By Stan Friedman
PRATT CITY, AL (January 10, 2012) – A four-way partnership involving three Evangelical Covenant Church ministries and a longstanding nonprofit organization is helping more than 150 families that were victims of last April’s devastating tornadoes to reclaim their lives through an emphasis on long-term development.
The Center for Urban Missions is working with the Southeast Conference, New City Covenant Church, and Covenant World Relief to provide job training, afterschool programs, and other services in Pratt City, located just outside Birmingham.
Killer tornadoes swept through Alabama on April 27 last year and destroyed as many as 1,000 homes, churches, and businesses. According to data compiled by the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations, more than 5,000 workers have filed for unemployment benefits since the tornadoes.
The center has been helping give a hand-up to people in innercity Birmingham since the ministry was started in 1986 by Gerald Austin and his wife, Gwen. “Welfare dependency acts like a community narcotic,” he says. “What families need is not a handout to make them comfortable in their poverty; rather, they need to be challenged, equipped and inspired to become everything God created them to be.”
Job development has been the primary focus of the center, which is a nonprofit ministry arm of New City. The ministries are providing certified training in vocations that show growth opportunities.
“Given the fact that Birmingham is particularly strong in banking-related systems, health-care and medical solutions, legal, and technology-based industries, the future is bright for the long-term sustainability of those who will embrace the opportunities,” says Austin.
Training opportunities include certification as computer network and system engineers, paralegals, bookkeeping, and a variety of medical technicians. The ministry is operating out of one site and plans to open another, Austin says.
Financial support from Covenant World Relief enabled the center to gain approval from the Alabama Department of Secondary Education to train and certify the adults, Austin says.
In addition to offering classes, the partnership is furthering job development by providing childcare while parents work toward their certifications, working with a local clothes closet to provide proper work attire, and connecting potential employees with employers.
“To keep track of the program participants, we have worked with FEMA and other agencies in the community to ensure no one is left without a follow-up plan, outcome measures, appointments, progress and final dispositions,” says Austin. “Each family is profiled and assessed as to their needs and entered into a common database through which we are able to connect their needs with resources.”
The ministries also are making sure children are receiving the educational assistance they need. The center’s Hands on Homework Center is assisting 35 families.
“They are doing some incredible work,” says Dave Husby, director of Covenant World Relief.
Austin says he looks forward to working with the Covenant in the future. “It will take years to rebuild the devastated communities, but investing in the empowerment of those created in the image of God is an eternal investment.”
The training programs have a long waiting list, and more classes will be available as funding allows. Click here to donate to the project.
Editor’s note: Photo courtesy of Alabama Emergency Management Agency.