As we were distributing food and clothing to those in need on the streets of Flint, we were approached by a women pleading for new born baby clothes. This woman lived next to an abandoned house, where the mother had given birth, alone, in January, in Michigan. After finding the mother and newborn baby, she called 911 and got them both to the hospital.
She did not leave them there, but instead followed up on their condition. When visiting, the neighbor found that the hospital would not let them leave until the mother had clothing and a car seat for the infant, her reason for needing the baby clothes.
We found her clothes, a car seat, and paid for her bus trip to Hurley Hospital. As we drove away from this experience, we realized that God was challenging us to do more than supplying used clothes and food out to those on the streets of Flint. God was calling on us to do more for the women of Flint, Michigan. We were not sure what that challenge would entail, but we were being called to help the women in our area.
In March we received information from the Flint Public School System that the school by St. Luke Church was going to be vacated. Knowing that this building could not set empty, we went to the parishioners and asked them what to do with the building. Their immediate response was to use it in a way that would help the women and children in the area. Why, you ask, because they knew from the stories of their street ministry and and being out on the streets that this was needed and would help continue with their ministry.
Instead of doing what we thought would be best, we brought together the women that are serviced through our Parish Food Pantry to hear their suggestions and what they needed. Many of the women did not graduate from high school and through the conversation there were three main things that were needed:
• A safe place to meet
• Grow in their self-esteem
• Grow and further their education
Taking these ideas we sought professional assistance and developed a three-year program of life change for at-risk women. We began in September of 2000 with twelve women, all who were ready to improve their lives. Some of these ladies had problems reading in high school so they never finished. We began with a literacy program, helping them learn to read, they were able to improve their education and move toward obtaining a GED if they so desired. Other components of our program included sewing lessons, employment preparation, and increasing their soft skill.
As our second group of women got ready to graduate from our program, the economy had gotten bad, but it was worse in Flint. A decision had to be made, do we keep our mission and programs going, if so how? We decided to keep the mission of helping at-risk women become self-sustainable, moving the program forward in a city where there were no apparent jobs. After much research we found that in Genesee County there was an abundance of medical facilities, a resource that we could use to help St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center self-sustainable. Since sewing was taught in our program, we decided to teach those who were interested to sew professionally, then learning how to sew scrubs, which we could turn around and sell to the medical community.
In 2012, with the help of several community partners we were able to develop an Employment Preparation Program to serve the structurally unemployable individuals in Flint, Michigan. This allowed us to hire the women full time, enabling us to fill the scrub orders we were receiving. We were encouraged to design a hospital gown that did not open down the back, working on that concept we designed three different hospital gowns that are now being sold. Used by doctors for exam gowns and Regional Medical Imaging for mammography gowns as well as other procedures at RMI.
In June of 2014, we expanded. Building on the skills of the men in our program, which included, lawn care, janitorial services, and building maintenance we now were able to offer a new business service which included lawn care and a janitorial service. One of our primary goals was to reduce the blight in the neighborhood, resulting in the lawn maintenance from Dayton Street to Sonny Street and Clio Road to Dupont Street. Due to the visibility of our workers out in the community, business has increased.
Working with the business community we look forward to expanding our mission and serving the at-risk individuals in Flint.
"What can we do for these women to make their lives less desperate? What can we offer that will help grow their spirit?
Working with St. Luke Catholic Church, we were able to provide a street ministry which offered clothing and food to the homeless population in Flint. These experiences help drive the creation of St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center.
A Permanent Home
St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center moved from working out on the streets to the school building located by St. Luke Catholic Church. The first program began with 12 women who were ready to improve their lives by providing a safe place to meet, helping grow their self-esteem and further their education.
This milestone marks the launch of our commercial sewing business. Our business venture enabled us to offer employment opportunities to our program graduates and offer locally made garments to the Flint community.
Partnering with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and Community Ventures allowed us to expand the mission to include a men’s work development program and a second social enterprise. Through several community partnerships we have grown these businesses and offer employment opportunities.