First Tennessee Foundation Partners With Martha O’Bryan Center

TO ENSURE ITS DONATIONS ARE BEING used efficiently in helping to improve the various communities it serves, the nonprofit foundation of First Tennessee Bank takes a measured assessment of any recipient it considers.
     When it came to the decision to grant $500,000 to the Martha O’Bryan Center in East Nashville, the assessment didn’t take very long.
     “Half a million dollars is a sizable gift, and I think anytime you’re going to make a decision that involves that sum of money, you’re going to sit down and think through the potential impact you’re wanting to make,” says Carol Yochem, First Tennessee Bank president, Middle Tennessee.
     “We were really impressed with the Martha O’Bryan Center.”
     Through a program known as the First Tennessee Foundation Success Generation, the grant will fund the Martha O’Bryan Center’s goal of helping at-risk youth gain admission to and graduate from college. Specifically, the program combines an in-school support program at Stratford and Maplewood high schools with a mentoring program on college campuses.
     “First Tennessee Foundation Success Generation is the perfect name for this program, because it is about making available a new level of success to an entire generation of the Nashvillians we serve,” Marsha Edwards, CEO of Martha O’Bryan Center, said in a statement released when the grant was announced in early May. “It’s hard to overstate what kind of breakthrough this is. Having a college degree opens up a whole new world of possibilities to the young people we serve. They move from a future of few choices, to one entirely of their choosing. We are grateful to First Tennessee for making such a significant investment in the future of our young people.”
     Martha O’Bryan Center, which was founded in 1894 and today primarily serves youth from poverty-ridden Cayce Place, had established some time ago a program known as Academic Student Unions. Designed to ensure students graduate from high school and make a smooth transition to post-secondary opportunities, it’s a “one-stop-shop” for high school students to receive academic, social and emotional, work and career, and college prep assistance. The success of the program is part of what led the First Tennessee Foundation to form a partnership with Martha O’Bryan, according to Yochem.
     “The program provides an opportunity for these students to be tutored, to be exposed to the idea of college,” she says. “For a lot of these students, no one in their family has ever attended college. That conversation really hasn’t taken place. You could see [the center] had had success and that they were on to something. That’s what attracted us.”
     Some 40 percent of the grant will be focused on the Academic Student Unions program, Yochem says, while the bulk of it will go toward postsecondary support.
     “These students are coming from a challenging environment, and a support system may not necessarily exist,” she says. “Their ability to stay and have a successful postsecondary experience relies a lot on a support network that is there for any number of things.”