enthusiasm. We’re not bragging…much. We’re just excited for all that we know Memphis and Orange Mound can be.

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5 Reasons Art Matters to Us

5 Reasons Art Matters to Us

If you read our blog or follow us on social media, you have likely seen various references to artistic endeavors we have, or are currently, pursuing. The tea box design contest, Kintsugi, sewing, refurbishing furniture, embroidery and the art-covered walls of The House are all examples of how we include exposure to and support of art in our daily tasks. But why? How does support for the arts help My Cup of Tea achieve its mission?

Here are 5 reasons we are intentional about incorporating art into strategy to improve the lives of Orange Mound women:

Arts are critical for community revitalization

As we told you in a blog post in June of 2021, there is broad agreement in the community development arena that art is essential to revitalizing a community. As a Princeton University working paper put it,

“The arts revitalize neighborhoods and promote economic prosperity. Participation in the arts improves physical and psychological well-being. The arts provide a catalyst for the creation of social capital and the attainment of important community goals.”

Bill Strickland, an activist and founder of the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild in inner-city Pittsburg argued in an NPR TED Radio Talk that exposure to beauty is critical to community change. He says whether music, painting, sculpting or dance, engaging with beauty on a consistent basis changes vocabularies, behaviors, and raises expectations for what is possible for the community to a new level.

Doing our part to help revitalize the once thriving Orange Mound neighborhood has always been a part of our mission, and therefore so is supporting the arts.

Creativity is important to health and healing

Referencing the trauma My Cup of Tea women have experienced is something we do often. We want you to better understand how remarkable it is they have survived and are making progress toward thriving. Overcoming that trauma is a process that can take many years. We pray together, recommend professional help, and incorporate art in our activities, like our ongoing Kintsugi classes we wrote about recently.

"Creativity in and of itself is important for remaining healthy, remaining connected to yourself and connected to the world." Christianne Strang, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Alabama Birmingham and the former president of the American Art Therapy Association told NPR in a 2020 interview.

The benefits are not limited to a single type of art, but extend to drawing, painting, knitting, cake decorating and a nearly unlimited list of possibilities. Participating in art can be healing for those coping with trauma but can also enhance well-being of those generally mentally and emotionally healthy.

Black artists are historically underrepresented

In 2019, a study was conducted by a group of mathematicians, statisticians, and art historians at Williams College together with Kevin M. Murphy, senior curator of American and European Art at Williams College Museum of Art, and Steven Nelson, professor of African and African American Art at UCLA, as reported by the digital news source, Hyperallergic. The study found that in 18 of the nation’s major museums, 85% of the artists represented are white and 87% are men.

We didn’t know about this study when we launched the tea box design contest last year, but anecdotally, we knew that there were Black artists doing amazing work who are virtually unknown. It is also true that Orange Mound is arguably the oldest African American neighborhood in the United States. We believed then, and now, that a Black artist was best positioned to represent the story of Orange Mound in the art for the tea box.

After a successful 2021 contest where we chose Andre’ Miller to create the art for our new tea box, we have relaunched the contest for 2022. The rules and rewards are the same, and the deadline is September 1st for artists to submit a portfolio. If you know of someone who might be interested, please direct them to the entry portal: www.shopmycupoftea/proposals

Art helps imagine a more hopeful future

Overcoming trauma and poverty requires hard work and perseverance, but it also necessary to believe that a better future is possible. This is true of any of us facing a daunting task or a discouraging season in life. Art is one of the ways we can manage those feelings of despair and doubt and look to better days.

Dr. Girija Kaimal at Drexel University is an art therapy researcher who works with patients suffering with PTSD. Dr. Kaimal told NPR that she believes the brain is a predictive “machine” that uses information to decide what we will do next and what we need to do to survive and thrive in the future.

"This act of imagination is actually an act of survival," she says. "It is preparing us to imagine possibilities and hopefully survive those possibilities."

Art is a gift from God

How many photos on social media do we see from all over the world of magnificent sunsets, sunrises, or rainbows? How often have the world’s most renowned artists depicted the stars, planets, and the moon? Creation alone is the ultimate artwork by the ultimate Artist.

