PARAGOULD, Ark.—Future & Hope Christian Women’s Job Corps lives up to its name.
Based in Paragould, Ark., Future & Hope typically equips 10 to 12 women during in-depth 10-week sessions that tackle such practical life skills as basic computer skills, money management, parenting and healthy relationships blended with weekly Bible studies and mentoring.
A participant who has been on her own since age 15 is now a 24-year-old mom with three young sons who currently live in foster care. Sharing her motivation for joining the program, she candidly explained, “I came here to try to get my kids back … but I need a foundation before I can get them back.”
Earning her Christian Women’s Job Corps certificate and gaining related life skills “is going to better my life and my kids’ lives and give me something solid to start with,” she said.
“I’m learning things that I probably should have learned a long time ago as far as making good choices and decisions. Just having someone teach me the right thing, having this guidance is absolutely amazing. … Christian Women’s Job Corps gave me my faith and my hope.”
Christian Women’s Job Corps and Christian Men’s Job Corps, ministries of Woman’s Missionary Union, include nearly 200 certified sites throughout the nation. The ministry sites are designed to equip participants, in a Christian context, for life and employment.
‘Understand who they are in God’s eyes’
Pursuing the vision of “women helping women change their future and find hope,” the Paragould ministry echoes Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’”
“Oh my goodness, we have seen God work such miracles in these women,” said Carol Foster, the site coordinator for Future & Hope. “I think what strikes me the most is just how they feel about themselves and how they begin to understand who they are in God’s eyes.
“We always talk about, ‘You are who God says you are, regardless of what other people have said about you or to you,’” she said. “They begin to get a little sense of that. I see them learning about God through the teachers here, not just in the material but in the way that they’re accepted and loved on throughout the program. It allows us to treat them like they’re special because we know that they are but they just haven’t seen it so often. To me that’s the biggest thing.”
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The 24-year-old mother with three sons in foster care recalled her spiritual awakening a few weeks into the program.
“I have come to the realization that God is my outlet, and he’s going to provide my every need. And that’s never been something that’s ever went through my mind before. My faith has grown so much. And I know that no matter what, I don’t have to turn to drugs, because I’m not alone. God is going to provide my every need.”
Acknowledging that “I have always depended on men who were not good for me or for my kids,” she added, “Now I depend on God. I feel better, I feel more content, more happy than I’ve ever felt. … I’m excited for my kids to have like a mom, not a teenager or not a friend. It’s what I’ve always wanted to be. I just didn’t know how to do it.”
Such results are exactly what Foster had hoped for when she sensed God’s guidance to establish Future & Hope several years ago. Since then, she has enlisted numerous individuals, churches and area businesses to help support the ministry.
With a background in school counseling and prison ministry, Foster said she realized there were so many unmet needs among women and families struggling with difficult issues.
“When I first heard of Christian Women’s Job Corps, it was just like God said, ‘That’s what I want you to do,’” she added.
After completing the first level of Christian Women’s Job Corps’ national certification training for site coordinators, Foster approached First Baptist Church of Paragould about using the church’s former parsonage as a ministry site.
“They agreed on a trial basis to start this strange ministry and see how it went and reevaluate it at the end of six months,” she recalled. “It’s been six years, and we’ve never done a reevaluation. They just allow us to use it and we try to take the best care of it that we can.”
Future & Hope operates with a team of volunteer teachers as well as a board of directors and an advisory council that provide ministry ideas, personal support and resources to help the ministry succeed.
‘Makes a difference in people’s lives’
Jeff Boone, an insurance agent and member of Reynolds Baptist Church, serves as chairman of Future & Hope’s advisory council. Describing the ministry as “a hand up, not just a handout,” he emphasized, “It actually makes a difference in people’s lives.”
With the program’s focus on personal spiritual growth, strengthened relationships and job skills, participants “can learn to take care of themselves as well as their family and then be able to take care of others in the future in our community,” he noted.
Kathy Mitchell, a longtime women’s Bible study leader, was recruited by Foster to lead the program’s weekly Bible study.
“I liked the idea of being able to reach women that would not normally walk through the door of a church, women that are in crisis,” Mitchell said. “I hope that I can maybe clear up some misconceptions they have about God and that they’ll realize he really does love them—that he’s a loving Father.
“So many of the women that come through the job corps have very difficult relationships so they feel kind of beaten down and I want them to know that God is for them, not against them. I always hope they fall in love with the Bible and want to seek and learn for themselves.”
Recounting a recent example, Mitchell said: “I was teaching on Psalm 23 and one of them jumped up in the middle of class and goes, ‘I finally get it!’ And she was so excited that God was her Shepherd. She had never understood that before. It made her glow with excitement because she realized he really was watching out for her and caring for her and guiding her.”