A Letter from a Student to the President
Recently, our teacher in Birmingham assigned an exercise to her class. The purpose of the exercise was to evaluate the student’s professionalism in how they communicated through emails.
The task was to write a letter to President Trump in regards to something they are personally passionate about and give him ideas as to how he could better their community.
Elijah is a 19-year-old student who has been very committed to improving his skillset from the beginning of class. Below is his letter to President Trump that I wanted to share with you all (note: there are a few minor grammatical errors but I am presenting this to you with no editing)
Dear Mr. Donald J. Trump,
My name is Elijah Crowder. I am a 19 year old freshmen at Jefferson State Community College. I am also currently enrolled in a character building program called Hope Inspired Ministries. This program helps low-skilled individuals grow in their professionalism, mannerism and social skills. It is a strict unpaid course that gives potential career opportunity to any individual interested. If more programs like this were put into poorly educated and poverty stricken areas, a vigorous drop in the unemployment rate would begin for generations to come.
While Hope Inspired Ministries is a faith based program, I don’t believe every program created has to be. Although, it has made a passionate difference for me as far as my drive to work more towards my mannerism despite my social environment. Low-skilled, poverty stricken and low skilled individuals and communities need these programs to help put an end to the enablement of government income and the uprising of criminal violence. I am confident that establishing and properly funding programs such as this will bring you one step closer to your dream to “Make America great again.” Thank you very much for your time, Mr. President.
Elijah (last name omitted)
In no way is this a political endorsement or statement in any way. This was simply one man giving his input to the President of the United States.
Letters like this serve as a great encouragement to me. Here is a young man who faces many difficult challenges but is determined to make himself better each day. He could make excuses (he likely has many valid ones), but instead chooses to move forward with an infectious optimism that makes everyone around him better.
It is young men and women like Elijah that make what we do so worth it. Please pray for him and all our students as they grow towards becoming what God has intended.
Stepping Outside the Rules
I love sharing stories of transformation and so I look forward to sharing this story with you!
For those that don’t know, we have four requirements to gain entry into our program; one of which is to be able to read at a 6th grade level. In the past, we have accepted some students who were a little bit below that level in hopes of helping them catch up. In some case we were successful while others it simply proved too much to overcome.
Recently our Program Director Leanne was in court with a current student helping to resolve some legal issues when she noticed a mother and son in front of the judge struggling to explain his behavior to the judge. The judge was threatening to send this 19-year-old to jail if he didn’t get his act together. Leanne offered her a pamphlet and told her to call, sharing that she thought we might could help.
Soon thereafter, the mother and son followed up with an appointment. The mother explained that her son was dyslexic and had trouble reading. When we tested him, what we actually found out was that he simply could not read at all. I cannot put into words the humiliation and shame this young man seemed to be feeling.
Normally this student would not be able to start our program, but this was a time that we felt Spirit-led to accept him and work with him because we knew his future without help was bleak.
So Tray began our class in May. Initially, the most challenging thing was to get him to accept the fact that he could not read and begin to deal with it, rather than try to live in a world in which he could not effectively communicate or operate. He promised us he would at least try.
During the students’ life map presentations, Tray stood in front of the other students and admitted that he could not read. Instead of receiving their anticipated judgment, he heard understanding and acceptance. In fact, another student who was in her 40’s spoke up and explained that only in the last couple of years had she learned to read.
Tray was not treated with kid gloves in class. When it came to his turn to read, he was expected to try like everyone else. Although he struggled with almost every word, he received the love and support needed to continue to improve.
Recently, a philanthropy class came from Montgomery Academy to learn more about our program. The group was comprised of 12 exceptionally gifted teens along with two teachers. We asked Tray if he would be willing to present his life map to the class, which he agreed to do. He stood up with great confidence and admitted the difficulty he had with reading but explained he was working diligently to correct this and he intended to be successful with his life. This was quite the accomplishment. It also opened the eyes of the MA students who simply don’t know what it is face the common barriers found in poverty.
Admittedly, Tray’s transformation is still in its early phases. Our goal is to help him gain employment while continuing to read better so that he can take his GED. In the meantime, he is a daily encouragement to all of us. He is joyful, thankful, and continues to work hard each day.
If Tray were not provided this path, my guess is that he would be reduced to another sad statistic; another young man who truly desired something else but was trapped in a world in which he could not figure out on his own.
We believe that with a lot of hard work and encouragement, Tray will overcome this barrier and ultimately become a productive member of our society!
The Power of Perspective
We often highlight the transformation that takes place among our students and rightly so. There is nothing so special as to see someone experience a true and genuine metamorphosis in how they view the world, themselves, and God. What we sometimes forget (and need to be reminded of on occasion), is the effect that our students have on our supporters.
We at HIM are privileged to witness our students’ transition from a mindset of dependency to one of self-sufficiency; from someone with no self-worth to one who can do almost anything they set their minds to do; and one who grasps that they can become a productive and useful citizen in their community.
However, over the years, countless individuals have talked to me about the blessing they have received by being a part of our students’ lives. They experienced transformation in who they were because of our students, and often times, it’s because they changed their perspective on the student and/or the situation.
One such story happened this past weekend at the Montgomery graduation, but I need to provide a little background first. One of our board members introduced us to Stivers Ford (Montgomery) in hopes of being able to partner with them on internships. After a couple of meetings with the leadership at Stivers, it was agreed that we would provide two interns named Van and Viktor.
Viktor was adopted from a Ukrainian orphanage at the age of 17 (his parents both died in a house fire when he was a little child). While adjusting to a new country, language, and living within a family dynamic for the first time, he struggled to the point that he had to move in with another family. However, Viktor excelled during his internship and was hired full-time by Stivers Ford (more about Viktor in an upcoming blog).
Van had a different experience with much of his life spent on the streets surviving from one day to the next. Like Viktor, Van had a ton of potential. However, immediately following his internship, I was told that he had not been hired. After verifying with Stivers staff, I was told that they had, in fact, hired Van because, in the third week of his internship, he had really turned a corner and performed very well.