Throughout the Bible, the harp, lyre, flute, tambourine, singers – the art of music- are called for worshipping God.

In I Kings 6, King Solomon builds the temple according to God’s commands. It included intricate artwork such as carvings “with gourds and open flowers,” entire areas overlaid with pure gold, a pair of cherubim approximately 15 feet tall each made from olive wood and overlaid with gold, and carvings of palm trees and cherubim in the doors to the temple. These are a few of the detailed works that were included in the temple design.

Clearly, we have been blessed with the gift of art, so we desire to incorporate it in our daily lives.

Conclusion

As we said last year, “beyond this single project, we envision future opportunities to empower and promote Black artists annually. Emphasizing the beauty and talent that exists in this historic community is essential to support its rebirth,” and the rebirth of the women we serve.

Retiring Shelby County Commissioner Reginald Milton, commenting in the Commercial Appeal on the opening of the Orange Mound Gallery may have said it best.

“Art is a way to express our fears, our passions, our concerns, our anger. Art is unique, it is a gift from God to humans.”

#tea #art #blackartists #tealover #painting #woodworking #teahouse #jewelrymaking #monogramming #sewing

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A Front Porch Promise

A Front Porch Promise

               The original homes built by Orange Mound African Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were modest in square footage on narrow lots.  The majority called shot-gun houses were one room about 12 feet wide and several rooms deep.  A hallway to one side connected all of the rooms.  A front porch with several rocking chairs and a swing, if space allowed, was always the norm.  

                Front porches were intentionally used to bring friends closer to the heart of the home. After supper in the Summer and all day on the weekends, the still air was stirred with chatter about current events, canards, kindness, and courtship.

                The ladies at the House in Orange Mound on Carnes are continuing the tradition as they rock on our front porch. Neighbors and strangers passing by are offered a wave and a smile. The “how to be a good neighbor” has been passed through generations, but the “where to do it” has diminished in time with the attrition of affordable, stable housing here.  The once proud and thriving community has been weakened by neglect, poverty, and graft.  No matter the deplorable condition of the home, the rent has increased, along with the leaks in the roofs and the numbers of rats entering through the holes in the floors. Front porches are gone, and the front doors are doubly bolted most everywhere.

                Almost every woman wants a safe home and one in which she can put her treasures on display, whatever those treasurers are to her. The My Cup of Tea ladies eagerly learn from our resourced volunteers how to personalize their spaces to reflect their taste and culture. Friendship and common interests have identified yet another soul connection in our midst. We continue to grow in fellowship sharing the common threads of domestic interests, home beautification, and how to DIY.

                Painting a cracked wall, putting plywood over a rat portal, or signaling S-O-S to repair a sinking roof is our immediate, temporary fix. Much like the boy with his finger in the dike, we have helped stave off disaster, but it is inevitable without a longer-term solution.

                When we founded My Cup of Tea in the duplex on Semmes Street, we

also purchased the lot across the street with the idea that one day we might grow enough to expand there. Over the last few years, circumstances changed. The duplex was better suited for the Neighborhood Christian Center, so we swapped locations giving us the space we need for now. And we discovered first-hand the deplorable living conditions plaguing some of the women who work here.

                With a sense of urgency, we partnered with United Housing, a local nonprofit whose mission is to provide quality housing opportunities to Mid-South residents. Our plan is to build 4 single-family, rent-to-own homes in a style consistent with the original architecture of Orange Mound. Using their expertise, United Housing is securing the funds to build these new homes. My Cup of Tea

is working to raise $25,000 to cover architectural, legal, environmental, and surveying expenses, known as “soft costs.” We need your help.

                We have applied for a $25,000 grant through Gannett, the parent company of the Commercial Appeal. Through their annual A Community Thrives campaign, we can become eligible for the grant, but first must raise a minimum of $6,000. If we, don’t qualify for the $25,000, we still keep everything raised and intend to use it for our housing initiative. All you have to do is click HERE and make a donation in any amount of your choosing.

