“A Voice for Service”: An interview with Tameka Randle

Tameka Randle is the executive director of the PORCH initiative and was recently appointed to the Missouri Housing Commission Board. In 2021, she was elected as Cape Girardeau’s Ward 2 city councilwoman.
Photo by Aaron Eisenhauer

Tameka Randle is wearing several hats these days for her neighborhood, city and state.

Randle grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, earned a basketball scholarship to play at Eastern Michigan University, where she earned a degree in education. Then, 20 years ago, Randle landed in Cape Girardeau to become an assistant basketball coach at Southeast Missouri State University. She’s been involved in the Cape Girardeau community ever since, though no longer with athletic pursuits.

She was hired as the executive director of PORCH, an acronym for People Organized to Revitalize Community Healing, in October of 2021, and has served as a Cape Girardeau City councilwoman for approximately a year, representing Ward 2.

More recently, in January, Randle was appointed by Gov. Mike Parson to the Missouri Housing Commission Board.

Randle works in several roles to serve as a bridge for her neighbors and constituents. Whether it’s to connect people to the resources for first-time home ownership, or to connect young women to mentors, Randle makes it a point to solve problems by connecting all sorts of people and organizations to the people on the South Side of Cape Girardeau.

B Magazine had an opportunity to catch up with Randle, to get an update on how PORCH is working behind the scenes to help the South Side.

B Magazine: PORCH has three pillars it focuses on: wellness, education and housing. Could you tell me what PORCH does to address wellness in the community?

Randle: Our focus is to make vibrant and revitalize South Cape, so when I initially started, we had a great partnership with the city Parks and Recreation Department and that falls under our “wellness” pillar. So, it’s dealing with family. It’s a lot of activities going on, a lot of summer programming going on. We solidified a great partnership with the public health center, and so if individuals reside in those boundary areas, we have funding to assist with some of those health needs. We’re really trying to tap into service entities that are within the community, like the Shawnee Park Center and the [Cape Girardeau County Public] Health Center. Those places have been underutilized for residents within our community.

B Magazine: What about the education pillar of PORCH’s focus?

Randle: When I first started, I met with the [Cape School District] superintendent Dr. Neil Glass. There was a need for mentorship, so we’re partnering with the public school district and with Lincoln University, and we were able to establish a relationship in which a young lady was hired to the district to implement a mentoring program and it’s growing tremendously. That’s to serve and cater to youth within the community and also their families. We focus on academic enrichment culture and wellness too. That’s a program for the girls. I’m kind of layering them up now, but I got another one for the boys. I’ve recently been in talks with Big Brothers Big Sisters. They have a young man at the junior high, as well as the high school, and we’re going to do community service work. The young man wants to make care packages for families within that community. All these organizations are great entities to work with.

B Magazine: What about housing?

Randle: The housing part is huge. In November we launched our housing coalition, and the purpose is to help people who reside in our PORCH boundaries become first-time homeowners. We have lenders, Realtors, insurance companies, financial advisors — we partner with Gibson Center for behavioral change or wellness or a holistic approach — and they work with us to help potential homeowners do the process. [They assist in] talking with the lender, talking with the Realtor, going through that process. We have funding available to assist with some of the down payments, closing costs, inspections and things that may pose barriers. So I’m really excited about that. We have one or two who just moved through the process. People’s credit has been a barrier to first-time homeowners. We have some great mortgage companies that are working well with us to be able to provide individual support, like a basic course on credit barrier.

Funding is another barrier, but we help people understand that rent is as much as a mortgage [payment], so helping them to understand what they pay in rent and utilities is the same as a mortgage in which they can own their home. We work with financial advisors from the beginning to be able to help them with any financial planning that they need after they purchase the home. I want to make sure that people understand that the people we’re working with are supporting or assisting. It’s a partnership, and our focus is to help them with self-sufficiency, sustainability and security.

B Magazine: Can we talk about the challenges in South Cape, and how we came to need an organization like PORCH?

