UCC film about project in urban neighborhood wins UN festival honor
A film produced by a United Church of Christ ministry, about a project that’s bringing new life to a city neighborhood, has won an award from a United Nations agency.
“It Takes A Village,” produced by the UCC Church Building & Loan Fund, was honored at the Better Cities Film Festival in Katowice, Poland. The 29-minute film earned the Hero Award from festival’s organizer, the United Nations Human Settlements Program, known as UN-Habitat. The festival was part of the UN agency’s 11th World Urban Forum, June 26-30.
The 2022 film celebrates the Village at West Jefferson, also known as MOLO Village, which opened in 2021 in Louisville, Ky. The 30,000-square-foot, $7 million project was the first investment in decades in the long-neglected Russell neighborhood on the city’s West End. Built on a former church parking lot, it houses social services, businesses, a bank branch, a restaurant and more.
According to its website, the festival features films “about places — about how places shape our lives, and about how we can make our cities, towns and neighborhoods better places for everyone to live, work and play.” The UCC film was among those honored in a category new to the festival: “Faithful: Stories from the Crossroads of Faith and Cities.”
Example of what’s possible
CB&LF played key roles in the Louisville project, built on the property of St. Peter’s UCC. CB&LF produced the film to document its “unique approach to repurposing and redeveloping church properties to more effectively advance the mission of the church in the 21st century,” said the Rev. Patrick Duggan, its executive director.
“The pandemic has led to a dramatic rise in the number of churches seeking new ways to advance their respective faith-driven missions and visions,” he said. “The documentary is an effort to promote this reality as an alternative to the more popular narrative of church doom, gloom and decline.”
More projects like the Village at West Jefferson will require more funding. Duggan said CB&LF will use the film to help make the case for the “$100 million in new investment capital” it wants to raise by 2024 for such projects. He said the film will also help “acknowledge and celebrate” the fund’s 170th anniversary in 2023. CB&LF is related to the UCC’s Local Church Ministries — and to its predecessors, dating back to 1853.
‘Way to get it done’
“It Takes A Village” focuses on the vision of the Rev. Jamesetta Ferguson, pastor of St. Peter’s. She believed that Russell, a predominantly Black and once-thriving district, could see a return of hope and prosperity. She persisted, over years’ time, to get the Village built — on what used to be the church’s parking lot — as a center of that renaissance.
Duggan and the fund’s staff helped Ferguson and St. Peter’s plan and create strategies for the project and attract funding to pull it off. In the film, Duggan calls the project “perhaps the most impactful … in the history of the Fund.” On-camera interviews with residents and stakeholders testify to the ways the Village has already brought vitality — and a safe space — to the neighborhood.
The film doesn’t detail the complexity of funding sources that made the project possible. Nor does it dwell on other obstacles it faced. But it touches on both.
“Every major project is really a series of failures followed by trying again and keeping it moving forward,” Duggan says. “There was all that and then some in the Louisville project.”
“I’ve had many no’s in this process,” Ferguson says. “But for me, a no just says, OK, you’re going to have to find another way to get it done.”
‘Make this project work’
That “way to get it done” was to connect with funding from varied public and philanthropic sources, from the local to the federal.
“She started talking to me about the vision,” Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer says during a conversation with Duggan in the film. “… And I’m like, well that’s a great idea, Jamesetta – and I’m a business guy, so I said, how do the numbers look? Not good.
“But, with our team at Louisville Forward, our economic development team, here’s maybe a pathway forward for all the different tax credits, the foundations, federal money through HUD. It took that type of partnership, financially, to make this project work. It would not have happened, by any stretch of the imagination, if it did not have the [leadership] of Pastor Jamesetta Ferguson — period, exclamation point, end of story.”
‘Helping churches get ready’
For churches taking on such projects, CB&LF can help not only with details of real estate and funding but with realistic planning from the start.
“Most of all what people don’t know is that … we’re very good at helping churches get ready for projects,” Duggan says. “Helping them raise money. Helping them get the congregation to a place that they understand what needs to go into a project of this size and impact.”
The film emphasizes that persistence and faith are among those ingredients.
The fact that the Village now exists “is a testament to the human spirit and the power of God,” says Kentucky state Rep. Pamela Stevenson. “… It’s a perfect example of what we can do when we stand and we listen to what God has to say.”
UPDATE, JULY 28, 2022: The Rev. Jamesetta Ferguson was named today as one of five AARP 2023 Purpose Prize winners. The award comes with a $50,000 gift to MOLO Village Community Development Corporation, the nonprofit that built and operates the Village at West Jefferson. The award honors “individuals age 50 and older who are using their knowledge and life experience to solve challenging social problems,” AARP said in a news release. Recipients will be honored at an awards ceremony Oct. 25 in Washington, D.C. In addition, Ferguson and MOLO are candidates for a $10,000 prize in AARP’s Inspire Award contest. People who have an AARP account, or who create a free one, can cast votes in that contest here.
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