Zach Waters, Founder & CEO

Zach Waters is the founder and CEO of Homes for Hearts and A Lee Dog Story. Waters was born and raised in Memphis where he developed a strong passion to bring community-driven change. When Zach was a teenager, he befriended a man named Lee Brown, known by many Memphians as “Lee Dog”. Waters watched firsthand as Brown got a “new lease on life” by obtaining housing, employment, transportation and a community of support. 

In 2005, Zach enrolled in Memphis College of Art to pursue a degree in film and animation and soon began filming his first documentary about Memphis. While filming countless Memphian stories, Lee Brown’s was absolutely the most powerful. Zach found countless people that had been left to face homelessness alone on the streets of Memphis and soon realized he would need a lot more resources to ensure his project had a real impact on their lives and the city of Memphis. 

In 2008, Zach helped start a film production company in Memphis that is currently thriving in Los Angeles. Although he is no longer a part of the company, the inception of Prodigi Arts with childhood friend Christopher O’Conner was the beginning of his business and professional film education.

In 2011, Waters moved to Denver to complete his schooling and met his other half, Avalon Yarnes at a small bakery in the center of the city.

In 2018, while Zach was still working as Executive Producer for Avalon Cakes School of Sugar Art, Lee Brown passed away from an infection in his leg, prompting Waters to found A Lee Dog Story, 501(c)(3) nonprofit to engage the public with stories of life on the streets and recovery through the power of art, film and storytelling. Over 2019, after returning to Memphis to film countless new stories, Waters decided he would find a permanent solution to helping Memphians out of homelessness and toward homeownership. 

After a year and a half of research surrounding the causes, effects and solutions of homelessness, in 2020, Zach founded Homes for Hearts, 501(c)(3) nonprofit in Memphis, TN. Through new and existing relationships, Waters developed partnerships with Room in the Inn,  Dwayne A. Jones Construction Company, LLC,  Arch Inc. and Binghampton Community Land Trust to build small, single-family tiny homes throughout the Memphis area, while also offering supportive services to each of their residents as they move off the streets and toward homeownership. 

Avalon Yarnes, owner of Avalon Cakes School of Sugar Art has been a monumental part of Homes for Hearts since its inception. From fundraising to strategic development she has proven to be a valuable asset to our nonprofit. Born and raised in Denver, Colorado, Avalon moved down to Memphis in 2020 to help Zach incorporate Homes for Hearts and begin to implement its mission and vision for Memphis, TN. Avalon has a huge heart and immense passion for helping bring change to people’s lives that are experiencing homelessness and loves living in a city with such a rich sense of community and heart. We are grateful to have Avalon serve as Vice Chair on our Board of Directors and look forward to the financial strength, marketing expertise and strategic development she will continue to bring to our nonprofit.

Daniel Irwin brings a lifelong experience of Memphis and community to our nonprofit and we are thrilled to have him serve as our new Secretary. Daniel was born and raised in Memphis and proudly lives here with his wife, daughter and 2 dogs. He has worked for several social-service agencies and non-profits during the course of his career, currently serving as the Director of Public Relations for the Better Business Bureau of the Mid-south. With a long history of volunteering in the community and a passion for helping others, he is thrilled to now serve on the Board of Homes for Hearts.

Native Memphian, Chris Smith has worked in the financial and real estate industry for over twenty years, as a licensed realtor with Keller Williams and CrestCore Realty, Assistant Manager at SunTrust Bank, Loan Officer at Simmons Bank and Stockton Mortgage and a business owner of a local sign shop, SignSmiths. The title Chris is most proud of is Dad. Smith lives in Memphis with his incredible wife and two amazing children that “make his world go round.” Chris has a deep love for the Bluff City’s great music, rich history, delicious food, and the beautiful people that make this city magical. We are thrilled to have Chris serve as Treasurer on our Board of Directors, and look forward to the strength and passion he will bring to our nonprofit.

