Daniel’s curiosity finally got the best of her.* She tried to drive away, but instead, pulled over to see where she dropped her rider off at. A quick search online told her all she needed to know. Daniel immediately turned around, got out of her car, and took herself inside.
“And she just said, ‘I need to be here,” recounts Executive Director, Stacey Howell.
Daniel was a Lyft driver experiencing emotional abuse at home and identity loss in her personal life. Stacey and the team at Every Woman Works spent the next several weeks connecting Daniel with counselors to help her navigate her trauma before enrolling her in their own program to help her get back on her feet professionally.
It took a couple of months, but Daniel’s now an accomplished writer and speaker. This is exactly the kind of impact Ms. Tillie O’Neal-Kyles dreamed of having 16 years ago.
After retiring from AT&T, Ms. Tillie, as she’s lovingly called, set out to find her purpose. Instead of taking it easy as so many do in retirement, she wanted to find a way to help single mothers navigate the barriers to success while raising children. So, she gathered a few close friends from her church community and inner-circle together to help her establish a nonprofit to do just that.
Now, Every Woman Works (EWW) seeks to help women move from dependency to self-sufficiency. As Stacey explains, while most people have some sort of a strong support system growing up, others put their trust in support systems that ultimately betray them, oftentimes affecting trauma. These traumas typically result in some sort of dependency. “Sometimes [it’s] dependency on the welfare system, on a person, a bad relationship, or addiction.”
The team at EWW not only connects these women with professional help but also walks alongside them as they discover their unique gifts and begin to create a new future. “When I first came, I thought I was eradicating poverty,” said Stacey. “But in my second year, I said, no, we’re building confidence, and we’re using employment as a stabilizer to help women get on their feet and find their own success.”
Every Woman Works does this through a 5-7 week program, job skills training, life skills training, job placement, health and wellness programs, job retention coaching, and more.
It hasn’t always been an upward journey for EWW though. Fourteen years after its founding, the nonprofit experienced both internal transitions as well as changes in location, which forced them to seek out new leadership.
It was around this time when Stacey Howell began volunteering for Every Woman Works. With a strong corporate background and a love for empowering women and children, Stacey brought both skill and passion to her work. In a matter of months, Ms. Tille installed her as the new Executive Director of EWW.
“We were small when I took over,” Stacey shares. “Like a startup, but with history.” And with changes taking shape, Stacey knew they needed to do a big push to rebuild trust and let the community know they were back in business.
It was around this time that Orchard entered the picture. “We were rebuilding and Orchard came in at a time when I was new and trying to build my own relationships. It was a good time to formulate a support structure.”
“I love being in a room with people who are looking to make the world better for our children, for us, for our tomorrow… that’s where I belong. That’s what Orchard gives me. It gives me that network and that’s where I want to be,” Stacey says.
In early 2018, Orchard helped the team at Every Woman Works to perform a round of mock interviews for the women enrolled in their program. To prepare them for real-world interviews, EWW coordinates with volunteer teams from various corporations, such as Home Depot and AIG.
The interviews are held off-site and create an opportunity for the women in their program to practice answering questions, receive valuable feedback, and reduce the overall anxiety associated with actual interviews. It gives them both confidence and a greater sense of hope for their future.
And although EWW faces challenges in today’s world, Stacey continues to see the organization rapidly implement creative solutions to keep the women in their program moving toward self-sufficiency. This includes new online programs as well as an upcoming location in southwest Atlanta. “We’ve been a diamond in the rough because we’ve been small and struggling, but the impact that we’ve [seen] has been amazing and God just keeps blessing us.”
No matter the challenges that come their way, EWW keeps doing the work because the transformation they’re seeing in the lives that walk through their doors gives them hope for tomorrow.
“When we change the life of the mom, the life of the average 3.5 children that most of our clients have,” Stacey says, “We feel like we’re making a difference in that legacy because the trajectory of changing mom’s life changes the trajectory of those people.”
It’s safe to say that’s the legacy Ms. Tillie was hoping for so many years ago.
*Names have been changed to protect identities
It was their first time doing this from the back of their own pickup. Jim and Linda Jones weren’t sure how many people were going to show up or if they were even going to be able to give those first 40 bags of food away. They were just trying to be faithful to the seed God planted in their hearts back on the mission field.
It was during a medical mission trip when Jim and Linda were passing out food to malnourished children when Jim heard God say, “You have people who are hungry right at your doorstep.” Upon returning home to central Alabama, Jim and Linda immediately committed themselves to do the work.
Obedience to the call of God is how Alabama Childhood Food Solutions (ACFS) was born, and how Jim and Linda ended up in the back of their pickup with 40 bags of food. In a matter of weeks, they went from having food for 300 people at a time to needing food for over one thousand. And now, they now serve over 3,000 people each month. Though because of the COVID pandemic, they’re serving even more.
“The primary mission of ACFS is to end food insecurity in central Alabama,” says Executive Director, Gene Rogers. According to the Food Research and Action Center, the state of Alabama has the second-highest food hardship rate in the nation (25.2% of the population). Over 20% of its population is food insecure.
ACFS sees a large number of children who are being raised by their grandparents, who come from single-parent homes, broken families, and more. In one surrounding county, over 80% of the children live in poverty. “We know the need is pretty incredible,” Gene says.
Gene shared the story of a retired school counselor who heard about six young elementary-aged children in her community. Malnourished, and living with limited resources in a negative environment, these six siblings were nonverbal, underdeveloped, and in dire need. Without a moment of hesitation, she took them in.
