June 30, 2022
By CBF Communications
DALLAS —Together for Hope hosted a Celebration Banquet on Wednesday, June 29, in conjunction with the CBF General Assembly in Dallas, Texas, where staff and coalition members shared successes, personal testimonies, and new initiatives being developed.
Together for Hope (TFH) is a rural development coalition that combats persistent poverty in the poorest counties in America. Launched in 2001 as CBF’s rural poverty initiative, TFH started as a 20-year commitment to the 20 poorest counties in Appalachia.
“In recent years TFH expanded to include 339 counties with persistent poverty,” said Keith Stillwell, vice president of TFH Appalachia. Persistent poverty is defined as when 20 percent or more of the population has lived below the federal poverty line for more than 30 years. The counties are spread across five regions across the U.S.: Appalachia, the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, the Black Belt in the rural South, the Delta in Mississippi and Louisiana, and the Native Lands in the Midwest.
“We are transforming rural America from Sidon to the Lakota, from northern Arizona to Appalachia,” declared Jason Coker, president of TFH.
TFH follows a philosophy of asset-based community development to combat poverty.
“In asset-based community development, we don’t ask what you need. We ask what you already have,” Coker shared.
TFH’s work focuses on four main priorities: education, health and nutrition, housing and environment, and social enterprise. The work is done through a coalition of local partners who are already present in the community and fighting against persistent poverty.
One example of this is the work of Tiffany Terrell, who shared about A Better Way Grocers, which she co-founded to address the food deserts in her home of Albany, Ga. Her solution for people who don’t live close enough to a grocery store to get fresh food was simple: “We drive food directly to the people.” In 2017, they bought a school bus, stripped out the seats, and stocked it with food, creating a mobile grocery store that could go directly to the people who need it most.
“Since 2017, we’ve been able to help hundreds and hundreds of people get food,” Terrell said. “We’re working with a consultant now so that we can scale this up and expand to get food into more counties.”
Johnnie Neal, who is the mayor of Sidon, Miss., a small town of 500 in the northwest corner of the state, shared her testimony of partnering with TFH to renew her hometown. “TFH has been a blessing and lifted the morale of Sidon,” she said. “It was no accident for us to come together. It was God-ordained.”
One of the new initiatives announced was a partnership with Y’all Sauce, a small batch sauce company based in Winston-Salem, N.C., founded by Josh McGee, a member of First Baptist Church on Fifth, and Jason Tartt, a Black farmer in McDowell County, W.Va., who focuses on small-scale agriculture, and Amelia Bandy, a local beekeeper. With a population of 19,111, McDowell County is the third poorest county in the U.S. The goal for the partnership is to develop a hot honey, made from honey harvested by Tartt and Bandy in West Virginia. The business could employ up to 20 families.
“Changing the lives of 20 families in a town of only a thousand can make a huge impact,” said Coker.
TFH announced that CBF of South Carolina has become the first state office in CBF to enter into a formal partnership with TFH, becoming the first ever Together for Hope Coalition Builder. Organizers also announced the return of Civil Rides, a multi-day bicycle ride that raises awareness of, and money for persistent rural poverty.
In his closing remarks, Coker implored attendees to remember that “poverty affects children more than anyone else in America. The second largest group is senior citizens.” Charging the audience to remember that when safety net programs are cut in their communities, he concluded, “You are the ‘together’ in the hope.”
Learn more about the work of Together for Hope at hope.cbf.net.
CBF is a Christian network that helps people put their faith to practice through ministry efforts, global missions and a broad community of support. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.