Every day, rain or shine, along the railroad tracks and highways of Wilmington, Del., small groups of men gather to pick up trash and beautify the city. They are part of a program called "He Is Pleased," and they are making the long, tough, and hopeful journey from homelessness into the world of work.
He Is Pleased began with a small group of homeless men and a program director, Tom Weller. HIP made this offer: Spend a day cleaning up litter and we'll give you a day's wage. Spend 90 days with us in a strict program that demands no tardiness, no drugs, no criminal activity, and a spiritual reassessment of your life, and and we will help you find a new place to live, a full-time job with one of our corporate partners, and a new life.
The program worked. Since it began a few years ago, about 100 men have made the leap from the streets to jobs. While some of those successes have lost touch with the people at HIP, the anecdotal evidence suggests that the vast majority of those people who made it through their "program" have been able to get off the streets.
HIP has become a model for other programs because of its simplicity of operations: It has involved local corporations providing entry-level jobs for HIP graduates; it has worked with the city to get the OK to clean up the streets; and it has kept its overhead remarkably low.
All of this is not to say that HIP doesn't face real challenges. Its budget of about $150,000 per year doesn't allow for full-time work on expanding, or for providing hard documentation on those served. Even getting in touch with HIP is difficult because the lone staff member is usually off working with the clients. In addition, when Mr. Weller goes off to the shelters to announce new openings on the work crew, he finds less than overwhelming interest. He tells them about the drug tests, about the importance of punctuality. He says HIP will do everything it can to make sure that the person is able to find a permanent job after the program. At the end of the day, only a small percentage of those he talks to ever contact him again about the program. Of those, a good number find the requirements too tough and don't show up.
Calvin's story tells a lot about what HIP does. Once a state employee with a steady job, Calvin went on a downward spiral after an encounter with heroin. He finally hit bottom after spending several years living under a bridge. He was, in his own words, "too low" to be admitted to the local homeless shelters.
Feeling convicted to change, he became part of HIP and now has the reputation for being the most punctual, hardest working team leader the program has ever had. When asked about it, he says, "I'm on my way"-a sober admission from someone who knows that the road back is not one of big language and big ideas, but of hard work, of learning how to do the small things.
During his time with the program, Calvin had heard about HIP's original funder, Foster Friess. But they had never met. Then one cold, wet March day this year, they did meet. Dropping by the work site with some guests, Mr. Friess made a beeline for the man with the blue and white "HIP" hat.
There, these two men, one a well-dressed businessman and one an up-and-comer in work clothes, hugged and talked as though they had known each other all their lives. And standing there, one could sense clearly that He Is Pleased.
Sometimes hope is found in the most unexpected places. In northeast Washington, D.C., behind building 119 of the Franklin Commons Housing Project, a short pass from a cemetery with funeral vaults stacked four high, a National Football League star is nurturing hope. His name is Darrell Green, and the program is the Darrell Green Learning Center.
Growing up as a "peanut" in Houston, Mr. Green was taken under the wing of his maternal grandmother. "She saved me from the streets," he recalls, "by the simplest acts of goodness-she took me in after school, fed me milk and cookies, asked about the best and worst parts of my day, and then helped me with my homework and my soulwork." His grandma was an extra teacher, encouraging him to do more of the things he did well and helping him do better the things he didn't do so well, and instilling in him a faith in Christ that lasts to this day.
Mr. Green is trying to be his grandmother to the children of Franklin Commons. The Center seeks to be a community support. With all of the children living in one housing project and attending the same school, the Center has sought to involve parents, students, teachers, and civic leaders in its effort.
As in most successful programs, the formula for success is not complicated-but it is defined. Upon entry into the program, each child receives an academic and personal-needs assessment administered jointly by the local school and the Center staff. The results of these tests are then used to craft an individualized program for each child. Every day after school, the kids come to the Center and get the "grandma" treatment-a snack, a hug, and an order to write and talk about the best and worst parts of their day. They are then rotated through periods of technical training, educational training, and moral training.
The technical training consists of working with desktop computers. Children gain familiarity with the technology that is omnipresent in today's world and, by using the latest educational software, they see that learning can be fun. The educational element aims to ensure that each child has individualized attention to his or her academic needs. One child, for instance, is excelling in reading and writing but is having difficulty in math. The teachers at the Center, in collaboration with the teachers at the local elementary school, design a program that will both develop the strength and pay particular attention to the weakness. As part of the "educational element," children are also given guidance on everything from goal-setting to planning to self-motivation.
The core of what the Center does, however, is not just technical know-how and educational stimulation. It is, rather, a character-development program with Jesus Christ at its heart. Working with a mentor, each child receives instruction and demonstration in "traditional values"-in knowing right from wrong and choosing right, in conflict resolution, and in internal character strengthening.
The $150,000 per year Center has had some problems. Money, despite Green's high profile, has always been tight. There have been internal mistakes about maintaining tight fundraising records and complying with the sometimes burdensome IRS requirements. Every effort, however, has also been made to rectify past mistakes.
One 13-year-old student wrote this about the Center: "I like the Learning Center for what the chaperones do for us; I like going to the Learning Center to see my friends and learn more in school; I love the Bible study that we have; I like going on fundamental trips; I like working on the computers and learning more about animals in Science Lab; I like making new things out of paper in Arts and Crafts; I like the Learning Center."
