$25 Million Grant for GROWWTH Largest in UofM History

May 5, 2022 – A community partnership led by the University of Memphis received a record $25 million Tennessee Opportunity Pilot Initiative (TOPI) Implementation Grant for its Growing Relational and Generational Wealth for West Tennessee Households (GROWWTH) proposal. The Tennessee Department of Human Services (TDHS) Families First Community Advisory Board awarded the grant.

The GROWWTH proposal was one of seven awardees selected from 17 finalists and an original pool of more than 80 statewide applicants. TOPI grants are designed to move families from a temporary safety net of benefits to self-sufficiency and economic mobility. 

“I want to congratulate the GROWWTH project leaders who worked to secure this historic grant,” said UofM President Bill Hardgrave. “This is a testament to the ability of departments across our University and partners in our region to work together and create upward economic opportunities for West Tennessee families. We greatly appreciate the Department of Human Services for recognizing GROWWTH as a worthy recipient of such a highly competitive grant.”

Key elements of the GROWWTH proposal include:

  • Target population: Low-income families residing in the 21-county West Tennessee region (Benton, Carroll, Chester, Crockett, Decatur, Dyer, Fayette, Gibson, Hardeman, Hardin, Haywood, Henderson, Henry, Lake, Lauderdale, Madison, McNairy, Obion, Shelby, Tipton and Weakley).
  • Collaboration: As a leading resource for talent development in the region, the University’s infrastructure, experience managing large-scale projects and commitment to diversity and inclusion coupled with the resources and expertise of the partnering regional workforce boards and community organizations renders a powerful collaborative.Led by the Center for Regional Economic Enrichment, a variety of units within the University will work with a network of local businesses, three regional workforce boards (Workforce Midsouth, Southwest Tennessee Workforce Board, and Northwest Tennessee Workforce Board), the Greater Memphis Chamber, and seven community organizations (Abyssinian Missionary Baptist Church, Community LIFT, Economic Opportunities [ECoP], Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope [MICAH], Stand for Children, Whole Child Strategies, and The Organizing Expert). 
  • Key priorities: Alleviating key barriers decelerating West Tennessee’s low-income wage earner achievement of self-sufficiency. Similarly, to address the labor force challenges experienced by existing regional employers and prepare for the evolving workforce demand of Ford Blue Oval City.
  • GROWWTH Academy: An accelerated workforce readiness program was designed in direct response to skills deficits identified by local businesses and the target population. The innovative curriculum addresses gaps that limit readiness for stable employment while tackling employer gaps that limit their readiness for offering sustainable career pathways. Businesses throughout the region have committed to hiring Academy graduates.
  • Microbusiness Development: A special feature of GROWWTH is the selection, coaching and nurturing of West Tennessee microbusinesses, of great import to a post-pandemic economy.  The three-month microbusiness module focuses on empowering participants to combine their existing skills and knowledge with business competences and resources (advice, sales and capital).
  • Personal Learning & Wellness: For families to appreciate the value of and have a vision for lifelong learning, personalized learning experiences are available to meet their individual and family needs. Likewise, GROWWTH will draw upon existing University of Memphis programming to offer a battery of interventions, as appropriate, to address unmet socioemotional needs that hinder families from moving from surviving to thriving.
  • Goal: The GROWWTH goal is to serve 2,500 low-income households impacting the lives of 7,500 West Tennessee citizens (1 parent + 2 children = 2,500 parents + 5,000 children) during the three-year funding period. Attainment of this outcome would yield a net benefit -- including the boost to the gross domestic product and savings of $330 million from reduced social safety net spending – of $850 million over the next 10 years.

“The GROWWTH team and partners are anxious to work with the Tennessee Department of Human Services enhancing the self-sufficiency and economic mobility of low-income West Tennesseans as well as addressing the region’s workforce needs,” said Dr. Richard L. Irwin, executive dean, UofM Global and Academic Innovation.

Accomplishing the following goals will best enable families to achieve these ambitious outcomes:

  • Alleviating key barriers decelerating West Tennessee’s low-income wage earner achievement of self-sufficiency
  • Improving family access to eligible and needed resources to adequately prepare for and maintain economic mobility
  • Implementing a holistic approach focusing on the personal and professional well-being of the family
  • Strengthening the existing system by leveraging partner resources
  • Inspiring families to appreciate the value of growth mindset and a vision for lifelong learning. 
  • Full implementation is expected in the fall of 2022. For more information, please visit www.memphis.edu/growwth.


About the Tennessee Department of Human Services
The Tennessee Department of Human Services (TDHS) views its programs and services as instruments for creating positive change in the lives of Tennesseans. Each of the Department’s customer-facing divisions administers supports that empower residents to reach their potential as self-sufficient contributors to Tennessee’s economy and communities. TDHS is committed to ensuring its investments in communities statewide are supported with the resources they need to successfully move families from crisis to and through career pathways. Through the Tennessee Opportunity Pilot Initiative, Tennessee will be able to demonstrate with measurable data those strategies that are most effective at reducing dependency and growing the capacity of our most vulnerable citizens.


Chuck Gallina | 901.678.1756 | cgallina@memphis.edu