In this Episode Donovan talks to Steve Bunyard who started ReIgnite Hope in Southern California. Steve tells us about their amazing and free welding program, open to those in need, to help them make a better life for themselves. Steve talks about how the program continues to grow and continues to change lives with welding. To learn more about ReIgnite Hope and how you can help, visit there website at: https://www.reignitehope.com
ANNOUNCER: Welcome to the Dusty Jobs Podcast from Imperial Systems. Industry knowledge to make your job easier and safer.
DONOVAN: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Dusty Jobs podcast. We’re so glad you could be with us today. I’m Donovan Karki and joining me today is Steve Bunyard from ReIgnite Hope. How are you doing, Steve?
STEVE: Hey. I’m doing great. Looking forward to our time together here.
DONOVAN: Yeah. Now, you’re joining us via Zoom here. You guys are located out in California?
STEVE: Yeah, we’re in the city of Gardena. We’re about 15 miles South of Downtown Los Angeles.
DONOVAN: There you go, there you go. So, we’re a little bit on different time frame but we’ve been able to make it work to meet up.
DONOVAN: So, we’re very interested. We’ve learned about ReIgnite Hope here at Imperial little while back and we are really interested in what you guys are doing, but before we get into what ReIgnite is doing, tell me a little bit about Steve. What’s Steve’s background? Where did you come from? And let us hear a little bit about yourself.
STEVE: Yeah. Thanks, Don. Well, I spent most of my adult life as a pastor at a church here in Southern California, Rolling Hills Covenant Church. A fairly large church and when I was about 10 years into that, our church was doing a lot of work up on Skid Row in Los Angeles. We have a really high homeless population here in L.A. county.
They estimate maybe 40 to 50,000 people a night are sleeping outdoors here in L.A. county. And we were up there doing food, blankets, and hygiene kits. Kind of the normal stuff you do and working with one of the homeless missions up there.
And one day, the matriarch of the Fred Jordan Mission, a famous mission up there, Willie Jordan, came up to me and said, “Pastor Steve, what can we do so that we don’t keep feeding the same people all the time?” and I say, “Gosh, Willie, I don’t know. I think they need a job. I don’t think they can get out of Skid Row without a job, but I don’t know what to tell you on that
STEVE: Our church doesn’t do job training, but I did say, “Hey, I’ll pray about it though” So I did. I started praying about it.
And welding kept weighing on my heart. I learned to weld as a young man. So, that was the only thing I could think of that maybe we could teach people that they could actually go get a job at, but it seemed like a crazy idea to me. I kept praying and that kept weighing on me.
I thought “Alright, I’m just going to go back to Willie and say, “Hey, what about if we start teaching people how to weld?”. She’ll probably hate the idea. She’s like 80 years old, it’ll scare her to death and then I can let this go and get my life back.
And I went back to Willie, and I said, “Hey, what do you think about this idea? Teaching people?”. Well, she loved it. She said, “I’ll even give you a room inside the mission where you can start. And I thought “Oh boy, here we go
And so she did. She vetted 5 homeless men for us, gave us a room. I went and bought a couple welding machines. We jumped in and it changed their lives. The thing took off.
Everybody wanted in. I was still on staff full time as a pastor, and for the next 10 years would stay on staff as a pastor after that. But as ReIgnite Hope grew, and grew, and grew, it became harder, and harder, and harder for me to do both. And so, about a year and a half ago, I asked the church’s blessing if I could step off staff and devote my full attention to ReIgnite Hope because I just felt like neither one was getting enough energy from me, and I didn’t feel good about that.
So, that’s a year and a half ago, and so now, I’m full focus ReIgnite Hope and it is just continuing to expand and grow like crazy. That’s kind of how ReIgnite Hope got started. Our name comes from the fact that we’re coming alongside a lot of people who’ve lost hope. They don’t see a bright future. The American Dream means nothing to them.
Many cases, they’ve had kind of a hard life. Maybe been incarcerated, involved in gangs, dropped out of high school, got in trouble, and the hope is just gone. So, that’s where we come in and come alongside them, and see their lives change.
DONOVAN: Wow, man, so you really caught us up on a lot there real quick. That’s great.
