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For more information about this program and how to apply, visit www.blackeffect.com slash Nissan. And we continue with Our American Stories, the show where America is the star and the American people. Up next we have a story from Steve Bunyard. Steve is the president of Reignite Hope, a nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles, California. Reignite Hope trains students for a career in welding, gets them certified in the welding trade, and then assists them with job placement.
Here's Steve with the story. Reignite Hope started about 11 years ago up on Skid Row in Los Angeles. Skid Row is, and I guess they call it that because that's kind of where you hit the skids, I guess. It's huge here in Los Angeles. In LA County, numbers are as high as 70,000 people a night sleep on the streets.
It's really an incredible plague, epidemic, whatever you want to call it. Way back in the day when I was younger and growing up, homeless usually just meant men. Now it's families. It's women. It's children. You see them sleeping on a sidewalk in a little tent overnight.
They don't have a way to support themselves. Life has somehow gone upside down for them. Every story is different.
Every story is unique. I was a pastor at a local church at the time. I'd been on staff there for a lot of years. And our church was doing what a lot of churches do up on Skid Row, coming up there and bringing food and blankets and hygiene kits and things like that. And we were working with a pretty famous homeless mission up there called the Fred Jordan Mission.
And we would go up there and do our best to help the homeless. Each time we went up there, we'd go every couple months. One thing that jumped out at me is I kept seeing the same people, the same people in line. I'd go up there and I'd go, wow, they're still here. And then two months later, they're still here. And two months later, they're still here. Nothing was changing except the line was getting longer. And I know we called them homeless. To me, they looked hopeless is what they looked. And one day the matriarch, Willie Jordan, came up to me and she said, Pastor Steve, what can we do so that we're not feeding the same people all the time?
So she solved the same problem. And I said, gosh, Willie, I said, I don't know. I think they need I think they need jobs. I don't know how you get out of Skid Row without a job. But I said, I don't know what to tell you about that. Our church doesn't do job training. But I said, I'll pray about it. So I did. I started praying about it. And gosh, just this crazy thing kept staying in my head of the idea of teaching people to weld. I had learned to weld when I was young, way before I became a pastor. I knew that that's something that I could probably teach somebody and they could get a job and it would pay well. So I just kept praying and kind of almost hoping that idea would go away because I just thought, how in the world would I do it?
I mean, where would we do it? Can you really teach homeless people to weld? Can I even teach people to weld?
I know how to weld, but I've never taught it. But it wouldn't leave me alone. So I finally thought, you know what? I'm going to go back to Willie and just give her this crazy idea. She's like 80 and she'll hate it, I think.
Right. And I'll get my life back. So I go and I tell her and she loves the idea. And I figure she's going to be afraid of welding and all that. And she says, are you kidding?
She says, let's we'll give you a space inside the mission. We'll we'll select some homeless people for you to start with. Let's do it. Let's get started.
And I thought, oh, my gosh, you know, what have I gotten into here? But we did. We jumped in.
We started with five homeless men that they had picked for us. And it changed their lives. And then everybody started hearing about it and wanting in the program.
To date, we've had some times where we've had as many as 500 people on our waiting list wanting to get in. And it just started growing and growing, took off like a rocket. We outgrew our space in the Fred Jordan mission. Then the Los Angeles Police Department helped us get a building two blocks away that was bigger.
Before long, we outgrew that and we were just having to say no to too many people. Then we moved into by God's providing a large building here in the city of Gardena, California, which really increased the number of lives we could come alongside. And we started operating out of here. We were doing over 200 students a year, but now we max this out. And so we got the idea.
The idea came into my heart and head one day of what about doing this mobile? We had all these cities by now that wanted us to come. Not only cities locally here in Southern California, but cities all over America calling us up.
They're hearing about it. Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco. And I'm thinking, gosh, we can't get buildings in all these cities. That's too expensive. And even the local cities here that want us to come, I thought about what about doing training inside a big rig, a big 18 wheeler, doing it inside the trailer. Then we could take the trailer wherever we wanted to go, keep our main facility here in Gardena. And I guess that idea came to me because when I was young, I was into race cars. I raced a lot and sometimes we would repair our cars inside the trailer. We would weld on them.
Something would break and we'd weld on them. I never saw that as being something I would use to help other people. And I was pretty self-centered at that part of my life anyway. And I wasn't a person of faith.
I didn't believe in God. I just was living for myself and my own personal happiness and my own personal goals. And the thought of helping people on Skid Row would not have appealed to me for one second back in that part of my life. But then God deeply changed my life, took away that self-centeredness, and made me care a lot more about other people than I care about myself.
And that really turned my heart around for all of this stuff here that we're talking about. And to see these lives change, to see people rough and tattooed and looking real mean, and with tears in their eyes as they're holding up their diploma, having become a certified welder. I wasn't a certified welder back when I was doing all the welding.
