Faith Life, June 2017

Boundless Generosity

The Aldersgate Sunday school class at First United Methodist Church invests in the well-being of the local community.

Boundless Generosity

by Lisa Tramontana

Aldersgate is the name of the street in London where John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, was converted. It marks the spot where he stood when God spoke to his heart. It’s fitting then, that a local Sunday school class, known for its strong faith, also carries that name.

The Aldersgate Sunday School class at First United Methodist Church has been donating generously to HOPE Ministries for 20 years, making many programs and services available to local families and individuals in need. The class donates approximately $10,000 each year.

Louis Day is president and primary instructor of the class of some 20 adults. “HOPE Ministries is one of our longest-standing recipients,” he said, “and over the years, we’ve boosted our contributions to them for various needs. It’s because we believe in the programs they offer in our community. The students in our class all agree that as far as fundraising goes, we want to make sure we donate to worthy causes.”

That includes programs such as the Client Choice Food Pantry, which allows HOPE Ministries to feed about 13,000 people annually. The pantry features a grocery store setting, which lets clients select the foods that they need rather than feel as though they are receiving a handout.

“The Aldersgate class members have supported us for many years,” said Melissa Curtis, director of marketing and development at HOPE Ministries. “They’ve been especially helpful to us doing ‘intake’ with our pantry clients.

The Aldersgate donation also helps fund HOPE’s annual holiday programs, which include traditional meals at Thanksgiving and Christmas, holiday house parties, and a gift and toy collection for the community’s children. Gifts range from stocking stuffers for young children to gift cards for teenagers.

Intake is basically an interview in which we meet with clients to discuss their household size and their family members’ health and nutritional needs. It allows them to choose what’s right for them and it promotes the ‘dignity’ element of our mission, which is very important.”


Another program that benefits from Aldersgate donation is HOPE’s The Way to Work program. The Way to Work is a structured environment that helps people find and maintain employment, housing and financial stability. Services include life skills workshops, career coaching and job
training Additionally, The Way to Work partners with local business for training and support to increase retention and reduce turnover costs. It trains people to keep jobs and businesses to keep people.

“We’re very thankful for all this class has done for us,” said Janet Simmons, president and CEO

of HOPE Ministries. “They believe in what we’re doing and they take the opportunity to support us in so many ways.”

Members of the class also volunteer on an individual basis for clean-up days and other HOPE events. At their own church, they help sponsor youth mission trips and missionary work in foreign countries.

“We feel strongly that our donations should be spent on causes that Jesus would approve of,” Day said, “like helping the poor and feeding the hungry. We believe that we should practice what we preach and do good for others wherever and whenever we can … in our community and throughout the world.”

First United Methodist Church is located at 930 North Blvd. downtown. For information, call (225) 383-4777. To learn more about the church’s programs, visit the website at firstmethodist.org. For more information about volunteer opportunities with HoPE Ministries, visit hopebr.com.

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Faith Life, May 2016

HOPE Ministries: Understanding Poverty is Key to Change

by Lisa Tramontana

riverbend 1For many low-income families, receiving emergency food assistance is less embarrassing than it once was. Thanks to HOPE Ministries’ Client Choice Food Pantry, clients can select items in a grocery store-style atmosphere that lets them keep their dignity intact.

The Food Panty, which serves about 15,000 clients each year, is just one of HOPE Ministries’ many programs that address homelessness and poverty in the Baton Rouge community. Founded in 2003, HOPE Ministries promotes self-sufficiency for individuals and families, and educates the community on the causes of poverty and its far-reaching effects on the Baton Rouge area as a whole.

“There are different kinds of homelessness here,” said Kelli Rogers, COO of HOPE Ministries. “That might surprise some people, but it depends on how you look at it. There are the ‘street homeless,’ people we see literally on the street — and then there are those with housing instability — inadequate housing or inadequate access to a place to live.”