So, Steve, when I’m thinking about this for you, like you said, when you first got into this, you weren’t 100% sure about it. Like, what it was going to turn out to. So, what was that journey like for you as you saw and met these people and what happened along that way? What caused you to go “You know what, this is an important thing, and we need to kind of keep growing it”? Did it grow on its own? What did it take to make it grow?
STEVE: Yeah, I’ll tell you what. It’s God that made it grow because I don’t know how to grow this, and I still don’t know how to grow it. we’re over 10 years now and ReIgnite Hope and but we saw the need, of course on Skid Row, that’s where we started. We’re not on Skid Row any longer, but the need was there.
And then when I saw with this did in their lives: the hope that it brought, the optimism about the future that this brought, the excitement in their lives, and then getting jobs. I mean, real jobs, with a real skill and good pay. And it just spread like wildfire.
We’ve never advertised the program at all. We’ve had as many as 500 people on our waiting list, wanting to get in, but it’s word of mouth. When your life gets changed, you tell everybody you know about it. You tell your friends, your mom tells all the other moms, and it just spreads, like a virus, given that we’re in COVID country right and all that.
And so, we see that all the time. We just graduated 44 students here on Friday. They’ve already told all their friends about it and their moms are telling the other moms. We get calls all the time wanting in, wanting in, wanting in.
Yeah, so that’s how it grows is just by life change. And again, when your life changes, you tell people.
DONOVAN: So, if there’s somebody out there, and they’re in your area, and they hear this podcast, and they say, “That’s something I might want to be involved with”. What makes someone qualified to be part of the program? How do you become part of the program? What’s a qualifying factor?
STEVE: Yeah, good question, Donovan. So, step one is go to our website: reignitehope.com, and just click on the apply button. There’s an application you can fill out there.
And we kind of ask ourselves three questions with each applicant. As for trying to filter through them: Does this person really need our help? Can we help them? And do they really want our help?
We want to see motivation in their life. Our program is free. We’ve never charged for the training. We just believe in that they’re going to pay us back by their hard work. They’re going to show up and really put the effort in.
We’re looking for folks that really need the help, really want to turn their life around, and really serious about it. And then we just do our best to sort through the applications and take as many as we can. Ones we can’t take we’ll put on a waiting list for the next class and try to touch as many lives as we can.
And we can’t say yes to everybody, but we try to say yes to as many people as possible and we’re continuing to grow some of our capacity here that I’ll talk about a little bit later, which is allowing us to touch more and more lives. We expect we’re going to be able to train well over 200 students in 2022, maybe up around 300.
DONOVAN: Oh, wow. So, what’s the program look like? Is it a one week program? Is it a one-year program? What does it look like if someone gets involved? What are the requirements?
STEVE: So, hey we love trade schools, so don’t take this as a negative, but a typical trade school is going to be maybe a one- or two-year program. We’re dealing with folks that they need a job now and they can’t go for a one-year or two-year training.
We do a one month, five days a week. They’ll get 120 hours of training and in one month, they’re ready for employment and then we help them find their first job. So, we got a full-time person on staff, that all they do is job placement.
We have the American Welding Society comes in here at the ends of the month and tests them. And upon passing their tests, they are then a certified welder. Real deal certification, certified welder and ready for employment.
And so, it’s just been great the way that that we’ve been able to really microwave this and prepare them for an entry level welding job. And a lot of jobs out there. Real shortage of welders, all over the country, but literally in one month, we can get them ready. Now we do also offer mobile training beyond our fixed brick and mortar here and in the mobile training…go ahead
DONOVAN: Oh, I was going to say, so it sounds like the in-house program is a very, it sounds like it’s an intense program so, if you’re going to sign up, you have to be committed.
STEVE: Yeah, you do, you do. You have to be able to give it five days a week and really apply yourself because that 120 hours is going to be intense. Just think about it, one month you go from maybe being unskilled to having a really valuable skill in your life.
DONOVAN: Right, right. That just sounds like really great. That sounds great. So that’s kind of what you guys do, who you do it for, now you started talking about maybe a little bit of some other opportunities you have here for not just at your facility, but outside of your facility.
