Begin Anew is a community of individuals empowering people to overcome the obstacles caused by poverty by providing education, mentoring and resources.
The organization’s vision is to see the number of individuals and families facing poverty reduced in middle Tennessee.
Begin Anew’s team of volunteers and staff helps low-income adults in seven program locations to receive their high school equivalency, English as a Second Language skills or computer or job skills, helping them change their circumstances and their lives.
Rebekah (Becky) K. Sumrall is executive director of Begin Anew. She became the organization’s first executive director in 2000 and before that was central to its establishment in 1997.
She holds a master’s degree in social work / religious education from Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and a bachelor’s degree in consumer education with a minor in early childhood development from Georgia College.
1. How did your organization become involved in this work?
Begin Anew (formerly Christian Women’s Job Corps of Middle Tennessee or CWJC) was launched 20 years ago by a group of Christian women who recognized that 19 percent of the population in Davidson County was living in poverty. This percentage was higher than the national average of poverty in America (15 percent).
Many of them were single parents – lacking the education, job skills, resources and a relationship with God to become more employable, care for their families and break the cycle of poverty.
Over the years, the ministry has expanded and currently serves women, men and their children in seven locations in Middle Tennessee. Our students are immigrants, refugees and working poor families of all races and creeds.
2. Why is this issue/initiative/ministry important to you and your organization?
We recognize that a holistic approach is needed because poverty results from a broken relationship in one or all four areas of an individual’s life: relationship with God, relationship with self, relationship with others and relationship with creation / resources.
Many of those we serve are not just poor financially, but poor in spirit, guidance and encouragement.
Begin Anew recognizes the need for each adult student to have caring tutors, an encouraging mentor / prayer partner, wraparound services (in collaboration with community partners and churches) to address specific needs and challenges (for example, mental health, hunger, transportation, legal issues) and a faith-based community of support.
3. What are a few lessons you’ve learned through your involvement?
For individuals and families to successfully overcome the numerous barriers caused by poverty, they need a ministry that is holistic – one that addresses educational, economic, employment, emotional and spiritual barriers. It’s an approach that considers every person created in the image of God with gifts and talents.
Begin Anew models this approach in every level of service. We follow the biblical principles for poverty-fighting programs stated by Kathryn Feliciano in her pamphlet, “Love Your Neighbor: Restoring Dignity, Breaking the Cycle of Poverty,” and by the authors of “When Helping Hurts,” Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.
“Many fail to account for people’s inherent dignity and their gifts and talents. Poverty-fighting programs should communicate to the poor, ‘You are of value. Let me come alongside you and help you use your gifts and talents to grow,'” Feliciano says. “Instead, programs that provide handouts say, ‘I am better than you. You are in trouble. Let me use my gifts and talents to help you get out of this mess.'”
This is the only approach that offers those struggling in poverty the opportunity to build a sustainable life and transform their circumstances.
This approach allows individuals from every economic group to come to the table and problem solve the issues surrounding poverty in a community. You can join this table at Begin Anew.
4. How can people learn more about and support what you’re doing?
Individual volunteer opportunities exist for childcare workers, tutors, teachers and mentors / prayer partners. Group volunteer activities involve meals or holiday parties for students or writing notes of encouragement, gifts at Christmas-time (be creative).
Financial support from individuals and groups is always needed, and donations are tax deductible.
5. Why is it important to support initiatives that promote social justice and care for the “least of these” in our local communities?
In Acts 20:35, Paul says, “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”
Begin Anew (CWJC) was founded on the belief that Christ has equipped and called the church to evangelize and care for individuals living in poverty. While many programs address adult education and gaining employment, what is missing is introducing them to Jesus Christ, who will truly change and heal their lives.
Begin Anew creates the potential for transformation of body, mind, heart and spirit, not just in the working poor served, but also in our volunteers. These volunteers come alongside our students as tutors, mentors, prayer partners, Bible study leaders and childcare workers.
Through Christians answering Christ’s call, Begin Anew is able to share the gospel.