This article ran last week.
When I read this it made me smile. THESE people have the right idea and they are seeing the real issues of what is going on economically in some parts of the city and what needs to be done. They also see this from a religious and spiritual perspective. There are parts of the city where people are not able to reach their full potential because of lack of economic and social opportunity. And for people to have opportunities to develop their full potential, THAT brings true glory to God.
Inner-city churches attempt economic development
By Samantha Maziarz Christmann NEWS BUSINESS REPORTER
Updated: 03/23/08 7:19 AM
Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News
Members of New Mount Ararat Temple of Prayer who are involved in the church’s economic development efforts are, from left: Joyce A. Stewart, Jennifer L. Washington, Mickey Brown, Bishop Dwight Brown and Michelle Barron.
If faith can move mountains, it can certainly transform struggling neighborhoods, inner-city religious leaders believe.
Safeguarding the poor has long been the domain of religious organizations, and faith-based economic development in foundering neighborhoods is the almsgiving that keeps on giving.
By undertaking multimillion-dollar development projects, inner-city religious leaders are jumping into a trend that has taken hold in cities across the nation, and taking the “teach a man to fish” approach to great lengths.
As New Mount Ararat Temple of Prayer’s congregation grew into the thousands, the Jefferson Avenue church found itself in need of expansion. In stretching out, the church and its pastor, Bishop Dwight Brown, saw an opportunity to minister to its flock in more ways than one.
“We need space not just for divine change. We need to change the whole of man, their whole position, their thinking,” Brown said. “We wanted to provide a holistic ministry.”
Jefferson Gateway Commons, which is slated for construction at the vacant southwest corner of Jefferson Avenue and Best Street, will plant the seeds of that ministry by the end of summer. The $4.2 million undertaking will offer 17,000 square feet of mixed-use space, complete with a two-level commercial center, parking, and 10 contemporary, mid-priced residential rental units.
Drawings by Hannah Murano Architects of Detroit depict a sleek building that will act as a gateway, bridging Jefferson’s East Side community with suburban commuters, surrounding colleges, and the Fruit Belt neighborhood strengthened by the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
The privately funded project will be located in Empire, Community Renewal, and Historically Underutilized Business zones, which will maximize federal tax incentives intended to encourage business development and job creation.
“Our people need that so greatly. We need to not only give them jobs, but show them how business works,” Brown said. “We need to quit taking the dollar out of the inner city to the suburbs and have that dollar work for us.”
A lack of nearby businesses forces neighborhood people to travel to places such as Elmwood and Bailey avenues as well as the Walden Galleria. In addition to reining in those dollars, connecting the isolated East Side will strengthen and serve the city as a whole, advocates said. Folks now complain there are no coffee or sandwich shops within walking distance of the medical corridor, and the congregation is hoping Jefferson Gateway Commons can fill that need. National restaurant chains and bookstores have indicated an interest in leasing space, and several local vendors have already signed letters of commitment.
TOP Enterprises, the church’s nonprofit economic development arm created in 1999, initially redeveloped blighted Earl Street. Its construction of 12 affordable homes there transformed what was once a vacant dumping ground and magnet for illegal activity into a neighborhood.
“We’re trying to restore some vitality to what was once a hustling, bustling community,” said Albert Howard, Jefferson Gateway Commons project manager. “The Fruit Belt is rapidly changing, and we’d like to add to that renaissance.”
In August, the St. John Fruit Belt Community Development Corp., a division St. John Baptist Church on Goodell Street, completed a $6 million project that constructed 28 new townhouses over 36 blocks among Grape, Lemon, Orange and Peach streets.
The development was mostly funded with $5 million in tax credits secured by national nonprofit organization the Local Initiatives Support Corp.
The project was part of an ambitious $54 million plan for the community, and added to an eight-bed hospice center, a 150-unit apartment complex, a 150-unit senior citizen center, and a 30,000-square-foot activity center already constructed by St. John’s.
Add to that $7 million in development by Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, including the $1.5 million Jefferson Marketplace, a $250,000 Subway Sandwich Shop opened by True Bethel Baptist Church on East Ferry Street, and the $300,000 Greater Refuge Temple mini-plaza on Jefferson Avenue.
“Things are going well with all the churches working together. As we all do our little bit, the pieces of the puzzle get put together, and everyone advances,” said Rev. Richard Stenhouse, pastor of Bethel AME church, in the process of building the $2 million Jefferson Avenue Day Care, which will serve 120 children.
By creating jobs and encouraging small business as well as large-scale commercial development, neighborhoods see a resurgence of hope and a recession of crime, aside from the obvious financial benefits.
Of course, churches have traditionally served as the community backbone, especially in impoverished immigrant and African- American neighborhoods. But, leaders said, those who believe the religious community teaches its parishioners to rely on charity are mistaken. More congregations nationwide are going beyond the occasional holiday food drive and getting back to their roots, empowering communities to create self-sustaining change.
“You can run around with mops and sponges and try to clean up, or you can find out where the water is coming from and turn off the faucet,” said Mark Cerbone, Development Director for Peace of the City, a nonprofit ministry on the West Side.
Peace of the City, which started as a small after-school program in 1992, is “morphing into a full-bodied Christian community development organization,” he said.
Cerbone and about 35 others who make up the mission focus their efforts on addressing what they believe to be the root causes of poverty, and are in the strategic planning stages of creating an official economic development arm. Core concentrations the ministry addresses range from responsible renting and job readiness to literacy and tutoring programs.
Almost completely funded by the mission budgets of local and national churches, Peace of the City and other local community development partnerships aim for community transformation — not gentrification.
“We want stable, multicultural, working-class neighborhoods that are peaceful and healthy,” Cerbone said.
But, for all the focus on dollars and cents, religious leaders are quick to remember their first and foremost mission.
“The reason we’re doing what we’re doing is to bring glory to God, and that extends outside the sanctuary doors to our lifestyle, our community, our business ethics,” Brown said. “We’re using this to bring souls to Christ, and that is the real true meaning of ‘faith based.’ ”