The inside of The CornerStone Initiative on Holmes Avenue is almost unrecognizable from the building it was just a few months ago. Several groups recently volunteered their time to renovate the office with new paint and flooring, but the mission of the organization — their passion to see transformed hearts and a flourishing community — is still the same.
In the years since CornerStone has been active in the area near the Triana and Holmes intersection, they’ve made waves with their community-building efforts and continue to cultivate relationships that awaken hope and open resident’s eyes to opportunities that exist for their betterment.
Debbi Akers, executive director for the nonprofit, said several initiatives are slated to begin in the next few month: Jobs for Life will return in September as a way to connect with the un-and-underemployed — to empower them through class instruction, relationships and meaningful networks. The second Faith and Finances course, as well as a digital literacy class, will begin in early spring.
Every effort from The CornerStone Initiative pairs an ally/champion with each student. These volunteers serve as cheerleaders, sounding boards and anything else that might be an encouragement to students. Relationships grow throughout the duration of the classes and are intentionally fostered for at least one year, so the students and their allies remain connected in friendship-based accountability as the students are sure to face challenges in the year following their graduation.
Faith and Finances
The walls inside CornerStone are papered with student-written, jumbo-sized Post-it® notes filled with scripture, budget items, interest calculations and lists of goals. Some Faith and Finances students have written the goals they’ve set for researching more options to solve their financial problems. Others want to find a job or surround themselves with like-minded people. Still others want to get out from under the burden of payday lenders or own their own homes.
Melonie Gurley, director of employment and education initiatives, tells the story of one woman who was struggling under the weight of her student loans — an understandable burden for many people. She didn’t know what to do or who to contact to even begin sorting out her finances. She gathered all the information she’d been getting about her loans and along with her ally spent two hours making phone calls to work out a solution. It wasn’t an easy fix. The loans weren’t forgiven, but now she has a jumping off point, a place to start.
“Sometimes you’ve just got to make yourself stop, learn what it is that you don’t know, and determine the best course of action,” Melonie said.
Another Faith and Finances lesson talks about the risks and benefits students face when offered a quick-fix solution to their crisis, like a payday loan or a credit card with a high interest rate. Instead of operating in panic mode, students learn how to just take a moment and research the best options so a health crisis won’t also turn into a financial crisis.
“We talk about how to actually calculate the interest on those different options, and we’ve talked about how to weigh the pros and the cons of each of those options and arriving at a best decision for your family … steering clear of those quick fixes … ” Melonie said. “Not just responding quickly because you’re facing a crisis.”
One class focused on finding different ways to save money. Students offered ideas on everything from eating at home more often, getting rid of cable, taking on a second or third job, to shopping at a thrift store.
The inaugural class of Faith and Finances, set to graduate on September 4, will be “celebrating those relationships and those partnerships that have forged now for people to walk together towards financial goals they have set over the past 12 weeks,” Debbi said.
After the September 4th celebration, alumni groups will meet every six weeks to facilitate opportunities for ongoing relationships and accountability for reaching goals. The CornerStone Initiative believes strongly that these long-term relationships are key to long-term sustainability.
Jobs for Life and Microsoft Certifications
On September 10, CornerStone will offer its fifth Jobs for Life class. Debbi said the class has been successful in connecting those who want jobs with good work. However, they have learned the classes are often filled with women who need better paying jobs to care for their families but lack the skills to earn much more beyond minimum wage.
As a response to this need, The CornerStone Initiative sought out a partnership with Calhoun Community College. Taking advantage of a grant Calhoun recently received and obtaining a grant of their own through The Community Foundation, CornerStone and Calhoun will now join forces to offer a digital literacy class to Jobs for Life graduates. The class will not only teach basic skills but will take a student all the way through an official Microsoft certification.
“Can you imagine going to an interview and showing an employer your Jobs for Life certificate, along with all of the references that came from participating in that class, and then handing him/her a certificate from Microsoft showing that you are 94% proficient at Excel?” Debbi asked. “That is a game changer!”
When asked what they would like to see with this upcoming season of new initiatives, Melonie and Debbi had the same answer: men.
They want to know: Where are all the men? Where are the men who need jobs and are willing to work? Where are all the men who want to provide for their families and be responsible with their finances?
Classes at Jobs for Life, and even at Faith and Finances, are most often disproportionally female. Currently, out of 20 upcoming Faith and Finances graduates, only two are male.
CornerStone is in touch with countless employers who are looking for hard workers, but many of those jobs tend to be filled by men. We’re not saying women can’t do irrigation or construction — ladies, you can do anything you want to do. We’re just saying there are several men-tailored jobs available.
So again, we ask: Where are the male students?
If you know of a man or a woman who is looking to better themselves or their situation, let them know about The CornerStone Initiative and the two initiatives they have coming up.
The next Jobs for Life class will start on September 10 and will meet Mondays and Thursdays.
The digital literacy course will start in early spring 2019, and the next round of Faith and Finances will be in late spring 2019.
Stay tuned for sign up information or email [email protected]