Commercial developments like the Legends and the NASCAR Speedway are the obvious crown jewels of West Kansas City, KS development, but the focus of Eastern Kansas City, KS has been redevelopment.

As homes in the core Eastern and predominately Black part of the City aged, the number of dilapidated and run-down homes in the area multiplied rapidly. In some blocks, the need for redevelopment was almost every other house.

That “was” the case in the Mt. Carmel Community. But thanks in part to a 24-year-effort, led by the minister and congregation of Mt. Carmel Church of God in Christ, the Mt. Carmel area has become the clear crown jewel of eastern KCK redevelopment.

In the early 1990’s the four-block area surrounding Mt. Carmel—bounded by 11th Street on the east, 13th Street on the west, Parallel Parkway on the north, and Garfield Avenue on the south—was full of crumbling infrastructure, dilapidated housing, and vacant lots. Now the area is a community of new single-family homes, senior housing, a community center and transitional housing.

OF course behind every great project is a great leader, and the man at the helm of the Mt. Carmel Church of God in Christ for almost 40 years, and the Mt. Carmel Redevelopment Corporation, founded in 1994, is Bishop Ervin Sims, Jr. A Kansas City native, Sims returned to his home town in 1980 to serve as senior Pastor of Mt. Carmel, the neighborhood he returned to wasn’t the vibrant one he remembered.

When he visited the small church for the first time he said he found weeds “that were almost as tall as the church.”

“I remember preaching a message and calling this church [Mt. Carmel] a ‘drive-by’ church. [We were] driving by slum-and-blight to come here to worship, and we could not continue to do that.”

Sims had grown up on 8th and Walker, only a half-dozen blocks or so from the Mt. Carmel neighborhood. He graduated from KCK’s Sumner High School in 1965 and went on to study mechanical engineering at the University of Kansas.

He’d been baptized at 16. At 18, he understood a recurring dream where he was preaching, was God’s way of telling him what he’d been called to do. So, he also took religion classes at KU and he served as associate minister to Rev. T. L. Pleas at Emmanuel Temple Church of God in Christ in KCK. Sims remembers Rev. Pleas, who passed away in 2001, as a “great teacher,” a “great preacher,” and a “disciplinarian” who helped him (Sims) grow in the ministry.

After graduating from KU he returned to Kansas City and worked at Owens Corning Fiberglass for three years. He wanted to go into construction, because his father had owned a construction business. His plan was to eventually work with his father.

When Owens Corning didn’t accept him into their construction program, he took a job a Monsant, where he worked for seven years. That job relocated him to: Cincinnati, Houston, Muscatine (Iowa), New Orleans, and St. Louis. Sims and his wife, Mary K. Sims, a registered nurse with a bachelor’s degree in nursing, were living in St. Louis when Mt. Carmel Church of God in Christ asked him to return to Kansas and pastor their small church.

He hadn’t forgotten about his calling, but leaving Monsanto without having a full-time job waiting for him in Kansas City meant giving up financial security. After three days of fasting, Bishop Sims and his wife felt God wanted him to become Mt. Carmel’s pastor and they returned to KCK in 1980. It wasn’t long before he was hired by KCK’s Board of Public Utilities as senior engineer in their water department.

Focusing on tax sales, the church began buying neighborhood properties and founded the Mt. Carmel Redevelopment Corporation in 1994 to manage its revitalization plan. MCRC owns a significant number of properties in the neighborhood, and it has torn down every dilapidated house in the four-block area around the church.

When MCRC presented its master plan, the community wasn’t happy with it. They wanted single-family housing, not apartments. So, MCRC amended its plan and agreed to build 48 single-family homes for sale to low- to moderate-income families, a senior-housing facility, and a community center.

So far, MCRC has built:

•16 single-family homes, with the three-to five bedroom homes averaging 1440 sq. ft.

•Mt. Carmel Place, a $6.1 million, 61-unit housing facility and activity center for seniors was completed in 2001,

¶Partnering with the Boys and Girls Club, they built the $8.4 million Breidenthal Youth and Family Community Center. The Boys and Girls Club owns 50% of the center completed in 2006.

In addition:

•MCRC manages the Willa Gill Center, which provides free meals every day of the year. MCRC owns and operates eight transitional housing units. Each unit accommodates six people. They acquired five of the units and built three duplexes, which were completed in 2006.

•MCRC owns the Mt. Carmel Development Center, which used to be Peppermint Nursery daycare. They rent the facility to the Wyandotte County Unified Government. From the facility, the Wyandotte U.G. operates a program for at-risk youth.

So what’s next?

MCRC intends to fulfill its original commitment, so the plan is to build 32 more single-family homes. The city recently approved their request to build two more homes.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.G. have provided funding assistance for the redevelopment efforts, often in the form of grants. In addition, the single family homes can be purchased with assistance from the Community Housing Investment Partnership, a HUD funded program that helps qualified individuals buy the homes at an affordable price.

Bishop Sims said he’ll likely retire in three years, and if he does, he will have pastored Mt. Carmel for 40 years. He wants to write about what Mt. Carmel has accomplished. Not to boast, but to serve as a guide on how to revitalize a community. He explained it this way: “How to take an institutional driver—someone set in that community—whether it’s a church, or a bank, or a school, who would have a local commitment to make things happen around them.”

Mt. Carmel Church of God in Christ, he said, is a “good-sized church, but we weren’t able to fund all that’s been done here. People need to know how to access tax credits, federal funds, and put in place all of the recording mechanisms, so they don’t get in trouble with federal funds.”

Bishop Sims called his journey “a major walk of faith.”

He has transformed his church into a 24,000-square-foot facility with sanctuary seating for 700 that was completed in 2013. He and his church have transformed their community. But he accepts no credit.

When asked about what he’s accomplished, he recited 1 Corinthians 3:6, which says,”I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.” To which he added, “We do our labor, [and] others do their labor, but if it’s going to be an increase, God has to do that.”

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