We all could benefit from friends and mentors in our lives to help us find our way. Sometimes it’s as simple as someone to talk to about sustaining one’s marriage or family decision-making. Other times, it is as complex as getting accustomed to the job application and interview process when they’ve never been through that experience before.
While some have strong social networks through which they learn about these practical and emotional factors in life, others lack a mentor with whom to discuss these topics. Others simply could use a friend to come alongside them and share life experiences and camaraderie.
West Chester + Liberty Lifestyle photographer Richard Alexander of Truly Blessed Photography was already informally mentoring other men through his church, Flame of Fire Ministries Covenant Church, when the idea for creating a nonprofit came to him. He had been putting together a talk for a men’s conference, and a particular passage of scripture struck him: Proverbs 27:17 reads, “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.”
This biblical passage points to the transformation that comes from having the combination of knowledge and accountability that a good friend brings. Richard began thinking through how he could take his informal mentoring relationships and grow them through a nonprofit organization.
“I needed to sharpen these men by showing them different things and holding them accountable to become better versions of themselves, but my pastor kept telling me it was bigger than that,” says Richard.
Richard began talking with people he knew who were involved in his church. He has assembled a nonprofit board of seven members with ties to United Way, St. Vincent DePaul Foundation and grant writing expertise, all with the goal of building capacity to help men in the community.
He hopes that a nonprofit that provides outreach specifically to men will not only give them mentoring and advice but also practical assistance with everything from utility bills to toiletries, giving just-in-time care to help those whose families are struggling.
“I’m willing to partner with any nonprofit as long as our values line up. I want to keep expanding my network for helping people,” explains Richard. “I’m a veteran, so I’d like to be able to help homeless veterans get help through the VA [Veterans Affairs], for example, since I know a few people here and there inside the VA.”
One program within the nonprofit will be the Overcomer’s Achievement Scholarship, in honor of Richard’s father.
“When I was around three years old, my Dad had his arms cut off in a paper machine; he struggled but he never let it overcome him,” explains Richard. “He passed away in June this year, and I’d always told him I’d do a scholarship in his name. I want to give back to a person who has had the cards stacked against them, to show them that someone sees and recognizes them.”
This scholarship, which will start at $500 and hopefully grow over time, can be used for college, trade school or another tool to help the winner get to their own next level of education. The application process is still being developed but will involve an essay, similar to scholarship applications.
Another focus of the nonprofit will be entrepreneurship.
“My father showed me that whatever you come up against, you still have a job to do. He showed me things like how to mow grass, and if you have gas, a lawnmower, and a weed whacker, you can start a business,” he points out. “I want to teach men patience for entrepreneurship.”
The kickoff event for the nonprofit Iron Sharpens Iron was a men’s prayer breakfast, but long-term, Richard wants to create a community center that provides a variety of opportunities for men, including cooking classes, college prep courses and job interview practice and tips.
The prayer breakfast was an opportunity for men to connect with each other as well as learn about the nonprofit.
“I gave a speech at the end, telling them what they could expect from me and how the point was for us to be a community,” says Richard. “Now we’re planning a Thanksgiving food drive and event for men from the homeless shelter where we help them out with a haircut and toiletries right when the seasons are changing.”
Iron Sharpens Iron is still exploring the many possibilities for serving men and building them up in the Cincinnati area, but for now, anyone interested in being a part of the work can reach out to IronsSharpensIronMinistries1981@gmail.com for more information and to get involved. ISIMMinistries.com