The twenty-something adults look like they are in management training programs at big accounting firms, or working as legislative assistants on Capitol Hill. Instead, they are being trained to love and serve the most at-risk-the least likely to succeed kids in Washington, D.C.'s and Portland's public schools. They are the core of a program called Friends of the Children and the key players in its mission: "to provide our most vulnerable children with a loving, caring, nurturing relationship with an adult mentor, called a Friend, for a period of at least 10 years."
Founded in 1993 with three adults and 24 students, "Friends" has grown rapidly to its current class of 200 students, chosen from among "the worst of the worst." The children are selected by their teachers at the end of the first grade. The screening process considers various high-risk factors to which they might be exposed, including alcohol and drug abuse, physical and sexual abuse, and poverty. The kids are selected based on how bad things are for them. They are then immediately assigned to an adult, and a long-term relationship begins.
Each Friend is expected to be with the child for at least the next 10 years. During this period, the Friends work to equip their kids with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to reach their potential and become productive. The Friends are full-time, paid professionals who act as big brothers or sisters to eight children each, and they spend at least eight hours a week with each child. Some of this time is spent in pairs or groups. This kind of intensive attention isn't cheap. The cost is over $4,000 per child per year.
But to Portland businessman Duncan Campbell, who launched the program, the cost isn't what's important. "If they become a carpenter or work in a restaurant or become the president of Portland General Electric Company, it doesn't matter to us. We just want these children to become happy, productive members of our community."
While it is still too early to see long-term results, there is already positive feedback. Among Friends' children, school attendance is up 20 percent and behavioral referrals are down 20 percent. Friends have performed more than 8,000 hours of academic tutoring, and the children have performed more than 840 hours of community service. The organization has contracted with an independent third-party evaluator to compile data from the public schools, the local police departments, teachers, and interviews with children to determine the amount of benefit of the program.
At once troubling and interesting is Friends' decision to take some government money to help the program grow. It is troubling because of government's often discriminatory policy toward faith-oriented programs. It is interesting because thus far the group has encountered no problems and maintains a firm commitment to dropping the governmental funding if it gets too intrusive.
No one in Savannah, Ga., would call Pastor Henry R. Delaney Jr. a little person: He is frequently referred to as "500 pounds of prophecy." The big man with the manifestly gentle spirit pastors the St. Paul CME (Christian Methodist Episcopal) Church, the fastest growing congregation in the history of the CME denomination.
Mr. Delaney has seen to it that his church dedicates itself not only to the ministry of the soul but to the ministry of the body. In less than a decade, the church has developed more than a dozen privately funded programs that tackle most of Savannah's social problems in ways better than government ever has.
When Rev. Delaney moved to Savannah, he found that his new home was a boarded-up crack house, his new church was about to be foreclosed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and his congregation consisted of about 200 members, most of whom were afraid to attend church because of the criminals and drug dealers that inhabited the area. Rev. Delaney went to work: He got the foreclosure extended, started lining up credit to buy the crack houses surrounding the church, and mobilized the community around prayer.
Today there are ministries galore. The real jewel is the St. Paul Christian Academy. Dedicated to "making men out of boys," it has what one local newspaper called "50 of the most successful stories you will find in the city of Savannah." St. Paul's curriculum includes a strong focus on the Bible, basic academic subjects, African-American history, and Spanish. The school's success rate in dealing with what could most optimistically be called at-risk youth has been powerful. Of the 35 children enrolled in the school's first year, it lost only five who had severe behavioral disorders. In subsequent years, that rate has remained stable. The school has plans to expand to a high school and also to open the St. Paul Academy for Boys Dormitory.
But St. Paul Ministries is about more than the school. It runs Kid's Café, an after-school program. It includes a "Christian charm school for girls" that seeks to teach girls ages 5-16 about alternatives to the destructive messages surrounding them in their homes and in their culture. It has the Second Harvest Food Bank, which allows the needy to buy bulk food for 18¢ per pound.
St. Paul's also offers a radical, hands-on approach to caring for and treating the addicted. Running three separate programs-The Hallelujah House, AMEN (Addicts Ministry Evangelistic Network), and The Chestina House-Mr. Delaney provides help for any addict who wants it, and this includes both residential and nonresidential methods of treatment and healing. A social-model approach to addiction, the St. Paul method treats each addict as a person in need of both physical and spiritual healing. As part of the curriculum, those enrolled in the program are in evening worship every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Sunday brings church services and Tuesday intensive Bible study.
St. Paul's faces the danger of over-extending itself and its programs, and it also is very closely tied to the dominant Delaney personality. Whether what is being built by the church will outlast him is something of a question. The challenge for him and for the church is to ensure that each of the ministries becomes self-sustaining and is not hindered by too close a tie to any of the other ministries.
Two thousand years ago, an itinerant Jewish carpenter named Jesus reminded those around him that as they cared for the least of his children they cared for him. His words that said in part, "I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in ... ," have been taken by many people to mean, "I was hungry and you formed a committee to study my hunger, I was thirsty and you appointed a task force to look into my thirst, I was homeless and you passed legislation to alleviate my homelessness. But I am still hungry, thirsty, and without a home." These groups are proof that more is coming out of churches than task forces. Great, manifest, and transformational hope is on the march when Christians act in discerning ways.