The minister is eyeing developing part of Market Street.
By D.A. WILKINSON
VINDICATOR RELIGION EDITOR
YOUNGSTOWN -- The Rev. Jay Alford knows he does things differently from what conventional wisdom dictates in the Mahoning Valley.
U He's a Canfield resident who will move to Beachwood Estates on Youngstown's East Side when construction of his house is completed.
U He's a farm boy from Tiptonville, Tenn., who wears a Gene Autry commemorative watch from his grandchildren and likes soul food.
U He has helped to build 275 affordable homes in Youngstown as people fled the city. He also helped create Grace Place Medical Services, which provides health care on the city's South Side, one of the areas most in need of medical service in the state, and helped to create the largest charter school in Ohio, Eagle Heights Academy, which has almost 1,000 pupils.
U He says God called him to the ministry, a "definite, clear call. I never once questioned or doubted it." Another clear call brought him to minister here, and at 69, he plans to keep doing that for as long as he is able.
U He resigned Sunday as pastor of Highway Tabernacle in Austintown, where he served for 28 years. The next morning, he got up and drove to the church, where, as pastor emeritus, he keeps an office.
"The term retirement never entered my mind," said the Rev. Mr. Alford.
Still on the go: At 3 p.m. Sunday, he will dedicate New Beginning Assembly of God, the former Central Christian Church building given New Beginning by Central's congregation.
He plans to eventually move his office to the new Hope Building, at 2733 Market St.
Mr. Alford said he resigned from Highway when it became apparent that he couldn't continue to minister to both the church and the area.
And the move to Youngstown?
"I felt to really work in the city effectively in these last years of my active life, I need to live in the city," Mr. Alford said. "To in some way remove the barrier that exists between the urban and suburban areas."
Mr. Alford doesn't see the move as a step down in any sense, but rather a strategic move to be anchored in the area where he is focusing.
What's there: The latest project is Hope Building, which contains the offices for Warriors Inc., the parent organization of Eagle Heights. It also contains the office for the Greater Youngstown Coalition of Christians, which includes 64 white and black congregations of different denominations. Hope Building already has day care for children from 6 weeks old to prekindergarten, and will eventually hold almost 100 youths.
Hope Building also includes a private food service company, part of a business incubator effort that Mr. Alford wants to continue along the Market Street corridor that now includes Eagle Heights, Hope Building and the new and former sites of New Beginning Assembly of God. And under an umbrella company, Hope for Youngstown Inc., more housing will be offered.
Along the way, Mr. Alford and Highway helped start 17 Assemblies of God churches and new ministries.
"We're not building a megachurch per se, but strong churches," Mr. Alford said.
The minister is quick to share credit with an A to Z list of individuals and organizations tied to the different programs.
"I've received more honor and credit than I deserve," Mr. Alford said.
The pastor said he draws energy from the fruit of the various programs and enjoys the fellowship and friendship of the others involved with them.
Gets some criticism: In his travels locally, he said, he meets people who like what the ministries are doing. Others want to build a wall around Youngstown and let it go, which Mr. Alford believes is shortsighted.
"I'm not Martin Luther King, but I live with a dream for the betterment of the city," said Mr. Alford. "I've not been able to give up any hope that Youngstown can be a great city. There are many people I think who still have that vision."
There is plenty of room in the various ministries for other people and churches that want to get involved, he said.
"I believe there's hope. That's my main message -- hope for the city," said Mr. Alford. "I'm determined to give the rest of my life to helping to bring renewed hope to the city."