MEMPHIS, Tenn., Nov. 12, 2019 — Cynthia Alexander’s plan to use her bachelor’s degree in psychology to start a career helping people with disabilities at Shelby Residential and Vocational Services didn’t get off to a great start.
“The hiring manager was skeptical about people with psychology background, so I didn’t get the job on my first try,” Alexander said. “After about a month she was desperate for help and called me. It was on a Friday, and I started work the following Monday.”
Alexander began a 35-year journey at SRVS helping provide safe housing, community engagement and fulfilled lives for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. SRVS, founded in Memphis in 1962, provides employment, residential, children’s services and other supports to 1,800 individuals.
“Working at SRVS has been extremely rewarding, and it’s wonderful to help supported individuals realize their dreams,” Alexander said of her time at SRVS, which concludes Nov. 30. “Most of all, I’ll miss the people we support and the SRVS staff. I’ve experienced every emotion at SRVS but coming to work never felt like a job.”
Since joining the nonprofit in 1984, Alexander has served multiple roles, including service coordinator, director of Residential Services and quality support manager. During her career she supervised staff who supported 150 people in 65 residential homes and apartments across Shelby County. She was instrumental in the creation of SRVS’ Fall Banquet, an annual gathering highly anticipated by individuals supported by the agency.
“Cynthia has had a tremendous impact at SRVS,” said Dr. Jaqueline Green, director of Residential Services. “When I think of Cynthia I think about the Mahalia Jackson song lyrics, ‘If I can help somebody as I travel along, if I can help somebody with a word or a song, if I can show somebody that he's traveling wrong, then my living won't be in vain.’”
Alexander also has firsthand experience in living with a disability. Six years after joining SRVS, she was injured following an accidental shooting involving a friend with a firearm. She lost part of her hearing and vision and had to relearn how to walk, talk and feed herself. Four months after the accident, she returned to work at SRVS.
Upon Alexander’s return, her commitment to attending to the needs of the individuals supported grew, helping them live lives of dignity in their own homes, engage in community life and achieve individual goals.
That dedication led Alexander to being recognized for her excellence in providing supports for people with disabilities. In 2006, she was named Professional of the Year by Arc Mid-South and was invited to speak at its gala in 2010. In 2011, Alexander traveled to Washington, DC to accept an award from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for outstanding management of a multifamily housing project.
In her retirement, Alexander said she plans to travel with her husband Rudolph, visiting family in Las Vegas, Nashville and Nebraska. She added that she likely won’t be a stranger at SRVS after retirement as she may volunteer at agency events.