WCS & NPI: Partnering to remove systemic obstacles that affect students’ lives, communities, and families.

Whole Child Strategies partners with Neighborhood Preservation, Inc. in a shared commitment to resolving the systemic barriers to equality in Memphis neighborhoods.

Feature photo: Student leaders and teachers at Humes Middle School during the Klondike and Smokey City Neighborhood Council holiday celebration in December 2019. A new partnership between Whole Child Strategies and Neighborhood Preservation Inc. will help address community needs identified by the NC and neighborhood residents. Photo by Reginald Johnson Sr. for Whole Child Strategies

By Mark Fleischer

“The need for our united effort was clear before,” said Natalie McKinney, “but never more than right now.”

Natalie McKinney is executive director and co-founder of Whole Child Strategies, Inc. (WCS), an organization founded in the summer of 2017 with a single, simple objective: to ensure that Memphis students living in communities disproportionately affected by poverty graduate from high school on time, and ready to succeed in college and careers. 

Earlier this month, WCS announced an ongoing partnership with Neighborhood Preservation, Inc., the organization dedicated to promoting neighborhood revitalization and addressing Memphis’ issues with blighted properties and neglected communities.

It’s an important partnership for WCS. NPI’s work depends on having its finger on the pulse of every disinvested neighborhood in the city, a resource critical to WCS’s mission of serving communities in poverty.

“Through this partnership, we have been able to cultivate a stronger understanding of community needs over time,” said Susannah Bartlow, PhD, senior project manager of WCS. “As organizers, that information helps us stay attuned to what communities really want; so that we can help step into the gap during an acute crisis, but also to contribute to long-term, community-led solutions to the deeper challenges our neighborhoods face.”

“When we heard about their work we simply offered to do what we could to help while our team is working from home,” said NPI President Steve Barlow. “They asked us to make calls and get surveys completed by phone, text or email. We were very excited to be able to play a small role in deploying this fabulous resource developed by WCS.”

A need for recurring food and rent assistance

For their role, and based on their areas of expertise, the NPI team volunteered to call, email and text the community members on a WCS member list to ask them to complete a needs assessment/survey (see link below). This allowed the WCS team to focus on filling the needs identified and to matching people in need to programs with resources.

During the pandemic shutdown, it may come as no surprise which needs have been most pressing. NPI program manager Imani Jasper, when asked the kinds of needs that have surfaced most, told us it a need for recurring food and rent assistance.

“Getting the right resources to people — and especially those most likely to be left behind in this pandemic — is crucial to keeping our communities healthy and safe,” Susannah Bartlow continued. “The team at Neighborhood Preservation, Inc. has worked tirelessly right alongside our organizers to figure out what our communities need and how to help them meet those needs at a time when gaps in support could truly prove disastrous. We couldn’t be more grateful for their support.”

Key to meeting community needs are WCS’s partners, which form a network of sorts of place-based organizations doing similar work during the pandemic. Also among these partnerships are area high school and elementary schools, and neighborhood organizations such as the Klondike and Smokey City Neighborhood Council (NC).

“We are so very proud of the partnership Whole Child Strategies has forged with Neighborhood Preservation, Inc.,” said WCS co-founder Natalie McKinney. “Our work is rooted in a shared commitment to resolving the systemic barriers to equality in Memphis neighborhoods — in education, employment, and housing access especially. The need for our united effort was clear before, but never more than right now. NPI’s incredible team has been invaluable as we mobilize to serve Klondike and Smokey City. For their work, we are truly grateful.”

For more information on Whole Child Strategies, please visit their website at wcstrategies.org

If you are in need of the resources that WCS has to offer, please take a moment to complete the survey in the link provided here. The survey is here to let Whole Child Strategies know what assistance individuals and families need. https://tinyurl.com/ybodwyzt

About Whole Child Strategies

Whole Child Strategies was created in summer 2017 with a single, simple objective: to ensure that Memphis students living in communities disproportionately affected by poverty graduate from high school on time, and ready to succeed in college and careers. 

Getting to that goal, however, is where our work becomes more complex. Research shows that more than 60 percent of factors associated with student academic success happen outside the school walls — important factors like quality affordable housing, food security, access to health care, mental health services, and parents’ earning prospects. That’s why we take a holistic approach to address the obstacles outside of the schools that affect students’ lives, communities, and families.

Our Method

We partner with residents, schools, community-based businesses and organizations, faith-based entities, as well as local and national educational non-profits, to empower our communities through self-determination and address root causes of the obstacles our children face inside and outside of the classroom. Unlike many other intermediaries, we don’t create programs based on assumptions. Instead, we rely on the experience and expertise of community members to identify needs, develop solutions and implement long-term change.


Since we began this work, Whole Child Strategies has cultivated a network of partners and stakeholders reflective of the Klondike and Smokey City community and committed to helping the neighborhood succeed. 

In Supporting Education

We partner with Shelby County Schools, Perea Schools, Believe Academy, Memphis Scholars and Frayser Community Schools to provide administrative and operational support for community stakeholders and schools as they identify assets and root causes impacting students’ academic success. 


  • Humes Middle School
  • Manassas High School·      
  • Perea Preschool 
  • Memphis Scholars Caldwell Guthrie (to 2018)


  • Believe Memphis
  • Vollentine Elementary
  • Perea Elementary School 


  • Innovate Memphis
  • Center for Transforming Communities

Our work with neighborhood schools includes providing grants to address basic needs and resources, alleviating direct and emergency needs through partnership with the Family Safety Center, increasing literacy and education access in coordination with City Year and ALL Memphis, and creating a full picture of school and neighborhood success using quality data and outcome measurement

In Empowering Residents

The Klondike and Smokey City Neighborhood Council (NC) began in September 2017 with a goal of reinvigorating that community for the next generation. Our partnership with the growing number of residents and local organizations that participate in the council has yielded critical stakeholder insight to identify and prioritize needs; uncover assets; determine resource gaps; recommend specific solutions; and pinpoint root causes of factors impacting student attendance, behavior, and course performance. WCS continues to facilitate and support the KSC Neighborhood Council as it progresses toward becoming a self-sustaining, community-led organization. To date, we have held 18 KSC Neighborhood Council meetings with 343 distinct attendees.

In the first 18 months, the council identified seven categories for priority focus: community engagement, community maintenance, youth engagement, health/wellness, crime/safety, employment pathways, and transportation. Within those areas, the group proposed a total of 34 potential projects. So far, 14 projects have been initiated and 9 completed

During the 2019-2020 school year, the council began focusing on three areas in particular: crime/safety, transportation, and quality affordable housing. 

In Understanding our Community

Decades of research and hard-earned experience has proven that applying short-term solutions to the enduring, generational nature of poverty simply doesn’t work. What’s more, even the most well-intentioned solutions will fail if not informed by the expertise and perspective of the people most impacted — the people living and working in our communities.

That’s why Whole Child Strategies focuses on providing critical insight into the assets, opportunities, and resources of the communities. We employ quality data collection to help residents and community leaders to map resources, form partnerships, and coordinate efforts to improve their lives. Our place is to build capacity for community-led, data-informed advocacy. Together, we can lift up long-term, sustainable solutions to poverty that ensure every child can enter school engaged and ready to learn.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.