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In the Media

The Hope Initiative in the media.

Tuscaloosa News, April 16, 2015

"Groups use luncheon to encourage local ministries to mobilize, adopt communities"

By Jamon Smith | Staff Writer

Guests make their plates during a luncheon at Calvary Baptist Church with Eric Boykin to promote the Hope Initiative Ministry in Tuscaloosa, Ala. on Thursday April 16, 2015

Guests make their plates during a luncheon at Calvary Baptist Church with Eric Boykin to promote the Hope Initiative Ministry in Tuscaloosa, Ala. on Thursday April 16, 2015

Dozens of pastors from churches throughout Tuscaloosa County were challenged Thursday to adopt a struggling community and a local school.

“There's a great thing going on in this city, and it's not because of me,” said Eric Boykin, director of the Hope Initiative. “It's not because of the Hope Initiative. It's because great people across this city decided that we could get over all that stuff (racial, denominational and political differences), and we could focus on Christ and his word, and making a difference for Tuscaloosa's most neglected people.

“You see, we have to get our hands dirty. ... You know we can do quick drops and pat ourselves on the back and take pictures and act like we've really done something when we really haven't done anything at all. Or we can go into these communities and live amongst the people and love them. What would it look like if we dug in deep and decided we were going to make a difference?”

The Tuscaloosa Prayer Network and the Hope Initiative hosted a Thursday luncheon for pastors and other church leaders at Calvary Baptist Church.

William Scroggins, head of the Tuscaloosa Prayer Network, said the point of the luncheon was to get churches mobilized to minister to people in the multi-housing areas of the county on a consistent basis.

“We just really believe that though we are many denominations and churches, we are one body in Christ Jesus,” Scroggins said. “What we're trying to do is take that unity, that strength and relations that has really become better and better over the years, and make it work for the goals that Jesus would have had if he were working in the city. He would probably go to the needy and the down-and-out.

“Well, that's what we're doing. Eric Boykin is specializing in that. He's going into the high crime areas and he's trying to help encourage the children and families, provide after-school care, food, tutoring, shelter, clothing, just provide what their needs are to help them pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. We need jobs for people, and we're trying to get the people who have job opportunities to come and interview these people.”

Scroggins said none of their plans and efforts will work if the Christian churches in Tuscaloosa County don't come together as one and cry out to God jointly and put in real, lasting work for God's kingdom.

Sam Day, director of missions for the Tuscaloosa County Baptist Association, said Martin Luther once said, “If our speaking fails to address the precise point in which the world of our time aches, we're not really preaching the word.”

With that said, churches have to ask themselves two questions, Day said. First, how are communities in the city and in the world hurting? Second, what are churches saying to address those hurts?

“In the few years I've been here, I've seen this kind of burning bush,” Day said. “This vision that's been kindling in the hearts of our city's leaders, in the heart's of our churches leaders in our area, to see something happen.

We want to make a difference and not just fill our pews. We are now measuring success not based on our church's seating capacity, but on our sending capacity. How many people in our church can we actually send to make an impact.”

Boykin said the next step is to continue to find leaders — pastors — in each of Tuscaloosa's seven districts, and Northport, to organize other pastors in those districts. Once organized, the churches in each district can pool their resources and work together to help impoverished neighborhoods in their districts. They'll essentially “adopt” a community.

“What would it look like across this city if our 150 or so churches said I'm going to adopt that community and dig in deep there?” Boykin said. “I'm going to sing 'Amazing Grace.' I'm going to build the kingdom of God. I'm not just going to donate some shoes.

“I had an apartment manager say 'a church came over and did an Easter egg hunt, but then I didn't see them again until this year.' Folks, we have to dig in deep. We're discontent with buildings, and funding and bylaws. We want to make a difference for the kingdom of God. We want all of our children to know about Jesus. We want all of our children to have their needs met. We want all of our children to feel loved.”

