When I arrived in Jacksonville, one of my first meetings was with Marc Nettleton, from 2nd Mile Ministries. We met on a rainy November day, at Uptown Café, and I listened as he explained that their ministry adopted the community of Brentwood, on Jacksonville’s Northside, as their home and mission field.
Why Brentwood? Quite simply, there is massive need. The crime rate in Brentwood is 120% higher than the national average and the unemployment rate is 99% higher. Median household income is just over $20,000 per year.*
It doesn’t have to be this way. Marc and I quickly recognized that FlourishNow and 2nd Mile share a passion for reversing trends that lead to poverty and dependence and replacing them with opportunity and hope. We also share a desire to take on big challenges because it’s in these moments that God often displays his glory through miraculous provision and restoration.
Opportunity comes to Brentwood
On Monday, July 17, God did just that. Building off of our partnership with 2nd Mile, FlourishNow organized a coalition of 5 non-profits, 2 churches, 18 businesses, and 17 volunteers to host a job fair in the heart of Brentwood at the Jacksonville Housing Authority.
In just a few hours, our job fair served 284 job seekers – and forty people got hired on the spot!
At a FlourishNow job fair, when someone is hired on the spot, the employee and their new employer stand together and ring the “opportunity bell.” The whole room pauses for a moment to cheer, applaud, and celebrate. The bell rang 40 times that day.
The first person to ring the bell was a woman named Rira who is going to school at night and needed a job with the sort of flexibility that would allow her to pursue her education. She met Sandy from Chartwell’s, a company that serves lunches in Duval County Public Schools, and had a job within minutes.
Rira also attended our job preparation workshop the previous Saturday morning, where she took a career interest assessment and met with Dianne Woods, one of our amazing volunteer job coaches. Through our workshop and Dianne’s coaching, Rira discovered her passion for teaching. By getting a job with the school system, Rira is taking the first step in pursuit of her dream of becoming a teacher and providing for her family.
God brings the pieces together
In God’s providence, He brought together an unbelievable team of partners to join FlourishNow in our mission to reach those in need in Jacksonville. We are so grateful for Jonathan Blackburn, the Executive Director of 2nd Mile Ministries, who cast the vision of partnering with the Jacksonville Housing Authority to reach one of the toughest neighborhoods in the city. Through our partnership with 2nd Mile we connected with the faithful and talented Felicia Johnson with JHA and her amazing Brentwood team.
Once these two key players were in place other incredible partners followed. Tony Johnson with Cru Inner City brought his amazing WorkNet team who specialize in working with hard to place job seekers and helping them overcome major barriers to employment. Through our partnership with Cru, we were able to serve people who struggle with barriers like long-term unemployment, criminal records, limited hours of availability due to single parenting, transportation challenges, and other struggles. With the help of Cru’s certified instructors, Dianne and Greg, we were able to provide compassionate guidance and real help to some of the hardest to place job seekers in Jacksonville. Through their work, more than 80 people received one-on-one coaching and mentoring at the three workshops we hosted in conjunction with the job fair.
Then, as the most important part of the equation, God called two churches to link arms with us and extend their love and discipleship to the job seekers we would meet. One partner was The Ville Church, pastored by Jay Harris. A community member recently called Jay a “warrior for Christ,” and there really isn’t a better way to describe him. The Ville has a beautiful vision for racial harmony and reconciliation, and they meet only a few miles from Brentwood.
The Journey Church, pastored by Marc Dickerson, meets right next to the JHA and Marc’s heart for Brentwood, its people, and its challenges is awe-inspiring. Pastor Marc frequently puts his safety on the line to reach neighbors who are on the verge of making life-altering decisions and the people in his congregation are beautifully faithful.
These two pastors and their missional congregations could not be more perfect for this ministry. Together, their churches provided volunteers who created one of the most hospitable, warm, and Christ-honoring atmospheres I have ever witnessed.
This is The Church
When all of these ministries converged, we created a perfect storm of skilled volunteers, huge hearts, and willing hands. Volunteers stepped up to translate, push baby strollers so moms could focus on talking to employers, served lunch, addressed technical glitches, and established relationships with hundreds of people with unique spiritual, physical, and emotional needs.
This is what The Church looks like – extended arms, tired feet, and full hearts that willingly and sacrificially pour into the lives of people who need to experience the love of Christ by meeting his people. Monday was a beautiful example of how God uses his Church to work miracles, to rain in deserts, and to shine his light into the darkest of places. To God be the glory!
*Data taken from areavibes.com