VOL. 131 | NO. 244 | Thursday, December 8, 2016
HopeWorks Busy Helping People While Staying Grounded in Faith
By Don Wade
As executive director of nonprofit HopeWorks, Ron Wade has to be practical. And helping people get their education and find employment is about as practical as it gets.
HopeWorks executive director Ron Wade stands next to the vault door in what was once the Southern Security Federal Credit Union on Summer Avenue. The nonprofit recently acquired the building and is seeking funds for renovation.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
But the organization is also faith-based. The possibility of making miracles one life at a time is never just about helping someone attain a high school equivalency diploma, getting a job interview, or learning job and life skills before being released from the Shelby County Department of Corrections.
So when Wade looks across the back parking lot of HopeWorks’ future home at 3337 Summer Ave. to graffiti on a wall by the Sam Cooper Boulevard expressway, he sees more than what at first appears to be a random word: “Why.”
What he sees is one more reason be full of hope. His organization’s website, after all, is www.whyhopeworks.com. And he’s not much on coincidence.
“I don’t have a clue who did that,” he said of the graffiti, which looked to have been in place for some time. “But like I’m always saying, I’m praying God’s in it.”
In this case, it’s difficult not to see providence in that graffiti. Wade says they purchased the new building from the Southern Security Federal Credit Union for $150,000.
“That’s indisputably below market value,” Wade said.
Although they are probably months from taking occupancy – they just launched a $750,000 capital campaign – Wade envisions HopeWorks being able to do ever more.
Now in its 28th year, HopeWorks has a huge mission by seeking to serve the under-resourced through outreach programs – including high school equivalency and personal and job skills training courses – that develop individual worth, encourage personal responsibility and promote the honor and value of work.
The organization is even committed to the belief that twice-convicted felons can change into hardworking, positive contributors.
Recently, their work has ramped up. Earlier this year, the state of Tennessee and Department of Labor and Workforce Development reallocated adult education funds to HopeWorks.
In the past year, HopeWorks helped an average of 55 students per month earn their high school equivalency diplomas and is on pace to help more than 600 students earn their diploma by year’s end. Wade says they have been able to expand to 21 sites across Shelby, Fayette, Tipton and Lauderdale counties.
In addition to traditional students, HopeWorks also serves an average of 50 inmates (from Shelby County) per month through its professional and career development program. In the past, those students always came to the HopeWorks office in a Midtown church basement on Union Avenue.
Recently, however, HopeWorks also has been going to the inmates, working with those scheduled to be released within the next few months.
“It’s a game-changer,” said William Gupton, director of Corrections for Shelby County. “When a volunteer comes inside, an inmate sees somebody that’s coming because they truly care. HopeWorks, we want them inside our facility.”
At the same time, Wade believes the new location on Summer Avenue puts them closer to the people in the community who need their services. Located between Binghampton and “The Heights” neighborhoods, Wade is hopeful they will finally get walk-ins.
Their new building has about 10,500 square feet, but much work needs to be done. Everything from installing an elevator ($100,000) to putting in a commercial-grade kitchen ($50,000) to constructing multiple classrooms ($100,000) and making extensive renovations throughout.
Renaissance Group Inc. created design plans for the new space, and HopeWorks will bid out the construction work in the near future. For more information about the new building and the capital campaign, or to make any size donation, visit tomorrow.whyhopeworks.org. Or call 901-272-3700.
Recent growth also has led to an increase in full-time staff – from 10 to 15 – and in part-time help – from 25 to 75.
As Wade shows a visitor around what is for the moment a big empty space, he makes a stop at the vault. Remember, it was a federal credit union. Always thinking of fundraising, he says, “I’d like to find somebody in Napa Valley that wants a wine cellar and will give me $75,000.”
Short of that, he will keep the faith.
Although there is much to be accomplished in the near-term – the practical – that doesn’t mean he isn’t already dreaming long-term about potentially adding adjacent housing for 16 people that could serve as a point of transition from the department of corrections back into life on the outside.
“If God’s in it and we’re open,” Wade said, “then these things come.”