A 43-year-old pastor in Trenton, N.J., has a bold vision for transforming his congregation’s neighborhood — a blighted section of the city plagued by abandoned houses, boarded-up buildings and empty lots. Darrell L. Armstrong wants to create a nexus of homes, businesses and life-skills initiatives to tackle the problem of broken families and ruined community.
Wendy Plump writes for The Times of Trenton:
“We bought that piece of property, we bought a property on this street, we bought what used to be a bar along the greenway,” says Armstrong, pointing out the parcels. “I want to create a campus environment that says, ‘We’re gonna’ change this community house by house, block by block.’
“And if we change this little part of the world and another mosque or church or synagogue changes that part, it multiplies itself. And then you have communities that are not gun-infested, that are not drug-trafficked. If I can create healthier communities by addressing it family by family, and create good housing stock and job opportunities, well, that’s one of the ways you fix it.
“But if I live in a community that’s full of abandoned houses and broken down cars, then that’s going to shape how I think about my community and myself.” …
Armstrong was born in 1968 in South Central Los Angeles to a 15-year-old single mother who later became addicted to drugs and was unable to raise him. After witnessing the brutal scalding of a younger brother at the hands of his mother’s boyfriend, the young Darrell was taken into the foster care system for three years. Eventually he lived with his maternal grandfather. …
I’m an example of someone else’s investment. And if we can look at the fact that, here’s what true authentic investment can bring if we all do it, then the question is, why don’t we all do it? Can we all do more of it?”
To that end Armstrong is shepherding a new program through his congregation based on baby blessings. Similar to christenings and bar mitzvahs, blessings take place when a child is about a year old and welcomes them formally into the church fold. Prior to those occasions, Armstrong is enrolling parents in an eight-session program designed to focus attention on the scale of their responsibility.
It will begin with a pastoral visit to the home of the new parents followed by sessions on baby and young child development, and strengthened through connections with other young mothers in the congregation who can provide companionship and support.
“Our society doesn’t value prevention,” says Armstrong. “I want to address the problems that children face before they become tragedies. That’s my hope. That’s what I’m driving towards. How do I keep families intact? How do I keep babies from being dropped in a tub of scalding water?
“The only way I can do that is by making families stronger. And the only way you can make them stronger is to give them the resources they need so they can be stronger.
“Every family is going to meet crises and stress. It is how we meet those points of stress before they become crises. So I am evangelical now about prevention. The only way you can prevent something is by strengthening something.”
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