For the Presbyterian Church of St. Albans, located in the borough of Queens, N.Y., service means more than worship and Bible study. It also means continuing a legacy of community building through involvement in business and empowerment of local residents. To that end, Presbyterian’s mission is to become economically savvy, always seeing its congregants as part of an economic movement, says the Rev. Dr. Edward Davis, the church’s pastor of 30 years. Of the 500 or so families in the community, most are African-Americans, Caribbean-Americans and Hispanics, with a small representation of Caucasians.
Presbyterian has an annual operating budget of $2 million, a large portion of which goes toward mission work in Uganda, Haiti and South Africa, as well as toward support for its local programs, such as Teen Challenge and Jamaica Community Adolescent Program (JCAP), a drug rehabilitation program. One of its biggest accomplishments, however, is its collaboration 14 years ago with Queens Citizens Organization and the principals of the Pathmark supermarket chain to buy 6.5 acres of land (at $1 million per acre) for construction of a 64,000-square-foot supermarket. QCO, aided by neighborhood house meetings where residents felt empowered to bring about change, identified the absence of a supermarket as the key contributor to capital flight in certain areas of the community, Davis says. Locals from those areas were spending nearly $5 million a week on food purchases outside their neighborhood, he says.
It took several years to bring the project to fruition. Now in existence for five years, the Pathmark supermarket at the junction of Springfield and Merrick boulevards has become an anchor store for the area’s residents and businesses, contributing to a rise in property values. “People were going to Nassau to shop and now this allowed money to be spent in the area,” Davis says.
With the addition of a Home Depot store, the area has seen a resurgence of small businesses, with close to 400 part-time jobs for students and retirees.
When church officials realized that speculators were coming into the community, buying homes cheap, refurbishing them, then selling or renting them at prices beyond what local residents could afford, they launched a program to develop affordable housing. “The church is working on a ‘Cycle of Life Intergene-rational Housing and Com-munity Center Program,’ which is expected to cost between $18 million to $20 million and will include mixed housing for seniors and low-income families, an educational center and a catering hall,” Davis says.
The church expects to leverage the millions of dollars worth of property it already owns to acquire the resources for the housing program. Slated for a one-acre plot on Farmer’s Boulevard, the development will consist of 40 to 50 apartments.
“With this project we hope to elevate and motivate the total lifestyle of the people in the community and by so doing place more of an emphasis not only on education, but on economics, science and new technology for our young people, helping them compete on a global level,” Davis says.
By not becoming an equity investor in the Pathmark store, the church missed the opportunity to benefit from the huge financial dividends the store now generates, Davis says. One of the biggest challenges the church community now faces is adequately addressing the return of young African-Americans who were incarcerated.
“It’s a challenge for the church to develop jobs for these young men and women, to incorporate and develop training programs with job possibilities and assistance for housing. As a church community, we have a challenge to create job and family training and education for our young people so as to decrease recidivism,” Davis says.