Last year was unorthodox, to say the least. There was crisis homeschooling, followed by a mix of virtual classes and in-person classes with precautions. Many activities and community resources were limited or even halted. It was a lot, even for children in the most stable households. But what about at-risk kids? A Fort Worth organization called HOPE Farm—designed to support boys and their single moms—worked hard to continue its mission while ensuring the children it serves could thrive in a virtual learning environment.
We spoke to the Christian program’s executive director, Sacher Dawson, about how his team is cultivating hope, leadership and academic success in the next generation, while facing unprecedented challenges.
Tell us about HOPE Farm’s work. HOPE Farm is a leadership development program for fatherless boys. Gary Randle and Noble Crawford, two law-enforcement professionals, started HOPE Farm back in 1990.
Our mission is to turn the boys we work with into Christ-centered leaders, so they can change the trajectory of their communities. We typically have 70 boys and 50 moms each semester. We work with boys as early as age 5 and through high school graduation and beyond.
What are some of the strategies you use with the boys? The Reading Literacy Lab is a game changer. We purchased a $40,000 reading literacy program that has increased the reading levels of each one of our boys. That program is designed to get children to a sixth-grade reading level as quickly as possible. Last year, our boys at our main campus saw a gain [of nearly two grade levels] on average. We are well above the national average for our demographic.
We also use Awana, a biblical curriculum. It’s age-appropriate and well respected throughout churches. This allows us to be consistent with our message on all three of our campuses. It’s a curriculum that holds each boy accountable for his actions.
How do you make sure the kids are able to stick with the program? Logistics can be challenging in single-parent families. We go to the schools in the afternoons and pick up students and bring them back to our facility [where we] start a structured program of reading literacy, Bible study and tutoring, and we provide a warm nutritious meal each day.
Then, the moms pick [the kids] up at 6pm. Their children have been fed, homework is done, spiritual word was received and they did 45 minutes of reading. The moms simply have to give them a hug and put them to bed.
How do you serve the boys’ moms, beyond what you do for their sons? We not only pour into the boys, but we pour into the moms as well. We have our Moms Resource Program, which includes what we call Parent University. They join when their sons enter the program. It offers parenting, social, financial literacy and spiritual tips. We want to make sure our message to the boys is not getting lost at home. The moms also [complete] five volunteer hours each semester.
What’s in HOPE Farm’s future? We are in the process of building a vocational center on campus—Slone Vocational Center. This will allow the middle and high school students to explore learning a trade from an apprenticeship to an internship perspective. We know that not all of our boys are going to want to go to college, so we need a viable alternative in that case. There are a lot of great opportunities in the vocational arena.
Our goal is for those boys to learn a trade and get certified by the time they graduate high school. They can parlay into a good paying job and not be saddled with student loan debt.
This training is also available for moms as well. Most of the moms are either unemployed or underemployed. This gives them an opportunity to learn a trade and better themselves as well.
How has COVID impacted your organization? COVID has totally disrupted our basic organizational structure. We are an after-school program but had to transform into an academy to meet the needs of the boys to obtain a basic education virtually.
Most of our boys had no electronic device in their household except for a cell phone, which was pretty much impossible to do schoolwork on. We had to purchase, solicit, borrow computers and iPads to ensure each of our boys had proper equipment.
That sounds like you had to start wearing more hats. We had to transform into IT techs, because this equipment was new to the boys. They had no way of knowing how to operate the devices properly. And each student was also assigned a virtual mentor that checked in each day. We’re still currently providing day school so parents can work and ensure their sons are getting a proper education.
We also provided food, soap, sanitation items and so on to the low-income families just for basic survival needs. This was the perfect time for servant leadership. We wanted to be part of the solution.
Can you share some examples of participants who have gone on to great things? Yes! Felix Stiggers joined our program as a kindergartener in 1996. He went all the way through the program, graduated high school, went to college and graduated and now works for us as the program director. He sees the organization through a lens that we as an executive team can never see, because he lived [it] and is able to relate to the kids at a different level.
Also, there’s Shamar Peoples. He joined our program as a sixth grader. He had a learning difference, and we were able to enroll him into a day school that specializes in students with learning differences. He is now enrolled at TCU as a freshman. I could not be prouder of them both.
What do you want boys to leave your program knowing? We firmly believe Jeremiah 29:11 is true of each of our young HOPE Farm leaders: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”
HOPE Farm welcomes volunteers. Get sign-up information by visiting hopefarmfw.org.
The organization is also looking for 1,000 partners to donate $100 a month for 12 months to start a HOPE Farm endowment fund, Keepers of HOPE. This endowment will help sustain HOPE Farm for years to come.
Photo courtesy of HOPE Farm and iStock.