- Associated Press - Sunday, May 10, 2015

ELKHART, Ind. (AP) - Tracy Heath’s experience with Men Alive began with his release from prison.

D.J. Kosloski started his experience after a personal crisis.

Both men credit the Church Community Services program with teaching them to be better men.

“To get to know all the people at CCS was a wonderful thing,” Heath told The Elkhart Truth (https://bit.ly/1dTOVvI). “We carry such a bond now it is like having a second family.”

Men Alive uses a mix of classroom and hands-on experiences to teach life and job skills. Kosloski and Heath were among the first to go through the program after it launched in early 2014. The program is designed to help men who are unemployed, re-entering the community after spending time in prison, or recovering from drug or alcohol addictions.

During the 20-week course, men spend 20 hours a week and get paid minimum wage for their time in class or working on hands-on job and personal skills, according to Men Alive director Sean Murphy. A similar program called Soup of Success is offered to women.

“We tried to help them work through life challenges,” Murphy said. “Some of the men in the program would sacrifice their jobs to deal with life challenges like a sick child or a transportation issue.”

The money, Murphy said, helps them start caring for their families so they can still take the classes. Classroom time covers issues such as money management, goal setting, computer skills and life skills.

An important part of classroom time is the Authentic Manhood video series. The series connects biblical teachings with lessons on how to live, work and love while overcoming obstacles and challenges.

“It equips them to embrace how their past has affected their present and prepares them to deal with whatever the future may hold,” according to a lesson description on the Authentic Manhood website.

For Kosloski, the Authentic Manhood series was the most important part of the program.

“I thought I was a man, but I actually wasn’t in the eyes of Christ,” he said. “Now I look on myself and I see that I’m not just a person, I’m a man. I’m the man that God intended me to be.”

The second part of the program is hands-on work experience. The men worked in the Elkhart County Food Bank warehouse, helped in the Seed To Feed gardens and sold produce in a roadside stand they designed and built.

“Seven of us men started out with an idea on a piece of paper. We designed a produce stand for our own enterprise. We all built it together. We all ran it together,” Kosloski said. “It was like being part of a big family. It was a wonderful process that we went through to be better people and to learn to better ourselves.”

For Kosloski and Heath, the lessons learned in the Men Alive program continue to be a part of their lives.

Kosloski said in addition to learning customer service, interview and communication skills, Micah Downing, the food pantry’s manager, taught him a lesson that’s changed his view of how he lives his life.

“One of the things I remember the most that he told me was responsibility is No. 1,” he said. “I use that every single day. When I get up, I go to work until I go to sleep.”

Kosloski makes pizza dough for Little Caesars.

For Heath the important lessons were more interpersonal.

“I was a very quiet person. I wasn’t social. I stuck to myself. I didn’t have hardly any friends,” he said. “The Men Alive program taught me to interact with more people … to get outside of my box. To do more for other people and be social and just have a better life.”


Information from: The Elkhart Truth, https://www.elkharttruth.com

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