STEVE: Yeah. So, our demographic is a little bit of everything. We certainly have some homeless in our classes. Some folks coming out of jail, out of prison, out of gangs, little bit of everything. Or just the working poor, they haven’t been in trouble maybe, but minimum wage job is all they have. It’s all they’re going to get unless they get some kind of job skill
And we’re in our third facility so, we outgrew the first one on route, on Skid Row. Los Angeles Police Department helped us get a second facility, we outgrew that one. And then we moved here to Gardena our third facility, but then we maxed out this one. We could do a little over 200 students a year here so, we came up with the thought of “Well, maybe we could instead of getting buildings everywhere because people want us to come in different cities, and even different states, could we take it mobile?”
So we decided to jump in and try that. So, we built out an 18-wheeler that we can train 24 students at a time in the 18-wheeler. We’ve been doing that now and we can travel around Southern California here.
All we need is a place to park and we can go where the need is. We can go where the folks are that need help. And so, we partner with different churches around Southern California to park in their parking lot, help them reach their community, help them bless their community.
And now we’re at a high school about 40-44 miles from here where we’re training kids that they’ve identified as vulnerable. These are kids that they know aren’t going to go to college, and if they get out of high school without a job skill, they’re probably going to get in trouble.
So, they were saying, “Please, please, please, would you guys come out here?”. So, we’re out there training them now as well, in the mobile center.
Then the demand’s so great, we’re building a second one. We’ve got a second now.
DONOVAN: Is the is the mobile center program the same as the in-house program? Do you have anything different about that?
STEVE: It is different. So, in the mobile one, we’re going to go two days a week, for 10 weeks. So, that has a little bit of an advantage in that if maybe somebody’s got maybe a part time job, or some job that they can get a couple days off and do the training, they don’t have to give up their job if they have one currently. That helps with that.
But doing the two days a week helps keep us from having the trailer there five straight days because we need to move it around and meet as many needs as we can.
So, we can go to one location on Monday and Tuesday, go to another location on Wednesday and Thursday, go to another location Friday and Saturday, that kind of a thing. And then, when the second trailer is done that’s going to give us more flexibility, but it’s two days a week for 10 weeks. Same amount of training.
DONOVAN: Yeah, but you can reach more since it’s less students in the trailer, you can actually get almost the same amount of students per week because you’re able to move to different locations.
STEVE: Yeah, it’s really been a tremendous addition to our program. And of course, now everybody hears about it so I’ve had calls from Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and all over the place saying, “Hey, can the mobile come here?” Not to mention cities around us, so we’re just going to see as God continues to grow this, how many we can touch with it. And I don’t know how many trailers it’ll be, but it’s one for the moment, and two on the way.
DONOVAN: There you go. And speaking of that, it is sometimes a challenge for someone if they don’t have their own vehicle, or public transportation to get to where the training is, to be able to go to them. Boy, isn’t that just a great thing that you can do that, and head on in there and help them out where they’re at
STEVE: Yeah, this high school 44 miles from us, you know those kids aren’t going to be able to drive 44 miles to get to our building here, but we can go there and just park right in the high school parking lot. Train him right there. And those kids are so excited. The principal told us I’ve never seen these kids this excited about anything. And you can just see it on their faces.
DONOVAN: Yeah, that’s great. So, we talked a little bit about how you guys got started in this and what you’re doing, but Steve, why do you do this? Why are you taking this time to help these people? I mean, this could be a very profitable thing. Running this trailer around and charging people to do it. Why do you do it the way you do it?
STEVE: Well, we’re a Christian ministry, Donovan and it’s our faith that drives us to do this. The Bible repeatedly encourages us to remember the poor, and to be a blessing to those in need. So, when Jesus was asked out of all the rules, out of all the regulations, out of all the laws, what’s the most important one of all?
And he says it’s to love God with all your heart, mind, and soul, but he says the second one is this: love your neighbor. Love your neighbor as yourself. So, this is how we show our love to our neighbors, everyone. Everyone that needs our help and so that’s why we do it. That’s what drives us to do it.
And our mission is very simple here at ReIgnite Hope. We do two things: we try to lead people vocationally toward a career, and spiritually toward Christ. That’s our mission. We know they need both in their lives. Their lives aren’t really going to change if all they do is get a paycheck. And they’re still thinking the same way, living the same way, making the same choices. But with Christ in their life, everything changes.
