Investing in East New York: Hope Christian Center?s Wall Street tactics

Hope Christian ChurchHope Christian Center in the East New York section of Brooklyn, N.Y., is just three years old, but in those three years its congregation has grown to 250 attending members from nine, and it has paid off the mortgage on the old bank it bought for its home. With the first phase of renovations completed?the first and second floors now house the main church, offices and a children?s church?and third-floor renovations under way to install a computer lab and ?financial university,? the building recently was appraised at $2.4 million, says Tyrone Stevenson, senior pastor.

?Hope Christian Center?s financial university will be open to all of the community, with a strong emphasis on young people. We will be teaching them about Wall Street,? says Stevenson.

The old vault has been turned into a television studio where the church produces shows that are aired on Brooklyn Community Access Television (B-CAT). ?All the equipment is run by the youth of our church,? Stevenson says.

Financial literacy and an emphasis on youth are at the heart of Stevenson?s empowerment plan for a neighborhood yearning to emerge from municipal neglect and social decay. The vast majority of H.C.C.?s members are between the ages of 18 and 37, reflecting the demographics of this predominantly Black community. Stevenson, 36, is a local who went from high school to the Navy, followed by a short stint at Georgia Southern University and ownership of a mortgage business in Maryland before returning with his wife and two daughters. His multipronged program aimed at longtime residents goes well beyond Sunday service. It includes:

A housing initiative. ?My goal is for 100 percent home ownership for every member of my church that desires it. I see what?s happening in Harlem coming to East New York. It?s a squeeze play,? he says, referring to the urban revitalization trend that has forced property values so high in poor communities that many longtime residents no longer can afford to remain there. One of the church?s tactics is to purchase homes that are up for sale or about to be foreclosed and permitting the owners to remain as renters until they can afford to repurchase them if they wish.

Youth scholarships. Every youth member who attends college receives money from the church to assist with tuition and expenses.

Financial education. ?The first thing I did when I came to the church is a 16-week financial seminar. God didn?t create you to work for money, he created you to control it, to make it work for you,? Stevenson says. The seminar covered such areas as the history and purpose of money, trading money, even basics such as how to write a letter to the credit bureaus, he says. As a result, Stevenson says, ?We have seen people in our church come out of debt. We have seen people buy houses.? Discussions are under way with Anderson?s Biz Kids Inc. about the curriculum for the church?s financial university, he says. Brooklyn-based A.B.K. promotes entrepreneurship, investing, saving and technological literacy through programs and seminars offered in a variety of settings, including public schools, after-school programs, colleges, community organizations and summer business camps.

Entrepreneurship. This ?ministry? uses business owners in the community to instruct church members in business ownership, Stevenson says. It is headed by 19-year-old Brandon Gibson, a church member who attends The City College of New York and who already has a real estate license. ?I?ve challenged him to find three young people in our church and push them to think outside the box, to do what he is doing,? Stevenson says.

Stevenson is working on a summer employment proposal that would require all the local pastors to pool money to pay the salaries of the youngsters employed by the program. ?It?s a sad life that doesn?t have options,? he says.