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Profiles in compassion

"Profiles in compassion" Continued...

Issue: "UN: Kofi's crisis," Dec. 18, 2004

Curious about how government-sponsored job programs functioned, Mr. Marino did some undercover work, posing as a man seeking to change careers. He learned that the government paid programs according to the number of participants, not the number placed in jobs. Program managers told him off the record that he was employable since he spoke English, but that most immigrants didn't have a chance.

With this knowledge and a startup grant of $50,000 from Italian businessmen, Mr. Marino in 1994 launched Resources, a program designed to help immigrants move into the work force by first teaching them English and then computer graphics, commercial cleaning, or cooking. Trainees receive on-the-job training in these fields by working in nonprofit businesses Resources established.

Now, cooking students receive three semesters of training, totaling 300 hours. They do apprenticeships with local restaurateurs, and if they perform well usually get hired for a permanent position. Trainees in commercial cleaning receive 120 hours of instruction before being sent out in teams to fulfill contracts with local schools and businesses. Those who show managerial promise head up work teams, learn to handle customers, purchase supplies, and direct other workers.

Immigrants learning graphic arts produce newsletters and letterhead for local churches, then corporate customers. Competent trainees in all the businesses can spin off their own companies and take several customers with them.

Several years after the program's inception, Mr. Marino realized that immigrants were bringing talents he had overlooked. Many of them came from countries where they were jacks-of-all-trades, skilled as carpenters, plumbers, and painters. So Mr. Marino added a fourth company by hiring participants out to do repairs, construction, and carpentry.

Those four nonprofits now generate more than $1 million annually. More than 600 immigrants have received training, and 98 percent of them are employed. The basis of the success, Mr. Marino states, is the faith that "we are made in the image of Christ. In order for me to find my dignity, I need to help you find yours. If you serve Christ, you see Him in the person you serve. You discover your own dignity in seeing Him in others."

Memphis: Neighborhood Housing Opportunities

For many Memphis residents living within public housing in a low-end wage market, owning a home often seemed impossible-until the Memphis Leadership Foundation decided to challenge that assumption.

The foundation in 1989 created Neighborhood Housing Opportunities (NHO) to build affordable housing for low-income families, and then go one step further by teaching participants how to become responsible homeowners.

NHO counselors work with applicants to assess credit worthiness, assemble necessary documentation, verify employment and income, and develop a budget. They then coach the applicants on how to present their cases to loan officers. Families not yet able to own a home can get an extra boost living in Interim House for 12 to 24 months. Here families can reduce debt while saving for a down payment and furniture. They also receive counseling that addresses their spiritual needs. NHO offers approved applicants three-bedroom homes for $65,000, featuring a monthly payment of $525. Local church volunteers assist in the construction, and to reduce the final cost, applicants invest their own "sweat equity."

The homes are built in clusters in three areas of the city, which helps create order and preserve the property value. Neighborhood associations are established to increase stability. A walk up one of the streets reveals cared-for lawns and shrubs, with no cars up on cinderblocks as there are several blocks away.

Since its founding, NHO has built 200 homes at an estimated value of $13 million and has had only three foreclosures. The city is so enthusiastic about NHO's success that it donated the land for a new project that has 60 houses sprouting up, and some biblical understanding as well. "Housing is the platform," Executive Director Howard Eddings says: "The backbone is the opportunity to speak the gospel into the lives of the people we serve."

Fresno: One by One Leadership

In 1983, Fresno, Calif., had the unenviable status of the least livable city in the United States. With an influx of Latin American, Lao, Cambodian, Hmong, and Vietnamese immigrants and refugees, the once sleepy agricultural town had ballooned into the sixth-largest city in the state. Poverty and crime were rampant, unemployment was in double digits, teenage pregnancy was soaring, and more than 100 gangs prowled the streets.

Some civic leaders teamed with pastors, police, and business leaders to target apartment complexes where crime was rampant. Apartment owners agreed to allow volunteers from local churches to work within the complex to offer constructive activities for would-be troublemakers. Police stepped up patrols and cracked down on drug dealers. Crime dropped by 65 percent to 70 percent.

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