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WMU pilot program to aid needy gets positive first-year review

COLUMBIA, S.C. (BP)–There is general agreement the government-sponsored welfare system does not work. The question is: What does?

After participating in a one-year pilot program, a group of South Carolina Baptist women would answer: Christian Women’s Job Corps, a ministry of Woman’s Missionary Union.

CWJC is a locally implemented, locally funded program to help women in or at risk of poverty become self-sufficient, by providing a Christian context in which they are equipped for life and employment. The holistic thrust seeks to minister to the total woman: the spiritual, physical, emotional and intellectual.

CWJC offers Southern Baptists a great avenue “to change people’s lives,” said Elizabeth Ford, who left a full-time job last November to do CWJC full time, without pay. “God has affirmed this ministry every direction we’ve turned.”

CWJC is the brainchild of the national Woman’s Missionary Union. In South Carolina, a WMU task force developed and wrote training materials for three pilot programs carried out during 1996 and some of 1995.

The program has 10 key elements: a mentor for every client; covenants between every client and mentor; Bible study; resource and community networking; client needs assessment and community needs assessment; a state advocacy council; training/certification; evaluation; locally funded; and registered with the state WMU. Other than those key elements, there are few hard-and-fast rules about CWJC, leaving the individual woman free to minister to the needs of the individual client.

CWJC is designed for one woman — the mentor — to work with one woman — the client. This can happen as a personal ministry, or it can be part of a church or association-wide ministry. Nancy Brown, a member of Kathwood Baptist Church, Columbia, is ministering by herself to one woman. Ford, on the other hand, is a project coordinator for York Baptist Association’s CWJC, which has 25 clients, each with her own mentor. Mildred Brown, a member of Shandon Baptist Church, Columbia, is doing CWJC through her church.

“One of the strengths of the program, and the reason government agencies are approaching York Association’s CWJC,” Ford said, “is the client-mentor relationship.

“They see that our mentors are going to stay with their clients from beginning to end,” she said. Also, each mentor and project coordinator is trained by the state WMU.

Once a mentor has been trained, has been assigned a client, and both have signed their covenants, they get to work. The client is required to attend a weekly Bible study. The mentor works to provide whatever resources the client needs — help with child care, interviewing skills, budgeting skills, education, transportation, clothes and/or food, or some financial assistance.

“There hasn’t been a need expressed that hasn’t been met,” Ford said. York Association’s CWJC is hoping to establish a warehouse for donated items. Several individuals have donated medical, dental and optometry services to some clients. Two volunteer construction groups, including Brotherhood Builders, are providing apartment buildings to house up to six families in the program. A computer was donated to help Ford.

“Transportation is one of the largest hurdles,” she said, “because the Rock Hill area doesn’t have a public transit system. When we mentioned this problem in our associational newsletter, we had four people donate used cars to the program.” CWJC loans the cars to the women most in need of them. When a woman gets back on her feet and is able to purchase her own vehicle, she returns the car so others can use it.

An individual who works at the South Carolina Employment Security Commission, and therefore knows how the welfare system works, found out about CWJC and sent the association a check for $3,000. Ford said other denominations and churches are wanting to help as well.

Three York Association clients are close to self-sufficiency. One client is already self-sufficient and plans to become a mentor herself.

The results of Christian Women’s Job Corps? First, organizers say, is the spiritual, emotional, intellectual and leadership growth of both clients and mentors; second, self-sufficient women and children delivered from the poverty cycle; third, a positive, society-changing ministry of the church based on Jesus’ command to treat the “least of these” as they would Jesus himself.

“This gives me more of a heart like Christ would have,” Ford said. “To see a woman change before your eyes, grow spiritually, get an education, stand on her own — it’s like watching a flower bloom.

“I think one of the things wrong with our churches is that we’ve left this work up to the government,” she added. “We’ve seen the few who abuse the system — the bad guys — and we’ve lumped the good in with the bad. These clients want desperately to get out of the system. They really don’t want to be on the welfare cycle.”

While Ford’s observations may be true for her clients, some do not have that desire. Brown said her experience with her client, a single mother of two, has been rewarding, but frustrating.

“I’ve seen her accomplish things, get job skills she didn’t have before, skills that can get her out of poverty,” said Brown, who helped her client get a nursing assistant’s job through donations from Baptist Medical Center, where Brown works. She also serves on the state WMU task force for CWJC.

“But many of the clients are stubborn,” Brown said. “The only reason some of them are still in poverty is because of their decision-making. We’ve helped them gain the skills to get out of welfare, but we can’t make them take good job offers; they have to make their own decisions.”

God is at work, though. In the York Association, each mentor is required to enlist five people to pray for her and her client. Ford said that many times the circle expands to include others, and “we could write a book on God’s answers to prayers.”

“We have more than 100 volunteers now,” Ford said, “helping with transportation, budgeting education, teaching classes and Bible studies, donating clothes and household repairs. I say to churches, ‘Whatever your special interest or ability is, there’s a place for you to plug in.'”

    About the Author

  • Amanda Phifer