February 2012 Toledo Free Press column that includes Mosaic Ministries

(At the time, the church was called Western Avenue Ministries. These are excerpts from the TFP article because the media org and the website no longer exist.)

Feb 10, 2012 - Toledo Free Press - Los Miserables - Written by Michael Miller, Editor in Chief Emeritus

Describing parts of South Toledo as “miserable” is like characterizing a gaping, hemorrhaging chest wound as “unpleasant.”

To drive around the zone of Broadway Street, South Avenue, Western Avenue and such side streets as Field Avenue and Walbridge Avenue is to tour a landscape of urban waste and desolation.

As soon as one leaves Downtown Toledo and drives west on Summit Street, the decay is evident.

It is shameful that the main eastern artery into Downtown’s riverfront area is a first impression wreck of pitted, dangerous potholes and crumbled asphalt.

The Broadway Street stretch to South Avenue and a bit beyond features closed and boarded businesses, four semi-demolished schools and a shuttered library.

Today, there are parts of the neighborhood that feel haunted; there are broken windows, smashed-in doors and piles of urban rubble.

… a row of nearly a dozen abandoned houses sits rotting and ransacked, mocking the memories of those who once lived there. Behind one, a large boat sits, half blocking the alley, filled with garbage and God only knows what else.

And yet …

… in the midst of collapse and ruin, there are people who believe in a better way, people who believe in the future, people who believe in salvation.

Pastor David Kaiser and his wife, Kelly, operate Western Avenue Ministries and the South Toledo Community Center, literally in the shadow of Jones Jr. High (across from that abandoned boat, which sticks in my memory like a horrific talisman in a zombie movie).

The Kaisers belong to that group of people who seem blissfully unaware of the path of least resistance. They choose the cracked, hammered road choked with weeds and unspeakable obstacles. Why? Because they know that is where they are needed.

The South Toledo Community Center offers free hot meals, take-home groceries, clothing and opportunities for education and betterment, ranging from GED classes to parenting help.

David Kaiser

Kaiser estimates there are 6,600 households in the “South Toledo Kids Zone,” which lies between the High-Level Bridge to the Toledo Zoo and the Anthony Wayne Trail to the river.

The demographics are horrific.

  • It is a young area.
    • The median age in the S.T. Kids Zone is 29.
    • One-third of the people who live there are younger than 14.
  • It is an impoverished area:
    • 35.3 percent of the residents are below poverty level (the Ohio average is 13.4 percent);
    • 16.6 percent have income below 50 percent of the poverty level (the Ohio average is 6.2 percent);
    • and 60 percent of S.T. Kids Zone households are led by single females living in poverty.
  • It is a poorly educated area:
    • 39 percent have no high school diploma (the Toledo average is 20 percent and the Ohio average is 17 percent);
    • www.neighborhoodscout.com rates educational achievement on a scale of 1 to 10. The U. S. average is 5, with 10 being the highest. The S.T. Kids Zone neighborhood is rated at 1.

Plan of action

The Kaisers’ ministry is working on a 20-year-plus plan to transform the S.T. Kids Zone, focusing on essential services (food, clothes, education, health care), a “transformational pipeline” (based on the successful programs the Harlem Children’s Zone and Urban Impact of Pittsburgh, emphasizing parenting classes, preschool, tutoring, college preparation and a potential charter school) and infrastructure changes (creating a community development corporation, fixing or removing shuttered houses, creating jobs in repair and security and developing a commercial corridor to capture the attention of commuting workers).

Jones Jr. High School has been abandoned for more than a year.

The ministry has received a growing number of accolades, which it has earned through its actions. It bought and demolished a crack house and two abandoned properties to create an urban agriculture zone, in cooperation with Toledo GROWs. The ministry’s leaders and volunteers have donated more than $150,000 in the past four years.

The ministry spends $2,500 a month to maintain essential services, untold tens of thousands on education opportunities and is working on purchasing its $250,000 building, which drains $1,500 in monthly rent.

There are partnerships with too many organizations to list here, but ProMedica and Cherry Street Ministries are driving forces.

Pastor David and Kelly are hopeful and optimistic, fueled by their faith, but they are realistic. They fully understand the challenge the S.T. Kids Zone faces, with its 14-year-old mothers, violence, drugs, abusive attitudes toward women and survival needs trumping niceties such as education and vocational training.

And yet they believe, and they love, and they try.

The S.T. Kids Zone is engaged in a losing round of whack-a-mole, with problems and neighborhood issues popping up with alarming frequency. It’s a miserable situation with no easy remedy and no short-term comfort.

But as miserable as the blight might be, as miserable as the decay might be, there are people like the Kaisers who are willing to put their shoulders against the encroaching boulder of misery, to slow it, to at least try to slow it. Whether they — and the S.T. Kids Zone — get crushed beneath that boulder depends on how many people are going to join them in the effort to push back, to fight, to make a difference.

Western Avenue Ministries is embarking on a “One of 100” campaign to raise funds for its work. $25 a month from 100 people will cover the costs of the community center’s essential food and clothing services.