Job skills program helps to transform young men’s lives one job at a time
by Grace Spencer and Joe White
Neighborhood Church is a church plant just outside of downtown Fresno, Calif., in the Jackson Neighborhood. We mobilize our neighbors to love their community and seek its renewal. As a church we oversee a family of nonprofits which meet specific needs in our neighborhood with specialized care, a weekly church service at Jackson Elementary School and a small business employing neighbors with barriers to employment.
Having a church gathering in a school cafeteria on Sunday afternoon in Fresno has its drawbacks; a lack of air conditioning during the hottest time of the day is one of them. On the other hand, the school also provides fertile soil for community-building. Life is already happening here: Kids laugh on the play structure, teenagers find solace on the basketball courts and relationships take root at this common place.
Last summer we met some teenagers who played basketball every Sunday at the school. I can’t say we got off on the right foot. They would walk into the cafeteria to get water, sometimes during the sermon, blaring explicit music. It was uncomfortable. Their presence in our controlled worship gathering was more than distracting. At times their interruptions were so loud we wondered if they were intentionally causing a scene. But they were our neighbors, and we are called to love them.
We chose to journey with these boys, and while questioning what it looked like for us to love our neighbor, a business unfolded. We are in a neighborhood with high unemployment, and we realized these teenagers wanted to work. They applied for jobs but could not get hired.
Some people in our church started enlisting them to do odd jobs around their homes, and a solution developed. What if they weren’t our church’s problem but our neighborhood’s asset? Within our neighborhood, there are plenty of older folks who needed help around the house. Among our neighborhood’s 923 homes there were 923 lawns to be mowed, fences that need painting and windows that need fixing. Our company, Neighborhood Jobs, was being born.
We renovated an abandoned workshop in the neighborhood and turned it into an artisan space where these boys could learn job-transferable skills. By teaching trade skills like plumbing, welding and woodworking, we equip them to provide excellent work for homeowners who have odd jobs to be completed. Neighborhood Jobs can also build beautiful high quality Free Little Libraries at a competitive price. Anyone that hires Neighborhood Jobs to build a Free Little Library provides an opportunity for a teenager to prove their potential.
The boys who once caused a distraction are now being mentored in life and job ready skills. One of them has even decided to follow Jesus! These boys have become a part of our church family. They have a pastor who they often visit, a handful of references, a community of mentors and job experience. Doesn’t this sound like what Jesus meant when he said, “Love your neighbors?”
We thought these boys were diverting us from God and his work when they were actually drawing us near to him. These boys would have never joined our weekly church gathering if the Lord had not used our small business as their onramp. Jesus promises that he is “making all things new,” and we believe him. He is using Neighborhood Jobs (www.neighborhoodjobs.info) to transform a neighborhood one life and one job at a time.
Photo courtsey of Neighborhood Church