Which brings us to our Saturday graduation. Jeff Anderson, Service Manager, attended the graduation to support Viktor and Van. I asked him about what he thought Van did differently in the third week of his internship that would change his mind about hiring him. He sent me an email later in the day that is extremely meaningful to me that I want to share with everyone:
This is Jeff Anderson from Stivers Ford. Just wanted to thank you for inviting us today, it meant a lot for us to be there to see them graduate. I hope this will end up being a great relationship for both of us. I have mentioned your program to other departments within Stivers for some of their future needs. You asked me a question today about when I was having doubts about Van and what I thought was the changing point. I really started thinking about it this afternoon while I was on the mower cutting the grass. This is what I realized while pondering this question. It was not Van who made a change, it was me changing the way I was looking at the picture. You helped him along the way to learn how to walk. I had to realize that I needed to give him the opportunity to show us what you had inspired in him and let him show us that he could run. By giving him that opportunity and not judging him as hard as I would a technician coming to us from another shop, it allowed him to show us that he does know how to run. He and Viktor are a great addition to our Stivers Family. I am not sure if I told you about this but when we presented the tools to them, I have never seen anyone so sincere in my life. They both teared up, as did Mark and myself. We shook hands and we hugged, that’s when you know you are all family.
It is so heartwarming to see that our program is not only changing the lives of our students, but those who support our efforts as well. There are so many situations in life where there is power in our perspective, and when we simply look at it a different way, it completely changes us instead of the other person.
We are thankful for great businesses like Stivers Ford and their leadership. We know with partnerships like this, HIM will continue to have a lasting effect on our students as well as ALL members of our community!
An Amazing Story Unfolding
As most of you know by now, we began a new training class in the Birmingham community of Woodlawn in January of this year. We did so with great expectation that God would send us broken men and women and use us to help put their lives back together again.
This blog is dedicated to telling the story of one woman is this class with a toughness beyond what most of us could possibly fathom. Her name is Lehua. She grew up in Hawaii, one of 17 children. She encountered appalling abuse at the hands of her father which greatly contributed to a life of despair and brokenness as an adult.
She has encountered tragedy like no one else I know. For instance, in a four month span, she lost her sister in car wreck (she was in the car as well), her brother was murdered by gang members, and she lost her infant daughter in a SIDs related death. To be honest, that is just scratching the surface of what she has endured.
With that said, she has been a pure joy in our class. She brings with her each day an optimism and hopefulness that is hard to match. In addition, she loves the Lord very much!
A couple of weeks ago, we arranged for Lehua to visit a local dentist due to her missing a front tooth. Dr. Robert Conner agreed to see her and, after hearing her story, agreed to do the work at no cost.
Lehua was so thankful that she typed out a letter to Dr. Conner and staff with no urging from HIM staff. I wanted to include this letter for everyone to read and enjoy. I have included this letter exactly as written by Lehua (items in bold are for emphasis only).
“Dear Dr. Robert Conner:
I just wanted to give you a letter for my gratitude. Thank you so very much for you and your staff. For providing me with my new smile. This means to the world to me, so much that I can’t express in words.
I grew up on a small island in Hawaii where there wasn’t any resources such as good medical treatment and dentist. Not even education for woman. Growing up my father was very abusive. He had broken my nose 3 times and punched me in the face which knocked my front tooth out.
I’m telling you this not to have pity for me, But to tell you this because you all are providing me with more than a smile. You’re providing me my self-esteem back, the confidence I need. My children are also very grateful for my new smile. For the longest they have been thinking my tooth been lost and have been constantly looking for my tooth since they were little babies. I now can tell my children that they no longer have to look for mommies tooth.
Thank You so very much to you and all of your staff for all of your time, hard work and money for me. From the bottom of my heart I appreciate you all and God Bless.
“The power of my new Smile, will stop a Thousand of my tears!”
Lehua is a shining example of what a relationship with people in broken situations can produce. We are so optimistic regarding her future and look forward to all the awesome things God has in store for her, and we are thankful we get to accompany her on her journey!
The Fulfillment of a Vision
When I started Hope Inspired Ministries, I intended to help as many men and women in Montgomery overcome barriers to success, gain full-time employment, reduce dependency, and help create self-sufficient lifestyles. I wanted each person to understand they were created with gifts and abilities by God and wanted them to use those gifts to be productive members of their community.
Along the way we discovered how prevalent this need is in every single community, both large and small. This realization set my heart to looking at other places where we could forever impact the lives of broken people stuck behind obstacles that were impossible to overcome on their own.
We began praying for God to present HIM with opportunities to impact other cities in our state. As usual, God is so faithful to give us opportunities to bring light into the darkest of places.
This led us to the city of Birmingham, specifically Woodlawn. There was already an incredible effort dedicated to the restoration of this area. What they were missing, however, was a systematic approach to help men and women obtain and maintain employment.
We met with the YWCA who desired to bring about an adult education program to help their clients transition out of poverty and brokenness. So it was suggested that we collaborate in this endeavor where we combine our resources to efficiently and effectively help the Woodlawn community and surrounding areas.
I am thrilled to announce that after several months of praying, detailed planning, and hard work by so many people, our HIM expansion into Birmingham has become a reality! We are so thankful that God has provided us the vision and resources to bring about this expansion. He and He alone is responsible for bringing this important effort to fruition.
This past Monday we began our first class with nine adults who are simply stuck in life but possess a strong desire to move forward. Our awesome Birmingham team of Kirk, Talitha, and Farrah are thrilled at the opportunity to walk through life with these adults and begin to help them become what God intended them be from the beginning. Please bathe them in your prayers!
10 Things We are Thankful for at HIM
As we draw near to the end of another awesome year at Hope Inspired Ministries,
I cannot help but be overcome with thankfulness at how blessed we have been over the past year. Some of the blessings are obvious and some are less so, but nevertheless, I wanted to share them with you.
