Location: Memphis, TN
When Kristin Fox-Trautman left her small town of Union City, Tennessee to attend Rhodes College in Memphis, it was what she learned outside of the classroom that had the greatest impact on her. “I grew up in a bubble,” she says, something she realized when she took full advantage of the many opportunities Rhodes provided her to be engaged in the community. Kristin filled her spare time with volunteering and internships that had her engaging with folks whose backgrounds differed greatly from hers. “I was transformed by all of my interactions in the city,” Kristin says. She was also dismayed by what she saw. Memphis has one of the highest child poverty rates in the country, and Kristin could not believe that so many of the nation’s most vulnerable and marginalized were all around her. “I was blown away by the disparity,” she says.
Armed with a BA in Religious Studies, Kristin graduated in 1998 and planned to continue her work in the community, focusing primarily on poverty. “I wanted to look at why poverty was so persistent,” she says, “and what could be done to help alleviate it.” Her efforts were soon directed at youth development work, focusing on engagement across the board. She worked with college students to create opportunities for them to connect and engage with the community. “I wanted to match up needs and resources going both ways,” Kristin says. “Because all people have gifts to give.” She notes that giving is often thought of as a one-way street but, she says, “it is best when it is mutual.” Kristin later added a graduate degree in Applied Anthropology from the University of Memphis to the mix, continuing the theme of “seeing culture as an asset and supporting positive change through community development.”
She met her husband, Lucas, in 1999 during the sign of peace at Memphis’s St. Patrick’s Church. He was equally committed to youth ministry and youth development and had been involved with trying to engage Memphis youth from a sports perspective. Kristin and Lucas moved to New Orleans and Savannah together, where Kristin taught high school social studies, before returning to Memphis. She then served as the Vice President of Youth Development for Bridges, a local nonprofit focused on bringing young people together to build community. Kristin and — also started a family, adopting two girls who are now 7 and 15. When her second daughter was born, Kristin decided she needed a different pace professionally and she stepped down from her position at Bridges to focus on freelance consulting for nonprofits.
Kristin’s daughters were adopted in open adoptions and Kristin and her family have maintained strong ties with her daughters’ relatives. Many of the older siblings have struggled to climb out of poverty, and Kristin has had a front-row seat to the challenges they have faced to find and keep employment. “I kept trying to help them get jobs,” she says, “but it was hard with limited resources and education. I saw the cycle firsthand.”
While Kristin was trying to help her daughter’s biological siblings find employment, she was mulling over a vision she had for creating a space of hospitality. “I wanted to provide a way to break out of the isolation we often feel when trying to make Memphis a better place to live,” she says. She loved the idea of combining her love of food and her desire to create a space for people to connect with one another with her desire to create living wage jobs. Fast forward to today, and Kristin happily oversees four full-time and three part-time employees at Inspire Community Café located in midtown Memphis.
She and her kitchen staff, all of whom have some sort of informal kitchen training and experience, held frequent working meetings in her kitchen to plan the menu and try out various items. “We wanted to make simple, fresh and delicious food,” she says, describing the menu they developed and first tried out in a food truck until they got their physical space. She worked with a newly graduated architecture student to plan the space, with the goal of making it “vibrant, warm and welcoming.”
Each month, Inspire Community Café features a different local nonprofit organization. They are featured on a prominent bulletin board in the café and are promoted through the café’s social media. They are also granted use of the café for board meetings and gatherings during the month they are featured and ten percent of the café’s net profit each month are directed to that month’s featured organization. Kristin also included an employee profit-sharing model in the café’s business plan, although she notes that “we are still working on getting a profit!”
Kristin has been blown away by the community’s response to the café. “People have been overwhelmingly positive,” she says, noting that the café has a lot of regulars who are now like family. Reflecting on the years of hard work to make the café a reality, all while everyone was working other jobs, she is filled with joy to see the embodiment of her vision for a community gathering place that supports the community in myriad ways. “Now that it is here,” Kristin says. “it is such a simple and beautiful thing.” Reflecting on the nonprofits who meet and collaborate at the café, the regulars who think of it as a second home, and the staff who now have jobs that provide them with both living wages and transferable skills, Kristin is so grateful for how well it has all played out. “This shows that our community really needed this,” she says.