President affirms church's welfare-to-work initiative

by Charlie Warren, posted Monday, June 10, 2002 (17 years ago)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (BP)--President George W. Bush paid a visit to The Church at Rock Creek, a Southern Baptist church in Little Rock, Ark., June 3 to promote welfare reform, appearing before about 400 people from the business, civic and Christian communities.

"Government can pass out money, but what government cannot do is put love in people's hearts and hope in people's lives," Bush told the crowd. "What I am passionate about is how to capture this great strength of the country and help churches, synagogues and mosques interface with people in need. The best welfare programs in many places are really found inside houses of worship."

Three women who have been helped by The Church at Rock Creek's welfare-to-work life skills program shared the platform with the president and told him of their successes in getting off welfare rolls and into the work force. The church provides encouragement, job training, training in job interview skills and assistance in helping people find jobs appropriate to their skills. More than 150 people have participated in the church's program and about 80 percent have trusted Christ as a result.

Bush commended the church and and its pastor, Mark Evans, for setting an example and caring for people with needs.

"I want to thank Mark Evans," Bush said. "Instead of building a house of worship, the first thing he is going to do is build a place to help people, a welfare-to-work training center.... I appreciate a man who not only preaches but a man who does."

Evans said the president's visit "opened doors for other churches to see how they can minister. I've received calls from all over asking me, 'How do you do this type ministry?'

"Our prayer as a church last Sunday (the Sunday before the president's visit) was that God would use the event to call other pastors to see the need for this type of ministry," said Evans, who also serves on the state Transitional Employment Board, which oversees Arkansas' welfare reform efforts.

"We have been amazed at how God continues to expand our opportunities to communicate the gospel," said Greg Kirksey, the church's co-pastor. "The church began with 24 people in a hotel room and now seven years later there is a live worldwide broadcast on CNN from our building of an event with the president of the United States. That is truly amazing. We were honored to have the president spotlight our ministry to poor people. It lends greater credibility to a ministry that is a very important part of our church."

Gov. Mike Huckabee, a member of the church, welcomed the audience and introduced the president.

"This is an exciting place for many of us that worship here, but it also is an exciting place because of all the things that are happening in people's lives," Huckabee said. He introduced Bush as "a president who knows how to be tough when it is time to be tough" and "knows when it is time to be tender, tender in the heart toward people who hurt."

Bush told the crowd that the 1996 welfare law has been a "huge success in America" and has made "a significant difference in millions of people's lives."

"A lot of that had to do with the nation making a concerted effort to move people from welfare to work," the president said. "It's important for the Congress to recognize that this has been an incredibly successful piece of social policy."

He indicated it has worked because of its work requirement, which should not be weakened in any reform bill. He assured the audience that his welfare reform package has high standards.

"If you lower the bar and lower the standards, you're not going to get the results you want in society," Bush said. "We believe that people can achieve. I believe in raising the bar. I believe in the best. I don't want mediocrity. I want excellence in everything we do. I'm confident that the bill being debated now, combined with the education bill, is really going to make America a much more hopeful place for every single citizen. ... So long as there are pockets of hopelessness, this country must act. ... If you want to fight evil, do some good."

Bush said the proposed bill requires recipients to work 40 hours a week, but 16 of those hours can be used for education or job training.

The president also noted that the bill gives states maximum flexibility. "The more flexibility in the welfare law, or the education law for that matter, the more likely it is that we are going to achieve important social goals," he said. "The final ingredient that needs to happen is that we need to get the faith-based initiative out of the United States Senate. We don't want the church being the state or the state being the church, but we shouldn't discriminate against programs that come out of faith-based institutions all helping people to help themselves." He also said the bill promotes families staying together and sexual abstinence before marriage.

Evans introduced each of the three success stories: Spring Davidson, Jeannette Cain and Vivian Webb.

"Mr. President, my name is Spring Davidson, and in November 2001, I found myself in a very unfortunate situation," she said. "I had become a single mother of three and through this program I have accomplished a lot. In December I found myself on welfare. I knew I had to change but I just didn't know how."

She said the Arkansas Department of Human Services invited her to participate in the welfare-to-work program at The Church at Rock Creek.

"They have taught me how to figure out what kind of career I want" and "how to present myself as a potential employee. On top of all of that, they have taught me that God still loves me no matter what I do. From the first day I walked into this church, they have treated me like I am family. They have been there for me."

She is now working at the church, going to school to become a medical assistant and will soon move into her own apartment.

Cain told the president she had moved to Arkansas from Los Angeles seeking a better life for her children.

"I went to look for work," she said. "I looked and I looked and I looked. The part of Arkansas that I lived in, I was just unsuccessful. So being the good mother that I am, I went and signed up for assistance so that I would be able to take care of my kids."

After two months she got a job at a recycling center in Monticello. Then she landed a job at Burger King, where she worked for 11 months and was promoted to assistant manager. She experienced a setback after using drugs, but voluntarily entered a substance abuse program. She completed her treatment, and the staff there hired her.

"I have been an employee there for 16 months now," she said, adding that if it wasn't for God, the substance abuse program and the welfare-to-work program, "I would not be the professional, successful mother that I am today."

Webb, one of the first participants in the Rock Creek life skills program, also is the mother of three.

"My first experience with The Church at Rock Creek was through their welfare-to-work life skills program. It was truly a godsend," she said. "Through this program, I found out I had the skills to get the job I really wanted."

She said one of her main problems was transportation to and from work. She lost jobs because she had difficulty getting to work. So the church provided her a car.

"As I started seeking other jobs, I got discouraged," she admitted. She was filling out job applications and sending out resumes, but couldn't find a job.

"I felt more depressed," she admitted. "But I always could call Pastor Mark and he would tell me God loves me, be patient. I did get a job. It wasn't what I wanted but he'd say, 'Keep going, keep going, be patient, something better will come along.'"

Today, she is a member of the governor's staff.

"I want to thank Brother Evans for giving me the confidence to never give up," she said.

Bush praised the three women for the example they have set for others.

Following the event, Evans said he has received calls from churches coast-to-coast inquiring about the church's jobs program. He also said he was impressed with President Bush "behind the scenes."

"He was very knowledgeable and concerned for poverty-stricken people," Evans said. "I was most impressed with his concern and heart for them."


(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: PRAISE FROM THE CHIEF.

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