by Sharonda Mitchell

As a young lady who was greatly inspired through Arts in our Schools and mentored through various summer camps similar to Sing-City; I know the impact of music first hand. Being a native of Memphis, my desire is to use my talents and experience to help kids and teens create a love for their gifts. Though I have directly hosted youth-centered events for years, the idea to establish an official not-for-profit organization came through an all-girls event that I served as host for in Whitehaven. Girls came from all over Memphis just singing, dancing, and expressing themselves. Even after the success of that event, there has remained a consistent connection to the youth of Memphis. One question kids always ask me is: “Will you teach me how to sing?” As a result, I founded Perfecting Gifts, Inc., a Youth Development Program for the Performing Arts teaching youth to use their “gifts instead of guns.” This phrase indicates the “positivity over negativity” idea and emphasizes that there is more power in being yourself and using your unique gifts! Perfecting Gifts exist to nurture, mature, and celebrate young performing artists!

In 2016, Perfecting Gifts received its 501c3 status with the encouragement and guidance of Deron Hall (then MMI’s Director of Strategic Partnerships). Deron was the bridge that connected our community work with MMI’s community program. In 2017, Perfecting Gifts was awarded an MMI Summer Beat Grant, and I was offered the opportunity to join MMI’s in-schools team as a Music Engagement Teaching Fellow, pouring skill development and encouragement into children. I was able to draw from my own skill and expertise in this role. It was the perfect opportunity for me to do what I love to do, while still having enough time to also run my non-profit organization. It has been a remarkable experience to say the least.

In 2018, Perfecting Gifts began participating in MMI’s Program Development Institute (PDI), receiving tailored support via a one-on-one consultant and a micro-grant. Starting a nonprofit is an exciting and rewarding opportunity, but it can also be challenging. Just because you have a great mission and vision doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be around for years. It’s a seemingly harsh reality, but it’s just that: reality. The PDI motivates me to keep sustainability in mind with the future of our organization at the center of conversation. All that we do should be strategically evaluated for the best interest of our work and the students we serve. Through the PDI, I have learned important information and services to help guide me through the tedious process of non-profit program growth and sustainability.  The Program Development Institute has been my greatest resource in being able to structure ideas surrounding the development of Perfecting Gifts. The PDI has enabled me to work alongside a coach (LaShundra Richmond, EdS) who is spending 20 hours a month with my program in mind. She is very knowledgeable in the area on non-profit development, and our collaboration has inspired many efforts. Being a person who is always full of ideas, the assistance of a coach helped me to transfer those ideas into an action plan. We have made so much progress.

The design of the PDI is so convenient for business people. We set our face-to-face hours around our schedules and we also convene electronically as needed. The PDI’s focus is set to design, refine, and measure. That is exactly what we have focused on. Being almost complete, it has really deepened my knowledge of non-profit strategies. My Consultant and I have been able to thoroughly analyze the work of Perfecting Gifts by critically evaluating components such as program goals and objectives, key program activities and partners, programmatic context and overview, program structure, organizational capacity, evaluation plan, etc. The program is only as effective as the planning, coupled with having the support to help drive the impact. Through the PDI, I have become more informed which has resulted in better decision making skills. I have learned to leverage and maximize all of my resources by linking with partners and community workers to expand our capacity.

Having been taught effective practices, I know that we will yield impactful results and sustainability. Our next step is to take the knowledge that was obtained through the PDI and continue to duplicate this model in different communities. Impact is greater when it is shared. It has been refreshing to work with Tawanna Brown, Program Manager for Community Grants. I call her the “one-stop-shop!” She is a bundle of resources. Memphis Music Initiative has made its mark in the City of Memphis and beyond. I am excited and grateful to be a part of this powerful work for our youth!

Sharonda Mitchell is the founder and director of Perfecting Gifts, which aims to provide professional development and guidance that will nurture, mature, and celebrate young talents through music. She is also a Memphis Music Initiative Music Engagement Teaching Fellow.