With your support, women at The House who are interested will have the opportunity to apply to rent to own one of the houses. Securing these homes helps to stabilize their lives and further stabilize the Orange Mound community. Enthusiastically with prayer and assurance, a community with front porch hospitality will soon be a reality. Several of the ladies of My Cup of Tea are more than ready to rock on their own front porches on our block.

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Steering Wheel or Spare Tire?

Steering Wheel or Spare Tire?

“Marketing” and “Development” are corporate words for saying I sell tea and raise money to support the work at My Cup of Tea. Because we are bursting at the seams at The House with packaging and shipping activities, my work is primarily performed from my home office. But about once per week, I have the privilege of driving into Orange Mound and engaging with the ladies of My Cup of Tea.

At a recent meeting at The House, we were steadily ticking off the items on our agenda when we were unexpectedly interrupted. One of the employees came through the door at her normal time, but not for the purpose of work. She held the arm of her brother who gingerly shuffled across the hardwood floor trembling with each step. Several of the women stopped what they were doing, and the employee said,

“I brought my brother here today because he needs prayer. Will y’all pray for him now?”

Without hesitation, the women gathered in the main room where Rick and Carey Moore, My Cup of Tea’s founders, Debbie, our operations manager, and I were meeting. They didn’t ask if they could gather there when we had finished. They didn’t ask that we excuse the intrusion, nor should they have asked. Their matter was an urgent one that far outranked anything we were discussing. They invited us to join them in prayer, but none of us was asked to lead the prayer. The women had it covered.

We learned that this sick man, not really very old, had suffered from a stroke and previously spent months in the hospital recovering. He had been allowed to come home to his sister’s care, though he could do little for himself and had difficulty speaking. The stroke and the ensuing battle to recover was known among the women, and they had prayed for this man’s recovery for a long time, but this day was different.

He was there in person asking for prayer from people he didn’t know very well, but whom he had been told would pray for him. The specific request was that he would receive the financial support he needed to pay for his basic living and medical expenses since obviously he was disabled and not capable of working. His benefits had become the victim of government “red tape” and though he couldn’t verbally articulate it, the desperation was evident in his eyes.

His sister seated him at the head of the long, varnished table. I kept my seat, but the women encircled him and those that were able placed a hand on his shoulders or back. Someone asked Diane to lead the prayer, and boy did she. She spoke directly and reverently to God. Her words were filled with passion and genuine faith that God would answer. And after each entreaty, the women’s chorus would exclaim, “Yes, Lord,” “Please Lord,” and “Amen.”

After several minutes the prayer concluded. I felt tired, but relieved, as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders though the burden prayed for was not even mine. The man’s countenance had changed, too. He smiled, thanked the ladies as best as he could, and gratefulness, not desperation was the message in his eyes.

I don’t know how God has answered or is continuing to answer that prayer, but I have thought about the prayer and the experience often. Praying together and studying the Bible are strictly voluntary at My Cup of Tea. There is no requirement to share the same beliefs to work there, and no one is judged who opts out, though there is a standing invitation.

But there is one thing you can’t opt out of – being prayed for.

The women of My Cup of Tea pray regularly, fervently, and live by the command in Galatians 6:2 to “bear one another’s burdens.” They don’t have to know your burdens because they know that God knows them. They pray for each other, for our volunteers, and for a restoration of their community.

Corrie Ten Boom, the Dutch, Christian author famously asked, "Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?" The women of My Cup Tea have both hands on the wheel.

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Healing in Lament

Healing in Lament

         The genesis of the Japanese Kintsugi Art genre was over 600 years ago. In the repair of a broken vessel, gold is applied, and the original becomes of more value.  Briefly, I recognized the courage of our ladies and their similarities to Kintsugi and their “beauty from ashes” stories in our April Newsletter. The traumatic events in the lives of our ladies have not wounded them beyond repair as one might think. Pain and brokenness are common to humans.  In most cases, our heartaches are born from inevitable loss, poor choices, or tragedy. In the life stories of the My Cup of Tea ladies, those are also familiar, but other traumas include rape, incest, murder, shootings, domestic violence, and assaults.

