JPC offers Community Development, Special Needs Housing, Nutrition, Recreation, Mentoring and Advocacy

Positive change continues at Johnson Park!

Charity Bib


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On February 5, 1994, Rev. Maria A. Scates received an inner picture-vision concerning an inner city community and the need to reach out to this community. On Monday August 8, 1994, in a meeting with Robert A. Polivka concerning a missionary trip to start a Bible School in Russia; Rev. Scates shared the vision about going to the inner city after returning from Russia. Mr. Polivka (who presently serves as JPC Board President) then told her about Utica, New York. He stated that there was a "housing project" where African-Americans and Russians dwelled together, and that the inner-city community of Utica needed a lot of help.

Upon returning to New York from Russia in September 1995, Rev. Scates – who was formerly homeless and a veteran – asked people what was the worst area in Utica. Everyone said "Cornhill," so that's where she decided to go. Rev. Scates shared in a meeting in Herkimer County about going to Cornhill-Utica. The area was known for violence, killings, high drug traffic and racial strife. There was a very special lady at the meeting who drew Rev. Scates' attention so she went over and greeted her, sharing about her desire to go to Cornhill. After the meeting, this lady, Ms. Cathy Mallace, told Rev. Scates she lived in Cornhill-Utica all her life and welcomed her to the community.

On October 2, 1995, Ms. Mallace took Rev. Scates on a tour through the Cornhill section of Utica. Rev. Scates was looking for a large house to live in and start a Church and an Outreach work of love to the people of the Cornhill community. She looked around but did not find a house. As the tour was ending, however, Ms. Mallace told Rev. Scates she wanted to show her the Park where she played at as a little girl. As they drove into Johnson Park, Rev. Scates began to comment on how beautiful the neighborhood was, though it was really a picture of urban decay. When they reached the corner of Johnson Park and West Street, Rev. Scates saw the house. She knew this was the place where her work of Outreach would be.

The properties are located at 26-28 Johnson Park with a very big three story building, a large basement, attic and an adjoining vacant lot. On October 7, 1995 at a meeting with the managing agent, Rev. Scates told him 26 Johnson Park was the building where she would have a non-profit Outreach Center and a Church and also live on the premises. On the same day he gave Rev. Scates the keys to the house.

On November 14, 1995, exactly 2 months and 1 day after returning from Russia, Rev. Scates signed the deed for the properties with a supporter making the down payment. Rev. Scates moved in the building the same day, living on the third floor having only a bed, a few household items and Missionary School equipment. She was the founder and first Chief Executive Officer of JCTOD Outreach, Inc. – a role she continues to play today. Rev. Scates served and still serves as a full-time volunteer.

Ms. Nancy Wolfe, a Utica School District Teacher, came to JCTOD in 1997 for the Day of Celebration. She was moved by what she witnessed – some of her toughest students playing on the basketball court. Ms. Wolfe has been a part of our work ever since, even moving into the neighborhood. She is a frequent JPC volunteer and serves on the Board of Directors.

Rev. Ursula Meier from Switzerland had a great desire to work with needy kids. While she was a student at Pinecrest Bible Training Center from 1996 to 1998, she came to Johnson Park with a ministry team. She too was moved and touched in her heart for the children and the practical work. Upon graduating from Pinecrest in Spring 1998, she came to back, and has been here ever since. Rev. Meier is a full-time volunteer serving as JPC Chief Operations Officer.

There was a fire on the second floor of 26 Johnson Park prior to Rev. Scates taking ownership of the building. Rev. Scates said the burned-out floor represented the burned-out lives in the Cornhill community, but as the second floor would be restored, so would the burned-out lives in Cornhill be restored. In fact, 26 Johnson Park used to be a major drug house closed down more than once by the police, a place where a lot of wickedness took place. But today, 26 Johnson Park is beautiful, clean, safe and many people in the community are being helped.

JCTOD Outreach, Inc. DBA Johnson Park Center has now been serving the Johnson Park-Cornhill community since September 1995. Rev. Scates started the process with a clean up, using the broom and picking up the trash in the neighborhood. From its humble beginnings and with a volunteer staff, but with a broad vision and strong leadership, our agency developed a comprehensive strategy of community development that has caused revitalization of the Johnson Park-Cornhill area of Utica.