Cooperative Christian Ministries and Clinic (CCMC) in Hot Springs, Arkansas, has been selected as the Bridges Community of the Year. The award was announced formally at the 2017 Addressing the Challenges of Poverty conference, which just concluded in St. Louis. CCMC’s Bridge to Hope initiative has been led by Dr. John Wayne Smith and Lynn Blankenship, and they are a licensed site with aha! Process.

The award brings with it $1,000 in products and online trainings from aha! Process. This year’s applicants to receive the award were very strong, and we had a difficult decision in choosing the winner—but that’s a problem we were happy to have! It’s exciting to see the increase in applications for the award and the quality of what is being offered in Bridges communities.

Cooperative Christian Ministries and Clinic expanded its mission in 2014 to work on roadblocks facing people in poverty. The clinic works directly with people in poverty and serves as a source of referrals to their Getting Ahead groups. Since they began to offer Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-By World, CCMC has taken nine groups through the program and graduated 89 people. CCMC has also been a strong adopter of the Getting Ahead While Getting Out prison reentry program, with 15 groups completed and 102 graduates.

More important than the numbers is the way CCMC has used input from investigators to shape the actions of the Bridge to Hope steering committee. Together they determined that jobs, transportation, education, case management, housing, and advocacy were the areas that needed the most attention. Then, for each issue, they formed a task force to focus on sustainable solutions that work for the whole community. They also hold monthly meetings, open to anyone, in conjunction with the chamber of commerce in order to keep the community up to date on the progress being made.

In response to these awareness-raising efforts, one of the largest employers in the community, Oaklawn Racing, offered to hire any graduate of the Getting Ahead program. Unfortunately, the application and licensing required for employment with Oaklawn was another barrier for most Getting Ahead graduates. CCMC worked with Oaklawn and with the Arkansas State Racing Commission on a solution. The result? Changes to the hiring requirements for food/beverage and maintenance employees that removed the barriers.

After the changes, Oaklawn held two on-site job fairs for Getting Ahead graduates. The graduates were invited to tour the facilities and then to interview with management. An astounding 100% of the job fair attendees were offered positions, and of those who accepted the position, 75% are still employed. Graduates see increases in income, and they gain retirement, vacation, and health insurance benefits when they are hired full time. But the graduates aren’t the only ones who make gains: The arrangement provides Oaklawn with employees who have proven they understand the hidden rules of middle class. As a result, they excel in their new environment.

The Getting Ahead While Getting Out program is the most popular program in the local jail. The jail was built recently and includes dedicated classroom facilities for programs that support the inmates. While courses on job skills and general well-being are available, Getting Ahead While Getting Out offers concrete strategies and tactics to help reentering citizens avoid re-offending. The program is so valuable to the inmates that there is a waiting list to participate. At least one Getting Out investigator was so enthusiastic about the program that his spouse joined a Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-By World group on the outside!

At aha! Process we are extremely proud of the work CCMC is doing and the progress they have made. CCMC’s goal is to continue to work with community stakeholders at all levels to make a positive difference in Hot Springs, and we hope to walk with them every step of the way. Congratulations, CCMC!