- Past graduates excelling in life
We have been inundated with positive stories about our graduates excelling in life! One such instance is Herst. Herst had a gang background but has broken free of the street life and has held a job for nine months. He recently has been promoted to team leader and is diligently saving his money for a better future. Michael (Herst’s brother and also a HIM graduate) continues to excel by holding the same job for two years and has moved up to assistant manager at Wishbone Café.
We also have three graduates working at Montgomery Veterinary Associates. The management reports that all three are excelling!
2. Internship providers
We have formed many new relationships with businesses who have opened up their doors to be an internship provider and maintained relationships with past internship providers. Internships are vital to introducing our students to the expectations of employers and we couldn’t run our program without these amazing businesses!
We still have relationships with many students, even though they did not successfully complete our program. Many are now active in the workforce and we celebrate their decision to get serious about life. We are thankful that change has taken root in their lives. We also continue to maintain relationships with our graduates and continually have graduates who reach out just to check in or to seek advice. They know that no matter what, they can always reach out to us because of the relationship we built while they were with us.
4. Graduates who are advancing in their education
We are thankful for many students who continue to work towards advancement in their education. Our previous graduate, Shannon, has entered her second semester of Nursing School while still working full-time and raising a son as a single mom. Many others are making progress on their GED completion.
5. Our Volunteers
We are so thankful for the army of individuals, churches, and businesses that come alongside of HIM every day and support us in changing our community. We couldn’t do all that we do without them!
What seemed like just a dream as of last year has now turned into an answered prayer. We are thankful for the opportunity to expand into the Woodlawn community in partnership with the YWCA. We have been overjoyed at the response of the individuals and businesses in the area as to what we will offer in 2017.
7. The HIM Team
I am personally thankful for a staff that continues to love those who, to many, are unlovable and provide them a pathway to overcome obstacles and barriers in their lives.
8. Opportunity to help transform lives
We are thankful for all the brokenness that God will put in our path in the upcoming year so that we have a chance to help people transform their lives
9. The YWCA
Thanks to the YWCA, we have a facility that holds our offices and a classroom to teach our program in. It’s because of partnerships like this that we are what changes a community!
10. Our Mighty and Awesome God
Most of all, we are thankful for a God who sustains us in the best and worst of times. He provides us with the resources to change the world around us and we are motivated to love others as He has first loved us!
Thank you all for your support this past year. Your generosity has gone above and beyond what we could have ever asked for. We hope to do even greater things in 2017 in Montgomery and Birmingham and ask for your continued support! Please prayerfully consider your year-end giving
Just the Beginning
I feel that one of my greatest responsibilities as Executive Director is to inform the general public of the everyday challenges that people in poverty, addiction, and general brokenness have in climbing out of this hopeless existence. In doing so, I hope to create more empathy for those who have specific challenges in life, but are genuinely attempting to get their life on track.
If you came from a typical middle class background, I am sure you have some incredible stories of poor judgment, bad decision-making, irresponsibility, and irrational and impetuous behavior, that you would probably prefer stay hidden in the recesses of your past.
Many of you, like myself, can even look back on some of those chaotic times and laugh about the incredibly dumb things we did as we transitioned out of adolescence and into adulthood. In spite of the advantages of good family and proper upbringing, many of us still didn’t get on track until much later in our adult years.
So how did we make it through such a struggle? Most of us would point first to our relationship with a merciful and forgiving God. In addition, many of us would also point to a healthy support system and network of family, friends, and church members, as well as access to resources that enabled us to eventually transition out of those bad places and circumstances and move forward in life.
However, for most of our students and graduates, that support system simply does not exist. While they make all the same poor decisions we did, the consequences of such poor judgment are often far greater because there is no pathway forward from their mistakes. Sometimes the barriers they create become permanent because their understanding of how to overcome them simply does not exist, while the resources are not available to help transition out of those bad places.
That is why we say that graduation from our course is simply the beginning and not the end. These adults, perhaps for the first time ever, are learning how to sort out a lifetime of poor decisions and learning how to obtain the skills and wisdom that we gained for 18-20 years at home.
Even after 11 weeks in our program, there are times our graduates will behave in such a way that makes us wonder are we making any progress. But we remind ourselves daily that this is a lifelong process of learning, growing, and changing that simply takes time, patience, resources, accountability, and an extraordinary amount of love for broken people.
We know how to be successful in this endeavor because God has led the way in first extending all of these things to us!
Virtually all of the population we serve are what we refer to as “high-risk.” This implies that, without direct intervention, they are likely to remain in the type of situations where you always finder higher rates of poverty, crime, violence, addiction, and complete hopelessness.
The challenge in reaching those found in high-risk situations is to mix the right balance of empathy and compassion with the right amount of accountability and structure. Of course, the line with each person may be different based on several factors such as background, past abuse, intelligence level, current stability, etc.
One example of such a struggle is with a current student who we already had a relationship with prior to the start of our recent class. He was due to come in for his drug test on Friday but did not show up. This is not uncommon, so we thought he recently used drugs and chose not to attend. However, on the following Monday, I received a call from a bail bondsman that this person was in the county jail; not for something recent but for a minor offense from the past (hunting without a license).
Never before have I bailed someone out of jail. But, because of some prior relationship with this person, I realized he literally had no one else to call. The cost to me to me was $85 to bond him out with the potential cost of $500 if he fails to appear for his court date. The question became, “It is worth the risk?”
As I contemplated that question, another question came to mind, “What if this bond was the only barrier currently standing between this student taking our course and, perhaps, changing the rest of his life? Is the risk worth it?” I have a standing policy that when in doubt, always ere on the side of mercy. So for the first time in our five-year history, I bonded someone out of jail in order to remove that barrier to moving forward in his life.
Some may wonder if it’s worth the risk…after all, the likelihood of a successful life transformation is nominal at best. It all depends on how “success” is defined, but regardless of whether this student ever gets his life on track or not, this person will have experienced unconditional love, acceptance, and opportunity. When we think about, that is exactly what we all have received from God, isn’t it?
So compared to the price that had to be paid to show unconditional love to me on the cross, a measly $85 pales in comparison, don’t you think?