Tuscaloosa News, September 24, 2014

"Volunteer service day to be held Saturday"

More than 50 churches sign up for "Day of Hope"

By Jason Morton | Staff Writer

Volunteers are still needed for Saturday’s “Day of Hope,” a day of community service projects aimed at improving homes and facilities throughout Tuscaloosa County.

“A Day of Hope” is a volunteer service event that grew out of the Hope Initiative partnership between City Hall and Tuscaloosa’s faith-based community that was established in 2009 to foster long-term improvements in areas of the city with high crime rates.

The event’s website says the program is designed to “mobilize the church to do high-value service projects in the most neglected neighborhoods in our county.”

Members of more than 50 churches of varying denominations have signed on to participate.

“We want to do more than just build,” said Eric Boykin, director of the Hope Initiative. “We want to show the love of Jesus in a practical way and come together to make a difference in Jesus’ name.”

More than 70 service projects are listed for the volunteer service day, including the construction of handicap ramps for children, homes for tornado victims and complete yard maintenance for families suffering from serious illnesses.

The event organizers are asking four to five hours of time from volunteers to complete the tasks.

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox and a team of Tuscaloosa city staff members will tackle several projects at a 21st Street home starting at 9 a.m. Saturday.

Deidre Stalnaker, the city’s media relations coordinator, said the city volunteers are expected to trim bushes, pull weeds, pick up trash, pressure-wash the front of the house and plant some flowers.

Tuscaloosa News, May 9, 2014

"Tuscaloosa Prayer Network passing the torch"

Group holds pastors' lunch to inaugurate new director, expand outreach

By Jamon Smith | Staff Writer

Like the captain of the storm-tossed ship who asked Jonah how could he sleep when a raging storm threatened to tear the ship apart, the people of the world are asking the Christian church how it can do nothing when people are hurting, sick, lost and dying.

Eric Boykin, the mission strategist for the Tuscaloosa County Baptist Association, posed that question to about 100 local church pastors and ministers Thursday at a pastors' lunch held at Calvary Baptist Church.

Eric Prayer Luncheon 2.jpg

The lunch was sponsored by the Tuscaloosa Prayer Network for two purposes: to pass the torch of leadership of the Hope Initiative from TPN Director William Scroggins to Boykin and to expand the mission of the Hope Initiative by asking local pastors to start sustainable outreach ministry in multihousing communities such as apartments, government housing and trailer parks.

The Hope Initiative was created by Mayor Walter Maddox more than three years ago. It's a partnership between the city government and Christian leaders to bring peace and safety to high-crime neighborhoods.

Boykin moved to Tuscaloosa from Mississipi six months ago with the intention of mobilizing Christians across racial and denominational lines to minister together in multihousing areas. Scroggins said Boykin's passion and vision for Tuscaloosa's Christian community is a perfect fit for the Hope Initiative, and he said he's glad to turn its leadership over to him.

“I have met with Eric over the past several months, and it seems to me that he will be able to lead us to a greater level of effectiveness in these neighborhoods,” Scroggins said in a written statement. “Eric and I met with Mayor Maddox, and he was in agreement with Eric's vision to expand the Hope Initiative into apartment complexes across the county, as well as the city of Tuscaloosa.

“We are delighted that God brought Eric and his family to our community, and we look forward to working together with him as we trust God to bring spiritual renewal in our area.”

Boykin said, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 57 percent of the U.S. population lives in multihousing communities. In Tuscaloosa, more than 65 percent of the city's population lives in multi-housing communities, and for the past three years that number has grown by more than 500 units annually, he said.

The growth wouldn't be a problem if it weren't for the fact that only about 5 percent of people living in them attend church, he said.

“In the state of Alabama, about half the people who live in single-family homes go to some kind of church,” Boykin said. “But if you cross the street into the apartment community, that number plummets down from 50 percent to 5 percent. So all of our churches are 10-to-1 more single-family homes than they are apartment communities. What that means is there is an enormous demographic of our population that's missing the mark.”

