“What this program has equipped me with is employability and life skills that help me go back out to the community and obtaining legal work instead of going back to a life of crime.”
President Barack Obama talks about his plan for faith based community programs, including Ready4Work, in Zanesville, OH on July 1, 2008.
In 1998, Operation New Hope President, Kevin Gay awoke to a charge of becoming part of a movement aimed at giving back, a movement rooted in community and faith, a lasting movement. The charge steered him to Jacksonville’s Historic Springfield, a community foreign to him but one rich with history. Springfield’s architectural landscape was an amazement he had never witnessed. Yet, his amazement was trumped by the neighborhood’s more than 30-year struggle with crime, homelessness, disrepair, poverty and drugs.
Kevin was immediately compelled to restore the stately architecture and restore the neighborhood’s pride. As Kevin’s vision began to take shape, his eyes were widened to the residents and occupants of Springfield; many were in a state of hopelessness, seemingly empty and broken. Quickly, reality unveiled itself – restoring the homes would certainly displace many of the residents, potentially worsening their lives. Kevin’s vision evolved; he wove together a project committed to rebuilding lives and restoring communities – one home and one life at a time. Kevin’s vision became Operation New Hope.
During its infancy, Operation New Hope traversed many barriers and obstacles: skeptical onlookers, funding shortages and equipment theft. Searching for balance between the community and his efforts, Kevin initiated a strategy of employing neighborhood residents as craftsmen and laborers. Unknown to Kevin, his efforts in bringing together a community lost to blight, poverty and outright neglect soon would capture the attention of the most powerful office in the world.
In June 2003, President G.W. Bush and the Department of Labor’s Center for Faith-based and Community Initiatives selected ONH as the national model for the Ready4Work program.
The designation afforded ONH the opportunity to provide additional support services: case management, job placement and career development along with matching mentors.
Operation New Hope, the brainchild of Kevin Gay, opened in November 1999, and continues to function as a Community Development Corporation. To date, ONH is responsible for building and restoring more than 80 homes throughout the Historic Springfield and Eastside neighborhoods, and works in concert with community organizations to provide assistance to those requiring treatment for chemical dependency, clothing and shelter, educational training and employment.
Operation New Hope is poised to develop, replicate and implement its Ready4Work model as a Community Development Corporation throughout the nation. The model will provide faltering communities and people in struggling situations a renewed chance at life, a renewed sense of being and a restored sense of purpose.