Tomorrow night—Saturday, May 14, 2011—16 people will graduate from one of the toughest programs few people will ever have the ability to attend: the Whole Life Program, run by United Community Ministries.
The Whole Life Program is a unique therapeutic and training program designed to help homeless men and women to get off the streets, get substance abuse treatment and support (if necessary), get help for mental illness (if necessary), get job training, and eventually get independent and into permanent housing. Calling this program “unique” is not an exaggeration. United Community Ministries gets requests to from agencies in other states not only because of the program’s success rate, but because they are willing to take in any individual…no questions asked.
According to Chris Battle, Executive Director of United Community Ministries:
“When a person who is homeless is given a real chance, they do their darnedest to make it. We believe that, with the right guidance and the right training, anyone can succeed. We set up the program to give the residents the best chance possible.”
The program began by reconfiguring the way homeless shelters work. Most programs give individuals a place to sleep, but require them to leave the building between 8:00 am and 4:00 pm. This puts them back into the same environment that fosters substance abuse or exacerbates symptoms of mental illness. United Community Ministries decided to take advantage of those 8 hours, and created the Whole Life Program.
The program has the structure of a peer-to-peer mentoring relationship. Individuals enter the shelter as a “freshman” and are given a “senior” resident who mentors them and helps them to learn a trade and assists them in keeping their minds clear of drugs and/or alcohol. They learn to be empowered as individuals and as employees through United Community Ministries’ three business services: landscaping, janitorial, and moving. During the course of about 9 months to a year, residents gain experience, references, and referrals that allow them to take their skills into other jobs. All while staying clean and in recovery. Successful residents transition from the shelter to some form of permanent housing.
And United Community Ministries does this with very little funding. Federal and state funding goes mainly to support family-based shelters, not shelters or programs for the homeless population served by the Whole Life Program. They rely on donations from individuals, churches, and companies. Our managing partner, David Henson, puts it best when he says: “Chris Battle knows how to stretch a dollar and do more with a donation than anyone one else I know.”
Tomorrow’s graduation is for 16 Whole Life seniors who have completed the program and are moving on to the next stage of independence. This is the third graduation ceremony: The first had only 2 graduates, and the second had 10. More than 100 people will be in attendance, including representatives from HensonFuerst Attorneys. We are happy to help support this event, United Community Ministries, and Mr. Chris Battle.
“The graduation is our chance to celebrate successes. The people in our program and the graduates are the real faces of homelessness–they are the faces of individuals yearning to get their lives back on track, people who want to be active again,” says Chris Battle. “We give them that chance. In our community, they grow to be team leaders with a sense of accomplishment and self-respect.”
That’s about the best thing any of us can hope for, regardless of where our life path has taken us.
If you would like to learn more about United Community Ministries, or to volunteer or donate to this worthy cause, visit their website at http://www.UnitedCommunityMinistries.org/.