         Counseling and therapy are luxuries even among the privileged. Most times, professional guidance is too expensive and illusive for the majority of our employees who live in our often dangerous neighborhood of Orange Mound. Not as a substitute for professional mental health treatment, but as a salve for some of the pain the ladies cope with daily, I was hopeful, but ill-equipped to offer a type of Kintsugi to our ladies at the tea company. I delayed, and my procrastination and the tyranny of addressing immediate needs proved providentially a blessing. The delays allowed me to identify Tracy Sigmon Shipman, a treasured friend, who had studied Kintsugi, designed several repairs, and  was eager to share her experience.
As she meditated over 6 weeks of prayer and preparation, I stirred some interest among several of our ladies and challenged them to sign up for her visits.

         Last week 5 MCOT ladies timidly stepped across the line of caution, shame, and privacy and introduced themselves to Tracy. She was equipped with tools, tips, time, and tenderness. There was a trust factor necessary for them to individually unveil the covered past and pain.

         Step 1 for them was to choose a beautiful plate, and it was easily accomplished. On the table, clean and flawless, 5 plates were placed in front of trembling hands holding a ball hammer. The first encounters of hammer to plate were gentle taps until Tracy said “harder, hit them with force,” and all the plates fractured. Tracy explained that the point on the plate of hardest assault would spider out in many connected wounds on the plate.  The significance was obvious.

         Step 2 was the methodical replacement of one piece joining the one situated next to it, slowly.  The ladies mixed epoxy glue, and with feather strokes of a brush loaded with glue, built back in order the damaged pieces. They moved too fast, the glue didn’t hold, and all plates either collapsed or released major and minor fragments.  Life parallels our need to repair plates, and our lives too quickly. The dialogue at the table was original and transformative.


         Step 3 was the strategic and delicate sanding and buffing of the hardened glue.  The plate was once again intact, sort of, and the cracks were hardened, but harsh. What a picture of all of us that is. One of the ladies paused, tears pooled, and said “this is a very spiritual experience for me”.  All nodded. A bond among the ladies was evidently growing, and Tracy continued to soothe us with Scriptures from the Psalter. Lament is the subject of 1/3 of the Psalms and was in rich supply throughout the workshop week. Tracy spoke truth and hope with love.

         In Step 4 they were each handed a tool to push powdered gold into the cracks. This required a surgeon’s touch but brought the burnished cracks to their illumining gloss.  Carefully and with reflection, each of the ladies began to share the story of her plate.

 “These 5 cracks, I have covered in gold are my 5 children.  This one stubborn piece at the top is my son.  He has resisted my discipline, broken my rules too many times, and caused me anger, shame, and hopelessness.  I am not going to let up or let go”.  She continued by asking us to continue to support her in her pursuit for what is best for him. “This plate story is a promise to me that he is God’s child, and He will see me through it and my son will grow to be a righteous man of God.  Amen.”

           Another woman, one of our newest employees uncovered her wounds of late in her plate’s story of her life.  “I have lost 3 precious family members to death in 4 months.”  With a choking voice, she continued,” there are 3 major cracks all joined to a small dime-sized hole here in the middle. That hole is my broken heart. It requires extra glue filler, and the gold that covers it is more obvious.” She allowed us into her story to help her repair her grieving heart and assist in carrying the shadows of frustrated loss.

         Soon their 5 plates will be displayed, and in the presentation to the co-workers, each of the first 5 will tell their plate parable. I hope all of our employees will want to participate in the profound experience that a burden shared is ½ the load. Joy comes in time and is quickened in community. A leap of faith in opening our wounds of complaint to trusted companions has begun in the beautiful activity of Kintsugi on the corner of Semmes and Carnes. We lament to find the hope of recovery and trust.

         Grief abounds, but grace abounds all the more. Lament is pain in prayer that leads to trust. Though we live in a world broken by sin, lament invites us to take our pain to trusted companions and our Savior. Our path reaffirms the process that we are more valuable because of not in spite of our sorrows and grief. We have 15 beautiful women who are growing, giving, and glowing in the Refiner’s grasp and His loving application of pure gold.


