Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

RENEWED FOCUS FOR OPERATION NEW HOPE; the Ministry Celebrated Its Building Renovations with a Blessing from Several Community Religious Leaders

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

RENEWED FOCUS FOR OPERATION NEW HOPE; the Ministry Celebrated Its Building Renovations with a Blessing from Several Community Religious Leaders

Article excerpt

Byline: JEFF BRUMLEY

Salvatore Arena has been to prison seven times in his 61 years.

"I can't even count how many times I was locked up in county jails," he said, explaining that his lifetime of offenses ranged from burglary and auto theft to bank fraud.

He may have continued along that path had it not been for Operation New Hope's Ready4Work program, a faith-based ministry that strives to lower crime rates by helping ex-offenders find jobs after release.

"It was the final thing that helped me to break the cycle," Arena said. "Since '91, I wanted to make a change in my life, but I could never get over the hump."

It was the hope of helping future ex-cons get over that hump that drew dozens to Operation New Hope's headquarters in the historic Klutho Building in Springfield on Tuesday afternoon.

Accompanied by a bagpiper and student chorale singers belting out spirituals, two bishops and several ministers from different denominations joined ministry staff and clients to witness the blessing of the newly renovated North Main Street building.

The 45-minute ritual transformed the 97-year-old structure into the spiritual hub for prison and ex-offender outreach in Northeast Florida, participants said.

"God only blesses brick and mortar because of what takes place inside that building," said the Right Rev. Charles Keyser, assistant bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Florida, based in Jacksonville.

Operation New Hope made national headlines in 2003 when it landed a $1 million grant from former President George W. Bush's Faith Based Initiative. With monitoring by the federal government, the program was reporting recidivism rates among its ex-offenders as low as 5 percent.

Since the federal grant ended in 2006, the ministry has been expanding its reach, recruiting new employers willing to hire former prisoners it trains in job application and interviewing skills.

While the economy has hit the ministry hard - mainly by reducing the availability of jobs for its clients and driving recidivism up above 10 percent - Operation New Hope is ramping up its efforts to recruit new employers and mentors for those emerging from incarceration, founder Kevin Gay said. …

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