The power of a second chance.
It can be life changing. And, in some instances, literally lifesaving.
Just ask Jimmy Chambers.
“I’ve been working with kids for over 30 years,” said Chambers, an investigator at the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office in Memphis. “They hate to come see me. They think I’m going to take them to jail.”
But Chambers envisions a better outcome than time spent behind bars for the young men sent his way.
Since 2014, Jimmy and his wife, Ressie, have been running Camp Chambers. Despite its name, this isn’t a traditional summer camp with tents, campfires and sing-a-longs. Rather, it’s focused on education and life skills for at-risk youth. The nonprofit seeks to help young men avoid detention and incarceration. Camp Chambers also focuses on promoting literacy, reducing poverty, preventing bullying and addressing gang affiliation.
“We’re just trying to show them something different,” said Ressie.
Coaching and training come naturally to both Ressie and Jimmy. Ressie is part of Regions Bank’s Learning and Development team. She’s been with Regions for 22 years.
“My goal is to help people be the best they can be,” said Ressie.
Jimmy has volunteered as a youth basketball and football coach for decades. A self-admitted disciplinarian, he has observed the power a gym holds in transforming young lives.
“Coach Jimmy” as he’s affectionately known sums it up this way: “Something is going to happen one way or another. I can’t make you the superstar you want to be if you aren’t doing things to be better. You have to be disciplined to achieve greatness.”
For Jimmy, Camp Chambers’ mission around preventing bullying is especially personal. He was bullied during his own adolescence and understands the reactions it can cause. He recalled one particular example among the young men he and Ressie have served.
“We had someone who was really being bullied,” said Ressie. “They nearly beat this young man to death. We were concerned they had permanently damaged his eyesight.”
Jimmy added, “We worked with him to help him build confidence, secure landscaping work to earn money and encouraged him to continue his education. Today, he’s in optometry school.”
To date, Camp Chambers has served 1,500 young men. But this isn’t about numbers.
“Our motto is ‘Saving our youth, one life at a time,’” said Ressie. “Our reach may be limited, but we’re reaching as many as we can. We know we’re not going to save them all, but if we can save one…” she pauses, thinking about the value of each life served. “We’re just planting seeds.”
That mindset inspired Ressie to do something to help others during the coronavirus outbreak.
“I’m always thinking of something,” said Ressie. “I kept asking, ‘What is it that Camp Chambers can do? What if we can give out fabric masks?’”
Ressie reached out to her hairdresser, knowing she sewed.
“She asked how many masks we needed,” said Ressie. “I said, ‘100 to start.’”
That first batch of 100 masks went fast. Ressie distributed 60 alone to employees at a post office, all for free. Camp Chambers has since distributed – and covered the cost of – more than 500 masks.
“My phone just went crazy with requests,” said Ressie. “We want people to be protected. I take them with me wherever I go, keeping them in a plastic bag and handing them out to those who need them.”
Another area of need where Camp Chambers has lent its support? Hunger relief. They are working with Mid-South Food Bank to assist the nonprofit with its mobile food pantry distribution efforts. Separately, Regions Bank is providing advertising support to Mid-South Food Bank – and others throughout the South, Midwest and Texas – as part of the bank’s COVID-19 relief response.
Each Saturday, the mobile pantry distribution site has a special theme such as Mother’s Day, graduating high school seniors’ day, kids’ day and more. All themed giveaway items are donated by Camp Chambers.
For Ressie, Camp Chambers providing its creative support to Mid-South Food Bank reflected a perfect partnership.
“I’m a giver. I’m a huge giver,” said Ressie. “If we just move self out of the way, we can move mountains. There’s a lot of things we want to do. And we have a lot of people who saw what we wanted to do and have helped us. This is such a blessing. We’re so grateful.”
This unique time of social distancing and staying at home has offered Ressie and Jimmy more time than usual to reflect on what’s important. What have they learned?
“Patience,” Ressie responds. “Being flexible. Tolerant. Grateful. Not to take anything for granted. It’s taught us to value life even more than we did. Even the rest of this day is not promised.”
And, as they continue to think about the life-changing power of helping young men achieve a second chance, there’s an even longer-lasting lesson: “The smallest amount of kindness we can show makes a difference.”
Ressie and Jimmy Chambers are demonstrating that each day, one life at a time.
My goal is to help people be the best they can be.
Ressie Chambers, Regions Bank