We’re spotlighting HopeWorks this month as our Orion Gives Back partner. Ron Wade, Executive Director of the non-profit, recently took the time to answer some questions about his service to the organization and his hopes for its future.
What inspired you to become involved with HopeWorks?
HopeWorks seemed like a natural response combining ministry and business. I worked for over 30 years in the corporate environment looking for ways to combine ministry with a sales career. Spending 8 years at HopeWorks has made me appreciate the corporate environment more than before. I have found that it doesn’t matter what area of life you work in, you can be influential in building relationships with men and women regardless of your full time job. I have been blessed to have great people in my life from my parents, teachers, coaches and ministers who have made impressions. Working at HopeWorks with people who are under-resourced, I realized that I have lived a privileged life. Although I had nothing to do with the family that I was born into, I believe this privilege of growing up middle class comes with responsibilities to serve others, rather than just enjoying life within a narrow boundary of friends, church and business.
You have served as Executive Director of HopeWorks for 8 years. What do you consider your greatest achievement during that time?
I believe the key asset that HopeWorks enjoys is the staff. The people that come to work each day display diversity, yet incredible unity in purpose of serving a difficult population. Our staff has expanded to cover job placement, job retention, adult education, and prison ministry. All these areas are key to providing a mission that transforms lives through hope and work. Our staff is not stagnant in terms of learning the hidden rules of men and women coming out of poverty and out of prison. We are continually sharpening our skill set to form meaningful relationships with those whom we serve.
Do you have an anecdote about HopeWorks that really moved you?
One of our staff members, Antonio Owens, a graduate of HopeWorks and teacher for 13 years often says to the students, “If we are working harder than you are, something is wrong.” The challenge of empowering our students to seek jobs for themselves, once we provide training and open some interview doors, is a real one. They have been, oftentimes, handicapped by government assistance programs which have dampened their confidence and motivation to the point where their self esteem is hurt. Laura Harrison, our senior instructor of over 20 years says, “The best thing we do in our program is build self esteem.”
I think both of these comments balance each other and provide for creativity for our staff to customize a program for each individual that gives them the best chance to overcome generational poverty and provide meaningful work for them to help their families.
What do you hope the organization will achieve in the future? What would help make that possible?
Since we are a faith-based non-profit we believe in a holistic approach to helping people. It is my prayer that God will work in ways that complete what HopeWorks cannot achieve itself. We are hopeful to expand the number of classes that we offer in multiple sites throughout the city. In order to expand we have been actively looking for a larger facility with more classroom space. We would like to become a major partner in the re-entry cycle of men and women coming out of prison. We currently are partners with the Memphis and Shelby County Office of Re-entry.
We were recently awarded a significant grant from the state of Tennessee to provide Adult Education for men and women who drop out of school. This is a significant challenge as we look for ways to serve a potential 90,000 individuals within four counties of West Tennessee, including Shelby County. We hope this effort results in increasing the quality of the workforce in our community. By partnering with the Workforce Investment Network (WIN) we can make a significant contribution to upgrading the quality of our workforce.
We hope to continue to earn the confidence of organizations in the city, whether government, foundations and faith based groups to help us help others. A favorite quotation that I often refer to is by Harold Hazelip who said, “If you know a really happy person, his life will be characterized by service to other people, you can just count on it.” A happy and meaningful life is one that HopeWorks wants to create for ourselves and share with others.