“How do we involve Christians in caring for those who are hurting?” is a question UpWorks Executive Director Sue Hewitt had asked for years. After years of serving in urban ministry, working with non-profits, and learning from a variety of individuals with expertise in this area, Hewitt found one answer: serving individuals who have employment barriers.
These barriers can be difficult to overcome for new immigrants, those have been recently released from prison, people who have had major life traumas, or individuals who have dealt with substance abuse. A major issue surrounding these barriers is poverty, which often times can be generational.
However, UpWorks seeks to help these individuals, who UpWorks refers to as clients, overcome their barriers by providing dedicated mentorship and new opportunities to succeed. In fact, Hewitt adds, it’s often mentors that make the biggest difference in their clients’ lives.
UpWorks works with local non-profits to recruit potential clients, who are chosen because they are motivated individuals who are willing to be mentored to reach their goals. Each non-profit’s relationship with UpWorks is guided by a covenant agreement, which ensures long-term relationships that benefit as many clients as possible.
These clients are paired with two trained Life Advocates, named because they focus on the whole person’s life, not just their vocational wellbeing and career opportunities. In this mentorship process, clients are coached in seven areas: faith, family, fitness, finances, friends, fun, and future. These Life Advocates are equipped to be culturally aware, ensuring fuller healthy relationships with clients.
Often times, clients need help with writing resumes, developing interview skills, securing a driver’s license, budgeting, and other necessary life and job skills. Life Advocates meet weekly with clients for three months, sharing time, wisdom, and, if possible, the love of Jesus with them as they help them find a future. This support system is intended to help clients uncover their own unique gifts, talents, and interests, not put them into a box or provide a list of prescriptions for success.
Life Advocates are encouraged to use a 1 Peter 3:15 approach to sharing their faith, always being prepared to give an answer about their faith in Christ rather than immediately having spiritual conversations with their clients. However, Hewitt added that if there is a chance for a deeper opportunity for discipleship, Life Advocates are empowered to engage in that.
UpWorks also partners with covenant businesses, which provide employment for the clients. The relationship is such that UpWorks pays half of the client’s salary while they’re in the three-month mentoring relationship, which benefits the businesses and demonstrates UpWorks’ commitment to equipping clients for work.
Along with Hewitt, a Director of Christian Outreach, Program Manager Kevin Saunders, who has extensive background in urban ministry and Strategist/Trainer Dan Haupt, who is skilled in operations, lead UpWorks.
Hewitt shared the impact of UpWorks through the story of Ayan, a woman in her 20s from Nairobi, Kenya. She is living with a cousin here in Minneapolis while her father and siblings are still in Kenya. UpWorks assisted her in getting a full-time job at the airport, working for LSG Sky Chefs. Ayan has passed her permit for driving and is taking driving lessons. She continues to take ESL classes and is at a level 4/5, but desires to be a nurse’s aid, which requires her to be at a level 7 in ESL to take those classes. Her goal is to be at that level by January.
“The day Ayan got a job, Sue and I were dancing,” Saunders shared, “because when you see a human being struggling to literally take a step toward what they’ve been asking for and praying for, and you had a part in that...you’re filled with joy.”
Life Advocates William Utech and Jared Kemper also experienced joy when, after meeting with their client Yismaw for a number of weeks, discovered that he was a fellow Christian. Hewitt shared that often times, William and Jared will stay after their meetings with Yismaw and share their excitement with her and Saunders.
Hewitt intimated that their prayer as a staff is that each Life Advocate “would be equally as blessed as the client they are working with.”