Tchula, Miss., native Evelyn Edwards grew up in poverty, but she did not have the mentality of one who grows up that way, she said. She was her mother's, Annie Waddell, 10th child, and Waddell did not resent their circumstances.
"To me, poverty is a fact, but it's a mentality as well. She didn't speak in those terms to us. She told us, 'You can do anything you set your mind to,'" Edwards told the Jackson Free Press.
After graduating from S.V. Marshall High School in 1988, Edwards attended Rust College in Holly Springs, Miss., and studied English. After graduating with a bachelor's degree in the subject in 1992, she attended the University of Akron in Akron, Ohio, for her master's degree in English, but she moved back to Mississippi her last semester to have her first child, she said.
"I wanted to be closer to family, come home and start a new chapter of my life," Edwards said.
Deposit Guaranty Bank hired her in 1994 as a regional loan assistant and promoted her to various other positions until she left in 1999. Edwards then began working for BancorpSouth and is now the corporate-wide Community Development Grant specialist and also facilitates the Community Reinvestment Act for the mid-Mississippi division of the bank.
In 2009, she partnered with the Mississippi Council on Economic Education and the Foundation for the Mid South, an organization that enables communities to develop solutions to better conditions and improve lives through education, wealth building, health and community development, to establish the Youth Asset Development program, which infused financial literacy education in schools and brought live simulations to the students that were enrolled in the program, she said.
"We showed them different ways of how to earn money based on their human capital. If they were good in math, how can they improve their quality of life by helping others? They started tutoring. If they had outstanding personalities, they got permission to establish a store at the school," Edwards said.
The program would match up to $750 for middle school students and $1,000 for high school students. Students could start a college savings fund with the money, use it for post-secondary education if they were graduating or put it toward computers and other technology, she said.
Due to funding issues, the program ended in 2014; however, the first middle school class that participated graduated from high school in May 2019 and had the funds available from participating in the program via college savings accounts.
"We've had students graduate and be able to go to college to pay for at least one or two years of community college. We wanted to make sure the money was being used for what it was intended, so we sent it to the school they decided to attend," she said.
The program was inspired by her upbringing, as she recalled her mother not having the money to pay for her college education. The program's goal was to reach 300 children, but it exceeded that number, helping kids in the Mississippi Delta and at Lanier High School.
Giving back to the community is what Edwards is called to do, she said. She is also the community development director at her church, Jackson Revival Center. On Aug. 24, she and the pastor's taskforce, a group of 24 church members that organize events for the church, will host the church's fifth annual Samaritan's Heart Clothing and Household Item Giveaway, she said.
"We ask our congregation to donate gently used clothing, small household appliances, wall finishings, things like that that people can use in their homes or could not afford," Edwards said.
She said 7,200 square feet of church space will be filled with clothes, household goods, shoes, belts, accessories and other items. The event started in 2015 after families called the church to express a need for clothing and other items, Edwards said. The church also partners with homeless shelters and informs them about the event.
"This is one way to be the hands and feet of God in the community and (try) to meet the diverse needs that exist every day. The Bible says the poor will always be among us. We have to make sure that we keep programming available and active when those needs arrive. We know that the need will always be there, but that we'll always continue to meet that need," Edwards said.
The Samaritan's Heart Clothing and Household Item Giveaway is Saturday, Aug. 24, from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Jackson Revival Center (4655 Terry Road). Those who would like to attend should arrive before 7 a.m. because there will be a line, Edwards said. For more information, find the event on Facebook.
Follow Jackson Free Press reporting intern Aliyah Veal on Twitter @AliyahJFP. Send tips to [email protected].