“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.
Operation New Hope
Founded in 1999, as a faith-based nonprofit community development corporation, Operation New Hope has maintained a two-pronged business model vital to sustaining broken urban communities – the devleopment of affordable housing and successful workforce reintegration of ex-offenders.
Operation New Hope is dedicated to providing individuals and families with opportunities and tools necessary to rebuild their lives and restore communities through sustainable economic development initiatives.
A BRIEF HISTORY
In 1998, 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 Springfield community, 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 neighborhoods 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 his goal began to take shape, his eyes were widened to the residents and occupants of Springfield; many in need of renewed hope. 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 – In November 1999, 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 for 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.
POISED FOR THE FUTURE
Operation New Hope continues to function as a Community Development Corporation. In its first 15 years, ONH built or restored more than 86 homes throughout Springfield and the Eastside neighborhoods and is expanding its scopr to multifamily housing.
Operation New Hope is poised to replicate and implement its Ready4Work program as a model for prisoner reentry throughout the nation. This model provides communities and people in struggling situations a chance to rebuild their lives and renew their hope.
Ready4Work is a nationally recognized program assisting ex-offenders with re-entry into the community and workforce, effectively leading clients toward a productive life.
Operating with a four-pronged approach; case management, life-coaching, job training and job placement assistance, Ready4Work motivates and moves individuals to become productive, responsible citizens within the community.
Commitments and strategic partnerships with faith-based organizations, local businesses, community outlets and the judicial system assist to ensure individuals transition successfully back into the community.
In 2003, President George W. Bush selected Operation New Hope as the pilot site for the Ready4Work program. Applauded by President Bill Clinton in his book, “Giving,” and endorsed by President Barack Obama, Ready4Work is considered by many to be a model program for the nation. Other supporters include current and former City of Jacksonville leaders: Mayor John Peyton, Sheriff John Rutherford, Sheriff Nat Glover and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao.
Clients are ex-offenders having not committed violent or sexual crimes, and must undergo a complete background screening prior to acceptance into the program.
Upon acceptance, clients are required to attend a comprehensive 4-6 week career development training course, featuring employment and life-skills. Additionally, clients are partnered with a case manager to provide guidance and support, as well as referrals for community assistance, life-coaching and follow-up drug screening.
Designed to assist in curtailing prison recidivism rates, Ready4Work is a proven community outlet saving Jacksonville taxpayers millions of dollars every year.
For more than a decade, Operation New Hope’s development program has engaged in the urban neighborhoods of Historic Springfield and East Jacksonville, by restoring and building more than 86 homes. The homes are meant to be affordable; providing the “American Dream” of Home Ownership for many low-income individuals and families.
Operation New Hope has access to many first-time home-buyer government assistance programs, and provides credit counseling and financial literacy workshops. Often buyers are able to qualify for and purchase a home with as little as $500 down.
Homes built through Operation New Hope typically range from 1,375 – 1,678 square feet, can be 1-2 story, 3-4 bedrooms, 2-baths and energy-efficient heating and air conditioning systems. The homes are also designed to maintain the neighborhoods architectural character and heritage.
Breaking the Cycle
ONH has developed a ground breaking initiative focusing on the children of our Ready4Work offender population, children who are 7 times more likely to follow in their parents footsteps unless some intervention takes place. We call this initiative Breaking the Cycle.
Working in collaboration with The Bridge of Northeast Florida, Breaking the Cycle is designed to do two specific things: first, to direct the dollars for child support to the caregivers so that we can begin to improve the outcomes of the children. We have been able to take our clients from less than 4% paying child support in 2010 to 77% so far this year, an incredible increase and an incredible economic boost for the children of our clients. Second, is that in order for our clients to get the job, they must agree to go through extensive parenting classes and family counseling.
We believe we can create an environment that will bring families back together by teaching our ex-offender parent population to be more active in their children’s’ lives and help the families become financially stable, thus producing better quality of life for the children in urban Jacksonville and effectively “Breaking the Cycle.”