The HUD Envision Center designation announced for Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church on Thursday, February 27 comes with no financial commitment from the federal government. Like the Promise Zone program, the Envision Center designation just promises help facilitating awareness of and access to existing federal programs to help an organization provide community services.
Felicia Pulliam, a member of Friendly Temple and staffer with Robert Fulton Community Development, its companion development agency, has been working on providing community services in the former Langston Middle School building right around the corner from the church.
Currently, Robert Fulton provides adult basic education, senior computer classes, community basketball, Noah’s Ark Summer Camp, and drug and alcohol counseling at Langston, Pulliam said. She said they are working on developing behavioral health services for veterans, a food pantry, a clothing closet and an emergency shelter (“we already have the cots,” Pulliam said).
A longer-term vision is to implement a design that three students from Central Visual and Performing Arts High School (in Saint Louis Public Schools) submitted to a district Love of Learning Design Challenge in 2017. The prompt was to design a use for a presently unused district space, and the students designed a renovation of a former school building (for the students, it was Simmons School, not Langston) into a home and service center for district students in transitional living situations.
That loftier goal is not immediately in sight, but Pulliam was energized by the HUD Envision Center designation as an opportunity that will help them implement some smaller programs.
“HUD is helping us identify resources across the federal spectrum,” Pulliam said, citing the Small Business Administration as one possible source of support.
James Heard, HUD Field Office director in St. Louis, also mentioned the Department of Education and Department of Health and Human Services as possible partners for Robert Fulton and Friendly Temple.
The Envision Center announcement was attended by two executives from an existing community partner for Robert Fulton and Friendly Temple, Midwest Bank Centre, which made the unique business decision to open a bank branch on the Friendly Temple campus in 2017.
Alex Fennoy, executive vice president of Midwest Bank Centre, said the branch had done more than $40 million of business in three years and started to make a profit in just over two years, when it typically takes five years for a new branch to turn a profit.
The Envision Center designation, Fennoy said, “comes on the coattails of all the great work Friendly Temple has already done.”
Pulliam, Heard and Fennoy all pointed to Bishop Michael Fulton Jones Sr., senior pastor of Friendly Temple, as the prime mover for these community projects, though Jones placed the credit much higher. “God is able,” Jones said.
But this is President Donald Trump’s HUD, and Trump routinely proposes drastic budget slashes to federal funding for community development in many forms. It was telling that Jason Mohr, the regional HUD administrator, brought no funding commitment to the Envision Center announcement but much talk of “self-sufficiency.”
This cast a certain light upon something that Heard said when introducing Fennoy and the notion that Friendly Temple has a friendly bank on its side: “a vision without some means of finances turns into a nightmare.”