DONOVAN: Well, that sounds great. I was just thinking more about this and there might be some people out there that are listening, and they really like what you have going on up there and they might be interested in trying to help you guys out too. So, is there a way if someone is interested, is there a way to reach out to you? What’s the best way to learn more about what you’re doing and maybe get involved?
STEVE: Yeah, so on our website again reignitehope.com, we’ve got a volunteer button there you can click on so, that’s one way. We’ve got really five ways people can help. One, is people of course can donate to us. Again, we’re nonprofit. We’ve never charged for the training.
But, we exist by the generosity of people that believe in what we’re doing and give to it. So, you can be a financial donor and every dollar helps change a life.
We’ve got four areas of volunteerism. We will literally take people who know nothing about welding, we’ll train you how to weld so you can be a welding coach. That’s part of what really makes our program I think really successful, again in a trade school environment.
And because of budget considerations for them, you might have one instructor and 30 students. We’ve got one instructor and three students so it’s really fantastic. We’ve got such a great ratio there, instructor to students that we can really come alongside them and get their skills up much quicker. So, if you want to be a welding coach, we’ll definitely jump at the chance to train you for that.
We’ve got the need for math tutors here. A lot of our kids just aren’t strong in math, and you need a little bit of math to be a welder. Fractions, decimals, angles, things like that, how to read a tape measure.
We’ve also got resume tutors that help our students get their resumes together and coach them a little bit on interview skills.
And then, we got a lunch program here where it’s mostly small groups from different churches in the area that will come and serve lunch to our students every single day. That way they don’t have to bring lunch, they don’t have to worry about if they don’t have money for lunch, or anything like that. Right here on the premises, and at the trailer, a lunch gets served every single day. So those are all areas people can help and be part of the team and join our mission. Whichever one of those five areas resonates with you, come and join our mission.
DONOVAN: Now the way they would do that is through your website?
DONOVAN: What’s your website address?
STEVE: Yeah, it’s reignitehope.com and if you just click on ‘Volunteer’, there’s little space to type in there and say, “Hey I’d love to do the lunch program” or “Hey, I want to learn to be a welding coach”, or whatever, just type it in.
If you say, “Hey I can’t do any of that, but I can give”. There’s a ‘Donate’ button on the website. All of that helps change lives
DONOVAN: So, you can find that at reignitehope.com?
STEVE: And you can see on there some of our students’ stories. And you can see, get a real first-hand feel for what our program looks like, what it’s all about, and how life changing it is. We’ve got a bunch of student stories on there that you can watch on video.
And I think you’ll be really blessed to hear our own students, in their own words, tell what this meant in their lives.
DONOVAN: Well, that just sounds great, Steve. We here at Imperial really appreciate what you’re doing. We like the work you’re doing and we’re glad to be trying to help you out as we can here. And if anybody out there is listening is interested, please reach out to Steve and he’ll get you involved.
Thanks for coming on. We really appreciate it. We’re going to share a link to your website in this podcast, or on the YouTube page so people can get there that way. But just we’re looking forward to seeing how you guys grow and what you do, but I just want to say thanks again for coming on.
DONOVAN: That’s it. Did you have anything else you wanted to say?
STEVE: Oh, just thanks Donovan. And again, if folks listening to this happen to be folks that pray, just keep us in your prayers. We’ve got opportunities coming up faster than we know what to do with them. We’re already in Philadelphia, The Philippines, and Brazil. Possibility we’ll be heading to Cambodia with ReIgnite Hope. Maybe Mexico with ReIgnite Hope. On top of that, we’ll probably start Dallas this year, maybe Las Vegas this year. Not to mention, having a second 18-wheeler all over Southern California.
So, we believe in prayer. We know it works. So, pray for us, if you would. We’d love to have that.
DONOVAN: Well, we appreciate that, Steve. So, everyone, thanks for listening. Thanks for coming on, Steve. If you guys are out there listening to this and you could find us on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, anywhere else you can listen.
So once again, thanks for listening to Dusty Jobs Podcast. Stay healthy and stay safe.
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