 Amen and amen.

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Let's All Blend In

Let's All Blend In

     From the beginning, we have taken pride in the fact that the tea we sell comes from some of the world’s best blenders with the expertise to concoct almost any flavor imaginable. The perfect cup of tea comes together when all the ingredients are blended expertly -- premium teas, organic fruit and nut pieces, carefully dried herbs and natural flavorings.

     At My Cup of Tea, we’ve learned that the ingredients to help women escape poverty are many, too. We provide jobs, training, mentors, and authentic relationships. When women need help beyond our expertise, we refer them to the clinicians and technicians who can help, and we often pay the bill. We by battle food insecurity by providing lunches daily and vegetable gardens for those who want them. We strive to impart knowledge about important aspects of living that are "common knowledge" to the resourced, but often new information for the low-income who have rarely left their neighborhoods.

     We have also learned that the blending of these ingredients is not the same for everyone. Metaphorically, everyone is seeking that “perfect cup of tea,” but the specific ingredients can be different from woman to woman. For instance, literacy among the women ranges from around college level to no better than sixth or seventh grade. Struggles with physical and mental health vary widely. Some have a strong grasp of managing a personal budget, while others come up short almost every month.

     While the blend may be different for each woman, the common ingredient is The House. The House is where they work, learn, eat, study, and pray. The impetus for coming to The House is to do their jobs preparing tea to sell to our customers across the country. Then we make time and prioritize the other needs while they are there.

     We must sell a lot of tea to have sufficient work for the women to do. Tea sales have grown by more than 30% per year since 2019, and we now have customers in 48 states. Yet, it might surprise customers and supporters to learn that about 65% of the revenue at My Cup of Tea comes from donations – donations from foundations, corporations, local government, and individuals. We could not support the operation without these funds, but most of the funding is only for one-year. So each year, we are seeking new funding to replace the previous year’s grants and donations. For long-term stability, My Cup of Tea needs a base of sustaining donors.

     That is why we invite you to join The Blend – a new network of monthly donors supporting My Cup of Tea. For as little as $10 per month, members of The Blend will play a vital role in sustaining our work and keeping hope alive for the women of Orange Mound. At any level of giving, every member will receive a members-only T-shirt and access to deals and discounts before the general public. At higher levels giving, members will be eligible for additional exclusive gifts and opportunities.

     To join or to learn more, visit The Blend page and please consider becoming a founding member.

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Graduating to Your Purpose

Graduating to Your Purpose

           This is the Graduation Season. Many of us have shared the exuberance of a race to the finish of a life assignment and then slowed to a walk and then to a stutter step with the next task less clear.  As we matriculate along the path, our parents have coached us, but now the comfy nest and free room and board are history. Into the wild blue yonder we are told to go. “Equipped,” they say. “You have all you need for the next chapter.”

            I never felt equipped to lead a mission into Orange Mound. Yet, I knew and now experience daily, the assurance that she whom God calls, He equips.

            God has used every aspect of who I am and where I came from to bring about the purpose He has for me. He factored in my background, level of education, parenting role of 5 children, and everything from my life experiences in teaching, short term mission work, domestic interests, my Spiritual gift, and many of my friends.

            As with the young men and women among us who are graduating, He led me into new territory.  Once committed, I was surrounded by unfamiliar faces who have since the beginning, taught me lessons I could have learned no other way.   At first, I thought I had read all of the right books and heard the orations of how to build a bridge to a different culture and socioeconomic community. I was confident the Lord was shepherding me and believed He would use my knowledge and reward my eagerness.  I can now look back over the last 10 years and gasp at my naivete, blunders, and how little I knew. Now, I am ever more grateful for how faithful He has been to override my mistakes with His grace.  He has led skilled and gifted men and women to walk with me.  He has brought lovely and courageous women to work with me in the tea company.  He has broadened our reach and strengthened our grasp of His mission on the corner of a busy street in a neighborhood to which I am now devoted.

