I walk into Beverly Newkirk’s classroom at It Takes a Village Action Organization (ITAV) at 9:45 am. Class starts at 10 am sharp, and Beverly is strict about what it means to be on time. If you walk through those doors at 10, you’re late.
With a heart for the community, Beverly runs what is technically a job readiness and employment training program, but her comprehensive, whole-person approach is about much more than supporting participants on the job hunt. Beverly has always cared about people, and her career has taken her from recruiting for Recruitment and Training Program, Inc. to prepping military wives for the GED in Scotland to positions at Millard Fillmore Hospital Gates Circle, Girl Scouts of America, and Buffalo Urban League.
In 2010, she decided to open ITAV to fill a need in the community by providing care to a population that has been chronically marginalized. The organization’s mission is to promote the wellbeing of inner city residents of all ages, thus empowering them to become productive citizens. The goal, she tells me, is for participants to move from “hurting to healing to wholeness” and go from “apathy to activity.”
“The people who come to me are broken, hurt. They’ve been rejected over and over. We provide a space for them to work through where they’ve been, where they’re at, and where they’re going.”
The 8-week program is open to anyone, and the only requirement is to abstain from using drugs. The classes address participants’ spiritual, physical, mental, emotional and economic needs, and it includes counseling on nutrition and fitness, credit and investments, practical job skills, and confidence-building. Beverly also encourages participants to become politically involved in the community as well. “If you don’t know much, then you can’t do much,” she tells them.
Beverly is tough – she demands accountability, punctuality, and transparency – and she pushes participants to take action and support each other. “When you focus on the obstacle, you’re going to lose your way. You stop yourself when you sit down and talk about it and don’t do anything about it,” she emphasizes. But she holds herself to the same standards and is full of praise and appreciation when people follow her guidance.
The program has been operating without any funding, but somehow the doors remain open. Beverly says she hasn’t had to recruit in months because people come by word of mouth. Many former participants volunteer to help with the program, and Beverly is very focused on results. “This is not a feel-good program, this is an outcome program,” she says.
She expresses frustration with systemic failures that don’t provide concrete results for people who are struggling, such as pre-apprenticeship programs that grant useless certificates. “Someone is getting money to run this program, and people can’t get jobs with a pre-apprenticeship certificate. Where are the outcomes?” she questions. She also believes that Buffalo’s wave of development has completely skipped over those who need it most. “We need to stop building buildings and start building people.”
ITAV partners with several local organizations to help participants find jobs, and employers provide 30-, 60-, and 90-day evaluations on employee performance. ITAV is setting up a tracking system with a one-year follow-up to assess the program’s effectiveness. In addition to finding job placements for graduates, Beverly helps them develop the skills they need to be entrepreneurs and encourages them to work together to launch their own businesses.
Although she’s retirement age, Beverly is moving full steam ahead with ITAV, and the work gives her energy and deep satisfaction. As a faith-based organization, ITAV is a ministry. “This isn’t about me,” she tells me. “This is God’s work.” Beverly isn’t interested in numbers, she’s interested in lives, and while funding would certainly help, she’s not overly concerned about money either. “Money comes and goes, but changing a life lasts a lifetime.”
By Natalie Photiadis, a Buffalo native and recent repatriate working to strengthen the Buffalo community and promote more sustainable lifestyles.