“Everyone deserves love, hope and encouragement.” That simple line details the mission of faith-based Agape Child & Family Services.
Agape offers community-based services, school-based support, homeless services, adoption and foster care, workforce readiness and counseling services. The first 25 of its 48 years, Agape focused specifically on foster care and adoption. Over the last 15 to 20 years, it has transformed into an organization with a growing mission.
“Rather than waiting for kids to enter foster care and then serve them, Agape said, ‘Why don’t we go into the communities where those youth and families live before they enter the system,’” said David Jordan, Agape CEO. “About 10 years ago, we launched a place-based model called Powerlines Community Network. We are invited to places where people live. We serve deeply in Frayser, Whitehaven and Hickory Hill, serving youth and families where they live, go to work and attend school.”
The reason those communities are targeted is simple: data shows that up to 50 percent of local youth who enter foster care come from those neighborhoods. “There are neighborhoods in our communities with strengths and challenges,” Jordan said. “These swing neighborhoods can lean either way.” Agape works with more than 100 collaborative partners to assist families, many of whom are underemployed and under-resourced for what is needed to thrive. Often these families live in communities that have high levels of crime and victimization.
As an organization, Jordan said, rather than assuming what families need, Agape asks them to better understand. The organization has gotten to know thousands of individuals residing in 10 apartment communities, and over a 10-year period they’ve learned that what resonates most is safety, education, jobs, housing and family stability. Agape has embraced a two-generation, cradle-to-career model. Whether it’s a young child, high school student, mom, dad or uncle, the organization comes alongside all of those family members to increase their chances for success.
Agape has staff members embedded in all 15 schools in the communities it reaches. Therapists provide support, too. The organization holistically serves up to 1,000 families with an ultimate goal of poverty reduction in these neighborhoods. That includes helping homeless families settle into a home in the Memphis community through its Families in Transition (FIT) transitional housing program. FIT families often are fleeing domestic violence. Families receive housing, counseling, opportunities for faith engagement, life and parenting skills, job readiness training and budgeting guidance.
Adoption and foster care services are still important parts of Agape’s work. Agape welcomes applications from adoptive families, as well as those interested in providing foster care. Whether it’s adoption or foster care, Agape is there to provide constant support to families during and after the process.
Some 1,800 volunteers engaged with the organization last year, and there are plenty of opportunities available. For example, engaging with students in 15 schools takes many volunteers spending an hour or so a week in a mentoring relationship. Homeless families need bedding and furnishings for their new homes. Church or company groups can volunteer for community beautification projects.
Anyone interested in volunteering or seeking more information about adoption services, should visit agapemeanslove.org. More information and tickets for the organization’s major fundraiser, HeartLight, also can be found at the website. The event takes place Nov. 2 at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church and will feature Dr. Tony Evans, a Christian pastor, speaker, author, and syndicated radio and television host.
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