Ron Wade: HopeWorks puts faith in education
The Commercial Appeal

Education is empowering. Just ask Bill Strickland, who credits the influence of his high school art teacher with helping him rise from an at-risk youth in inner-city Pittsburgh to 1996 MacArthur “Genius” grant recipient.

Strickland, CEO of Manchester Bidwell Corporation and recently featured in the educational documentary “Waiting for Superman,” will be our guest speaker at 8:30 a.m. Saturday at the third annual HopeWorks Breakfast at Woodland Hills Event Center in Cordova.

Strickland’s story serves as an inspiration to many, including those of us at HopeWorks, where we teach job skills to the unemployed, with a heavy reliance on faith. We have adult students who for one reason or another gave up the hope of getting a good education in our community. HopeWorks helps the chronically unemployed find a career rather than just a job.

Many of the students we see are unemployed because they lack a high school diploma – a consequence that can be catastrophic to job prospects. Recent research shows that 75 percent of the state’s prison inmates are high school dropouts, and 90 percent of the 11,000 youth in adult detention facilities have no higher than a ninth-grade education. A young female high school dropout is nine times more likely to become a single mother than a young woman who goes on to earn a college degree.

It is not just a career that is the goal of HopeWorks, but rather a changed life. In addition to curriculum designed for personal and career development and GED support, we treat our students with dignity and love by surrounding them with mentors called “faith encouragers.” Licensed and Master’s level counselors round out a holistic approach for our students. And it is the inclusion of Christian-based principles that makes the difference with our students.

With this holistic approach, we hope to foster individual worth through practical and spiritual methods. Individual worth is built by identifying one’s passion and finding ways to incorporate that passion into career opportunities. It also comes back Strickland’s simple yet profound message of treating people with dignity and respect. I see the effects of this every day.

We all have a stake in making Memphis’ education system great. And we can all continue to have hope in education for future generations – at all levels. I invite you to join us March 5 for “A Morning of Hope” as Bill Strickland shares his model for education and the arts, which is being replicated across the country.

Ron Wade is the executive director of HopeWorks Inc., a Memphis-based not-for-profit organization. Learn more about the organization, as well as “A Morning of Hope,”

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