LaReeca Rucker has been a journalist for more than 20 years, and her work has appeared in newspapers across the nation. She spent a decade as a features writer and multimedia journalist with The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, where she was also a USA TODAY contributor. She is a freelance journalist and support journalism instructor in the University of Mississippi's Meek School of Journalism and New Media in Oxford, Mississippi.

Resolution Invest in Jackson: Churches take an active role in civic affairs

LaReeca Rucker
The Clarion-Ledger

Homeless and seeking support, Ruth McNeal was once a resident of Matt's House, an emergency shelter for women and children in Jackson.

Facility leaders helped her find a place of her own, and today, McNeal frequely returns to voluntairly make beds and clean Matt's House.

"It's a blessing for the women who don't have nowhere to go, and I thank God for it," she said in a Meadowbrook Church of Christ video blog that chronicles the work church members have done at Matt's House and another shelter.

Meadowbrook is one of several churches that have made a resolution to invest in Jackson. From neighborhood revitalization projects to job skills training, the religious community is working to make a difference in 2010.

"God of This City" is Meadowbrook's theme. Pastor Jerry Neill said it's a reminder that, despite problems, God reigns.

"The theme is going to play out in a number of projects over the year, and hopefully, in the lives of our members as they live and work in this city," he said. "It is our God-given call. We're looking at various things we can do to bring the community and people of different backgrounds together."

Church member Lisa Cantrell said work began around Christmas on the two Stewpot Community Services shelters that serve about 360 women and children in the metro area.

"We wanted to get our whole congregation involved in giving up part of what they would spend in their daily activities or for Christmas to make these houses more habitable for the people who stay there," she said.

According to the church blog, Meadowbrook raised more than $23,000, and around 100 people donated time to repair Mart's House. They also provided basic necessities and toys for residents of each house.

Meadowbrook isn't the only church that has made a resolution to improve the city. St. Alexis Episcopal Church plans to take on the Diverse City Diner project.

"The plan is to open a restaurant in downtown Jackson that will provide job and life skills training and certification for at-risk young people," said the Rev. Chuck Culpepper, vicar of St. Alexis.

The project was conceived after several churches united to talk about racial reconciliation in Jackson, he said.

"We modeled this somewhat on Cafe Reconcile in New Orleans, which is a similar institution that has been successful," Culpepper said.

Since it opened in 2000, more than 500 young people ages 16-22 have successfully completed the program and now work full-time in New Orleans' food service industry. Partners, said Culpepper, include Jackson's Central United Methodist Church, St. Peter's Catholic Cathedral, Galloway United Methodist Church, Voice of Calvary Ministries, The William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, the John Perkins Foundation for Reconiliation and Development, and the Jim Hill Civil Rights Civil Liberties Club.

Another church working to improve the city is God's Refuge Christian Fellowship Center Church. Nikki Hernandez, community outreach coordinator, said it hopes to expand a food pantry. "It is our desire to eventually have a soup kitchen and feed people daily," she said.

The church also plans to hold a quarterly campaign for youths that focus on different topics, such as abstinence, staying in school, rejecting drugs and alcohol, obtaining employment, starting a business, and saving and investing, Hernadez said.

In 2010, Morrison Heights Baptist Church plans to restore a property on Lena Street near the Jackson Medical Mall.

"This property was purchased for a gentleman who came to us in need and has since become a member of our church and involved in missions himself," said Rita B. Anderson, mission ministry assistant. "It is just one step in revitalizing an older neighborhood in Jackson."

Students from Millsaps College, a private college affiliated with the United Methodist Church, will focus on Jackson's Midtown neighborhood in 2010 through the "1 Campus, 1 Community" program.

Kara Paulk, a Millsaps public relations associate, said the event started in 2006 as a way to funnel the college's community service efforts into two areas - the north midtown area that borders Millsaps on West Street and the Jackson Public Schools. This year, members will volunteer at Jackson's Brown Elementary School and with AmeriCorps.

Raymond Clothier, who helps lead the group, said some students will tutor; others will provide recreational activities. A faculty member started a basketball team for boys that will begin playing this month.

Group members also plan to hold a Martin Luther King Day Play and Serve event. "The idea is to help people with child care when kids are out of school," Clothier said. "They will come together' and play games."

Neill said he believes investing in Jackson is a spiritual responsibility. "We believe the primary commandment of the Christian faith is to love our neighbor as ourselves," he said. "We won't give up on this city, and we don't think people should either."


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