Know your nonprofits: HopeWorks

The original concept of local nonprofit HopeWorks was to provide care for the poor and homeless by providing temporary housing, but from there the vision expanded to provide a longer-lasting impact on the people they serve. They now have programs that help people develop skills and strategies that equip them to enter the workforce.
HopeWorks is living up to its name by providing hope to many who live on the fringe of society. The organization works on a belief that when basic needs are met and people are given hope for a better future, they can then try to change or rebuild their lives. HopeWorks does this by reaching out with meals, educational training and spiritual counseling.
“Our not-for-profit organization strives to break the cycle of crime, addiction and generational poverty that traps so many in our city,” said Ron Wade, Executive Director of HopeWorks. “HopeWorks seeks to serve the under-resourced through outreach programs that develop individual worth, encourage personal responsibility and promote the honor and value of work.”
Founded in 1990, HopeWorks is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Originally several area Church of Christ organizations came together to seek a means to provide care for the poor and homeless in Memphis and Shelby County. The initial offering was to provide temporary housing for those in need. But there was a desire to create something that would have longer-lasting effects. The goal was chosen to assist those who were chronically unemployed, giving them the skills and encouragement to become goal-oriented and better able to self-direct their lives. 
Antonio Owens, Personal and Career Development program instructor, meets with HopeWorks graduate Cortez Jones during his time as a student. One-on-one support is a key part of the Personal and Career Development program
Modeling the Hope Program based in New York City, a Life Skills Lab opened its doors in Memphis in 1990. After eight years in operation, the organization received its 501c3 status and changed its name to HopeWorks, Inc. Now through HopeWorks’ 13-week Personal and Career Development program, formerly incarcerated individuals and others living in poverty are given the tools and resources to successfully enter or reenter the workforce, with the hope of developing a lasting career. 
Wade said, “To date, over 1,000 men and women have been helped through the Personal and Career Development program. Over 70 percent of those individuals are currently employed or furthering their educational goals. Through our alumni program we strive to maintain contact with our former graduates and continue to offer alumni services support.”
Wade said what makes this program unique is that it works with employers that hire individuals out of situations of generational poverty or incarceration. For the companies, the process is intended to help them reduce their employee attrition rate. 
“We help our graduates navigate a job search and connect with partnering businesses,” explained Wade. “We’re working with Regional One Health to conduct a pilot study. Specifically we’re working with managers in their food services department to help them retain a strong employee base.”
Ruby Wray is one of approximately 100 volunteers who assist program participants at HopeWorks. Having relocated from Wisconsin, Wray was looking for a way to connect to her new city. She has served as a volunteer for HopeWorks for about seven years and says she chose HopeWorks because it was a parallel to a program she had volunteered with in Wisconsin. 
“It makes me feel good to be able to give back to others,” said Wray. “I like the fact that this program gives people a second chance. It gives program participants an opportunity to make better choices. And I appreciate the fact that HopeWorks deals with the ‘whole person.’ Through the internships, participants actually go out into the workforce. The program is the total package.”
For more information about HopeWorks, visit their website. And if you are interested in being a volunteer, visit Volunteer Memphis to see a list of available opportunities. 
The HopeWorks December Alumni Meeting will take place Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at HopeWorks,  1930 Union Avenue, located inside the Midtown Church of Christ.

Read more articles by Emily Adams Keplinger.

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