Southern hospitality

"Southern hospitality" Continued...

Issue: "Tour d'America," June 18, 2011

"We want to be Tiger! Show us how to play golf ball!" they said. Bryan explained it was just "golf" and took them outside to show them how to swing and hit a ball. Afterward, he gave them a Coke and a candy bar. Bryan had only spent about 12 minutes with the children. One hung back and grabbed his hand. "I wish you were my daddy," he said. Bryan later learned the child's father was in prison.

Paige and Heath Wilson, the Neighborhood Ambassadors of Challenge House No. 2, plan to focus on children's programs and single moms. The home is conveniently located near a bus stop.

The Wilsons fell in love with the Challenge House initiative while staying at House No. 1 during a summer with kids from their church youth group. They took eight youth group members to stay in the house and do some neighborhood painting, tear down a building, and hold a block party for area kids.

The Wilsons became House No. 2 residents in August 2010. With a 2-year-old and another baby on the way, Paige Wilson said she was initially concerned about safety when they considered moving their family to the neighborhood. God comforted her with a passage from 1 John: "Perfect love casts out fear." They have had no problems with crime and chose not to get an alarm system.

Retired elementary-school teacher Wanda Jones has also become involved with Challenge House. She had a friend who wanted to attend Jobs because it addressed conflict resolution, so Jones went along for moral support. She has since found herself teaching classes in "a place that gives the whole neighborhood hope. . . . Just because someone has a drug problem or some other kind of issues they're dealing with doesn't mean they don't have dreams and aspirations. God puts something in everybody."

Jones got to know Michelle Brown, who also attended a Jobs class after dealing with addiction to crack cocaine. The Challenge community, the Jobs class, and Bible study helped Michelle, who was in drug court at the time, to stay clean, grow spiritually, and get a job. She now works at a women's center where she helps women struggling with problems she knows all too well.

"We all go through something, but if you can have just one person there to give you some kind of positive outlook, it can mend some things that people aren't even aware are torn down within a person. And that's what it took with me," Brown said: "I knew I had problems. I didn't know exactly what they were. But I knew by myself I couldn't solve them. When I let God in, He just started putting the right people, places, and things in my path."

-Amy McCullough is a Mississippi journalist

Video and photos by James Allen Walker for WORLD (jamesallenwalker.com)

Listen to a report on Challenge House on The World and Everything in It.

Challenge House Inc.

Location: Hopkinsville, Ky.

Size: One director, 12 board members, numerous volunteers, all unpaid. Number of participants hard to measure, as nearly every person encountered on the street of three inner-city neighborhoods is reached in some way by this ministry.

Annual Budget: $78,900 ($48,000 comes from donations from individuals)

Website: challengehouse.org

Read profiles of finalists and winners from 2006 through 2011 on WORLD's Hope Award page.


South region runner-up

Greene County, Ga., has a racial and economic divide. "The town" of Greensboro is not a wealthy one, and it includes many from minorities. That contrasts with "the lake," Lake Oconee, a community that has grown in recent years as retirees from Atlanta have relocated to its beautiful scenery and nationally know golf courses.

But Jimmy Long, pastor of Grace Fellowship Baptist church, which has members from the lake, pushes for a "Christian spirit" that transcends church and community lines: "We want people to become more like Christ daily in their attitude and actions. . . . There's a certain level of expectation that you will be connected in ministry, serving others in Jesus' name, and missions."

That focus on community has led Grace Fellowship members to start several ministries, one of which is ATLAS-named not for the mythological holder of the world but for "Attaining Truth, Love And Self-control." This Christ-centered ministry, modeled on an ATLAS that began in Iowa in 2000, tailors its program to individual needs. ATLAS staff members sit with potential clients and discuss goals that can include growing spiritually, improving a marriage, getting a GED, managing anger, developing interviewing and life skills, joining a choir, or being a better parent.

Those who seek help from ATLAS, like former client Cursheena, usually come through referrals from friends. ATLAS then draws up a two-year contract outlining the agreed-upon goals. The client, who is free to cancel at any time, is assigned a mentor, called a "Christian friend," who becomes an extended family member.

Cursheena was experiencing some depression when she came to ATLAS. She developed goals to pass the GED and grow spiritually. ATLAS didn't see her from the outside as just another single mom but "built up my motivation with life," she said. Cursheena now encourages others, attends church regularly, uses her cooking skills in the community, and is considering becoming a Certified Nurse Assistant.


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