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MassMutual Foundation invests over $1.3 million in community-led Frayser initiative

July 15th, 2020

Community partners launch Frayser Connect, a collaborative initiative to build local financial
and social capital


MEMPHIS, Tenn, July 15, 2020 – The MassMutual Foundation Board of Directors has approved a $1.3 million investment in Frayser Connect, a collaborative economic and community development initiative that aims to build local residents’ financial and social capital.

As a long-standing advocate for the community, Frayser Community Development Corporation (CDC) will coordinate the effort, working closely with Epicenter, RISE Foundation, trusted community stakeholders, and residents to design a Frayser-specific small business and entrepreneurship initiative, as well as serve as a connector to training, employment opportunities, financial savings tools, and counseling. The initiative will be aligned with other local investments to best leverage available resources. 

“The Frayser Community Development Corporation is extremely pleased to be a recipient of a Live Mutual Project grant from the MassMutual Foundation,” said Steve Lockwood, executive director for Frayser CDC. “After working with the MassMutual Foundation and local partners for over a year to help frame the work, this initiative – Frayser Connect – will hinge on resident participation in the revitalization of the community, building communication tools both within and outside of Frayser, and providing a platform that elevates and channels community voice to drive systemic change.”

This grant will work in connection with a grant to Epicenter, which will bring training and resources to small businesses in Frayser. An advisory board comprised of a cross-section of community residents and stakeholders from many Frayser neighborhoods is being established to oversee Frayser Connect efforts, including recruitment of local residents for funded positions, the allocation of resources to directly support grants and loans to small businesses, and for specific neighborhood projects to be identified by the community.

“Equitable economic and community development can happen when residents identify their specific needs and co-create the resources and solutions that best fit those needs,” said Leslie Lynn Smith, president and CEO of Epicenter. “We look forward to working with the community’s innovators and small business owners to provide them access to the resources, capital, and markets they need to launch, scale, and hire in Frayser.”

Next steps include the formation of an advisory committee which will provide overarching guidance to this effort; identification of potential locations for the Connect Center, which will serve as the hub for entrepreneurial and small business activities; sourcing and hiring of key staff; and finally, recruiting participation for RISE’s next SAVE Up Frayser financial education orientation, which is scheduled for July 16 with virtual classes starting July 23.

“Frayser Connect is an opportunity to better align and coordinate resources for all Frayser residents with the goal of setting them up for long term financial growth and stability,” said Shelia Terrell, President and Chief Executive Officer of RISE Foundation. “RISE is thrilled to be a partner in this initiative, which is in direct support of our mission of helping people build and sustain human and financial assets.” The MassMutual Foundation is also a proud funder of RISE’s SAVE Up Frayser program.

About MassMutual Foundation
The MassMutual Foundation, Inc. is a dedicated corporate foundation established by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). The MassMutual Foundation activates connections and untapped opportunities within communities, so that all families can build their financial capability and thrive. In support of this mission, the Foundation develops partnerships and provides grants in support of our signature programs. The Foundation also supports anchor institutions in the communities where MassMutual operates. To learn more about the MassMutual Foundation please visit

About Frayser CDC
Frayser Community Development Corporation works with the Frayser community to provide improved housing and stimulate commercial and economic growth. As a Frayser-based nonprofit, the CDC has acquired, renovated, rented and sold houses in Frayser for 20 years; provided housing counseling services; and encouraged other positive investments and collaborations in the community.

About Epicenter
As a nonprofit hub organization, Epicenter leads the Memphis region's connected and collaborative entrepreneurship movement. Using a systems approach, Epicenter drives strategy and measures impact among a network of economic development, academic, corporate, and government partners to increase support to new and existing tech startups, creative and community-based businesses, student entrepreneurs, and others across multiple industries and stages of growth. Epicenter and its partners connect these entrepreneurs and their innovative ideas to programming, capital, customers, and talent in order to create a just, inclusive, and growing economy that accrues to all Memphians. More information is at

About RISE Foundation
RISE Foundation was founded in 1999 as a joint effort of the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, Memphis Housing Authority and United Way of the Mid-South to help break the cycle of poverty and its effects, including bankruptcy, foreclosure, unemployment and crime. RISE empowers people to become self-sufficient by building and sustaining human and financial assets.