The new head of Circle Urban Ministries wanted to be a radio mogul, owning stations across the country, but God had other plans for George Wilson.
Wilson graduated from Columbia College in 1986 with a communications degree, but he said God called him into the ministry. He has been an ordained minister for 25 years, forging a career as a broadcaster for a reverend’s collar. Wilson is senior pastor of Friends for Life Covenant in south suburban Flossmoor.
For 24 years he worked in nonprofit executive management roles, including a seven year stint with World Vision, a global humanitarian organization.
“I was called into ministry,” said Wilson, who holds a master degree in divinity and doctorate of ministry from North Park University.
“I see it as my duty to serve God and impact his kingdom for his glory,” he added. “I see my work here at Circle Urban Ministries as just an extension of what God has already allowed me to participant in as a pastor. Everything I do is ministry.”
The same calling led him to Circle Urban Ministries, a faith-based social service agency in February 2012, where he served as chief operating officer. He assumed the role as executive director four months later.
Wilson steps into the role after the organization’s founder and executive director for 38 years, Glen Kehrein, died from cancer in November 2011.
Kehrein started the organization in response to the riots that reduced most of the West Side to ash when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. Kehrein and 12 others started the organization to work alongside residents to address their needs. Wilson wants to build on Kehrein’s legacy.
Circle already offers a variety of programming including an academic enrichment program for K-6th graders, college readiness, mentoring programs and a food pantry that services 800 individuals every month.
Additionally, Circle Urban Ministries offers transitional housing and job training to help ex-offenders re-enter society thorough its Bridge to Freedom. The organization has a legal aid clinic and medical services provided through Circle Family Health Care Network.
Wilson wants to expand the organization’s social footprint in the community. To do that he has created the “adopt-a-block” program, where the organization will provide services to residents located in a square block area from Central to Parkside and Washington to Fulton. Under the program, Circle Urban Ministries will make all of its programs available to those residents without cost.
“We want to send a message out to the community that we are not just here occupying five buildings,” Wilson said. “We truly want to be transformative here.”
Also under the “adopt-a-block” program is an effort to address hunger. Wilson said any child enrolled in the organization’s programs will be provided free meals.
“Every kid who is signed up for our program, none of them will go to bed hungry,” he said.
Another initiative is SMART Clubs, which focus on improving educational outcomes for students in Science, Math, Art, Reading, and Technology. A comparison of math and science scores of Austin students with those of Oak Park showed a huge educational gap, Wilson explained.
To bridge that gap, Wilson will bring in professionals in those areas to show students “that they don’t have to be intimidated by numbers or math.”
Establishing a tech center can also ease Austin’s students’ achievement gap. The organization seeks partnerships with banks and corporations to fund the venture. The goal is to show people how they can use technology to become entrepreneurs or gain employable skills like graphic design.
The idea is to let people know the agency is here to help them, said Bambi Montgomery, a marketing consultant for Circle Urban Ministries. The agency has been around for 38 years, but a lot of people “don’t know that we are here to help,” she added.
For Wilson’s part, he wants to bring in additional resources to “strengthen our bottom line” and double Circle’s budget to serve more children.
“We want our footprint or bandwidth to be a lot greater than what it is,” Wilson said. “We want to be better partners in the community.”