I leave you with the words of our Lord Jesus in John 15:12-17:
“This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. This is my command: Love each other.”
We recently graduated six students from HIM. It was another wonderful graduation filled with touching stories of changed lives, transformation and restored hope! This class had a lot of challenges to overcome, including addiction, criminal history and even a couple of physical problems. Yet these students pushed themselves forward and began making changes in behavior and came out with the skills and tools needed to be successful personally and professionally.
We are excited to report that five out of the six graduates are now employed, with our sixth person entering into Vocational Rehab! It is crucial to get our students into their next steps, whether that be employment, continuing GED training, or entering into institutions of higher learning upon graduation. This makes it less likely for them to get discouraged and/or fall back into old habits.
In addition to getting jobs, our graduates who did not finish their GED will still have the opportunity to train with Trenholm to continue their pursuit. We’re happy to share that Shane passed the reading portion of his GED last week and will tackle the math portion next. Many of you might remember that all the sections of the GED used to be taken at one time. However, with the increased difficulty in the GED testing, we have found that student performance is much better if we test one area at a time.
As we continue to work with students and graduates, we are reminded of the importance of imperfect progress. Just like our journey, theirs is messy and filled with mistakes, set-backs and failures…this is simply all part of the growing process. What we want from them, just like God wants from us, is to learn from the mistakes, keep moving forward and not quit. The journey is not perfect, but progress is shown through simply not giving up.
“I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it,[a] but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” – Philippians 3:12-14
The Essentiality of Collaboration
According to TaxExemptWorld.com, Alabama has over 30,000 non-profits with 2,338 located in Montgomery alone. To say there is unnecessary duplication in the non-profit world is an understatement.
There are a host of reasons why this problem exists, but clearly one of the key issues is an unwillingness to partner together, even though by doing so resources are maximized and clients are better served. Unfortunately, there is the mindset of building MY kingdom rather than building up THE kingdom.
HIM, as all non-profits, survives off the generosity of its donors. It is important to me that our supporters are aware of how much we value and appreciate their willingness to give their hard-earned money, which allows us to provide the support and training to our students.
In order to maximize each dollar of support, it is critical for us to perform our duties as efficiently and effectively as possible. We must strive each day to be the absolute best at what we do. In order to do that, we must not wander into territory that is not ours and needlessly duplicate services which are being offered by other agencies. That’s why we believe it is essential to collaborate with other local agencies to better enhance our program and support our students.
For example, we recognized that our GED training was a weaker area for us, and we did not have the staff to give the students the time and attention needed for their training. Enter Trenholm State Community College. Through this collaboration, we are now an official training site for the GED. They provide the instructor and training, and we serve as support to keep students moving along and assist in whatever way the instructor needs. We are continuing to work out a few kinks, but we’ve already seen a huge improvement in the effectiveness of getting our students prepared for the GED in a much quicker time. In fact, we currently have four students from the current classes who are ready to take the first portion of their GED.
Another partnership that we’ve seen great success with is our collaboration with Friendship Mission. So far in 2016, we’ve had two students graduate who lived at the Friendship Mission, another graduating tonight and three others enrolled in the most recent class. While we provide the job training skills and support in this area, Friendship Mission provides these students housing, as well as case management support. We developed relationships with case workers and through a collaborative effort, we provide a support system for each student to help them be successful.
Therefore, I want to reiterate to our supporters that we fully intend to maintain a laser-like focus on fulfilling the purpose to which we are called…equipping low-skilled, poorly educated, and/or chronically unemployed men and women to obtain and maintain employment and become self-sufficient and productive citizens. And for areas outside of that, we believe in the power of partnership.
Thank you all again for your support!
Great Challenges Bring Great Trust
We recently began our fourth class of 2016. Every class is different and, of course, brings its own set of challenges. Part of the challenge we encountered from day one were three young ladies who we called the “bullies” of this class. These ladies were very bright with so much potential, however, they constantly disrupted the class, showed attitude to those in authority and were not teachable. The entire class was affected by their behavior, causing the other students to not participate in class and kept them from bonding.
Many of you know that we are very much filled with grace and mercy in our approach, but we also must not compromise our standards and must think about the overall well-being of the entire class. After many verbal warnings and talks with the instructor, we sat down with two of the three ladies and told them we wanted them in this class, but they needed to make changes to their behavior in order to stay in the class. They did not come back to class after that conversation. The leader of the group came back to talk with the staff the following day, but ultimately made some poor choices, forcing us to remove her from the class with an invitation to start back again in a year.
Even though we see how desperately they need our help, we know that they are not ready to make changes in their life.
However, the good news is that once those ladies were removed, we immediately saw a great change in the class. And what’s so great about this class is that it’s one of our most diverse classes we’ve ever had! This class includes different races, a wide age range, and those from different socio-economic backgrounds. We love seeing students connecting despite completely different backgrounds!
We share all of this to remind you that there are people you encounter that are simply not ready to make changes to their life…and that’s ok! We must continue to love and focus on those who are in front of us who are willing to make changes and love those who aren’t from a distance. We know and trust that God is doing His work and His timing is perfect in all things.
We Call Him “Gentle Ben”
All students are important to us and we love each of them in a special way. But sometimes God puts really special people in our path who stand out from the crowd—people who have experienced complete brokenness. What makes people like this so special is that it’s so obvious to see the work that God has done and is doing in their life.
Our latest special person is a graduate named Ben. He came to us just hours after being released from state prison for murder. He served 15 years and was paroled. While in prison, he became a follower of Christ and grew a deep love for his Lord Jesus!
I decided to include his full speech here while only excerpts of other graduates. In no way is this meant to diminish the accomplishments of other graduates, but Ben has touched our hearts in a dramatic way. Here is Ben’s speech in its entirety:
“Hello. My name is Benjamin Lamar Smith. I just came out prison this year in January, after doing 15 years of 25 year prison sentence. I am a convicted murderer.
