Established by a coalition of Houston faith leaders to address issues that emerged during the economic downturn in the 1980s, Memorial Assistance Ministries (MAM) has stayed true to its mission of loving and caring for their neighbors through services and programs that build stable families, a dynamic workforce, and healthy, vibrant communities… together. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the nonprofit, which was run entirely by volunteers for more than fifteen years. Today, MAM has three offices, two thrift stores that provide community support and programming across the city and is poised to launch its inaugural Community Business Academy this fall.
MAM’s approach is holistic, offering a wide variety of programs, including employment services, vocational training, financial coaching and education, immigration legal services, mental health counseling, benefits enrollment support, and financial assistance. The organization also hosts the largest volunteer-taught English as a Second Language (ESL) program in Houston. Sonja Gee, President and CEO, shares that MAM’s diverse group of active supporters – Houston’s community of faith, volunteers, corporations, and funders – are the heartbeat of the organization.
“We are deeply connected to our community, rich with culture and potential. It’s a gift to experience that,” states Gee, who began working at MAM four years ago. A former entrepreneur who has a background in Urban Education, Gee acknowledges the “strong entrepreneurial spirit” of Houston’s small business owners, many of whom are immigrants. “They’re creative, have assets, and want to do more for their families and communities,” Gee emphasizes.
MAM recently unveiled the new Innova Entrepreneurship Program, which provides a structured approach to entrepreneur training, coaching, and support. The new Community Business Academy program, launching on September 4th, operates under the auspices of Innova, whose name in Spanish means innovate. The decision to incorporate the Rising Tide Model was a culmination of years of research, conversations with the Rising Tide team, and being ready to implement the requirements. Comments during COVID-19 listening sessions confirmed that the timing was right to launch the program. Community leaders talked about how families who had lost jobs had developed creative entrepreneurial solutions to provide for their families during the pandemic, but they lacked the know-how and support to turn these temporary solutions into permanent, viable businesses.
“We knew this was an important space to work with our community and provide education and skill-building opportunities,” Gee says, noting the lack of entrepreneurial programs with content and focus like the Community Business Academy in Houston. Beyond the curriculum, Gee highlights the mutual mission and approach MAM and Rising Tide Capital have in common. “We both see the potential in every person, and impact that entrepreneurship has, not only on individual businesses, but the community-at-large.”
Providing structured entrepreneurial and holistic support hits home for Sonja Gee. One of the first Chinese immigrant families in Houston, Gee’s grandparents opened a family restaurant that served as a hub for hospitality, education, and community engagement. Her father, who worked at the restaurant throughout his youth, became an attorney with a focus on immigration law, helping many newcomers throughout his career. “It’s in the DNA of my family to love our neighbors and support the community,” Gee shares. She brings that same spirit and intentionality to her work at Memorial Assistance Ministries.
For more information about MAM, or to sign up for a Community Business Academy info session, visit the website, email the team, or call (713) 574-7543. Connect with MAM on Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn.