Outlaw Outreach (Pt. 2)
I recently took a tour of the work that Central Detroit Christian is doing in Detroit.
The heart of their work is not terribly far from my house, just on the other side of the Lodge. Walking distance. The main mind there is Lisa Johanon, an energetic visionary with a heart for people and this city.
She took us on a tour of the small experiment that is going on there. She showed us housing that they have renovated to low income families. She showed us a café that sells healthy soul food. She took us to the grocery store that they run which sells produce to people at pennies on the dollar. She showed us the veggie truck that drives around town selling vegetables like an ice cream truck.
The last place she took us was their lawn care company. This company was made to provide affordable lawn care to the people in their neighborhood as well as to help people build resumes so that they could eventually apply for other jobs. Once they had the equipment and place to store it they only needed one thing: employees.
With a smile Lisa told us about the first twelve employees at the lawn care business. “They were all guys we hired off the street corners where they were selling drugs.” She tells us that they all started with a drug test and all of them came back failed. But they hired them anyway. “A lot of people don’t have hope,” she said. “When you think you can never have a job, never make any money, never take care of your family, you just have to get out of that somehow and a lot of times they do that with drugs.” She explained how their goal was to give these guys a job and work experience and the hope of a better job one day and see if that changed things.
She told us that they kept on drug screening from time to time. Gradually the amount of drugs in these guys systems came down. Today, a year later, of the original twelve workers nine of them are completely clean. The other three are in jail. Of the nine that are left, four of them were interviewing that day for jobs at Home Depot.
I would have never expected those kinds of results. I probably would not have thought about hiring drug dealers to work for me. But the mission is clearly about bringing hope to the hopeless. My first inclination would not have been to hire drug addicts, but in retrospect those are the ones who need it the most.
My last post in this series was about how some organizations are working outside the law to bring people hope. This post is about finding outlaws to bring hope to. One of the most interesting and exciting things about urban work is that it is always different. It always changes. It requires constant creativity. These have just been a couple of stories about that that has looked like in this city.