The vision that would eventually become HopeWorks was cast in 1988 by several area Churches of Christ to consider how to provide care for the poor and homeless in Memphis and Shelby County. The original concept was to provide temporary housing for the homeless, but others felt that creating something with longer-lasting effects would be more beneficial. In the large gap that existed in Memphis’ social service and government agencies at the time was an opportunity for programs that could help the chronically unemployed become self-directed and goal-oriented.
From this realization, the Life Skills Lab was developed by Wayne Reed, director of Memphis Area Cooperative Services (MACS), and fashioned after the Hope Program based in New York City. The Life Skills Lab began with its first group in March 1990. In 1998, the organization’s name was changed to HopeWorks, Inc., and it received its 501(c)(3) status. The classes became known as “Personal Career and Development” (PCD) classes, indicating more accurately what the program entails. In August 2011, HopeWorks Inc. graduated its 72nd PCD class, putting the total number of graduates from the 13-week course to more than 740.
Verlon Harp followed Wayne Reed and was the executive director from 1991 to 2004. Steve Holt followed Verlon as executive director in 2004 and served until 2006. John Kennedy and Susan Rubio both served as interim directors between 2006 and 2008, and Ron Wade began as executive director in June 2008.