HopeWorks Fundraiser To Feature Poverty Expert

The Daily News

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HopeWorks, a faith-based nonprofit organization dedicated to helping Memphians break the cycle of crime and poverty, will feature Dr. Ruby Payne at its annual fundraiser, “An Evening of Hope,” Thursday, March 22, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Woodland Hills Event Center, 1000 Woodland Hills Drive, in Cordova.

Payne – an expert on the mindset of economic class, socioeconomic assumptions and overcoming socioeconomic barriers – has written more than a dozen books on poverty. Her foundational work, “A Framework for Understanding Poverty,” has sold more than a million copies.

“She’s funny and she speaks from experience because she’s lived in poverty and she’s lived in the middle class,” said Ron Wade, executive director of HopeWorks, which for more than two decades has helped poor and chronically unemployed Memphians find steady work.

Wade asked Payne to speak at An Evening of Hope after hearing her speak on poverty at Christian Brothers University.

In her talks, Payne illustrates the unspoken cues in social classes. She believes that to emerge from poverty, the poor must learn and practice the rules of the middle class.

“For people to get out of poverty, which is what we try to do, they have to understand some hidden rules of the middle class, like how to dress and the language that you use,” Wade said. “And we teach that at HopeWorks, so that’s why I really connected with her.”

Wade hopes the event will attract about 500 people.

“We really want to help people, but sometimes we just don’t know how,” he said. “Those of us in the middle class really need to understand the hidden rules of people in poverty in order to effectively help them.”

An Evening of Hope is the largest annual fundraiser for HopeWorks, 1930 Union Ave. Previous speakers include NBA broadcaster Sean Tuohy of “The Blind Side” fame and Manchester Bidwell Corp. President and CEO Bill Strickland, who was featured in the education documentary “Waiting for Superman.”

HopeWorks, which will graduate its 800th student April 12, recently published a book called “HopeWorks! Here’s Proof,” featuring 22 success stories. Available at www.whyhopeworks.org, the book will also be sold at Thursday’s fundraising event.

Most HopeWorks students have little, if any, family support, and most come from generational poverty. About 70 percent of HopeWorks students have been incarcerated, and roughly 65 percent don’t have a high school diploma.

The nonprofit’s program, which aims to lift adults out of poverty by teaching them life skills and helping them find sustainable work, uses a holistic approach that includes daily classes, counseling, mentoring, community meals, computer training, job interview preparation, GED preparation and more.

Students attend class on weekdays. For several weeks, they explore the type of work that most interests them by searching through occupational handbooks and discussing their interests with staff members, who help them narrow their searches in terms of background and education.

Once students select a field of interest, the staff looks through its database of companies within that sector that will allow students to gain real-world experience as interns.

Wade said one of the organization’s biggest continuing needs is finding local companies that will partner with the organization to provide internship and job opportunities for HopeWorks students and graduates.

Within a year of graduating from the HopeWorks program, about 50 percent of students are either working or attending some type of education program. And for many students, HopeWorks remains an anchor of continuing support long after they’ve graduated from the program.