Luke Waters served a critical role in the structural and strategic development of Homes for Hearts, and we are more than thrilled to have him officially join our Board of Directors. Luke Waters graduated magna cum laude and Omicron Delta Kappa from Ohio Wesleyan University (OWU) with a B.A. in International Relations and Politics and Government. Luke began his professional career working as an Americorps Facilitator at BRIDGES, USA in his hometown of Memphis. He spent a year guiding hundreds of students through social justice and youth leadership workshops that gave them the tools to create systemic change in their city. After finishing his service year, Luke was passionate about continuing to work with youth, so he moved to New York City to serve as a Service Learning Coordinator at buildOn, Inc. While there, Luke engaged hundreds of Bronx students in community service activities and started the organization’s first ever regional Student Leadership Team. After leaving buildOn, Luke worked as an Admissions Counselor at two different universities in Memphis. Luke is currently living in Washington D.C. pursuing a Master of Political Communication at SPA with the goal to work in organizational and strategic development moving forward. Luke loves his city and shows his dedication and passion by helping create new opportunities for Memphians. We look forward to continuing our journey with Luke.

As an architectural engineering graduate for Tennessee State University, licensed general contractor, and residential developer, Dwayne A. Jones has been working for over a decade to bring life back to vacant lots in Orange Mound, the neighborhood he grew up in. Dwayne got the idea to build “tiny homes” while traveling on mission trips to Haiti and seeing people living in smaller homes. In 2015, Dwayne helped build a micro home community in Nashville for people experiencing homelessness. Homes for Hearts has partnered with Dwayne A. Jones Construction Company, LLC to build our small, single-family houses.

Dwayne and his team have completed construction on Homes for Hearts’ first tiny house in Memphis, TN. The lovely four-room, 280 sf house is the smallest house permitted in Shelby County, TN.

President of Binghampton Community Land Trust (BCLT), Joni Laney’s connection to the Binghampton neighborhood began in 1997 when as pastor of what was then Everett Memorial Church, after she was asked to start an after-school program for neighborhood kids. Joni began by going door-to-door to invite children to the program and was astounded, even back then, by the diversity of the neighborhood and the hospitality of everyone she met. Joni told her husband, Billy, that this neighborhood was unique in Memphis. Joni and Billy moved to Binghampton in 2002 after conversations with their four children. They immediately loved the life and vitality – soccer games in the park, conversations on the street, constant activity of youth up and down the block. Joni and family were involved in Caritas Community and later Caritas Village. The Laney Vaughans have hosted vigils and marches and Good Friday pilgrimages; canvassed door-to-door numerous times; had drumming circles and cook-outs and music on the yard next to Caritas House. The gardens, REP, CTC, MIA, the various churches who worship in the Commons have all added activity and flavor to what is an amazing space in this city.

Joni cares about preserving the life and vitality and diversity of the Binghampton neighborhood. To her that means not allowing developers to gentrify all the housing, insuring that families to want to buy homes are able to, making sure that vacant and derelict properties are rehabbed responsibly, maintaining what has become cultural, racial, economic diversity in a city where that is hard to find.

Created in 2018, BCLT was formed in response to the consensus of Binghampton community residents that the crucial need for affordable housing in the neighborhood was not being met. The Binghampton Community Land Trust (BCLT) is a community-based non-profit corporation committed to the revitalization and empowerment of the Binghampton neighborhood in Memphis, Tennessee. 

BCLT’s mission is to:

(1) create a pool of affordably priced owner-occupied homes in the Binghampton neighborhood for low to moderate income families

(2) utilize the community land trust strategy to keep these homes affordable forever; and

(3) prevent the unwanted market-driven displacement of limited-income families from this neighborhood.


Homes for Hearts has partnered with Joni Laney and Binghampton Community Land Trust to make sure the land we build on remains affordable and in the community’s hands for years to come.

All land that Homes for Hearts acquires within Binghampton will be donated to BCLT, in which a Homes for Hearts Resident will own their home and BCLT will own the land.

All homes built outside of Binghmapton will have a restricted deed to prevent investors from getting ahold of our housing and within the community’s hands for years to come. When a Homes for Hearts Homebuyer wishes to resell their home, they must give Homes for Hearts first option to buy it back at a fair market value that will also allow a new resident to move in and spend no more than 20-30% of the average median area income toward housing.

Homes for Hearts has partnered with Room In the Inn to help with the vetting process and case management of each Homes for Hearts resident.

Homes for Hearts has partnered with A2H, a collaborative planning and design firm of architects, engineers, landscape architects, and interior designers.

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