The congregation at First Baptist Church is working to make its church a hub in its northwest Akron neighborhood.
Its mission to reach the community includes two new ministries — a community garden and a Life Skills Academy.
“We’re not here to sit in the pews. We’re here to serve the community,” said the Rev. Robert Beals, pastor at the church. “We want to build up our community and glorify God. We just want to make a difference.”
Beals, who grew up in the neighborhood and at First Baptist, returned to the church in June 2011 as interim pastor. He became pastor in January.
Since that time, the church has revived its mission to reach out to people in the community. Its effort is a natural fit for the ACE (A Community Effort) initiative started by Ward 8 Councilwoman Marilyn Keith. ACE is intended to encourage everyone in the northwest Akron community to do what they can to improve the neighborhood.
“It takes everybody working together to make a community better and there is more good in this community than bad. We just need to focus on the positives and build on them,” Keith said. “The people here at First Baptist have a real heart for this community and they are committed to help revitalize things around here.”
Keith is among the 22 people who already have a plot in the freshly plowed community garden next to the church. She plans to grow cucumbers, tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables in her 25-foot-by-15-foot plot.
Each plot is being offered at no charge to community members who want to plant a garden. The community garden, called Sonshine Acres, is expected to be ready for planting in the next week. The garden now includes 30 available plots, but the church will expand the garden, if needed.
Paul Kuczkowski, chairman of the First Baptist Church board of trustees, dedicated a large portion of his time this week to plow the garden. He is hopeful that the garden will serve as an evangelization tool as well as a resource for individuals and families.
“The garden will help provide fresh produce for families, which is the most important thing,” Kuczkowski said. “But I also hope it will strengthen our presence in the community so that we’re known as more than the church next door to the (Northwest Family Recreation Center). It’s all about letting people know that we care about them and bringing people to Christ.”
In addition to the garden, the church has launched its Life Skills Academy. The ministry, which is currently by appointment only, is designed to help people with skills in a variety of areas, including employment, finances, cooking, couponing and shopping. Services include computer access, resume writing, interviewing tips, financial counseling and meal planning.
Like the garden, the academy is free.
“We want to give people the skills they need to run a family in these tough times,” Beals said. “While we have a food pantry and certainly help people in that way, we want to put them in a position to be able to help themselves. It’s the old ‘give a man a fish’ adage.”
In addition to the two new ministries and the food pantry, First Baptist offers a youth group at 5:30 p.m. on Sundays, a worship service at 10:30 a.m. and Sunday School at 9:30 a.m. It is also home to Boy Scout Troop One and hosts Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
The church was founded in April 1834 and the congregation moved to its first building at the corner of East Center Street and Buchtel Avenue in 1837. Sixteen years later, in 1853, the church moved to a location on North High Street and then to 39 S. Broadway in 1890.
In 1965, the congregation moved to its current location at 1670 Shatto Ave., where it attracts about 60 people to its Sunday worship service.
“There is a lot of need in this neighborhood and we’re trying to meet those needs. Developing these outreach ministries has brought a real unity to our church and we welcome anyone who wants to come and help us revitalize and build community,” Beals said. “This is an exciting time for our neighborhood. We’re a small congregation, but we can make a difference.”
For more information about the church, to sign up for a garden plot or to make an appointment at the Life Skills Academy, call 330-867-2121 or go to www.firstbaptistakron.org.
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or email@example.com. She can be followed at https://twitter.com/ColetteMJenkins.