When Patricia "Patty" Williams came to Tyler in January, she was scared to death. She had never lived outside of Dallas and was afraid to leave, but an abusive relationship prompted her to make the move.

The East Texas Crisis Center provided shelter and she became a student at the Christian Women's Job Corps, a program she graduated from in May.

Today, she is a paid intern at the East Texas Cornerstone Assistance Network, where she works as a receptionist and in any other capacity needed. Eventually, she wants to go to school to become a substance abuse counselor for adolescent teenagers.

"I'm a very strong woman," she said. "I can stand on my own feet now. I've got friends here, and I got resources that I can use if I need them."

Ms. Williams, 48, is one of many clients who have found help at the East Texas Cornerstone Assistance Network. In addition to getting work experience there, she also received a temporary job while still in the job corps program in exchange for the Cornerstone paying the co-pay for a dental exam.

"I only have good things to say about the place, because (of) the work they're putting into the community," she said.

She said it's a great feeling to be able to work and give back to the organization that is giving to her.

Helping people get back on their feet is the mission of the East Texas Cornerstone Assistance Network.

Opened in March 2013, the nonprofit's home is at 200 N. Beckham Ave., a few blocks east of downtown Tyler.

The space was once a church, First Assembly of God, and served as the Green Acres Baptist Church Outreach Center prior to becoming its own nonprofit. Though Cornerstone occupies the first floor of the building, other nonprofits office upstairs.

Cornerstone's mission is to partner "in Christian love with churches, businesses and other nonprofit agencies to assist people in poverty with life transformation."

Scott Harrison is executive director. In a previous interview, Harrison said his vision for the program is to treat people in poverty with dignity and empower them to make changes in their lives. He modeled the nonprofit after the Cornerstone Assistance Network in Fort Worth. The nonprofit has seven full-time employees and a few part-time. These positions include coordinators for client services, jobs and education.

Excluding the people who shop at The Store at Cornerstone, the nonprofit serves very few clients, and that is intentional.

Becky Duncan, Cornerstone's community relations director, said their client services coordinator has been seeing see three to five clients daily and up to 20 a week while working part-time.

When the client services coordinator goes full-time in August, that number should increase to six or seven daily, and up to 30 per week, Ms. Duncan said.

Part of the work done with clients involves the client services coordinator sitting down with them and talking about what they can do together to keep that person out of poverty.

The coordinator also spends time watching the clients work and talking with landlords or utility companies on behalf of the clients to help set up payment plans.

"The idea is to assist the whole family in making the transformation …" Ms. Duncan said. "It is a true investment in this family."

The operation differs from other nonprofits in that a person cannot walk in off the street and be helped. People have to be referred to Cornerstone by another agency, church or nonprofit.

The referral process is intended to ensure two things: commitment on the part of the client and support on the part of the person or agency doing the referring.

The idea is for clients to have multiple people walking alongside them as they work to change their lives.

The services Cornerstone will provide directly or indirectly include clothing and furniture, job training, job search assistance, rental assistance and counseling.

There is no set time limit for how long Cornerstone will help someone.

In addition to serving individual clients, the nonprofit also operates The Store at Cornerstone, which is open five and a half days a week to the general public.

The Store features more than 13,000 clothing items along with shoes, furniture, appliances, books and more.

With the exception of a special area for high-end items, all of the clothes on the floor are priced at $2 for tops, blouses and shirts; $4 for pants, dresses and jeans; and $3 and up for shoes, purses and hats. On Fridays, the items are half price. Three times a year, most of the clothes are priced at $1. New school clothes and uniforms also are sold there starting in August, but prices differ for those.

During Christmas, decorations and are toys available for purchase.

The nonprofit also has a kitchen ministry through which it sells preassembled meals made with fresh ingredients. The large and extra large meal sizes feed up to six and 12 adults, respectively.

The store and kitchen help fund the nonprofit, as do grants and contributions from churches and individuals.

Ms. Duncan said, in the future, the nonprofit is interested in growing its programs in the areas of educational opportunities and training.

For now though, the ministry continues to help people with what it can. Emma Hagen, 37, of Van was referred to the nonprofit by Tyler Junior College. As a TJC student, Ms. Hagen was having difficulty coming up with the gas money to get from Van to Tyler. The mother of two often makes the 70-mile round-trip in a pickup five days a week.

Cornerstone offered her a part-time job and Ms. Hagen said the income helps. She is working on earning an associate's degree in applied science in medical office management. She has about one year of school left. She said working at Cornerstone has been wonderful.

"I'm very grateful to this center," she said, adding that it's been a blessing to her family. 

Twitter: @TMTEmily



Nonprofit hopes unique fundraiser will draw supporters

The East Texas Cornerstone Assistance Network is seeking to raise $50,000 through a new fundraiser they have dubbed the "No Run Run" campaign.

Participants register online for the non-event. They then recruit friends and associates to support them by making a tax-deductible donation for every mile participants don't run, according to a campaign news release.

"The No Run Run is something everyone — regardless of age or level of fitness — can be part of (or actually, not be a part of)," Cornerstone Executive Director Scott Harrison said in a news release.

For as little as 50 cents per mile not run ($13.10 for a marathon), supporters can participate.

Registration kicked off July 8 and continues through Aug. 8.

All proceeds will benefit the organization's mission by providing immediate employment, effective job training and affordable food and clothing to people in need.

Visit etcornerstone.org for more information or to participate in the "No Run Run."

— Emily Guevara


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