Executive Director of Area Relief Ministries
Story by Lyda Kay Ferree, The Southern Lifestyles Lady. Photography by Woody Woodard.
Mike Roby is the new Executive Director of Area Relief Ministries (ARM) in Jackson. He has served on the Board of Directors of the Jackson Choral Society and Woodmen Life Fraternal Board for Charitable Giving and is a member of Love & Truth Church. He is a past president of the Lambuth Area Neighborhood Association (L.A.N.A.)
Roby is a native of Memphis where he owned a restaurant in Court Square and built a relationship with the homeless population.
He is married to Mena Roby with four children.
Roby’s philosophy of helping others who are economically insecure begins with the understanding that everyone is important. “We should be benevolent and compassionate,” says Roby. “Immediate needs must be met—food, clothing, shelter. However, it is important that those who are in these circumstances are given the opportunity to work and secure affordable housing. The ultimate goal is independence by helping create self-reliant citizens who are able to support themselves and their families as well as help others. Vocational training is vital to achieving this goal through the use of existing programs and streamlining others for greater effectiveness. Long term care will always be necessary for the most fragile.”
The strongest influence in forming this philosophy comes from Roby’s profound belief in God and Jesus’s charge to “do unto the least of these,” especially the most marginalized in society and the destitute of heart.
Roby was also influenced by example. “My parents and grandparents were servants. They cared for family, friends and strangers in need. My parents provided opportunities for others to work in our family business. They coached city league football and cheerleading. They were Scout masters and Sunday School teachers and they volunteered for non-profits.”
"My friend, Anthony Woods, the director of Memphis Urban Ministry, shared this scripture from Isaiah 58. I believe this should be the goal of any ministry.
“Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and to not turn away from your own flesh and blood?...if you do away with the yoke of oppression…and spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed…your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up theage-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls and Restorer of Streets and Dwellings.”
VIP: Are you a native of Memphis? When did you move to Jackson?
Mike Roby: I am a native of Memphis. I moved to Jackson in 2004. I attended college at Freed-Hardeman University. I lived on 100 acres in a beautiful little cabin in the woods with no electricity near Henderson in Silerton, TN. It was like Walden Pond. It’s different from the norm. It’s something I chose to do.
VIP: What do you enjoy about living in Jackson, specifically in Midtown Jackson, the heart of our city?
MR: I love the small town atmosphere with all of the amenities of a big city and it’s close enough to Memphis and Nashville where you can make a day trip. The AMP, Jackson Walk and Farmer’s Market are my favorites.
VIP: What was your position at Youth Town and how long were you employed there?
MR: I was Director of Development and Marketing and I was there for 10 years—from 2009 until 2016. I officially joined ARM in January of this year. We have an incredibly talented and diverse board of directors. They are all worker bees. They attend events, they are all supportive, and I am very humbled to be working alongside them, and they are very encouraging to me.
VIP: What might our VIP readers not know about you?
MR: I am really an avid outdoorsman—kayaking, rock climbing, hunting and fishing with my family. My wife and I have four children. They are all grown and on their own except for my youngest son, Lance, who is a student at UT-Martin. My wife, Mena, is a paralegal for Wiseman Ashworth law firm in Memphis.
VIP: Tell me about the Hub Club.
MR: It’s a successful after school and summer mentoring and tutoring program located at Hillcrest Circle in East Jackson. Interns from area colleges are used to do amazing work. We have past students who are now mentors there. The building was donated by Englewood Baptist Church.
VIP: Talk about some of the duties of your staff.
MR: Some take men to doctor’s appointments, get benefits for them and/or help with budgeting, life skills, job searches, housing search, alcohol/drug group therapy and vocational training. One helps write grants and he changes washers and dryers in some of our rental houses. All of our staff have great attitudes and serve with compassion and dignity.
VIP: What are the chief responsibilities of your staff of eight at ARM?
MR: Coordinating “Room in the Inn” with churches to provide housing for our men each night. Our Intake Specialists meet with gentlemen and get their information (medication, benefits and help them get set up for that and help them get in our program.) We help them at all levels. They go from being homeless to being housed and self-sufficient when possible. Some of our success stories are just keeping someone alive when it is 14 degrees outside. We had 35 men who needed housing that night.
Last year ARM provided 3000 beds, 4200 volunteer hours and 7000 meals with a fulltime staff of 8 and a part-time staff of 3, but that is only possible because of hundreds of volunteers. Some churches provide dinner, perform live music or concerts or play games with family and friends. We appreciate them immensely. They are so wonderful and selfless.
We are so grateful to St. Luke’s Episcopal Church for donating our building for $1 a year. It is a beautiful building. I can’t say enough about St. Luke’s. An area downtown church is renovating its property on East Chester Street and making a Room in the Inn for their church with showers. It is an answer to prayers.
VIP: Describe a typical day at ARM or is there a typical day?
MR: There is not really a typical day. Thirty kids have a blast at the Hub Club, some men need financial assistance but primarily are here for shelter. We maintain our houses and take the men on work details with Fresh Start. People drop by with clothes, donations and Bibles for our clients. Lot of joy.
VIP: What are your top priorities in your new position at ARM?
MR: Funding for HUB Club and all of our programs. We have an eight-bedroom house for the chronically homeless men called Turning Point, a home on Lexington Street, where men stay while they are getting acclimated back into society. My primary goal is to fund existing programs and to bring my volunteers, my army of hard workers, to bring to light the great things that I believe Christians are doing now.
My relationship with ARM began when I stayed with the men overnight at Room at the Inn when it first started 10 years ago with Jeff Brown, now on our board of directors. We have over 100 churches that support us and 35 participate in Room in the Inn.
VIP: What happens to the men after they stay overnight at a church?
MR: They come to Open Arm, our day shelter, and stay until 11 a.m. where they may take a shower, wash their clothes and check their mail. We have a weekly meeting and a brief devotional with area speakers one day a week. Some are taught a skill and they have access to a computer and get resume assistance. One lady cuts their hair free of charge. Clothes are donated regularly.
VIP: Do we need more housing for the men? On a typical day how many men does ARM serve?
MR: We need more permanent housing. Currently we own six houses and each house costs approximately $45,000 to renovate. We serve approximately 40 adults and 30 children each day.
VIP: Talk about ARM’s major annual events.
MR: A HUB Classic is held in late December. It is a three-day basketball competition. The Color Run 5K is one of the largest in Jackson. This year Woodmen Life will be cooking and selling BBQ at the event. Salt & Light is our annual dinner held at the Civic Center in September. This is ARM’s 40th anniversary.
VIP: What is your biggest challenge at ARM?
MR: Finding new revenue streams and letting people know that ARM is not RIFA. We are for housing. We do work closely, however, with RIFA.
VIP: What is ARM’s greatest need at present?
MR: Money and prayers. Until last year ARM received a $75,000 grant per year for the Hub Club. Starting this year, ARM will have to raise the $75,000.
VIP: What are your future plans for ARM?
MR: We want to expand Room in the Inn. We would like more churches to shelter homeless men in Jackson during the cold winter months. We need more permanent housing and more vocational training and opportunities for men completing the program.