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The work of Kenneth Wesbrooks in the Chicago community resounds in what holds the word together; unity. For over two decades, as the founder and chairman of A Work of Faith Ministries, Inc. (AWOFINC), he’s led a resourceful mission to meet the needs of families by empowering community members to “take back the village”.
It seems nothing can shake Wesbrooks’ vision. In a time when violence in the city can feel insurmountable he stands in the strength of people coming together, trusting in one another, creating relationships, and building success stories from the inside out.
When asked if he feels discouraged by one of the recent most violent weekends this summer, he said, “We partner our efforts with other organizations. We see violence as the primary symptom to greater community issues, such as housing or unemployment, and we reach out to organizations like Cure Violence who employ resources specific to gang-related violence.”
For example, after twelve years in prison and 120 arrests, Angalia Bianca walked away from a life of drugs and gang activities and “made a promise to God that if he took the taste of the streets and heroin out of my mouth that I would absolutely, until the day I die, help people…I just started volunteering.” She is now a violence “interrupter” at Cure Violence and hits the streets intervening in disputes.
The positive presence of local social service organizations on the streets creates opportunities to address the critical educational, financial, and social needs of at-risk youth and their families. The mission of AWOFINC is to significantly reduce illiteracy, unemployment, youth gang activity, drug and alcohol abuse, violence and homelessness while building leadership and community knowledge.
“Our services are created from engaging the community and responding to their needs. We found the Parent Information & Training initiative for parents struggling with similar issues. Oftentimes, stigmas are attached to asking for help in raising children who’ve displayed delinquent behavior, but when the parents found each other and shared stories, the results are inspiring and encouraging,” Wesbrooks said.
Be Strong Families hosts Parent Cafés for meetings and surveys from 4,000 participants said the meetings reduce stress, increase peace and well-being, support the health and well-being of their family, facilitate meaningful relationships and community-building, and provide opportunities for parent leadership. The summaries indicate 98% would recommend Parent Cafés to a friend or family member and 60% followed through on a commitment from a previous café.
AWOFINC offers a vast array of social support programs and initiatives. The Parent Information & Training initiative, which includes the Parent Cafés, was created from a federally funded program intended to strengthen partnerships among parents, teachers, principals, administrators, and others to meet children’s educational needs. Parent Leaders will form teams of ten to design and implement service projects which will contribute to building their community.
Wesbrooks explained the effect of leadership being demonstrated by members of the community. “We offer Parent Leadership Training where participants learn how to address issues of concern and be a resource to other families. They will share skills and ideas with parents in their community, ultimately building relationships on trust and consistency in their messages.”
In 2012, AWOFINC created the Violence Prevention Consortium to answer questions surrounding the increasing violence in Chicago communities and schools. It is comprised of community residents, clergy, business owners, landlords, and educators who meet regularly to create solutions to violence. The Consortium's vision is that "every student will live in a community and attend a school that is safe and secure, one that is free of fear and conducive to learning."
The Youth Leadership & Development program looks to serve the futures of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The program will provide 250 disadvantaged, low-income, potentially first-generation college-bound students attending public school with services including career exploration and aptitude assessment, tutors, exposure to postsecondary education, assistance in completing college admissions and financial aid applications, preparing for college entrance exams, and workshops for families.
On Saturday, September 15th, AWOFINC is hosting a free “Woke & Wealthy” Financial Literacy Scholarship Workshop for youth ages 11-24 and their parents. This workshop series will increase the participant’s knowledge of local black-owned business and history while teaching them financial responsibility. From now until October 31, 2018 the works of Dr. Boyce Watkins will be introduced in the weekly group sessions, including his online “Black Business School”.
“The goal is to eliminate financial dependence on government assistance programs (Welfare/Public Aid) and instill independence through teaching young people how to prioritize spending. There’s no reason someone shouldn’t be able to buy a home in their twenties,” Wesbrooks said.
More recently, AWOFINC has formed a consortium of local social services organizations. It is anticipated that by the end of 2020 multiple organizations will form a family services network with a collaborative effort to further serve those who are in need. In addition, AWOFINC will now be able to widen their mission with a wealth of experience. The organizations joining AWOFINC will support organizational initiatives and community partnerships. AWOFINC supports a network of resource centers throughout three counties, staffed by qualified professionals, college volunteers from several area colleges and universities who provide an array of services to mostly low-income community residents.
“We need to pool our resources together, as one community, to reach youth and families in need. Our success stems from supporting one another. We are stronger together than divided,” Wesbrooks said.
Please click here for more information on AWOFINC. You can also visit their Facebook to see upcoming events.
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