[Source: Michael Ferraresi, Arizona Republic] — Sweating in the summer heat, volunteers moved boxes of donated food at the Bridge Church as others helped south Phoenix residents find clothes, jobs and government benefits. Meanwhile, police officers watched briefly over the small crowd at the worship hall, which doubles as a human-services community center to serve more than 30 families a day in an area long stigmatized by gang violence.
Through partnerships with police and city leaders, the Bridge became a prototype for the renewal of south Phoenix. It was the first of the area’s 90 churches to join the Neighborhood Roots System. Police credited the increased faith-based involvement for a 39 percent drop in area homicides, as well as other crimes, since 2008. Police have saturated south Phoenix with crime-suppression efforts in the past few years. Now, officers and neighborhood activists are working to sustain the relationships they established years ago. “When law enforcement is involved, I think businesses look at that as a positive,” said Jon Katov, CEO of non-profit Open Table Inc. Katov said he was inspired to focus on south Phoenix after attending a service at a community church.
The Bridge is open 20 hours a week in an area where nearly 17,000 people live in poverty. Katov said 20 other south Phoenix churches have already begun mimicking the Bridge. He pointed to a small room filled with donated computers. “Here, you’re looking at a job center inside a working church,” Katov said. “To me, it’s a breakthrough.”
Churches have helped south Phoenix rebound from the wave of violent crime and gang-related homicides it suffered two years ago. [Note: Read the full article at Church program seen as key to safer south Phoenix]