By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Over the past half century billions of dollars have been spent by government agencies at all levels, to feed and house, the poor, help them secure job training for employment and a means to get to work.
Still thousands of Americans remain hungry, unemployed and unable to access fresh food, decent housing or transportation to apply for and secure employment.
But residents of the south end of Franklin have been quietly using a less expensive and personal means of helping an enclave of underserved people in the region.
The Southside Job Network, according to organizers and operators, is a loose band of activists, members of the faith community, and neighbors.
Information about when and where to access food, news of job openings, expertise on applying for jobs and other services online and transportation to apply and attend work each day, are generated and shared by the network operators to those who need it.
The network also provides personal nurturing and encouragement for adults and youth who have been discouraged by barriers to adequate education, employment, housing and other resources.
The idea for Southside Job Network was generated from the age old idea that communities of Black people must look inward to find solutions to many of the problems which marginalize youth and adults.
Several disturbing incidents stirred the creation of the network as well.
Long time Franklin activist and south end resident Thomas Councill recalls a young man was shot in the head during an incident on Washington Street in the heart of the community. Shortly afterwards, during an event two young men were pistol whipped by rivals.
Councill said the incidents caused a member of the Nation of Islam (NOI) community to summon a meeting to discuss ways to get young Black men to be more civil toward each other and women.
“I pointed out that more needed to be done than just talking,” said Councill. “The problems that we are facing in the Black community are related to employment, education and the ability to move beyond the barriers which have caused the anger and frustration among our youth and adults.”
So Councill, individuals, such as political leaders like Ricky Sykes and businessman Tim Grant began formulating plans to use their personal network of friends, family and churches to devise a way to help their community overcome the ill effects of poverty, and the anger its isolation fosters.
Many of the churches which are part of the network already have their own ministries and personnel assigned to lend a hand to the most vulnerable of their congregations and those outside the walls of them.
This may include some form of assistance for families behind on utility bills, access to food pantries, and gifted individuals who are skilled in writing resumes and using the internet to search for jobs and support services, mentoring and other needs.
There is a small number of “freelancers,” Councill says, individuals or just “neighbors” who are also providing help to those seeking jobs or transportation.
Councill and others the Guide interviewed for this story are not even keeping track of the people who have benefited from the network.
He said, personally, he has managed to help about 50 people since the network began operating in the middle of last year.
“So people who need help are receiving it now,” said Councill. “There are no budgets, set rules, no formal communication or organizational structure. But there is a need and there are people who are busy helping make this work. We don’t want a lot of bureaucracy, we just want to help people.”
The informal home base of the Job Network is Councill’s home church, Hickory Grove AME Zion Church. Rev. Purlie Banks is an assistant Minister at the church.
Banks recalls helping over 15 people secure food and employment.
“Trusting people enough to reach out for help, people having less than a 10th grade education, no transportation, homelessness are barriers which are holding a lot of our people back,” said Banks.
“Many people who spend time in jail and have felonies are supposed to be rehabilitated while in jail,” she continued. “But they come out and go back to the same habits and environment which caused them to get in trouble. This is part of the problem we must work on as well.”
Ross Preau is a member of First Baptist Church in the city’s South end. Each month the Food Bank of Hampton Roads dispatches a truck to distribute food to needy people in the parking lot of the National Guard Armory.
Apart from helping with food, he alerts people of news of job openings in the area, gets them a ride to potential job sites and “gives encouragement to those who need it.”
“We are the community. We, the people, are the government and we need to share the knowledge and resources we have to help each other,” said Preau.
“We helped 15 people last month with getting jobs,” said Preau. “A lot of the young men have been discouraged and isolated in poverty. They do not know how to interact or dress to apply for employment. These are barriers they will never overcome if we do not reach out and help them.”
Tony Leigh lives 15 minutes outside Franklin in tiny, Capron, Virginia and is a member of the Community Fellows Church of Deliverance. He coordinates the church’s connection with the Food Bank’s monthly distribution effort and his church’s food pantry people access daily.
“Our church has always been known for helping those who attend the services and our outreach to the needy in general,” said Leigh, who is a freelancer for the network. “We help those in need of food, paying their utility bills rents. We also provide prayer and encouragement.”