YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Madison School has seen better days.
All of the windows have been smashed, and debris and shattered fluorescent light bulbs litter the floor. The paint is peeling off the walls after years of exposure to cold weather, and the occasional book lies abandoned on the floor.
But Pastor Charles Hudson, who runs a group called Bondage Busters that seeks to stem gang violence, sees all of this very differently.
He points out the murals on the walls that the children he worked with painted and talks to us as if they were here painting yesterday, using the gym downstairs or the chapel along the corridor.
As Hudson talks, the tears start to pour down his face.
“Sorry,” he said, wiping away the tears. “It’s painful for me to even be here and remember what it used to be like.”
Hudson, 62, bought this building from the local school authority back in 2001 not long after it was closed down – a common fate in Youngstown, a former steel town whose population has fallen by more than half since the 1930s – for $13,000 using donations from friends and local business owners.
He ran the place as a refuge for children to get away from gang violence. But three years ago he had to leave town after three mini-strokes and spent time recovering elsewhere. When he returned earlier this year it was to a dilapidated and derelict building.
His dream is to renovate the old school and once more make it a haven for children, plus make it a place the elderly can come to.
“Those kids need somewhere to go and this place meant so much to them,” he said.
The trouble is that Hudson needs $1.5 million to renovate the school, but he says that he has been unable to raise funds or get any help from the city of Youngstown.
“I don’t know where I can turn,” Hudson said, his chin quivering.
We asked Jay Williams, Youngstown’s mayor, about Hudson and his project.
Williams told us that like Youngstown – which has come to accept its fate as a smaller city with fewer financial resources – that Hudson may have to set his sights a little lower.
“Pastor Hudson is a passionate man with a good idea that he believes in,” he said. “But if he spends $1.5 million on renovating it he’ll still need to spend money on lighting and heating it, plus raise additional funds for projects there.”
“If he raised $1.5 million and went for a smaller space that perhaps cost $200,000 to renovate, he’d still have $1.3 million for projects,” Williams added. “I’m not saying that he should give up his dream. I just think he may need to downsize it a little.”
Photos and audio slideshow by Brian Snyder