I was born and raised in Montgomery, Alabama. My parents divorced when I was a senior in high school. I attended all four years of high school but was unable to graduate because I didn’t pass the exit exam. All through my 20’s I worked different fast food jobs. Some jobs I was fired from and some I quit. By the time I was 30, I had two children, no job, and a lot of anger. I also was arrested for murder that year.
I was very broken. I was hurt and embarrassed by what I had done and become. It was the darkest point in my life during that time. I began praying and seeking God’s face while I was in prison. In 2001, He began to speak to me. I was praying and studying the word and I realized God forgives and that he forgave me.
While serving time at Limestone in 2015, I attended a program called “At the Movies” by Church of the Highlands. I fell in love with the praise and worship music and the message from Pastor Chris Hodges. I am very thankful for the support and love offered by Church of the Highlands. I love being able to attend Church of the Highlands here in Montgomery I am currently going through the growth track and excited to be part of the Dream Team soon.
I also heard about Hope Inspired Ministries while in prison. I got out of prison on a Monday, came to Hope Inspired Ministries orientation on Wednesday, and started class on the following Monday.
I want to talk about some of things I have learned while at Hope Inspired Ministries. I have learned self-confidence, because they believed in me and accepted me for who I am. I learned to accept responsibility for my behavior and actions. I also learned the value of team-work. I have learned to be curious about new things and learned to ask questions. The staff and teachers at Hope Inspired Ministries provided good role models and gave good advice.
My hopes and plans for the future are to be able to reconnect with my daughter who is a student at ASU. I would like to be able to build a relationship with her. I also plan to earn my GED in order to get the best job possible. After taking care of myself, I want to help others better themselves.
Thanks to Michael, Leanne, Kirk, Jennifer, Elizabeth, and Beth. Thanks to my mentors, Daniel and Jonathan. Also thanks to my tutor, Mr. Phillip. Thank you to my internship provider, Landmark Church of Christ, especially you, Ms. Gail. A special thank you to Cassandra Johnson for backing me up and thank you to Thomas for sending me the brochure and info about Hope Inspired Ministries and pointing me in the right direction. Thank you to my mother for encouraging me and praying for me.
To my mom and dad – None of my behavior was your fault. You were good parents and I love you. I am so happy to share two things with you. First, I have a job! I will be starting at Madison Car Wash on Monday. Come by and see me and I wash your car for you! Second, I have been restored and redeemed by Jesus Christ!
In conclusion, I plan to stay positive keep my focus on God, and my faith strong. Love you all. Good Night.”
Although it is a little difficult to hear, you can actually watch Ben deliver his speech at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qDD1JPuaE4k. It will well worth your time!
Practicing What We Preach
In my attempt to stay connected to our students, I teach a course on character building to the students each week. This week, it was a combination of gratitude and hopefulness. In a nutshell, gratitude is a choice to focus on what is positive rather than what is negative. With this optimistic perspective, you are empowered to believe that you can overcome your obstacles rather than be defeated by them. This is where hopefulness has the capacity to open up our students’ world where they can begin to see endless possibilities.
Inside of that lesson, I explained to our students that, even when bad things happen, we have to attempt to find, and then focus on, the positive. This is where the “practice what I preach” problem comes into play. We had two students who had to be dismissed, just two weeks prior to our upcoming graduation. We had poured nine weeks into these students and both were doing very well on their internships, but simply could not find the determination to make it to the end.
One student was a no-call/no-show to their internship. We expect this behavior in the first couple of weeks but not this close to graduation. All she had to do was pick up the phone and call, but chose not to. When she was dismissed, she really didn’t act like it was big deal until after she got home and the realization of the consequences began to sink in. She then called back requesting another chance, but was denied because, in reality, it was about her 10th chance already.
We have another student who was Muslim. All throughout the program he has actively participated in our morning devotionals and has looked up Scripture any time we as a class did so together. There were several times we witnessed him highlighting in his bible. We were very encouraged. But this past Monday, he arrived to school in very traditional Muslim attire. When I asked him why, he simply stated that he felt like it. I told him that our course is all about assimilation into society and his attire was a very loud statement that he wanted to be different and separated from everyone else. I told him that he was free to practice his faith any way he chose to, but most businesses would not hire someone in a white robe, knitted skull cap, and scraggly beard. We had a nice, calm conversation and I left it simply telling him to “think about it.” He left my office and walked out and we have not heard from him since that day.
So where is the positive in all of this to be found? First, our female student learned a lot of important skills and learned the importance of personal responsibility by allowing her to suffer the consequences of her choices. This will prepare her for the next stage of her life, whatever that might be. In other words, even though she didn’t complete the program, we still helped her progress in life. That will not show up in our statistics, but it was not wasted time and effort on our part either.
In regards to our Muslim student, the positive is that he experienced the love of Christ daily through authentic relationship with His followers. We loved this young man in spite a life of rebellion, criminal behavior, and a rejection of societal norms. In other words, we were faithful to God’s purpose while he was with us, and we trust that God will continue to speak truth into the heart of this person. Whether he ever begins to accept it, time only knows.
While we would love to graduate all our students, the reality is that will never happen. But what can happen is that we can continue to love those God puts in our path with the same undeserved love and grace that He first showed to us and trust that, whether they graduate or not, they leave here in a much better place in life.
This is What It’s All About
Every class brings with it heartache, pain, and frustration…it just comes with the territory. Our business is about authentic transformation in the lives of the most broken citizens in our city and there are many failures along the way. However, there are sometimes just subtle moments that make it all worth it.
Let me give you a little background on a student. His father was a well-known drug trafficker who is currently in state prison. This young man came up hard. But right away it was evident to the entire staff that this kid has the ability to be something special. What we didn’t know from the beginning was how he was going to respond to the structure and accountability we provide along with the relationship.
To that end, one of our instructors had an opportunity to sit down and just freely talk with this young man. Here is what he reported back to me.
“Sitting alone in the classroom with this student, he told me that, after he graduates, he still wants to come be in the class. He said the entire staff encourages him and builds him up. He told me when he’s at home he gets discouraged and depressed, but being here makes him happy.
