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Indiana-Kentucky Conference

Community Church Spurs Neighborhood Development

June 21, 2018

What happens when you’re a pastor in the Russell neighborhood in Louisville, KY, your neighborhood has 30% unemployment, about 80% of your residents are impoverished, and a large number of folks are re-entering society from the penal system? If you’re Rev. Dr. Jamesetta Ferguson, you gather the village and create space for hope and economic opportunity. We spoke with Pastor J — as she’s known to her congregation and community in Louisville — at this year’s Igniting Church 2018 Annual Gathering.

The Village @ West Jefferson, which expects to break ground in July, is the bricks-and-mortar reality emerging from a vision of the MOLO Village Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit begun at St. Peter’s in 2011, of which Pastor J is the president and CEO. The organization looks to bring revitalization into the hands of those who already live in the Russell neighborhood.

The Village @ West Jefferson will be a 30,000-square foot commercial space for retail and office units. The new building will occupy what is currently a vacant lot. It will house businesses that can be run and frequented by area residents and also provide vital services.

Businesses include a healthcare clinic, two restaurants, a coffee shop, and a service center that will address “holistically, all of the issues that our residents deal with,” Pastor J said. That includes mental health and drug addiction counseling. Part of fostering economic and personal success in the community includes banning predatory businesses — cell phone stores, check-cashing, and pay-day loan places — which will not be allowed at The Village.

“How many communities do you know that don’t have a sit-down restaurant?” she asked. Daily transactions at restaurants, purchases of apparel and other items all happen outside the Russell neighborhood. $85 million flows out of the community each year. Not only does the project hope to return spending dollars and tax revenue back to the neighborhood, but also to create jobs. Approximately 1,000 jobs are opening in the community because of the businesses at The Village and the construction of the building and training of residents.

The MOLO Village and the steady-speaking, gracious Pastor J are accomplishing all this with help from the larger United Church of Christ, particularly the the Church Building and Loan Fund (CBLF). “They [CBLF] have just been monumental in making sure that they were with us from the beginning, and they are going to walk with us all the way through. It has just been a blessing. God has just showered us with blessings,” she said.

The Village @ West Jefferson hopes to be a place where economic stability, and all of the basic human dignity that comes with it, takes root once more in Louisville. “We’re just excited to help in any small way that we can. Our church has been there in this community for 170 years. But it’s only been in the last 13 years that they’ve truly become a community church. And so, better late than never, right?” She smiled broadly as she says this, a moment in which the Holy Spirit peeks out and suggests that the timing is not so much late, as inspired.

Watch the full video interview with Pastor J:

Learn more about MOLO Village:

Donate to The Village @ West Jefferson:

Learn more about the Church Building and Loan Fund:

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