Christian Life Skills began in 1986 after Founder and Director, Barbara W. Rogers, had experienced a prolonged period of prayer and fasting. In February of that year a Bill Moyers’ documentary depicted numerous problems including drugs, alcohol, teen pregnancy, academic failure, troubled and unstable family life particularly in urban communities. However, little was said of the church’s role in addressing such problems. Barbara was inspired to design an interactive curriculum based in scripture to respond to the issues in the documentary.
Three community leaders learned of her inspiration, discussed her ideas and subsequently convened a city-wide group of pastors to consider working with her to discern how to implement her vision. The leaders were associated with the Mayor’s Office, the Urban League of Pittsburgh, and the Center for Family Excellence (formerly known as the Institute for the Black Family of the University of Pittsburgh). Meeting monthly, representatives of five churches pursued discussion and a prayerful discernment process over a two-year period, from June of 1986 until July of 1988. In July, 1988 the “Network for the Development of Christian Life Skills” was launched with an ecumenical worship service with all five congregations participating.
The following month steps were taken to introduce provision of life skills programming to seven “high risk” communities in Pittsburgh. Five congregations, and two church-based community centers (in public housing communities) embraced the life skills ministry and moved forward with implementation. Various denominations were included initially and additional churches became involved over time. Start-up funding came from a special “Church Community Initiative” of the Mayor’s Commission on Families whose purpose was to enhance quality life issues among high risk families. It was believed that the church had a significant capacity to address such needs. The program was successful and participating churches, families, and youth were enthused about results. Four years later, Federal Government funds became available for a large grant focused on prenatal care and early life interventions. The program emerging from the grant was known as Healthy Start and greatly overshadowed with significant resources and a large organizational team at the county level, the smaller local efforts that had begun in 1988. The Mayor’s Commission on Families eventually went out of existence. And Healthy Start–with more resources assumed much of the agenda of the Commission, with a slightly different focus and substantially more funds than the Mayor’s Commission on Families.
In 1992, Christian Life Skills (CLS) incorporated as an independent nonprofit organization with 501(c)3 status. Pastors and leaders who assisted in the initial development of CLS remained supportive and involved, although funds waned. In 1993 conversations emerged among a few pastors and leaders previously involved in the Church Community Initiative. Their ideas birthed a new church-based effort called Families and Youth 2000 and had as its goal the wholistic care and well-being of families and youth including the spiritual dimension. The collaborative consisted of five churches and two faith-based community agencies, a health care center and counseling ministry. All five churches implemented the Christian Life Skills ministry along with other services that contributed to the well-being of youth, families and the community. The collaborators regularly prayed together and read scripture together as a guiding source and foundation for their work and ministry. Families and Youth 2000 was funded by several local foundations and at one time, by the Kellogg Foundation that had an initiative called “Families, Youth, and Neighborhoods.” From late 1994 through 2000, Christian Life Skills was blessed to demonstrate the larger vision of its model of ministry and its capacity to work with very high risk youth and their families, including those living in gang troubled neighborhoods.
College and graduate students in various fields sought CLS as a site for their internships. It was attractive to them because it offered genuine experience in working effectively with high-risk communities. They also had the opportunity to integrate their faith and professional training in an environment that could make a positive difference for youth and families.