The places I worked didn't require it. But when I started Reignite Hope, I thought just for the credibility of our program, because I would sometimes get people come up to me and go, so wait a minute, you're a pastor and you're teaching people how to weld? Are you even allowed to do that?
And do you know how to do that? And I thought, okay, I better just go get some credentials to put people's mind at ease. So I became a certified welder myself. I even went further and became a certified welding educator and a certified welding inspector. And then this whole thing does allow us to certify students through our program.
But I didn't want that to appear to be biased at all. So what we do on certification day, which is at the end of each class each semester, I bring in an outside inspector to test them. I don't want them to feel like, you know, Pastor Steve certified me because he loves me.
And I didn't want to feel that tension either because, of course, I would want them all to pass. So I bring in a completely unbiased third party inspector from the American Welding Society who comes in and tests the students and they have to pass or they don't get certified. So it's a real legitimate deal and it's the best certification around. It's recognized worldwide, actually, the American Welding Society.
This thing really works. We're able in one month to take a person who knows nothing about welding and train them, give them 120 hours of training, get them certified by the American Welding Society and help them find their first job. And there is a nationwide shortage of welders. And it's a very well-paying career. You won't start off real high right out of school. But gosh, in four, five, six years, this is a six-figure job.
That completely changes the direction of you and your family forever. And you're listening to Steve Bunyer tell the story of Reignite Hope and how it started. And it started quite simply. Visiting and tending to the homeless, 70,000. Just in L.A. County, a staggering number. And he kept seeing the same people again and again.
And he said, those aren't homeless people, I'm saying it's hopeless people. When we come back, more of Steve Bunyer's story and a story of so many faith-based institutions doing great work around this country here on Our American Story. Can you feel it?
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RingCentral, simpler communications. And we return to Our American Stories and the story of Reignite Hope and its president, Steve Bunyard. Reignite Hope is a nonprofit organization that began on Skid Row in L.A. with the goal to help homeless people get jobs. Back to Steve with the rest of the story.
You know, they say that to live without hope is to cease to live. And again, that's what we saw up on Skid Row. Of course, now our program's expanded to all walks of life. We've been doing training at a high school out in San Bernardino. They identified some kids out there that they were begging us to come that they called vulnerable because they knew these kids were not college material. And they said, boy, if they get out of high school without a job skill, they're going to get in trouble. We have a lot of folks coming out of prison that hear about us. Kids wanting to get out of gangs and want to turn their life around and come to Reignite Hope.
People that are just trapped in poverty. Gosh, I get letters from inmates around the country saying, hey, I've heard about your program. I'm about to get out.
Can I get into the program? We just had, in our last class that graduated just a few weeks ago here, a young man who got out of prison in Texas, heard about Reignite Hope, decided to move him and his wife and their kid here to California just to take the class. They came, they took the class, went back to Texas, and he texted me two days ago saying, hey, Pastor Steve, I just want to let you know how thankful I am for what you and the team did for me. I'm back here in Texas. I just got hired as a welder. Thanks to you guys, I found God, and now I've found a job, and I just wanted to say thanks.
That story just happens over and over and over again. When this started, it was a little intimidating. Could we do this? Could I do this? Could I find the time to do this?
Do I know how to do this? All those fears and doubts come up, and then I'd never really worked with the homeless before, like with gang members. Gosh, I'd never worked with gang members, and so when we had our first gang member, it was like, oh my gosh, I don't even know what to do here with this.
I've never even talked to a gang member before, and gosh, now we've trained hundreds of them. Most all of our students come in here a little skeptical because we tell them the program's free. We vet people coming in. We want to make sure they're serious and motivated to do this, but it's free.
But most of them have been ripped off here and there like we all have from time to time, and they don't really completely believe that there's not a catch here somewhere. And so the first couple weeks, they're kind of on guard and kind of keeping to themselves a little bit, but once they really believe and come to understand that, wow, these people just really love me and really care for me, and there are no strings attached here. They really open up, and you can just get into some amazing one-on-one conversations with them. We get a chance then to speak into their lives and coach them and pray for them, and it really breaks down the barriers because I think love breaks down any barrier there is out there. And it's really fun to even see the barriers break down between the different gang members because normally out there on the street, they would kill one another, and here they start to love one another and become lifelong friends, and all those barriers go away. It is just fascinating to watch how different they are from the first day with us to the last day with us.
They literally become new people. We had over 600 people at our last graduation. But man, the moms are crying, the grandmothers are crying. I mean, the students are coming on stage and getting their diplomas, and in many cases, it's the first diploma they've ever had in their life because they dropped out of high school, got in trouble, all that stuff. Gosh, I got moms that call me out there at the high school and just tell me they've never seen their kid this excited about anything in their life, and thank you guys for coming out there and doing it.
