Adding to the looming national debt crisis, means-tested government welfare spending continues to skyrocket, with no significant improvement in poverty rates. Private, faith-based community leaders, however, are successfully helping low-income individuals escape poverty and maintain economic independence.
Within the crime-ridden neighborhoods of Hopkinsville, Kentucky, in between crack houses and subsidized apartments stand restored homes whose exterior renovations mirror the personal renewal taking place inside. These homes are projects of Challenge House, Inc., a faith-based nonprofit that aims to connect members of Hopkinsville’s low-income community with the employment resources of local businesses. By fostering relationships, Challenge House seeks to break the cycle of poverty and help those in need to achieve sustained self-sufficiency.
Challenge House was started by Wally Bryan, whose nine-year tenure as the former mayor of Hopkinsville affords him unique insight into the economic and social difficulties of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Bryan realized that the services and networking so desperately needed by low-income individuals was best delivered in the community by people who actually lived in the neighborhood—not a distant government bureaucracy or the occasional service project. So in 2004, Bryan moved into one of the worst areas of Hopkinsville.
Since Bryan’s bold decision to move into “Hoptown,” Challenge House has grown to two renovated homes that serve as small-scale community centers, after-school clubs, and job training programs. In addition to robust employment programs through partnerships with local businesses and Jobs for Life, Challenge House offers a variety of educational and life skills classes that equip community members with the tools necessary to achieving sustained self-sufficiency.
Bryan notes that the success of Challenge House comes from a commitment to rebuilding lives and restoring opportunities for work, not simply increasing material handouts. Likewise, effective anti-poverty outreach and policy must begin with a correct understanding of the causes of poverty, which are rooted more in social and relational breakdown than mere material need.
As Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield write in a new Heritage paper this week, policymakers should begin to accurately assess the actual living conditions of the poor in order for government welfare programs to effectively help those in true deprivation.
To learn more about Challenge House and Wally Bryan’s passion for helping poor individuals achieve self-sufficiency, check out WORLD magazine’s article on the organization.