Investing in Human Capital: Cathedral International’s Community Development Corp.

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Empowerment is one of four power words at Cathedral International, the historic Second-Baptist church in Perth Amboy, N.J. Encouraged from the pulpit, the concept reverberates throughout the surrounding community.

Bishop Donald Hilliard is the visionary behind the 7,000-member church spread out in four New Jersey locations—Perth Amboy, Asbury Park, Plainfield and Cranbury—and emphasizing evangelism, education, emancipation and empowerment. Hilliard’s vision led to the creation of Cathedral Community Development Corp., whose goal is to invest in human capital through the creation of jobs, life-skills training, affordable and quality housing, education, economic development and access to critical support services.

“It is [Bishop Hilliard’s] belief and that of the church that the African-American community must establish wealth building as a priority,” Eloise Samuels, of the C.D.C. says. “Passing our wealth to our children is the name of the game. Creating wealth for our community is not only a major concern, but also a necessary challenge if we are to give our children a head start.”

The C.D.C., a nonprofit arm of the church headed by Samuels, executive director of the C.D.C., recently partnered with Provident Bank to offer six free empowerment workshops for church members and community residents. The workshops covered such topics as Getting Your Finances in Order: Budget, Credit and Building a Banking Relationship (offered twice); Your First Big Investment: Buying a Home (offered twice); Protect-ing Your Investment and Planning for the Future: Wills and Trusts; and Starting and Improving a Small Business.

“We are empowering [the community] to take control of their finances with the knowledge and tools [through our partnership] with Provident Bank,” Samuels says. “We are emancipating them by helping them to alleviate their debt and develop the skills, strengths and abilities to become self-sufficient, responsible individuals and parents.”

In its quest to provide affordable housing, the C.D.C. in the early 1990s committed to working with the City of Perth Amboy’s Redevelopment Plan for renewal of the city. “We feel it is important to continue that vision,” Samuels says.

The church was behind the 2001  construction of Cathedral Village I Affordable Housing. “The C.D.C. improves the living conditions for Perth Amboy’s lower income families and empowers them with this credit-building asset,” Samuels says. “By providing educational workshops on budgeting, credit repair, first-time home buying and personal asset management through wills and trusts, the C.D.C. increases the knowledge of church members and the surrounding community residents and empowers them to create and sustain long-term wealth,” she adds.

Topics for the workshops were chosen from responses to a survey taken by church members. The home buyer’s workshop rolled out first. Attendance averaged 15 to 25 people, but Samuels would like to see more people take advantage of the program. Many of the participants were young to middle-aged adults, many of them laid off and interested in starting their own business.

The C.D.C. will continue to provide empowerment workshops on a quarterly basis, but with a focus on specific, requested topics, Samuels says.

With its limited resources, the C.D.C. is looking to form similar partnerships with other foundations and agencies, Samuels says.

“Bishop preaches and teaches about prosperity and that the Lord never said that we should be poor,” Samuels says, citing a passage in the biblical book of Deuteronomy.