He went on to tell me about how he has learned he is a product of his choices and gave me examples, good and bad, of people he has seen that to be true. He told me about a friend that will steal and fight, but when his friend is around him, his friend behaves.
I was able to tell him that this is his positive influence and leadership. The look on his face was unbelievable. I told him how much our staff loves and believes in him. Again, the look on his face was of joy and finally hearing what he’s wanted to hear all his life.”
Folks this is real…this is authentic change…change that has the potential to last a lifetime! Praise God for what He is doing in this student’s, and all our students’ lives.
New Class, New Changes, New Beginnings!
So many have reached out to us and asked how the new classes are going. I apologize for failing to keep everyone updated as much as in the past, especially with the all the new changes being put into place. Thank you for your interest in what we are doing!
First, let me say, our new curriculum is even more dynamic that I originally anticipated. Each subject has popular movie clips, which serve as object lessons, and our students have really responded well. It has greatly enhanced our ability to communicate the lessons to them. There is just something about seeing these life lessons being played out in a movie that help them really take hold of the key concepts.
We have also transitioned our morning devotionals to a curriculum by Andy Stanley entitled “Starting Point.” It possesses a uniqueness in that it really challenges even lifelong people of faith, while also enabling us to bring those along who possess little to no relationship with God. If you are interested in checking out the lessons, you can visit www.spmembers.com.
We have also changed our class scheduling process to help reduce the amount of wait time between classes. A secondary benefit to this system is that we can move a student to the next class if necessary, without forcing them to wait several months for the start of a new one.
On top of these scheduled changes, we experienced another change that we had not anticipated. Trenholm State Technical College has made HIM an official training site for adult education and is now providing a GED instructor six hours per week, along with the necessary training materials. It is a real blessing to collaborate in this effort to assist our students in realizing their educational goals. Thank you Trenholm State for your support!
The bottom line is that all these changes are producing more effective training and creating better opportunities for our students. There are still more challenges and brokenness within our student population than I have space to write, but God continues pushing us to greater heights each day! May He be praised!
Exciting Changes for 2016
In our continuing effort to pursue excellence in everything we do, the staff and I recently underwent a rigorous review of our curriculum to ensure we were offering the best training available to our students. As a result, we are transitioning to a curriculum called “C2: Character Challenge” for our life skills and character building training.
What is so awesome about this curriculum is that it uses movie clips as a modern day parable of sorts to teach the message. For instance, some of the movies used are Lord of the Rings (discernment), Night at the Museum (teamwork), Coach Carter (responsibility), Finding Forester (learning), and many others (24 in all). Our students will be even more engaged, which we believe will increase our overall effectiveness in training our students.
We are also changing our class structure in order to facilitate more opportunities throughout the year. In the past, we would start two classes together, which could facilitate a maximum of 30 students. However, if a potential student missed this class, they would have to wait over four months to be able to attend the next one. That can be a tough sale to someone who is ready to start making changes to their life right away.
In an attempt to overcome this problem, we will begin the year with one class of 15-18 students and begin another class about every five weeks. With this approach, someone seeking to make positive changes will not have to wait more than a month to start their training. Also, it works out where we can facilitate a greater overall number of students throughout the year, which, due to growth in our program, is very much needed.
With all this said, we are reaching out to our many supporters and asking for your help filling our volunteer positions. We are managing our lunch signup on VolunteerSpot, which you can go to by clicking on this link here. If you desire to mentor or tutor, we will be adding this to VolunteerSpot soon, but you can go ahead and notify Beth McCary at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Graduation and Educational Challenges
We are very excited about our upcoming graduation and the nine students who will be walking across the stage to receive their certificates. They have come so far in the past several weeks. This class is so special to us because we have seen how far they have come and the obstacles they have climbed over to get to this point.
LaTonya, one of our students, was awarded her high school diploma just last week. When she came to us, she explained that she had already enrolled in a nationally accredited program to complete her high school diploma, but was just short of finishing. LaTonya had been paying for this out of her own pocket with money she had earned while working at a fast food restaurant. Since being in our class, Latonya has maintained a part time job, worked at her internship and continued to work to finish her high school diploma—and this was all while being a single mother. We love her initiative and drive, and we made sure that she would be able to accomplish her goals…which she has done! We’re so proud of LaTonya!
While we offer top-notch GED training for our students, the reality is that the GED has become harder to obtain than a high school diploma. The primary reason is the GED, since 2014, falls under Common Core Standards. In fact, according to the GED Testing Service, there was almost a 90% drop of those who received their GED with the new standards. See this article for more information. Without going into too many details, for many of our students, the GED has become almost unattainable. While I am all for tough standards, I can’t believe this was the intention of the creators of this new system.
What’s more, the GED no longer carries equal weight with the high school diploma. For instance, in order to enlist into the military with a GED, you must also have 15 college credit hours. This is not a requirement with a high school diploma and yet, ironically, the GED is harder to obtain than a diploma.
As we face this new reality, we are looking at several options, to include pathways for our students to obtain their high school diploma online since physically going back to high school is not a reality for them. We are excited about some new and very promising options, which we believe will better equip our students to face the educational and employment challenges in the future. I will make sure to update you as these options play out in the future.
Teaching Students to Serve
In case you missed it, Hope Inspired Ministries was featured in the Montgomery Advertiser this past weekend. It was not simply to share with the public about our program, but to highlight a special activity initiated by one of our mentors that involved students giving back to their community.
David Garner has mentored for us consistently for five class cycles and approached me with an idea to help train our students in the area of giving back to others. He prefaced his comments with how much it means to him to mentor our students and the blessing he receives from giving back to others.
With this in mind, David mentioned that, due to the lack of resources of most of our students, perhaps they didn’t have as many opportunities to serve others and receive that special blessing that he enjoyed so much. So he suggested creating an opportunity for our students to serve others by hosting a cookout for the homeless in our area with the students helping prepare and serve the meal.
So, in conjunction with World Homeless day, our students prepared and served meals to those in our community who are in great need.
Two things happened during this time. First, our students thoroughly enjoyed serving, which was evident by their hard work, great attitude and caring spirit. They treated each person with care and compassion, which is a value that we desire to see grow in our students.