Randle: I’m serving on City Council, so being on City Council that means I’m a representative for my constituents in that area. So when they voice concerns, whether they call, stop me [in-person], e-mail me, it’s my job to hear those concerns. We need to be accountable as a city and make sure those concerns are addressed. I am actively and progressively working with the city to make sure things are taken care of. Sometimes if I’m with my organization talking to people in the community, they come up to me and say ‘Thank you. Thank you for caring. Thank you for being a voice for us.’ So being a representative, being a voice for service is important. So, to me, maybe they didn’t feel they had a voice at times. Some of them feel hurt and if they were hurt it was because their voice was disregarded.

B Magazine: Inflation is affecting everybody looking for housing. The prices of properties are going up; rents are going up; interest rates are going up. Are those issues pinching Cape right now?

Randle: The perception is that everyone [in the area] is struggling. Everybody is not struggling. We already had one family; they only used one income to get a home, which was a nice amount of money. Technically everyone is struggling financially, but sometimes they just need to reevaluate how they want to put a financial plan together. I mean, some people are struggling, and there are programs in which I serve as a commissioner for the Missouri Housing Development Commission that address some of those concerns that you have addressed. But there is also a middle group of people that PORCH has started to serve, but they still need that support to be able to move into the home. Everybody’s not poor. We all have made decisions, and we want to be kind of a guiding light to help people see here’s another way that we can help you get ahead.

B Magazine: Do you have data in terms of how many people rent homes versus own homes in South Cape?

Randle: About 15%, give or take, 15% to 20% own in South Cape.

B Magazine: Has PORCH worked with landlords in the South Cape area to address problems people may be facing?

Randle: That’s the owners of the homes. We started working with a couple. Some of them have many homes in South Cape, but [now] they’re willing to revitalize and renovate them because that’s the work that they do. They want to assist us in supporting the first-time homeowners. They’re willing to go ahead and sell to people now. So, we started our relationship with a couple of contractors thus far, so we’re building that, which is exciting. They’re in business to make money, but some of the people that we started working with want to make money, but they also want to support the community, which is vital.

B Magazine: Let’s talk a little bit more about your program with girls and leadership. The Honorable Young Men’s Cub — a lot of people know about that program. I’m not sure that a lot of people know about this program. Can you tell me how it got started?

Randle: We came to the conclusion that it’d be good to have somebody there [at the schools] dedicated to mentorship, to provide some guidance to the young ladies. The school district and I began working together to find someone that would be a good fit. Now we have a young lady who is employed through the school district.

She already had a program that she was developing on her own and she [brought] that into the school, called Young Women of Excellence. So, she started with the students and did assessments with them. She also met with the parents to kind of come full circle. She focused on that academic and enrichment piece, and they also do community engagement, so they are involved in things in their community and getting people involved. She’s also going to be working with city parks and recreation to add a component of activities at Shawnee, so it’s kind of almost intertwined how we connect and support each other.

B Magazine: When PORCH was first formed, there was a big focus on a national organization called Purpose Built Communities. Where is that right now?

Randle: That was originating with community leaders and members to move forward with that organization. You had to get bylaws and things in place. There were certain guidelines that had to be met. PORCH had the departure of their executive director. The last three or four years it’s kind of been in flux in regard to that [organization] and then Purpose Built Communities restructured [during the pandemic].

PORCH was not in the network. They were making those steps to be in the network. We are visiting [Dr. Tamara Buck and Randle were to meet on April 13 as B Magazine was in production] to see if there is a possibility to move forward, or if we align with our guidelines and requirements. Everybody has made changes to how they want to move forward their organizations, so we’re looking forward to that business.

B Magazine: You had a big moment recently, being appointed to the Missouri Housing Commission. Tell me a little bit about that organization, what they do, and what role you’ll be playing in that organization.

Randle: I’m just excited about serving on the Commission. Affordable housing and safe housing is very important, and with the Commission, this will help me get the information. I meet with people who say, ‘Tell us if you hear of anything,’ and so being a representative of our community, I can hear what the needs are and serving on the Commission I can make sure I’m hearing those needs and see how I can bring it back to the community.