Boykin said USA Today reported in October 2012 that for the first time in U.S. history, the majority of citizens are not Protestant Christians. But not only are people not becoming Protestants, they're not becoming Catholics, they're not becoming Mormons and they're not becoming Jehovah's Witnesses. Religiously, they're not affiliating with anything. They're called “the nones,” and they're the fastest growing religious demographic in the U.S.

“No. 1, this isn't a Baptist problem or a Methodist problem,” Boykin said. “This isn't a black problem or a white problem. None of us are really reaching these people, are we? None of us are really knocking it out of the park reaching people in our inner cities, in low-income areas and in multi-housing communities.”

“If Jesus was here today, I believe he'd be at these communities,” he said. “I really believe that. When I read the Scriptures, what did Jesus say?”

Boykin read Matthew 9:13 from the Bible: “Then He added, 'Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices. For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.' ”

He said he believed Jesus came to help the hurting, to love the fallen and to give to the poor. He said if Christian churches really want to carry out the ministry of Christ, they have to get out of their comfort zones and go to the places where people are hurting the most. They must put aside their minuscule differences, he said, and carry out the work of the cross together.

“Rest assured that if we represent the Kingdom of God, it's not going to hurt our individual churches. We can represent the Kingdom of God together. Maybe, maybe, we've lost our influence in our world because we've lost our fellowship in our churches.

“It's the Gospel that resurrects a community.”



Tuscaloosa News, February 18, 2009

"Mayor’s new plan targets local crime"

Hope Initiative aimed at cleaning up troubled areas

By Lydia Seabol Avant | Staff Writer

TUSCALOOSA | Cleaning up Tuscaloosa’s most crime-ridden areas won’t happen overnight, city leaders say. But Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox on Tuesday announced an initiative that he hopes will be the start of a long-term plan to improve the city’s most troubled areas.“There has to be a first step, and we believe that the Hope Initiative is that,” Maddox said. The Hope Initiative focuses on seven zones in the city where the most crime calls occur. Most of the crime occurs within small, half-mile areas within those zones. The plan includes both short-term and long-term recommendations for improving the neighborhoods:

- Increasing patrol officers by 20 percent

- Tracking habitual crime offenders

- Establishing an East Tuscaloosa police precinct

- Establishing a mental health court

- Adding more green space

- Making infrastructure improvements like lighting and sidewalks and removing old alleyways.

It is the first time the city has taken on an initiative of this kind, Maddox said. “Early on, I realized Tuscaloosa did not have a comprehensive plan for crime,” he said. Statistics show that reported crime is down in the city of Tuscaloosa, but that doesn’t mean that the city shouldn’t take action, the mayor said. For instance, the total number of crimes reported dropped 3.4 percent from 2006 to 2007. Violent crime has decreased by 8 percent, which includes homicides, rapes, robberies and assaults.

Maddox researched what other cities were doing and said he realized that faith-based organizations were an integral part to reducing crime and improving blighted areas. “Faith-based groups are important. They are essential,” Maddox said, adding that the organizations can do things for their communities that the city cannot. About 50 faith-based leaders have signed up to help improve the identified areas through a variety of actions: serving through soup kitchens, offering street cleanups or organizing a neighborhood watch. Although the city cannot support the faith-based groups financially, it can form a partnership to support the groups in other ways, by providing city services, Maddox added.

There is no cost estimate for the initiative because of its long-term scope. “It would take millions if we were to do all the recommendations at once,” Maddox added. Instead, he foresees the plan taking place over the next several years, even decades. But some money has already been set aside — about $200,000 budgeted as part of a community block grant and $250,000 as part of the capital improvements project. During the next four months there will be in-depth presentations given to the city’s public safety committee on different aspects of the plan.

Kip Tyner, a City Council member who serves on the public safety committee, said he was impressed with the months of work that went into the initiative. “We need to try to get these [recommendations] implemented as soon as possible,” Tyner said. The Hope Initiative will not likely come before the Tuscaloosa City Council for approval. Instead, it can be implemented through executive order, Maddox said.