In 1996 Inez Fleming considered welfare reform a good idea, but she worried that it might be a case of weaning the baby off the bottle a little too quickly. Fleming, the 52-year-old Community Ministry Coordinator at Strategies to Elevate People (STEP) in inner-city Richmond, Virginia, has been a mom, an exhorter, and a friend to women on welfare in Gilpin Court, Richmond's
largest public housing project, since 1994. "Some of these women had great-grandmothers, grandmothers, and mothers never working, and the government was saying they had one year to go to work. I just thought it was too fast." Fleming, however, has been pleasantly surprised by the results she's witnessed firsthand. "Even though the women were forced to go to work, it gave them a sense of 'Wow! Me? I can do that?' I've had girls tell me, 'I wouldn't have gotten up and [done] it on my own.' "
It appears that not only has welfare reform nudged the unemployed to work, it has also pushed churches to step up their involvement in community ministry among the poor. Since federal reforms were passed in the summer of 1996, a few thousand churches have begun welfare-to-work mentoring programs. Over 800 congregations have been trained to mentor welfare recipients through South Carolina's "Putting Families First" program; over 400 are mentoring the poor in Texas's "Family Pathfinders" program; and in Mississippi, which boasts the nation's first state wide effort to mobilize churches to "adopt" welfare recipients, over 850 congregations are at work.
Mentoring programs involving from 5 to 50 churches each are also under way in Michigan, Virginia, Mary land, California, Washington, Indiana, and North Carolina. But the initiative Inez Fleming is the most excited about is the ...1
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