HOPE Ministries CEO Janet Simmons received the John W. Barton Sr. Excellence in Nonprofit Management Award from Baton Rouge Area Foundation. She is pictured here with her father, Dr. Ralph Calcote.
HOPE Ministries CEO Janet Simmons received the John W. Barton Sr. Excellence in Nonprofit Management Award from Baton Rouge Area Foundation. She is pictured here with her father, Dr. Ralph Calcote.

These are individuals forced to stay with friends (“sofa surfers”) or families that send their kids to live with relatives off and on, mainly because they can’t afford long-term housing of their own. “Many people are already in crisis by the time they come to us,” Rogers said. “And there are many reasons for it … eviction, domestic violence, or job loss, for example.”

Case managers at HOPE Ministries work hard to put these families in crisis on the road to self-sufficiency, first by addressing their most immediate needs of food and shelter, then by offering job training programs like The Way to Work, which teaches lifestyle behaviors that ensure their success.

Dick Stonich is a member of The Way to Work team, which is designed to help clients overcome barriers to employment and build skill sets that make them valuable in the work force. He has collaborated in developing the curriculum for a 40-hour workshop, Going Beyond, which has made a huge difference in the lives of participants. This workshop, along with case management, forms the core of The Way to Work program.

The lifestyles and behaviors of people who have been raised in poverty are very different from those of people who come from other socio-economic backgrounds, Stonich says. “For someone who lives paycheck to paycheck, their priority (as related to time) is now. They are focused on survival. They are not future oriented. They don’t look down the road or think of things in the long-term.”

The Way to Work team teaches students how to write a resume, interview for a job, handle finances and relate to supervisors and co-workers. Using case studies and role-playing, Stonich helps students reach their potential both personally and professionally.

“The rewards for me are immeasurable,” Stonich said. “It makes me happy to help someone see their value … to discover the talents and abilities they already have … to see them grow and prosper and achieve.”

Over the course of the program, Stonich said the class bonds with each other, and he bonds with the class. “We become friends,” he said. “We are equals. The only difference is that in my life, I have been given more opportunities.”

Aziz Walls, center, recently graduated from the Going Beyond program. She is pictured here with Megan Belvin, HOPE Workforce Development Coordinator, left, and Dick Stonich, HOPE Family Services Financial Trainer.
Aziz Walls, center, recently graduated from the Going Beyond program. She is pictured here with Megan Belvin, HOPE Workforce Development Coordinator, left, and Dick Stonich, HOPE Family Services Financial Trainer.

The Way to Work program also offers a professional development seminar (Understanding Your Workforce) to help employers understand how poverty affects job performance. For instance, an employee who is often late to work might be relying on city bus transportation because he doesn’t own a car. Understanding Your Workforce educates managers and business leaders so they can help employees find solutions rather than firing them from their jobs because of conditions they can’t control.

In addition, HOPE provides a workshop called Understanding the Dynamics of Poverty to educate the community on the challenges of growing up in generational poverty.

Since its founding, HOPE Ministries has fostered a great deal of understanding and collaboration among families, volunteers, local businesses and the community in general. The organization has held a special place in Rogers’ heart since she began volunteering in 2005.

“I grew up in Baton Rouge,” she said, “and moved away for about 10 years. When I came back, I saw the city in a different way. The problems of our community were more visible to me. I have children and a family here in Baton Rouge, and I want to leave them with the kind of community we all want to live in. My work here isn’t about ‘serving the poor,’ it’s about doing my part to strengthen our whole community.”

Rogers is also committed to raising awareness among the city’s more affluent population. “There’s more to poverty than what some people see,” she said. “These are families working really hard to raise their kids and provide a good life for them — the same as anyone else. We all depend on each other. The entire Baton Rouge community is directly affected by how each part of it grows and changes.”

Volunteers are very important, too, and are especially needed for the Food Pantry, which is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. Volunteers stock shelves, help clients find food items, and take groceries to clients’ cars. On Thursday mornings, volunteers are needed to unload the food truck when the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank makes its weekly delivery to HOPE.

HOPE Ministries is located at 4643 Winbourne Ave. For more information on programs and services, or to make a donation, call (225) 355-0702 or visit the website at hopeworksbr.com.