            As for you, He is at work as well. He will get you to exactly where you need to be. As He did for Paul the Apostle, Daniel the Prophet, Esther the Queen, Deborah the Judge, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and countless more.  And it’s worth remembering that none of these “Biblical heroes and heroines” were powerful or influential people of their day.

           What He continues to do for the ladies of Orange Mound, He will do again. He will use your background, your education, your past, and everything you have accumulated.  He will lead you to places with strange sounding names and unfamiliar faces.  His face, however, will be more visible than ever before. His voice will be more audible, and His presence will be worth it all.

            Don’t dare miss your opportunity to trust His path for your purpose in His Kingdom. He promises all of the equipment and equippers you will need to step forward. He will do the work and give you the diploma.
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Casseroles for the Bereaved. Secret Santa for the Poor.

Casseroles for the Bereaved. Secret Santa for the Poor.

     When someone dies in the South, Southerners know exactly what to do.

     Make a casserole.

     In fact, as we age and experience death more frequently, we keep at least two in the freezer at all times.

     While our motive to comfort is authentic, does the bereaved person really need or want a casserole? Maybe instead she needs someone to clean the kitchen mess created by the food that was delivered; or to take her kids to play, so she can have time to grieve alone.

     For many, caring for the poor follows a similar pattern. At Christmas, we solicit toy donations for delivery by a secret Santa. We fill red plastic tubs with “needs” provided by anonymous organizers at church. What if a mother desires the dignity of purchasing the gifts for her children, but can’t because the family car needs a repair? What if we paid to repair the care, so she can buy those gifts?

     These are the kinds of lessons that are hard to learn when our hearts are in the right place. But they are lessons we must heed if we genuinely desire to alleviate poverty.

     When Carey and Rick Moore founded My Cup of Tea, it was because the overt needs in the community were jobs. They purchased the tea company and began hiring women from Orange Mound to package and sell tea. It didn’t take very long, though, before they began to discover a seemingly bottomless pit of unspoken needs not being met.

     Steve Corbett, co-author of the best-seller, When Helping Hurts says this:

     “If we reduce human beings to being simply physical—as Western thought is prone to do—our poverty-alleviation efforts will tend to focus on material solutions. But if we remember that humans are spiritual, social, psychological, and physical beings, our poverty-alleviation efforts will be more holistic in their design and execution.”

     At My Cup of Tea, we strive to be more holistic, but by “holistic” we don’t mean every unmet need is being fulfilled. Instead, we are intentional about considering the spiritual, social, and psychological as well as the physical. We are continuing to employ new approaches to discovering how we can assist Orange Mound women in the ways they need and want.

     Every spring, we survey our customers to understand how we can improve. While gathering that data, we also survey our employees. The surveys are anonymous and administered by a third-party. No one in leadership or management knows how anyone answers, and co-workers only know if they share with one another. The typical questions about job satisfaction and process improvement are part of the drill. But we also dig deeper. We ask if the ladies have unmet needs My Cup of Tea can address. We probe to learn what more My Cup of Tea could do to support them in their neighborhoods. And we ask them how we are failing to meet our mission and what we can do differently.

     Truthfully, the first time we asked, everyone said all their needs were met, and all answered My Cup of Tea was doing everything right. We know this is not true. Over time as we continued to ask and listen, desires and concerns have surfaced. We have taken steps to engage in the places they have identified both for their benefit and to solidify trust.

     Later this year, we will formalize the mentoring that has been occurring informally for a few years, now. These Orange Mound women are volunteering to be matched with women volunteers with whom they have developed a relationship or with whom they share multiple common interests. A primary goal is understanding – understanding struggles and obstacles the ladies face and how they would desire, or even if they desire, for someone to intervene.

     And we continue to pray together. Prayer happens daily at the House. Sometimes in a large group or a small group, and other times one-on-one spontaneously. When an employee feels safe and unjudged, she shares the circumstance for which she desires prayer, and that opens the door to conversation – the kind of conversation where she talks and we listen.

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