Personality: February 2016
● By Aimee Cormier
Pastor John Newman
New Hope For Acadiana’s Underprivileged Youth
By Lisa Hanchey • Submitted Photos
Hailing from Rochester, N.Y., New Hope Community Development of Acadiana founder John Newman made his way to Acadiana through a divine route. While attending Bible College in Springfield, Mo., the pastoral minister met his wife, Kristine. After living in Kristine’s hometown of Davenport, Iowa for about 10 years, the couple served on the staff at a church in a small town between Milwaukee and Chicago.
Six years later, the two headed south to Louisiana, where they joined the staff of Trinity Bible Church, a casual, contemporary place of worship in Lafayette.
“We were looking for another place for ministry, and we found it in Lafayette,” he says.
Trinity Bible College was instrumental in starting a neighborhood ministry to work with the poor. After serving on Trinity’s staff for a brief period, Newman began volunteering for the ministry, with his wife and children joining him later. Eventually, this led to the couple’s founding of New Hope Community Development of Acadiana.
“We felt that God was leading us in that direction,” he reveals. “I felt that there was an underserved part of the community and I wanted to focus on ministering to the poor. It just really grabbed my attention, grabbed my heart. And, that’s something that my wife and I decided that we wanted to spend the last 10 or 15 years of our ministry doing in upper Lafayette.”
In June of 2011, the Newmans launched NHCDA at the J. Carlton James Activity Center located at 710 Aster Drive. This ministry serves a neighborhood of about 2,500 people in the area between Cameron and Willow streets, and west near University Avenue.
“We are a neighborhood ministry, so we work in only one neighborhood,” Newman explains. In this neighborhood, nearly half of the families live below the poverty line. “About 40 percent of those people live 50 percent below the poverty line,” Newman said.
According to Kids Count data center, 32 percent of children in Louisiana below age 5 grow up in poverty. In the most recent data from 2012 – prior to the oil and gas crisis – that number in Lafayette was 25 percent. But, in Newman’s neighborhood, that number is significantly higher.
New Hope ministers to children attending Westside Elementary School. A single parent or grandmother rears the majority of these kids. Because of their families’ income levels, most of these students come from low-income families.
“The last time I looked, about 90 percent of the kids there were on free or reduced lunch,” Newman notes. “Some of these children are being raised by two-parent families where both parents are working pretty hard. Older grandmothers are raising some of them, which is hard. I think we have more than half of these children being raised by single women/head of household, whether that be a mom or a grandma.”
Currently, New Hope caters primarily to children from elementary through middle school. During the school year, the program primarily provides after school tutoring. “What we’ve tried to do is really make sure that we establish a safe and nurturing environment for these kids,” Newman shares.
When the Newmans began working at NHCDA, they noticed that some kids started fighting from the moment they were let out to the playground.
“We realized after a little while that these kids were on edge,” Newman explains. “They were always feeling like they had to defend themselves against bullies, or whatever. So, we worked really hard to make sure that we are providing a very safe environment, that there is an adult supervising them and that the kids don’t have to look over their shoulders to see if someone is chasing them.”
New Hope teaches its tutors and mentors how to be friends with the kids and be interactive with them. The primary source of these tutors is University of Louisiana at Lafayette, through several black student organizations including the National Society of Black Engineers, the Black Women Leadership Association, the Black Male Leadership Association, Baptist Collegiate Ministry and the black fraternities and sororities, as well as AmeriCorps. The tutoring program focuses on New Hope’s core values: respect, wisdom, responsibility, gratitude, generosity and self-discipline.
“We want to teach kids about responsibility,” the pastor emphasizes.
To reach this goal, New Hope offers an incentive program where the kids can earn “New Hope dollars” to purchase items at NHCDA’s Christmas store.
“They can use these dollars to buy things on their wish lists, but also things for their parents and siblings,” Newman explains. “When we first came there, we gave the children Christmas and Thanksgiving baskets. But, we realized that what we really wanted to do was to teach kids about how to take responsibility, how to earn things. We want to teach these kids how to fish, not just give them fish.”
In the summer, kids can earn these New Hope bucks to go to camp. NHCDA has events every year at a camp in Houston, Texas and vacation Bible school at Trinity Bible Church. For summer enrichment programs, New Hope “piggybacks” with 10 city recreation centers in Lafayette to provide activities for the kids. For example, a couple of years ago, the program focused on reading.
“The kids at Westside Elementary had a summer reading program, and on average, read 20 books and did one-page book reports on each,” Newman explains. “We also teach them about character skills, because it’s important for Johnny to read, but Johnny also has to have a good character if he’s going to be successful in life.”
Another way New Hope teaches children about responsibility is through its “Teaching Garden.” One day a week, students go out to the garden to learn about planting, mulching, cultivating and harvesting.
“We teach the kids about the plants, nutrition and taking care of things,” Newman says. “They learn about responsibility and watching what happens when we don’t cultivate and the weeds come and eat up our strawberry patch.”
Recently, New Hope partnered with Athletes for Christ Outreach to start a sports program, which has grown substantially since its inception. The participants consist of at-risk high school students from the north side.
“We started with four or five teams, and now its grown to about 10 or 12 teams,” Newman boasts proudly. “The uncle of one of our players is now a coach.”
Right now, boys basketball is the only team sport offered. Eventually, Newman hopes to offer more sports for both sexes, including flag football, softball and volleyball.
“When we began five years ago, we started with elementary students and then the kids grew up and became middle schoolers. And we saw that we’d lose some of their siblings sometimes,” Newman observes. “Some of the older kids were getting in trouble with the law or dropping out of school. So, the program is about sports, but it’s also about teaching children about self-control, leadership, teamwork and social skills.”
During New Hope’s first five years, Newman has witnessed quite a few success stories.
“We have seen quite a few successes along the way,” he reveals. One of these involved siblings who had behavioral problems at school and turned their lives around. “One of the kids was in second grade and nearly got expelled,” he reveals. “The next year, both of them were recognized as student of the year for their classes.”
Another was a sixth-grader who had failed one grade and been expelled for two out of three years. “He was making Ds and Fs before entering the program,” Newman says. “By the end of the year, he was making Bs and Cs.”
What is New Hope’s secret? “It all starts with behavior,” Newman explains. “And then over time, it impacts the grades.”
Newman’s goal with New Hope is to reach kids at even younger ages. “When some of these children start kindergarten, they are one to two years behind their peers,” he says. “Our ultimate goal is to get these kids at preschool age, so that one day, they can start at two years ahead of the rest of the class.”
For more information about New Hope Community Development of Acadiana, visit the website, http://newhopelafayette.org/contact-us/.