ALLIANCE: Most men who enroll in the Men’s Challenge at Alliance Neighborhood Center have two things in common: No job and a woman telling them to get one.
The program helps men identify and overcome obstacles to finding and staying employed.
“The No. 1 way they come to us is because there is a woman in their lives that sent them to us,” said Rich Hall, one of the founders of the Stark County faith-based program.
Once there, men are offered a hand up — not a handout— to turn their lives around and find work, he said.
“We are teaching men to take up their God-given role as providers and protectors of their families,” Hall said.
The Men’s Challenge program, for men 18 and older, is operated by area Christian pastors and volunteers. They provide counseling and classes on the practical aspects of getting a job — from filling out an application to interviewing to help with job placement — and a closer connection to God.
“We don’t get people here a job, we teach them how to work. We teach a man how to fish,” said Paul Dykshoorn, pastor of Alliance Christian Center and director of the program.
Clients can attend one or two of the three daily classes offered in the four-week program. The sessions can be completed in four weeks if individuals attend daytime classes, or eight weeks if attending the daily evening class.
They will learn about local resources to meet their immediate needs such as food, shelter and transportation.
“We help these guys understand the unwritten rules of getting a job,” Dykshoorn said.
About 2 percent of the men seeking help come from homeless shelters and 20 percent are referred through the courts. Some courts offer a reduction of fines for completing the program.
“People aren’t judged here,” Melvin Lightner of Alliance said while attending his second day of classes a few weeks ago.
Lightner, 61, said he joined the program because he wants full-time employment after finding only seasonal work since losing his uniform retail store during the recession.
“But my biggest mistake was doing drugs,” he admitted. The father of 14 children, Lightner’s addiction earned him jail time, leaving him unable to support three children who live with him.
“I want to take care of my 9-year-old son,” Lightner said.
Women identify need
The need for such a program in the Alliance area came to light about two years ago. Dykshoorn’s wife, Kathy, the client service manager for Alliance Pregnancy Center, and her boss, Polly Givens, director of the center, decided they had seen too many families without the support of the man who helped produce them.
“We see young women coming in repeatedly, struggling so hard to support their families. The men are sort of in or out of her life and don’t share a lot of the responsibility. Whether they marry the man or not, he needs to be in their lives,” Givens said.
The two women brainstormed ways to get to the root of the problem, she said.
“One of the themes that screamed at us was the lack of a male role model for these men. There are no role models in their lives to teach them. They didn’t have a dad or an uncle to show them how to be men,” Givens said.
It soon became apparent many of the men in their clients’ lives didn’t know how to get a job or even how to fill out a job application. As far as education, many dropped out of high school or barely made it out, she said.
The two women approached Paul Dykshoorn and Gilbert Goodwin, outreach pastor of Alliance First Friends Church, and told them it was time to step up and do something to help rectify the problem.
“Alliance needs to form a ministry for men that would help teach them to be employable,” Givens told them.
Today, she is chairman of the board of directors for the Men’s Challenge.
Paul Dykshoorn and Goodwin brought brothers Rich Hall, pastor at Atwater Congregational Church, and Ray Hall, a member of Marlboro Christian Church, on board to develop the nonprofit outreach program for out-of-work men.
The program divides classes into three categories using sports jargon almost all men can appreciate, Rich Hall said.
“ ‘Pick yourself up. Dust yourself off and get back in the game’ is what we tell them,” he said.
The first challenge is to make men understand their responsibilities to their families.
“The goal is to make men understand that they were created to be an independent man who is productive and is providing for his family,” Rich Hall said. “We help them do whatever they need. If they only need help filling out a resume, we do that,” he said.
Each man is assigned a mentor to help guide him in his search.
“A mentor comes in and kind of puts flesh on what we do here,” Dykshoorn said.
After attending eight sessions in Alliance, men who need more help developing job skills may apply at MC Workshops, a for-profit agency known as “the farm” that Ray Hall owns. Situated on 137 acres in Hartville, the farm is a place where the men can learn how to drive a forklift, repair small machines, operate woodworking equipment and many other skills while earning minimum wage.
The men learn while filling contractual work for other companies under the supervision of workshop employees.
On a recent day, employees were repairing fireplace inserts. They also construct pallets and crates and do welding fabrication to offset the cost of labor, Ray Hall said.
If men need more time finding a job, employment might be extended for up to six months and they might be eligible to live in a renovated farmhouse on the property while they are there.
The program is one of a kind, said Shayne Rowlands, Ohio Department of Youth Services parole supervisor for Summit County. He has been involved in youth correction services for 27 years.
“There is nothing quite as explicit as this. You have providers across the state of Ohio that do residential. But to have residential and on the same grounds get training, I don’t know anywhere else they do that,” Rowlands said.
Employees are charged $100 per week for room and board that includes meals for up to 12 men who are gaining new skills at the workshop.
“We have companies that are looking for employees, but we have to get them to the point where they can be employed. We are dealing with people that are not employable,” Ray Hall said.
To date, 228 men have attended classes and another 32 have received help in individual areas, such as filling out a resume. In its second year, the program has a 50 percent completion rate of men who also have found jobs.
Greg Gatrell, 52, believes he soon will be counted among them.
Currently employed and residing at the farm, the Marlboro Township man said he hopes to enroll at Stark State in the fall and study for a degree in Web design while working part time. The program is providing him with the resources he needs to make his dream a reality.
“It’s helping me get my life back on track and become a better man of God,” Gatrell said.
Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.