Tuesday, February 27, 2001

Church gives bar new life

By Ray Schaefer
Enquirer Contributor

        COVINGTON — The dark brown walnut bar is the first thing a visitor notices.

        But the former saloon at Holman and Linden avenues is no longer a place where adults can drown their problems in alcohol. South Side Baptist Church is turning the former Salty Dog Cafe into a place where south Covington children and their parents can improve their lives.

        South Side purchased the bar - just about 50 feet from the church's front door - last April. By this summer, the church plans to open El Ji Moore Activities Center - the MAC - where children can receive tutoring and their parents can learn computer and job skills.

        “The big thing is building relationships,” said Amy Cummins, the center's director. “People have ideas of what a church is, and people have ideas of what South Side is.”

        To South Side's pastor, The Rev. A. Harold Pike, the center is the answer to 34 years of prayer.

        “We want to concentrate on non-churchgoing people,” the Rev. Pike said. “We have to convince people that not only God loves you, (but) we love you.”

        When the MAC opens, plans include: after-school tutoring for children, classes in English as a second language, computer classes, parenting and job interviewing classes, and space for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

        The tutoring would take place on the first floor. Meeting rooms, a small library and a computer lab go on the second floor.

        But the bar stays - for a reason.

        “That's a comfort to (people),” said Ms. Cummins, whose mother, Helen Cummins, has worked at the church for years. “It's what they're used to without having to drink. Kids love it.”

Another helper
               The MAC would also join a network of public and private organizations in south Covington that share goals.

        John G. Carlisle Elementary School, 910 Holman Ave., offers after-school care, tutoring and computer classes. Two other grade schools, Glenn O. Swing at 19th and Jefferson and Sixth District at 19th and Maryland, also offer after-school tutoring.

        “South Side does a good job,” said Jane Howard, John G. Carlisle's assistant principal. “We have a good relationship. Anything available for our kids to go to, we appreciate.”

        In addition, Ninth Street Baptist Church started Pupils Relying on Village Elders, Religion, Baptism and Salvation (PROVERBS) in 1999, which is now a nonprofit corporation separate from the church. Director Darla Payne said Northern Kentucky University social work students and parents provide weekly tutoring and a meal.

Beer joint and Baptists
               “It's going better than I expected,” Ms. Payne said. “We feed them a meal after tutoring. ... We provide transportation. I had a student who was getting F's in math; now he's getting B's.”

        The bar and South Side have been neighbors for decades. The church opened in 1907 and the bar sometime around 1916.

        The church has tried for years to buy what the Rev. Mr. Pike called “the beer joint” from Richard and Brenda Salter. Two real estate agencies that purchase properties for anonymous buyers also tried and failed.

        Meanwhile, the Rev. Mr. Pike figured that simply striking up a friendship with the Salters was a good idea - regardless of what happened.

        Last March, things happened.

        The Salters told the Rev. Mr. Pike they would sell the saloon for $111,500. Rev. Pike's niece, Elaine Moore and her husband, Jimmy Moore of Tuscaloosa, Ala., sent a $100,000 check. The Salters gave $10,000.

        And when South Side kicked in the final $1,500, the church had itself a bar.

        “I never held a check for $100,000 in my life,” the Rev. Mr. Pike said. “I thought it had too many zeroes.”

More work ahead
               The hard work at El Ji Moore (named after the Moores) is just beginning.

        The building needs new wiring and a roof.

        Computers, furniture and paint have to be purchased. The church needs to set up the center as a nonprofit corporation so people who won't give to a church will send money to the center, and the center must have city approval to open.

        Total cost: at least $150,000. But neither Ms. Cummins nor the Rev. Mr. Pike seem worried.

        “I don't have a doubt because the Lord's in it,” the Rev. Mr. Pike said. “I'm not discouraged at all. The difficult things we'll do now. The impossible things will take a few months, but we'll do those, too.”


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