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Project Hope involves urban youth in neighborhood

Project Hope involved 50 West Central Spokane youth, ages 11 to 18, in the summer of 2016—in contrast to 72 in 2015—because of increased costs.

James Kashork beside painting designed for Project Hope.

Youth 14 to 18 earned minimum wage, plus benefits and Social Security.  They filled out W-4 and I-9 forms, which they would do for other employment, said James Kashork, executive director since January 2014, when he started part-time. He has been full time director since January 2015.

The 11- to 13-year-old youth volunteer for a stipend of $250.

Project Hope grew out of conversations of West Central residents, forming in 2007 to offer green collar jobs, environmentally friendly, restorative entrepreneurial opportunities for youth at risk of gang involvement in West Central Spokane.

By involving youth in an urban farm project and lawn care, the program engages youth in the summer when there are few activities, providing job skills and pride in the community.

Project Hope now includes several farm lots scattered in the neighborhood, where produce is grown without pesticides.

In the early years, youth cleared overgrown plots of rocks, broken glass and weeds. 

They learn to test and amend the soil, construct and irrigate beds and rows, plant seeds, tend the plants and harvest thriving gardens.

“The goal is to create opportunities for young people in the neighborhood, where about 95 percent of them live in poverty in families where parents work two to three jobs or are on disability. 

“There is no single story of what poverty is like or what people in poverty are like.  For every 100 families there are 100 stories of how they came into their situation, and what their hopes and dreams are,” James said.

In the neighborhood, 16- to 24-year-old young people have about a 30 percent unemployment rate. With only a handful of restaurants and no grocery store, there are limited places to seek jobs.

“Cash is a motivation,” he said.  Most use the money to help their families with rent, utilities, food or school supplies, so our program is an investment in families,” James said.

He finds it hard to meet an 11-year-old who has no hope for his or her future.

“Poverty is confining and generational,” he said. “We seek to show youth they can do anything they dream of doing.  After four years with us, many know what they want to be and know that they can be what they want to be.

“The zip code one is born into shouldn’t limit opportunities,” he said.

Gangs are still an issue, but when youth have something to do with their time and energy, they choose to earn money and gain skills.

The program relies on volunteers.

“There was little infrastructure in financial policies, budget process, board development or employee guidelines when I came,” said James.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in communication in 1990 at Lenoir Rhyne University, in Hickory, N.C., he and his wife, Catherine, went to Lenoir-Rhyne’s Columbia, S.C., campus, where he earned a master of divinity in 1994 at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary.

They moved to Houston where she completed graduate studies in genetics and he served two congregations.  They moved to Spokane in 2003.

James served as an interim and transitional pastor, helping congregations decide next steps in this time of decline for mainline churches.  He guided St. Paul’s as it merged with Emmanuel Lutheran to form All Saints Lutheran, and Grace Lutheran whose members decided to disperse.

He was involved as St. Paul, Grace, Emmanuel and Salem Lutheran churches formed the Spokane Urban Ministry for affordable housing development of Walnut Corners near Salem.

Then he served Holy Trinity Lutheran in Spokane Valley when Christ and Good Shepherd Lutheran and 65 percent of Trinity members formed Advent Lutheran. 

In 2011, James left the ministry and started a technical company, learning what’s needed to start a small business.  After two years, he decided he wanted to do nonprofit work.  Knowing about Project Hope and the neighborhood, he applied to be its director.

Pat Mannhard, a farmer with Urban Eden Farm, has been operations manager part time for four years.

James has been working on strategic development for Project Hope growth. 

In February, they hired Jenifer Priest as full-time development director to do grant writing, fund raising and donor relationships.

“We plan to grow from our start as a West Central nonprofit, known in the neighborhood, but not outside,” he said.  “If it’s just a neighborhood program in a the county’s poorest neighborhood, it’s hard to raise enough money to support our work, because our biggest cost is youth payroll.”

Today, grants are harder to come by and provide less funding. Grantors’ priorities are changing.

For a year, James has been in conversation with neighborhoods, including East Central, Shadle and Northeast Spokane, which is a Housing and Urban Development Promise Zone, about expanding into those areas, as well as to Airway Heights and Cheney.  Those neighborhoods/communities want to “have us come to do there what we are doing here, so we would no longer be confined to one neighborhood.”

The board removed from its mission statement wording about “working with youth in West Central and Emerson-Garfield neighborhoods.”

This year Project Hope began to partner with Northeast Spokane.

“Our goal in two years is to move from being gift-and-grant funded to being self-sustainable, generating revenue from services and products,” said James.

Project Hope grows produce on seven lots.  Last year, it grew 5,000 pounds for four farmers’ markets.  This year, they expect to grow 8,000 pounds for markets at Kendall Yards, South Perry and Emerson-Garfield.

Partnering with Greenstone Corporation, developers of Kendall Yards, youth now farm property that may be developed later.  Greenstone provides water.

“Profit margins for farming are crummy,” James said.  “With scattered sites, we lose efficiency, so it’s hard to make money, but by turning trashed lots into gardens, we have added value to and food for the neighborhood that has no grocery store.”

Project Hope also operates West Central Lawn Care, offering below-market-rate yard services.

“We don’t charge a market rate, because youth are learning skills, but they learn quickly and work hard,” he said.

Lawn care is a reinvestment in the community, because low-income people cannot afford to buy lawn mowers, trimmers or blowers, but can pay $15 to $20 a time for lawn care.

Because many on tight incomes cannot afford to water, lawn care teams may feel their mowing makes little difference, but they also have commercial contracts with Walnut Corners and part of Kendall Yards, where they can see their work.

James said Project Hope may buy bulk grains or chickpeas from local farmers, package them and resell the small packages at farmers’ markets.

The farm and lawn care are limited to the growing season, so Project Hope’s main program is during summer vacation.  Youth work from 9 a.m. to noon Mondays to Fridays. 

Last year, a donor provided two hoop houses to extend the growing season at the West Central Episcopal Mission.  Now youth can help in the spring from 3 to 6 p.m., Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, planting seeds in February and March.  About 10 to 20 start in March and April to repair lawn equipment and irrigation, prepare beds and start planting.

The same number help in the fall to finish the season, service and store equipment, and prepare beds for winter.

Project Hope is an independent nonprofit but has support from major denominations in the area, including the Episcopal and Catholic dioceses.

Its office is at Salem Lutheran, 1428 W. Broadway.  Its program headquarters is at West Central Episcopal Mission, 1832 W. Dean. 

Its 2016 Benefit Breakfast is at 7:30 a.m., Tuesday, Sept. 20, in the Champions Room of the Spokane Arena, 720 W. Mallon. 

The speaker is Kent Hoffman, a therapist in private practice at Marycliff Institute in Spokane since 1985.  He has developed the Circle of Security program, used by parents and clinicians worldwide.  His current focus is to apply that model to street dependent teenage mothers, fathers and their infants at a homeless shelter in Spokane.  He is also designing approaches to support security for high-risk youth in schools.

For information, call 703-7433 or email or visit project hope website.

Copyright © September 2016 - The Fig Tree