What compels a man to move his wife and children into one of the roughest neighborhoods in Akron? For Duane Crabbs, it was a calling to minister to those troubled souls who need it the most.
The founder of South Street Ministries has reached a personal milestone as his organization celebrates 15 years of operation. The group helps a range of people in this Summit Lake neighborhood, from children of broken homes to ex-convicts and the homeless.
A public event honoring the ministry last week at Hoban High School brought out hundreds of people from the community, along with nationally known guest speaker Robert Lupton, from Atlanta.
In the U.S., 80 percent of residents live in the city, said Lupton, who discussed the development of urban centers throughout the country. While development can help beautify and revitalize the neighborhoods themselves, this development also can “gentrify” communities, driving the poor out of their homes due to increased rents as those with money and influence move into urban areas.
If you are poor and renting, you are likely to get displaced from your community, he said. “What is happening is that the poor of our cities are being uprooted and scattered out to the periphery of our cities.”
Where wealth and culture once occupied the suburbs surrounding downtown areas, “folks are moving back into the heart of town,” said Lupton, “and poverty is being pushed out to the edges. We’re experiencing the suburbanization of poverty.”
Like Crabbs, Lupton also felt a calling to move to inner city Atlanta, but he had never heard of gentrification until he witnessed it firsthand. As he fixed up his house in the inner city, and other developments sprung up, the rent of his neighbors also increased, driving some of the less fortunate from their homes.
One woman was close to losing her home, so a group of neighbors and ministry members banded together, bought her house and renovated it, then sold it back to the woman for cost, said Lupton. This group grew to 150 people, who then helped save other struggling residents throughout the neighborhood.
Urban ministries have reached a “T” in the road, said Lupton. Either they follow the poor out to suburban areas in a form of “migrant ministry” or they help low-income residents remain in the community. “That’s called community development, and it demands a whole different kind of ministry strategy,” he added.
Crabbs practices this style of development by going beyond just providing services to people in need. Rather than hand out food, he opened the Front Porch Café, which hires ex-offenders and drug addicts to work as cooks. “The best job training is a job and keeping it,” said Crabbs.
“We have a lot of services in our neighborhood, but services do not develop community,” he added. “When people become dependent upon services, they allow others to do for them what they should be doing for themselves.”
South Street offers after-school and summer camp programs, a bicycle shop, athletic programs and scholarships, urban gardening, housing development and employment services to the residents of South Akron.
At the Hoban High School event, a number of guests spoke about the positive impact South Street Ministries has on their lives.
Gary Wyatt, president of North Hill Community House aka He Brought Us Out Ministry, helped the Crabbs family renovate their house after they moved into South Akron. Wyatt said he used to be a drug dealer, but God changed his life. “I went from being a drug dealer to a preacher man.” And as he prayed for some help on South Street, Wyatt said that God sent him Duane Crabbs.
You can’t measure a church or ministry by how many people, they have; you measure them by the impact they have in the community, said Wyatt, who added that if you ask anyone in the area, they know who Crabbs is. “They know about him in the hood, they know about him in the jailhouse, they know about him in the mayor’s office, and that’s what you call impact in this community.”
Crabbs recently named Joe Tucker as executive director of South Street Ministries, which is part of his 20-year plan for the organization. Abandoned houses and a transient population present a challenge when working in this South Akron neighborhood, said Tucker. “One of the joys of South Street is we get to meet these people right when they get out of prison or as they’re making a choice to do right or do wrong. They come with a lot of baggage; they come with a lot of hardships.”
For more information, visit www.southstreetministries.org.