Area Relief Ministries director hopes to involve students in revitalizing neighborhood

By Clare Williams
Staff Writer

Donald Jordan is a man with a vision for Jackson that could include Union students moving to poorer areas of the city.

Jordan, 29, is an adjunct professor, teaches Introduction to Social Welfare and is the director of education and development at Area Relief Ministries, a non-profit organization that seeks to transform downtown Jackson.

Jordan’s vision has to do with moving from relief to rehabilitation and then to development, he said.

“And then, as a faith-based organization, how do we move into, ultimately, transformation?” he said.

Jordan hopes college students eventually can apply to live in downtown homes and, as he puts it, “renovate the community from the inside out.”

The area of town Jordan wants to target is the Hillcrest neighborhood in East Jackson.

Hillcrest, an “insulated” neighborhood, Jordan said, is “considered a desert: a food desert, an education desert” because of its lack of access to grocery stores, schools and public transportation within walking distance.

This isolation makes the neighborhood less appealing, and over the years, Hillcrest has become increasingly rundown.

Enter Jordan and the non-profit, which is hoping to rejuvenate the exteriors of many homes in the Hillcrest neighborhood, following the example set forth in James Wilson’s and George Kelling’s “broken window theory,” which suggests that replacing broken windows in neighborhoods can decrease crime rate and increase education rate.

“There’s a disproportionately large number of homes in our community of Hillcrest that are boarded up, so we’re talking to some investors right now about purchasing those homes and donating them to ARM,” Jordan said. “We are still in the researching phase of what we might do, and that is one of our dreams.”

Part of that dream would possibly involve college students applying to live in Hillcrest homes.

“It’s a kind of incarnational work style where we would become part of who we serve and, in effect, become an actual part of the community that we serve while it also serves us,” Jordan said.

The Hillcrest neighborhood is situated near a high-crime rate area, which might deter some students from making a move, but “if we chose to go that direction, students would have to feel like that is the right move for them, and they would be trained, given responsibilities and be taking on a certain risk,” Jordan said.

“It takes some of the paternalism out of us driving in, saying we love a neighborhood, then driving back to our gated communities to go to sleep,” he said. “It’s a way of doing life together.”

Jordan’s vision is not quite the community described in the last verses of Acts 2, but he says it might be a step in that direction, creating a Jackson that is unified and connected by a shared commitment to Christ.

Apart from his classes at Union, Jordan spends his time training and teaching people “how faith and non-profit work together to serve the community” through his position at the ministry organization.

“Our mission statement is to alleviate suffering, promote dignity and foster hope; to strengthen the community as an ongoing expression of the ministry of Jesus Christ,” he said.

The non-profit carries out that mission statement through programs such as Room in the Inn, which involves churches providing shelter for homeless men; Emergency Assistance, which provides financial support for those at risk of having their utilities shut off; and the Hub Club, an after-school program located within the Hillcrest neighborhood where a high percentage of at-risk youth live.

“But relief should be short term, and has to be designed in a way that it doesn’t trap people in needing relief,” Jordan said.

Jordan has a big wish list for Area Relief Ministries.

“When you work at a non-profit, your brain starts to think of all the things you can do with one little amount, so it’s hard for me to pick something with one big amount,” Jordan said, describing a downtown building that he said would have “everything from a homeless shelter and its staff, to transitional housing and apartments where people would actually pay to live.”

He added, “It would also have a place, whether it be a café or bookstore or any kind of business, where the people who are working through the stages of becoming self-sustainable are able to work and serve people who are not homeless, and could offer a real service at a reasonable price.”

“My vision for ARM is that we stand out,” Jordan said. “I don’t want to be the biggest, but the most intentional at doing the best work…so that we can work toward a kingdom agenda with all the pieces coming together.”

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.