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Project restores hope

Community leaders gathered at All Saints Hall at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church on Thursday for Purpose of God Annex’s annual fundraiser. Project New Hope, a rehabilitation program for people with past criminal histories, is facing closure if funding for the 2012-2013 program year can’t be secured. (WDN Photo/Vail Stewart Rumley)

Project New Hope. The name says it all: a second chance, a new lease on life, redemption and restoration. More than 600 people have gone through the six-month program — 600 people with criminal histories who, by the time they’ve graduated, have learned the tools to become working, productive contributors to the community, tools provided by this educational arm of Purpose of God Annex.

Thursday, community leaders turned out for Purpose of God Annex’s annual fundraiser held at All Saints Hall at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Washington. Representatives from the Washington City Council, Washington-Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce, and local law-enforcement agencies, along with judges, lawyers, pastors, probation officers and other concerned residents gathered to eat first, then listen to a lineup of speakers comprising those who work with Purpose of God Annex and those who’ve been through the program.

“If not for the program, I wouldn’t have my children, my job, my life,” said Dwayne Asby, one of the speakers.

According to Asby, a long-standing drug problem led to his selling drugs to support his habit. He was looking at multiple years in prison before Bishop Samuel Jones Jr., the steward of Project New Hope, stepped into his path.

“I had been to every AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and NA (Narcotics Anonymous) program I could find, but what worked was (Project New Hope),” said Asby. “I remember Bishop Jones told me, ‘I’ll pull you up, if you help yourself.’”

Jones’ assistance worked for Asby, and many others — 50 percent of graduates remain in the work force, 85 percent haven’t returned to crime — but the program is currently being threatened by a lack of funding.

“We haven’t lost our funding because of financial issues,” said Purpose of God Annex’s contracted accountant, Kathy Robinson. “We’ve lost funding because state programs have cut back.”

Once a week for three years, Robinson has come in to handle grant reporting and check writing for the organization. In that short time, she said, the program has grown exponentially, yet funding has decreased. Grants from the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council and United Way aid with costs, but it’s the North Carolina Drop-Out Prevention grant, worth $175,000, that will disappear in June, according to Robinson.

“We’ve got a lot of grant funds that aren’t coming back that we’ve got to replace,” she said.

Project New Hope’s funding issues have led Jones, and his wife Regina, referred to as Mother Jones, to approach the Washington City Council about potential funding for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, starting July 1. The proposed budget presented to the council showed the organization’s operating cost of $163,644.54, $50,000 of which has been requested from the city. Jones was direct about Project New Hope’s dire financial condition.

“We want the community to be aware of the financial crisis that’s crippling us,” said Jones. “We want them to be aware — if they feel they still need the program.”

Projects similar to Project New Hope exist in the eastern North Carolina, but according to Betty Jo Shepheard, U.S. Senator Richard Burr’s field representative for the eastern region, the Joneses’ work stands out.

“I travel to 28 counties an deal with all sorts of organizations,” said Shepheard, who attended Thursday’s event. “This one just has such a good record. Their success rate is very high.”

Shepheard counted the support of the community leaders and employers who have been instrumental in working with graduates of the program as contributing factors to that success.

“The success of the program is not just about Bishop and Mother Jones. It’s about how supportive the community is,” explained Shepheard. “People here care about giving people a second chance.”

Jones, who refers to the work as “his calling,” is quick to clarify that the purpose of Project New Hope is twofold, not only to rehabilitate past offenders, but also to help make Beaufort County a safer place to live for everyone.