The retiree couldn’t afford to feed the six children on her fixed monthly income, so she reached out to ACFS for support. “We began offering groceries to her,” Gene says, “but when people saw her heart for these six children, we knew she needed help to try to get them to a better place.”
The volunteer team at ACFS began to do incredible things for these kids, throwing birthday parties, taking them to church, and participating in their lives. It was one of many examples where ACFS demonstrated it offers more than just food but hope for tomorrow as well.
“You should see them now,” Gene says. “They’re thriving in school. They’re happy. Our folks treat them like their own. I am so motivated by trying to give them the help to break the cycle of poverty that they experienced. And so that excites me every day that I get up.”
In its early days, Alabama Childhood Food Solutions depended on the support of Jim and Linda’s family, friends, and immediate church community. Now, over 10 years later, ACFS partners with almost 40 churches and other organizations that support them in some capacity, including Orchard.
ACFS got connected with Orchard through one of its partner churches, Double Oak Community Church. “When I heard about how they were going to mobilize churches and teach them what they could be doing for the kingdom, it just kind of lit my fire,” Gene said. They reached out to Orchard because they want to be more effective in how they address food insecurity in central Alabama.
“How do we cast a bigger net?” Gene asks. “Our goal is not to [necessarily] get bigger, but get better. Personally, I believe as we get better, we’ll get bigger.” Because Orchard provides coaching and such an extensive network that can help Gene and ACFS improve, he has complete confidence in their ability to grow and to better serve their community.
And while the times have certainly stretched ACFS, it’s opened doors as well, including bringing the right people to do ministry alongside them. It goes back to what God told Jim so many years ago: I’ll provide if you get the food to the people who need it.
Not only is God providing the food, but the legacy of Jim and Linda’s obedience to God’s call is providing hope to those hungering for it in central Alabama and beyond.
“We’re trying to serve,” Gene says, “but we’re [also] trying to plant the seed of the Gospel because we know that hope is what leads to more promise than anything else.”
This month we had the opportunity to speak with Stephen Boyd, ministry leader of Beautiful Feet located in metro-Atlanta.
Tell us a bit about Beautiful Feet
A group of men had been gathering for some time on Christmas Eve to celebrate Christ’s birth, and maybe do a last-minute shopping errand. Feeling that we had an opportunity, we began collecting a few dollars to buy shoes for a very rundown church in town. Orchard was kind enough to encourage us to apply to become an Orchard ministry. That relationship has grown over the past 7 years to an annual donation of over 500 pairs of shoes (and growing). The shoes are wrapped and labeled with our scripture verse, Isaiah 52:7 – How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” They are then delivered to 8 different schools and shelters.
What motivated you to start this ministry and how has it impacted you?
My grandfather used to buy shoes for kids at Christmas, and he was the inspiration. The impact has been a greater sense of the true meaning of Christmas. Also, we’ve developed a Board of Directors, whom I love, and have made some wonderful friends at our partner schools and shelters.
We’ve seen your ministry and impact grow. How has Orchard helped to grow and sustain your ministry?
Prayer (I have to say that first, or Dan and Jonathan will get me!) Seriously, that is number one. In addition, they are wonderful partners to help with technology (online giving) creative (our flyers), and long-term planning and coaching.
How do you hope Beautiful Feet impacts the community you serve?
Making less fortunate children perhaps a little happier at Christmas, while sharing the gospel.
What do you hope God will accomplish through Beautiful Feet in the future?
Showing our community that we care and that God is able to do all things. We hope that our gifts are pleasing to Him and bring joy to the families we serve with ALL credit to the Lord.
Imagine a world where Christ is known by the actions of His followers; a world where Christians are at the forefront of the world’s most challenging issues. At Orchard, our goal is to help people use their unique gifts and talents to change the world for the better. This call to inspire, impact, and introduce the love of Christ to others is not just for the adult believer but for our children, too. As they embark on a new school year, we have an opportunity to equip and encourage them to be a light in their worlds.
In 2019 our children engage in communities that reach beyond the cul-de-sac and lunchrooms. With a swipe of a finger and a “like” on their phones, they can reach people throughout the entire world. For this reason, many of their decisions can be impacted by what they see on social media. If a certain social media influencer decides the new thing is to flip a water bottle so it lands upright, we suddenly see Dasani and Aquafina bottles flying everywhere. With one post, one act, one decision, or one behavior, a video can go viral and within minutes reach people all over the world. The goal for many is to become the next big trend but what we truly desire for our children is that they shift from being influenced to being influencers for Christ. We can help our children see that each interaction, at school or on social media, matters. They hold a unique opportunity to change the world around them for the better.
We should encourage our children to speak up when someone is being cyber-bullied, encourage a friend who may be discouraged or even start a group at school that does good in the community. Whether our children are in pre-k or in pre-med, they have something special that God specifically placed in them to help change the world. They can help others experience personally the love of Jesus by their actions!
Finally, as we encourage our children to let their lights shine, we should also remember to turn up the wattage on ours. Often, the busyness of life can put a dimmer on our spiritual lamps. We get caught up in 50-hour work weeks, raising our families, mountains of bills (or laundry), or just the general stresses of life. But if we are asking our children to be the examples in their spheres of influence, we should aim to be examples of our own. Sometimes that starts with one small step towards making an impact, or one decision to do good in the world. What can you do as a family to make a difference in your community? How can you possibly serve together to make that change? Can you start by praying for others as a family? Whichever way you decide to serve, remember as you shine together, the brighter the better.