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Program helps people develop important skills

By LAUREL WILSON The Daily News

BOWLING GREEN - A year ago, Lance Mason was homeless, doing whatever he could to survive. But the Bowling Green man never gave up on creating a better life for himself.

"Every day, I'd get up and I'd pray that God would give me the tools that I need," Mason said.

He discovered Hope House Ministries, a faith-based community development center in Bowling Green that aims to alleviate physical and spiritual poverty. Through Hope House's Jobs for Life program, he developed the skills he needed to get a job and was hired by Kobe Aluminum last spring.

"After I graduated Jobs for Life, within two days my phone was ringing off the hook with job offers," Mason said.

Now, in addition to his full-time job, he volunteers at Hope House and serves as an ambassador for Jobs for Life by telling new participants in the class how the program changed his life.

"I don't care how bad it gets in my life, I know that Jesus is with me," he said.

Jobs for Life is a free eight-week class that uses biblical references to teach key work principles, with the aim of helping participants overcome obstacles preventing them from getting a job, said Bryan Lewis, executive director of Hope House. The program started at a church in Raleigh, N.C., and is now offered at 250 sites across the nation and nine countries around the world.

Hope House began offering Jobs for Life in 2012, and it's become a linchpin of the organization, which also offers emergency assistance, a food pantry, a thrift store and a school backpack program that provides needy children with food.

Though it's important to ensure people have basic needs such as food and clothes, unless they have a job to provide for themselves, the cycle of poverty will continue, Lewis said. Yet just 1.9 percent of faith-based nonprofits or churches focus on work to combat poverty.

"You give a person a job, you change the way they look at themselves, but if you help someone find a job ... you've empowered them because they did it," Lewis said.

In 2013, 39 people graduated from the Jobs for Life program, which is offered both on-site at Hope House, 112 W. 10th Ave., as well as at Warren County Regional Jail. Of 11 who finished the program on-site last year, 10 found jobs. Of five participants who have been released from jail since completing the program, four have jobs.

Lewis believes the program has a high success rate because it deals with not only interview and résumé skills, but also addresses the roadblocks in participants' lives that affect their search for work.

"(They're) opening themselves up and acknowledging their roadblocks," Lewis said. "We've all got to reconcile those somehow, identify those root problems and see how Jesus can fix them. We know that none of us has the ability to deal with that alone. In Jesus, we can have a new identity. When we work unto him, we know how to work for other people."

Work done through God is much more valuable and gives people a sense of dignity and purpose, he said.

"We're going to the source of who's designed and created our work," Lewis said. "When we know who we are and that Jesus has come into our lives, it shows us the purpose of our work. We don't work for the paycheck. God is using our work to care for all of creation. It's not about us. Work is a part of God's economy. It's not an option. It's a command."

Amanda Huffman of Bowling Green was having trouble finding a job when she heard about Hope House in January.

"I had a degree, but I would just get nervous at interviews," she said. "I was just a mess, is how I felt."

Through Jobs for Life, she's gained confidence and recently had a job interview that was "the best interview I ever gave," she said.

"It's like I've been totally pulled out of what I've been doing," Huffman said.

Everyone involved in Jobs for Life showed "overwhelming warmth" and patiently answered her questions, she said.

"Every day when I come here, there's just this love that they all have for everyone in this room," Huffman said. "It's like a big family because I don't really have anyone."

Cory Hart of Horse Cave enrolled in Jobs for Life after being paroled from 17 years in prison. He served time in California for strong-armed robbery.

"I knew (getting) work was going to be hard, because there was really limited education in prison," he said. "To give myself a better shot at it, I knew I had to take the classes."

He was ashamed of his past, but because of Jobs for Life, he changed the way he approaches everything.

"I feel so confident," Hart said. "They have showed me how to accept myself and not let it hold me back. I think the faith aspect is key. (That helped me) understand how God accepts you and it allows you to start loving yourself and not be quick to think people will judge me."

The program has gone above and beyond his expectations.

"I didn't think I would build the relationships I have" with other participants, he said. "... They've really just become good friends. (They're) there for you day or night."

In addition to the relationships formed among participants, Jobs for Life seeks to connect participants with local employers. Participants are never promised a job, but when they graduate from the program, they're given a referral letter. Businesses including Pan-Oston and Bluegrass Supply Chain Services have partnered with Jobs for Life to consider hiring graduates of the program as well as take part in roundtables during the class.

When Steve Guess, CFO at Pan-Oston, heard about Jobs for Life, he thought the program sounded so worthwhile that the company changed its hiring policy to consider Jobs for Life graduates, some of whom are felons.

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