Secondly, it helped open their eyes to how blessed they are in many ways. When resources are few and struggles are many, it is so easy to lose perspective about life. This reminded our students to be thankful for a roof over their head, food in the refrigerator, and family that was close by.
You can read the full article here.
Needless to say, the lunch was a huge success in accomplishing many goals. Thank you again to David Garner who provided all the food, fixings and everything else it took to put on this event. The students were able to bless the men and women who came to the cookout, the students were blessed with a great opportunity to serve, and most importantly, God was honored by it all!
New & Exciting Things at HIM
I wanted to use this blog to update our followers on just a few of the latest happenings taking place within the ministry.
First, we have been invited into the Montgomery municipal jail in an attempt to help break the cycle in which so many find themselves. It is quite common for someone to serve a few days/weeks in jail, only to be returned within a few months for a new offense. This pattern becomes interwoven into the fabric of their lives to where the threat of jail becomes no threat at all.
Our approach is to reach out each week to the male and female populations for two hours each. The time allotted is not enough to build in-depth relationships, but it is enough to create a familiarity, which opens up future opportunities for them upon their release. Our hope is that sharing with them some important lessons in areas such as anger management, problem-solving, critical thinking, and core values, they will begin to understand a real need to make changes and turn to us when they are released for further training and development.
Although we have only been doing this for a month, we’ve already had several people reach out to us since their release to inquire about future training. I am optimistic we will have a large impact over time and it will be one more avenue for lives to be changed through our program.
Secondly, we currently have nine students who are preparing to enter their internships next week. Our staff and students were deflated last week when we had to dismiss three students who were on pace to graduate, but they tested positive for marijuana and had to be dismissed. A couple of these students had extreme brokenness that we were working through, but we simply could not look the other way in this case. Pray they return to us soon with a renewed heart and spirit!
Third, we have some exciting things coming up for our 2016 Extra Mile 5k+1m/10k+1m Race! Make sure to check back to our Facebook page on Thursday to hear about the exciting things coming for the Extra Mile.
Fourth, we could not be more optimistic about the future of our program. There are many areas of potential growth that have been presented to us in the past few months and we are in a time of prayer as to what this means for us in 2016 and the years thereafter. While I am not at liberty to share details at this time, rest assured God has big plans for us going forward! We ask for your prayers for wisdom, guidance and for the Lord to open doors that no man can open and shut doors no man can shut.
Thank you all for being such a vital part of who were are and what we do!
An Awesome Night of Celebration
What an incredible turnout for our annual benefit dinner last week, which was standing room only! A big thank you to First United Methodist Church and their staff for hosting us and to all our many sponsors for your support; especially our Event Sponsors: Benefit Planners Inc., PT Solutions, and JP Millwork.
Two of our previous graduates, Shannon Alvarez and Darrian Jackson, spoke in regards to the new course their lives have taken since graduating from HIM.
Shannon shared with the audience that years ago she started using and dealing drugs. As you would expect, her life turned chaotic. During this time, her mother was diagnosed with M.S. and she became her caretaker for several years before she passed away. Shannon was lost but found her way to HIM. Since graduating, she has obtained her Certified Nursing Assistant certification and works at John Knox Retirement Center. She is also enrolling in a nursing program to obtain her R.N. degree.
Speaking of which, Shannon mentioned in her speech that she initially decided to not pursue her nursing degree due to the lack of financial ability to do so. In an amazing act of generosity, one of our supporters stepped forward after the dinner and offered Shannon a full scholarship for nursing school (see the pictures to understand the overwhelming impact this had on her)!
Darrian Jackson also spent a lot of his life dealing drugs. However, he developed a strong desire change his life in order to make his wife and children proud of him. This desire led him to our doorstep. Darrian explained that Partners Realty (also a dinner sponsor) hired him after graduation to do routine maintenance on many of their buildings they manage. After being employed for two years with Partner’s Realty, Darrian is now a maintenance manager and responsible for the oversight of a major facility. In addition, Partner’s Reality is preparing to send Darrian to get further training in plumbing. Darrian commented to me that this was the first time in his life he didn’t feel the need to run away when he saw the police because everything he is doing is now ‘legit.’ He also stated that it felt so good as a man to be able to take care of his family. This is the impact we strive to make on the lives of all our students and their families.
We begin a new class next Monday with another full load of students who are very excited to begin their journey of transformation. In this round of interviews, we have witnessed unimaginable brokenness, some things so disturbing that it stays with you for a time. We need your prayers and God’s presence through this process if there is to be any hope of overcoming this darkness!
Sometimes Relationship Is Not Enough
As we ready for graduation on Thursday, I find myself reflecting back over our most challenging class to date. We have lost more students as a percentage this class than any other. Of course, we look at internal processes to determine if there are things we can do better as a staff, but frankly, the difficulty in training young adults speaks more to the state of our current society.
We are dealing with a generation that possesses few skills, are poorly educated, and lack any real motivation to make substantial changes. The one thing we have learned is that, regardless of the resources you pour into someone, change is not going to take place until they want to change and are willing to put in the hard work to make change happen.
In fairness, there are many risk factors in the poverty culture that work against our students becoming successful. For instance, I have a friend with three children who all attended the same major university out of high school. Two of the children partied hard and flunked out and returned home. However, because of the support offered by the family, these children were afforded a place to live, cell phones, cars, and other provisions as they “transitioned” into their new reality. After working odd jobs for a year or two, they somewhat matured and returned back to school with a new attitude and perspective on life.
Unlike these young adults in the middle class, those in the poverty class do not possess the resources to fall back on in times of failure. This leaves them at a distinct disadvantage as compared to other segments of society.
With that said, we go out of our way to be the support structure for our students as they are transitioning through this transformational phase of their life. We employ extra patience, kindness, and encouragement to help them make the required daily adjustments. But even with all the love and support we offer, sometimes it simply is not enough.