The principal out there with tears in her eyes, just seeing how motivated these kids got when they realized that here's an opportunity that could really turn their life around, and it's something being given to them, and it's so much more fun than sitting in a classroom doing whatever they normally do in a high school classroom, right? Sometimes we do things for other places, like we used to build bicycle ambulances for Africa. So it's these ambulances that you can lay a person in, hook it up to a motorcycle or a bicycle, and they can carry a sick person to the nearest clinic, because normally in the parts of Africa where we're donating these things, there is no 911, there is no ambulance.
They put you in a wheelbarrow and try to push you 10 miles, and you don't make it. And so these things were saving one life a week in Africa, and so we were sending hundreds of these things to Africa, and our students were building them. And it would be so touching to see them with tears in their eyes as they're building these ambulances realizing they can now help somebody else instead of the one always needing help. I had great faith when I came into this, but now even greater faith. I just see God opening doors that I couldn't have opened if I wanted to. You know, the country singer Alan Jackson, I love him, and when he was asked about the song that he wrote about 911, and he said, how did he come up with that? And he said, I didn't come up with it. He said, you know, God wrote the story. I just held the pencil. And I feel that same way here. God wrote this story. I couldn't have done this.
I couldn't even have begun to come up with this. I think also I've really felt such a greater love developing me for these people that are on the margins of society. And, you know, I used to kind of have a critical attitude toward people and gangs and all this kind of stuff. But, you know, you learn so much of the time now that they were forced into the gang. They live in a neighborhood where you get beat up every day until you join the gang. And you get forced to have these tattoos on you marking you which gang you belong into. I used to think the tattoos were such a stupid thing to do, but now I realize they're forced to do that. And it brands them.
It's basically a brand is what it is. I feel so sorry for them. But they had no choice. It's a matter of survival.
So that's really turned my heart around in a big way. You've got to learn to have a heart for everyone because you're not in their shoes. In their shoes, if you were in them, you'd see it's a lot different than you thought. This isn't just about welding, we keep reminding ourselves.
This is about people. And so we might be in a welding booth with them, beside them, coaching them on how to weld. But then that's a great opportunity to ask them, you know, hey, how are things going at home? How's that thing going with your girlfriend we prayed about last week? How's that thing going with your aunt? She was in the hospital and we prayed for her.
How's that going? And boy, they just really open up. But sometimes they'll come and just say, hey, Pastor Steve, can I sit down and talk with you? And we'll sit down and talk and they'll do that with the other staff members as well.
We've got a little box at the front of our classroom here where they can fill out a three by five card and drop the card in there with a prayer request. And oh, my gosh, reading those is just heart wrenching to read the things that are going on in their life. Me and one of our key volunteers here, Jim, sometimes talk about this and we tell each other if we would live 10 lives, we wouldn't have gone through what these people have already gone through.
It's just unbelievable what has happened in their lives. And not only are we teaching welding every day, but every day after lunch, we gather them all together and we open the Bible and we talk about God and we talk about life. We talk about choices.
And it's really interesting at the end of our program when we ask the students, what is the program meant to you? They talk more about that time after lunch each day than they do the welding. They love the welding.
They're excited about the welding and all that. But they'll talk about what really impacted them the most was the time after lunch. And the Bible promises us and it promises everyone that it'll change your life if you let it. And we just see that happen with them over and over again. We have free Bibles up at the front of the classroom that are there for them to take.
And it's just so fun to see those Bibles disappear week by week by week, the Bibles disappearing. So we've just been blessed to see this change lives over and over and over again. I could tell you so many stories about changed lives. One of them, we have a big poster here in our classroom of a photo that we blew up from one of our former graduates named Rudy. Rudy came to us right out of prison, heard about Reignite Hope, went through our program, got his life right with God, got certified, became a union welder. And then he sends us this photo of him up on top of the new Rams Stadium here in Los Angeles helping build the stadium with his welding machine up there. And he just wanted to send us the picture and just show us how much his life had changed.
And a great job on the production and the editing by Robbie and Faith. And a special thanks to Steve Bunyard for sharing his story with us. And my goodness, what a story about what faith can do, not just in one person's life, but in the end it sounds like thousands and so many communities, so many families. We talk about God, about life, about choices with these men and these women. And it's their favorite time, that time after lunch. And that's what families do, and the breakdown of the American family has a lot to do with this problem. We love to tell these stories, these faith-based stories especially.
Steve Bunyard's story, the President of Reignite Hope, here on Our American Story. Yes, and moonlight dance parties. Yes, and loaded fajita nachos. Yes, and all the daiquiris I can drink. You can say yes and to everything when you take a next level beach vacation at Barcelo Resorts in Mexico in the Caribbean with CheapCaribbean.com. What up?
It's Dramos. You may know me from the recap on LATV. Now I've got my own podcast, Life as a Gringo, coming to you every Tuesday and Thursday. We'll be talking real and unapologetic about all things life, Latin culture, and everything in between from someone who's never quite fit in. Listen to Life as a Gringo on the iHeartRadio app or wherever you get your podcasts. Brought to you by State Farm. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-11-21 11:23:46 / 2022-11-21 11:33:42 / 10