By Amandalyn Vanover
“It is about spreading evangelism differently.” Jo White – Executive Director, Saving Our Youth VA
I had the opportunity to meet with Jo White, Executive Director of Saving Our Youth VA. I have to comment this lady is a powerful force and a community leader seeking not just change but she seeks to truly impact how community interacts. She is set on bringing the church and society back together and is steadfast in accomplishing the mission.
The Saving Our Youth VA program members work to bring the ties of the church smack dab into the homes of community residents. The initiative was born in Highland Park, has branched out to Jackson Ward, and will expand its reach to other communities. Her group is called Changemakers.
The Changemakers focus on strengthening relationships between churches and local community members. You can join them on August 10, 2019 for the next service day.
During our meeting, Jo reminisced about when the church was the community. She spoke of times when the church helped family they knew needed food or paid an electricity bill for a home with a disconnection notice. She spoke of when the pastor was close enough with a family to offer counseling, support, and more when stress, problems, or family tensions arose. The days before domestic violence skyrocketed to an all-time high. The days when the church and families were close in nature, and significant issues were warded off because the church stepped in to help.
She stresses how the church should be aware of when a family is having a wedding, a new baby is being born, or a family member is sick so they can offer special love when it’s needed. She envisions her community where the residents will feel comfortable asking for help rather than feeling like they have to deal with everything on their own, causing them to shoulder an overwhelming amount of burden and responsibility.
The organization she leads takes a proactive approach to get ahead of the game for easing family tensions and providing basic needs to residents. They don’t want any other gunshot victims. They want to stop seeing women beat up by boyfriends. They want to see the drug deals stop and the overdoses subside. They want to see people with access to good, clean food they can afford to buy.
“Having better relationships with communities can have far-reaching effects from improving relationships amongst community members to lowering crime. We have already started this initiative in Highland Park but hope to expand it throughout the city.” – Jo White
The Changemakers spread the word about church support the old fashioned way. They hoof it on foot; going door to door through the streets announcing the church presence and involvement in the community. They listen to the people they visit, introduce people to resources, take prayer requests, and overall – they make a difference.
One door-to-door walk announcing the church’s resources was God sending help just in time. An RVA man had been praying for help with his alcoholism when his team of helpers arrived. They got him the help he needed.
By declaring their community presence, the changemakers are helping churches gain back the trust they have lost from local residents over the years.
Four churches are currently involved, and other faith leaders are encouraged to join in the outreach program. Contact information is at the bottom.
- Elizabeth Catholic Church
- 5th Street Baptist Church
- Mark’s Episcopal Church
- Lux Church (Jackson Ward outreach)
For the program to work, the churches are hubs of relationship building. The proposed project includes each church to adopt a zone of streets for which they claim responsibility. A hub for the hubs is the intended movement that will happen.
These relationships result in people asking for help with things that the church in their responsible zone might not always have the ability to assist with, but it’s expected. The movement anticipates this and will be prepared to steer the community resident to the organization to help them or directly get them what they need by using resources in the network.
The program Saving Our Youth has undertaken with Jo’s vision is about more than knocking on doors or giving out a phone number. It’s about more than sparking inspiration, it is about instilling a real culture change.
“I love the community and want to see a better quality of life in the communities.” – Jo White
During our time together, Jo told me about her community. Some stories were sad to hear. They spoke to her strong motivation for improving the quality of life in the community.
She told me a lot. Neighbors are afraid to be outside because they’re ‘scared to death’ about the neighborhood gunshots. No one is playing balls in the streets. Children aren’t riding their bikes up and down the streets. The parks stay empty and scream out for kids to come to play.
The residents are stuck in a food desert, with only mom n’ pop grocery stores in the area as the option for local food shopping. These smaller stores generally have less food in supply that cost higher prices than larger grocery food stores. A food desert creates hardships, especially for those without a vehicle.
But people in the community connected with the church and stuck without access to food can get help. This is just one situation the program seeks to address with their connection of resources and network of church support.
“The community needs the church.” – Jo White
Saving Our Youth VA hosted a Crime Reduction by Relationship Building Discussion on July 23, 2019, with coordination of HandsOn Greater Richmond, it was called the 5th Sunday Service. Activists and volunteers showed up from all over Richmond to take part in helping strengthen resident and church relations while improving people’s homes and cutting their costs.
The next event takes place on Saturday, August 10, 2019, from 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM – RSVP to let Jo know you’re coming or email email@example.com. Those spiritually guided to help neighbors are encouraged to join the team for relationship-building activities in the Richmond area.