Thursday, March 15, 2012

Rebuilding Lives and Communities

Boaz and Ruth Ministries in Richmond, Virginia

A Milestone Monday Feature

A formerly condemned house is now home to five people restoring their lives.

Firehouse 15 Cafe and Catering provides employment and training for food service careers.

Sunny Days Thrift Clothing draws students from University of Richmond on shopping outings.

"Dino" stands watch outside Harvest Thrift Furniture.

It was a bright sunny day in early February and I was off to Richmond to begin a project with one of my favorite clients. We would be creating a visual representation of the vision Martha F. Rollins has for her little corner of Highland Park. Taking its name from the redemptive story of Boaz and Ruth, this unique ministry seeks to Restore lives, restore communities and restore relationships for people coming out of the prison system.

Knowing that many offenders simply fall through the cracks, and neglected neighborhoods become areas of high crime, Boaz and Ruth have set out to reclaim the street and the people. I visit Harvest Thrift Furniture where restored furniture is offered for sale. In a room behind the sales floor two young men sit intently at computer screens learning how to write resumes and check job listings.

I have lunch with Martha in the Firehouse Fifteen Cafe, enjoying a delicious stuffed chicken breast which is the day's special. The staff is friendly and attentive. Boaz and Ruth currently provides about 100 paid positions. They have their own construction crews and have renovated eleven properties to date. People move on with proven skills after employment with the organization. Nearly 30% of ex-offenders in the state of Virginia and 5o% nationwide return to prison, but at Boaz and Ruth less than 12% of their graduates have returned to prison!

But Boaz and Ruth has an even bigger vision -- to take back the street! I'm shown the spot where a fifteen year old boy was shot to death in front of Harvest Thrift Furniture, and a dream is shared for creating a street full of start-up businesses. Saying: "The establishment of positive commercial activity in Highland Park is needed to provide jobs and draw resources from across the metropolitan area," Boaz and Ruth has plans to remake Meadowbridge Road as a safe and thriving center. The Kirchman Studio is pleased to have a part in painting the vision.

Jim Depasquale's design of Martha Rollins' vision for Meadowbridge Road in Highland Park. Rendering by the Kirchman Studio.

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