The Austin community could almost be called the community of churches. There are more than 400 churches in Austin, but very little is known about many of them. Every church congregation prides itself on serving the Lord and its members. But what about the community? Are there outreach programs or programs for young people after school? Are they feeding the hungry, taking care of the elderly, or educating the community?

These burning questions often raise the “blood pressure” in religious communities, but churches participating in these activities should not have any blood pressure problems.

Greater St. John Bible Church, 1256 N. Waller, is one of those participating churches where Rev. Ira Acree is pastor. Austin Weekly News recently found him serving food to seniors during the Thanksgiving season. We wanted to know what Rev. Acree was planning for the New Year as well as current programs available at his church.

He began the interview saying, “I have a passion to really try to change the mind-set of our young adults who are coming along today. The Bible says, “My people are destroyed because of a lack of knowledge,” and we are just trying to make an impact educationally and economically.

For the last five years we’ve had a scholarship banquet every May. This year we gave away $22,000 in $500 increments to about 40 people. We have one person who was ‘student of the year’ and he got $1,000. We also have the after-school program, ‘The North Austin Homework Hangout.’ We believe that the church is the right place to have an after-school program.

“First of all, it is needed because statistics have shown between 2:30 and 6:30 p.m. is the highest period of juvenile delinquency, and that has a direct correlation between parents still being at work and kids not having any supervision because they are out of school. So here we have after-school programs where they can get some help with their homework and a hot meal. When the parents come home, their kids have eaten and their homework has been done.

“In addition to this, we have a computer literacy program, and this year we have a special emphasis for HIV/AIDS awareness. The thinking here is the same old philosophy my grandmother helped raise me on: ‘An ounce of prevention, is better than a pound of cure.’ We’re taking that same philosophy to our school program, and it’s always easier to teach people celibacy before they start having sex than to try to deprogram somebody that is already sexually active.”

AWN: You were involved with the Katrina effort; what is happening now?

Acree: “I recently had a conference call with a group of ministers regarding Katrina. We saw that immediately after the disaster, the government responded just ridiculously slow. Myself, Rev. Marshall Hatch, Rev. Jeanette Wilson, members from our church, a couple of nurses and a reporter went down to Rayne, La., right outside of Baton Rouge. We got to see people who were actually living on the ground, people in tears. We met a young kid who lost both of his parents in the Katrina disaster. Overnight he became the new leader of the family. It was dramatic stories like this that move many to tears.”

AWN: Tell us about your family.

Acree: “My wife’s name is Margaret and I have two children. My wife of 17 years is a wonderful wife and mother. My son is a sophomore at Oak Park and River Forest High School. And my daughter is a seventh-grader at Julian Middle School. Marcus and Nicole are my son and daughter.”

AWN: What’s ahead for 2006?

Acree: “For 2006, we will continue to do our Hurricane Katrina Relief because certainly it seems like America, the government and the president have become desensitized to it, and so we must keep it up before the people. I think President Bush or the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) director have no business moving on to something else. This is still a major crisis. We got people in 41 different states who have evacuees from the Gulf area, so we’re going to continue that. We will continue to make the case for economic empowerment. And I want to make it clear that I can’t be everywhere and we’re not always available to participate in other minister’s programs or events. We will continue our HIV/AIDS awareness as well as breast cancer awareness. We’re trying to help ladies get their mammograms without a fee. We’re bringing things to the community. Next year we hope to break ground with affordable housing for families. We’ve petitioned our alderman, Ike Carothers (29th Ward) for 15 lots, and he is on board with this. Many people would like to transition from renter to homeowners. We plan to do that for 15 families. We have to start somewhere?”a journey of a 1,000 miles begins with one step. With those 15 houses, that is going to be Greater St. John’s first step.”