Therefore, we have to accept the fact some people simply cannot be reached at this place and time. That doesn’t mean they will never be reached but they simply are not ready for success. And if we want to facilitate change in those people’s lives, we must allow them to face the real consequences of their choice not to succeed. This path seems correct regardless of which class a person resides in.
With that said, our attention is squarely focused on our seven graduates from this class who did everything we asked them to do and endured to the end. They are on a healthier path and we expect great things from them in their future. Just seeing their success makes all the challenges well worth the effort.
Please pray, not only for our graduates, but all those we dismissed as well. Pray that God uses their experience to open their hearts and minds to His plan for their lives so they can become what our Creator intended!
Basic Problem Solving
When a problem arises in our lives, most of us don’t sit down and actually use a step-by-step approach to solve that problem. That doesn’t mean we don’t possess problem-solving skills. It just means that it’s a process we do automatically without thinking of the details behind it. There are many factors that go into how we resolve problems, such as past experiences (what worked and what didn’t), influential individuals who offer advice and resources that enable us to find good solutions.
So imagine you had none of these things–no one to show you how to resolve problems, little to no real life experiences and no resources. This is exactly where we find almost all our students. They have never had to actually “think” their way
to solutions. Either someone has done it for them or they have no point of reference to even begin the process of resolving their problems. This usually results in unhealthy actions that almost never produce the desired result.
We have seen this problem with class after class. So, as with other areas of need, we have introduced problem solving skills training into our curriculum. Here is the basic 5 step process we teach our students how to solve any problem:
1. Defining the Problem:
• Is there a problem?
• What is it?
• How significant is it?
2. Analyze the Problem: Why is this happening?
3. Determining What to Do: What shall we do about it?
4. Implementing the Plan with Fidelity:
• Are you doing what you said you would do?
• How do you know?
5. Evaluating Progress:
• Did the plan work?
• What needs to happen next?
So far the results have been promising. The students were given real life scenarios to work through and solve, and they have done very well, much better than initially expected. This is something we plan to keep walking our current students through, either with their own problems or using real-life scenarios, and implementing into our curriculum for upcoming classes.
Once again it is a reminder about the need to equip our students to be successful in their personal life and on the job. That is what we are striving to do every day so our students can ultimately become what our Lord desires them to be.
A Lifetime of Negative Programming
I am the grandfather of three rambunctious boys. At times they, like every other child or grandchild, push boundaries, behave mischievously, act out, and downright defy. But, as my K5 teacher wife patiently reminds me, “that is what little kids do.” Which leads me to a trend we are regularly witnessing among our students.
While giving their life maps (their life represented through a series of pictures), many of our students talk about how “bad” they were as child. The incidents they usually describe are nothing different than normal child behavior. However, they have been told by parents, relatives and/or friends over and over how bad they are.
We also see that this is being passed down to our students’ children. Again, if you ask them to describe their children, they don’t focus on their talents, abilities, likes or dislikes; they usually start with “my child is bad.”
Imagine an environment where you were always told you were bad and never had any positive reinforcement. We have students tell us that they had never been told “good job” or “well done” or had any positive reinforcement before attending HIM. It is truly heartbreaking.
We see the harmful results each day. When we try to build up our students’ self-esteem, it rarely takes at first. It is something we must reinforce daily throughout the class. We believe it is so hard for them to accept the idea that they have special gifts and abilities and actually have self-worth because of the negative things they’ve been hearing since childhood. Hearing positive things about themselves is a brand new concept to them.
All of the years of constant negative reinforcement has proven to be just one more barrier that our population has to overcome. It doesn’t mean they can’t overcome this mental breakthrough, it just means it is more difficult.
All of this reminds me about the power of our words. We probably all can think back to a time where someone close to us said something incredibly hurtful. Each time you think about, you experience the pain all over again.
The same is true for words that are filled with encouragement. They are life giving in their nature, a kind of desert oasis for our souls. Our students come to us very dry inside. It takes a lot of life-giving words to overcome years and years of the negative effect of harmful and hurtful words.
I will end with a simple thought…if you had a mother, father, teacher, coach, or anyone in your life who filled you up with praise, take the time to thank them. Without it, it is no telling where each of us might be today.
New Approaches for a New Class
First, we are very excited to announce that we have begun this class at maximum capacity of 30 students! It is very evident to us that so many men and women in our city are willing to make positive changes to their lives if given the opportunity to do so. The one discouraging thing to note is that we had to stop scheduling interviews for our female students almost two weeks ago because the demand is simply too large. This provides us even more incentive to prepare to expand to meet this need (more on expansion in future blogs).
With every class, we diligently analyze our approach and search for ways to make our training more effective. The number one problem we continue to face, class after class, is student timeliness. We have tried many different methods to improve timeliness with varying degrees of success. However, we really feel as though we may have finally taken a HUGE stride in resolving this problem. Allow me to explain.
Since the beginning of this course, we have provided our students with bus passes to address the lack of transportation problem. However, most students still chose to depend on rides, most of which were terribly unreliable. We discovered the reason most of our students refused to take the bus is they were actually afraid to do so. They were not afraid due to a physical threat, but simply because taking the bus was something they had never done before and it was new to them. The fear actually kept them from learning how to ride the city transportation system, which is in place to help them.
Our new approach to solving this problem was for the entire class and staff to walk from HIM to the bus terminal. Each student was required to go to the window, provide the customer service person with their home address, and learn what bus route they were to ride on. Then we divided them into common groups and each staff member got on the bus with them and rode with them to their destination. While the students were still very nervous, the staff being there provided them a sense of stability throughout the process.
While we are still very early in the process, the results were very clear. More students rode the bus this morning than ever before and our tardiness rates dropped significantly. Who would have ever thought that it was fear that was keeping our students from taking advantage of the public transportation system?
On a side note, I want to applaud the men and women who operate the Montgomery Transit System. Every single person we encountered, from ticket seller to bus driver, went out of their way to explain what the next step was in the process. They were so helpful and reassuring and could not have been more professional in their approach. They should be recognized for their contribution to helping so many who are dependent on public transportation! Until next time, blessings!