Inner City Ministry Makes Courageous Move to Improve Neighborhood (Part 3)




South Street Part Three

By: Katie Cassaro

Though the thought of working in ministry may seem like a dream, it can come with many unseen heartaches and disappointments.

Combine that with dealing with plenty of what you didn’t initially sign up for – such as administrative duties and other time-stealing tasks – and it’s easy to get overwhelmed and even discouraged.

South Street Ministries, going strong since 1997, knows.

“There’s the underbelly of the non-profit world that no one writes about in their newsletters,” Joe Tucker, Executive Director of South Street Ministries, shared.

It was a slow day at the Front Porch Café, as Tucker shared their heart and vision for the place.


The Struggle

One unseen hurdle in many ministries is all the “behind the scenes” tasks. Often Tucker’s time is spent doing things other than what he’s really there for. This includes paperwork and writing grants, rather than fulfilling the heart of the mission. 

The struggle is in getting others to take over the administrative tasks so the staff can focus on doing the ministry and furthering their vision.

I feel like my present role has shifted and a lot more of my work is busy, but for the sake of having a Front Porch Café,” Tucker shared of running the business. 

Being freed up to do more of what they’re actually called to do, will make room for their ultimate vision of building up the 2nd floor and developing community projects with economic impact.


Meaning Behind the Floors

The Front Porch Cafe is special in that there is meaning behind each floor.

The 1st level of their building holds the community café, having a casual feel. This is where people from the neighborhood can get job experience and stay out of trouble.

“It’s for coming together, sharing a cup of coffee, having a conversation. The three of us can sit as business owners, employees, Christians, what have you, in the same comfort that anyone else coming to this place has,” Tucker explained.

“If city workers installing a line want to come in for lunch, or some folks coming down from one of the community-based-corrections facilities needs a break, they can come and sit with the same equal footing and acknowledgement,” Tucker shared.

“At McDonalds the same acknowledgment is there but it’s a bit more scathing. So a lot of people will come here because it’s just a good place to sit and be present,” Tucker continued.   

The 2nd Floor

The 2nd floor is currently under construction, with big plans in the making.

“Our prayer is for it to become a place for development and business. It’s more of a professional space for economic development, as well as individual and group training for ministry,” Tucker shared.

“A lot of what Duane (Crabbs, Founder) has started and taught can be housed there. So if a group from a church wants to do ministry, learn how to love their neighbors more genuinely or effectively, they can have some classes,” Tucker shared.


Discussing Hot Topics

“If you want to bring in folks from the neighborhood who have genuine frustrations with the way things are, with folks from maybe the business world, having genuine conversations that lead toward community action, it starts here (on the 1st floor) more often than not. We want to bring those worlds together, but in a more strategic way,” Tucker said.

They plan to have 3-4 hour workshops, training, deep conversation, and a facilitated group process that addresses issues such as drugs and violence in the neighborhood.

“Not that we don’t try to do that now, but we envision the 2nd floor as a place where those conversations can lead towards action. So when that conversation is done, there’s room next door where someone can sit in an office and get a plan implemented,” Tucker said.

He believes that on the 2nd floor people will have conversations deeply and well. And a key factor will be having their office set up to implement a plan right there.

Providing New Opportunities

South Street is known for opening the doors of opportunity to those who may have been closed out. Particularly for ex-offenders, addicts or anyone looked down on by society.

Tucker, who looks these men and women in the eye daily, hearing their stories, knows the importance of a second chance.

“There’s this mindset of once a felon always a felon. We think they can’t be trusted, but they’ve done their time, they shouldn’t be punished further because of the stigma or label against them. If you’ve done 3 years in prison for possession of drugs, do you need to do 10 more years of being socially stigmatized because of something you did 13 years ago? For a lot of people that’s a lifetime ago,” Tucker said.

“One of the growing themes is being able to have conversations that lead towards action. It’s an important conversation to have that can lead towards community action to say ‘We’re going to take this to someone who can do something about it.’ Or ‘We’re going to change ways of looking and talking about that’,” he continued.


Economic Growth

And the ministry isn’t stopping there.

“There are areas that I see us really growing in. I see the Front Porch being completed and housing being a big thing we step into as well,” Tucker said.

“Or if a business person wants to invest in this neighborhood and maybe put their 10th business in this area, well great, that’s going to be a very different dynamic than what you’ve done before, so can we train and plan,” Tucker said.

This transitions into their heart for the long term, which is to see the growth of the South Akron economy. 

With plenty of businesses in South Akron, Tucker hopes to see the network grow and connect neighbors and residents deeply and well.

“‘Well’ in that someone who’s unemployed ‘over there’ (in a different neighborhood) can get a job locally over here. Most of the folks that live here work way ‘over there’ in some Rubbermaid factory or something, so it’s a bit twisted in that regard,” Tucker shared.

Changing the Neighborhood

Their ultimate goal is that people would want to live and stay in their neighborhood.

“A lot of times Summit Lake is the last stop for a family that’s bottoming out and as soon as they have the means to leave, they do,” Tucker explained, “So what would it look like for someone to want to invest in the neighborhood? Not just folks like Duane, myself and my wife, but also neighbors to say ‘I want to stay here, I want to raise my kids here’?”

“I recognize the unique challenges of that proposition and that some folks don’t want to, and that’s not a spiritually weak or immature thing, but it’s a dynamic we can live and grow in. Developing that community of folks that would gather deeply and well together not because of the place, but because of the heart behind it, God’s kingdom in the city. What would that look like?” Tucker asked.

He says ideally it would be what they have planned for the 2nd floor.

“Once that 2nd floor is done I see a lot of it moving towards a more aggressive housing campaign. We’d invest in some properties and get some folks that want to do that in more of a kingdom strategic way,” Tucker said.


True Hearts for Ministry

And they cannot forget all of the men and women who’ve paved the way, sacrificed their time for the ministry and continue to do so.

When they ask for help they are looking for those who are willing to be present, consistent and committed.

“It’s kinda how city ministry works. If you want to step into a relationship it takes time,” Tucker said.

“It’s for the sake of someone like Michael McDaniel who wants to work with the Summit County Re-entry Network on Tuesday nights which gathers here. It’s for the sake of Bobby Erwin who helps out with our youth program and has a heart to be a youth minister but not the academic credentials do so in most churches,” Tucker shared.

It doesn’t always take credentials or a name, but the heart to see it through.

If you are interested in helping in any of these areas or taking on some of their administrative tasks, please contact the ministry. You can get more information at .

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