Many traditional workforce programs focus on important soft skills necessary in the workplace, but they lack valuable hard skills necessary to break into a new industry and earn a livable wage. Those deemed “un-hirable” by most companies are excluded from both the workforce and housing industries. Without opportunities to learn valuable job skills and pursue safe housing, men and women living in blighted communities remain stuck in the cycle of poverty.
The Jubilee Project creates an innovative cycle of sustainable community development. Founded in 2015 through Jubilee United Methodist Church in Cincinnati, Jubilee purchases blighted houses, hires the chronically unemployed to renovate the houses, provides on-the-job training, and sells the renovated houses to families in the community at no interest. Jubilee reinvests the sales of every home into the community for additional projects, creating a sustainable cycle. In the process, Jubilee fosters, discipleship, community, and empowerment.
Jubilee doesn’t just build houses; they build community. Recognizing that poverty is never just a single problem, they intentionally listen to the needs of a community and take a holistic approach to development. For example, low-income Cincinnati residents expressed a lack of access to clothing. By opening a thrift store, Jubilee provides low-cost clothing options to residents, as well as valuable job training and work experience to employees who learn business principles like inventory and profit margin. Another arm of Jubilee is Jubilee Farms, an initiative to bring fresh produce to communities without access to healthy food. By cultivating urban farms, Jubilee provides sustainable fresh produce and health education to families.
With sustainability and empowerment in mind, Jubilee doesn’t give anything away for free. Instead, they encourage individuals and families to take ownership and participate in these sustainable cycles, even if they volunteer or work for vouchers to purchase goods. The Jubilee model also challenges churches to get involved in their communities in creative, untraditional ways. By leveraging existing capital and land, churches can make a significant impact in their revitalizing their neighborhoods. At its foundation, Jubilee bridges the divide between profitable investment and charitable giving by encouraging sustainable economic investment in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Pastor Thomas Hargis grew up in New Orleans renovating homes damaged by hurricanes. Nearly every house he has lived in, he has also restored. When Hargis joined ministry, he took his construction skills with him. After traveling the world as a youth minister, he worked in the criminal justice system and directed a facility. Hargis helped integrate work release programs, life skills, and job training into prison programs. His work in the criminal justice and workforce spheres led Hargis to pursue a master’s degree from Duke University. There, he piloted an urban housing and workforce development program, now known as The Jubilee Project. Jubilee has become a mainstay in the Cincinnati area and is preparing to expand into other urban communities.
The Jubilee Project is a 2017 S+ Catalyst. Through participation in the Catalyst Program, the Jubilee Project receives training from industry experts in organizational development, branding, measurement and growth, and strategic relationships to amplify their impact and strategically expand their reach.