After being away from the northSide of Syracuse for 25 years, Lou and Anne became reacquainted with the community, when in 2001, they began attending a struggling church planting located in their old neighborhood. Anne is a first generation daughter of Italian immigrants and Lou is a second-generation grandson of Italian immigrants. They had stayed in the greater Syracuse area for most of their adult lives, where they raised their family of eight children – seven of which are now adults.
What began as weekly attendance to Sunday worship services gradually grew into more regular church involvement. In 2005, they made a decision to leave their printing and publishing business of 26 years and answer a call to full-time ministry. Unfortunately, because of Lou’s extensive business background, the first ministry position to open up would mean relocating to Missouri to help a failing, denominational, Christian publishing house. They responded to the need and sadly moved. Within a year, they were convinced that their hearts’ call was not with the “business” of the church, but rather a grassroots ministry with individuals and families in neighborhoods like the one they had left behind.
In the summer of 2006, Lou and Anne moved back to the greater Syracuse area and even though a paid position was not available, they began to volunteer as full-time building restoration and outreach ministers at a small church in the old neighborhood.
Within months of serving in these capacities, it became evident to them that to significantly have an impact on this blighted area they would need to move back into their old neighborhood. A plan was made with the church leadership, whereby they would renovate the vacant rooms above the church into a loft apartment and move-in with their then 8-year-old daughter, Jessica.
The loft renovation project began with the replacement of the leaky church roof. It was there, on top of the church that Lou would daily observe the activities of the streets and a vision and burden was born. The drugs, prostitution, violence, abuse, exploitation, loneliness and hopelessness was so apparent when viewed from up above on that rooftop, when no one realized they were being watched.
In the spring of 2007, the Vinciguerras moved into the loft and began ministering both day and night. Once they were actually living there, they soon realized that what Lou had observed from the church rooftop during the day was nothing compared to what was going on – all night long. Illegal street activity seemed to meander into the neighborhood around 3 p.m. to engage with working commuters, who regularly drove through to make their contacts. However, it was in the hours between 11 p.m. and sunrise that their neighborhood marketplace of illegal activities was booming. To their surprise the epicenter of all this activity was the church corner, with its dark stoops and secluded alley.
It was during these hours – night after night – that young addicted girls were brought into the neighborhood by dealers, to work alongside the veteran independent prostitutes who had walked the streets or sat on the church stoop for years. Several crack and other drug houses were within a three-block radius of the church. A few American-born neighbors were very active in this night-scene, while others and most refugees were locked in their houses with lights out. For the most part, if anyone was out on the streets after dark, they were either buying or selling.
“…they were convinced that their hearts’ call was
not with the “business” of the church, but rather a grassroots ministry with individuals and families
in neighborhoods like the one they had left behind…”
With this information in hand, Lou devised a plan to first bring much needed lighting and then some positive nighttime activities such as music, chess and other board games to this notorious corner. This approach continued for about 18 months and little by little, some of the drug and prostitution activity diminished.
In the spring of 2008, the project continued to progress when the Vinciguerras, along with a group of volunteers, decided to build a lit bocce court on the church property. By midsummer, the court was regularly hosting bocce games – both day and night. The continuous, positive activity had caused some of the drug houses located in the immediate area around the bocce activity to pack up and move out, in search of less visible locations. Meanwhile, the police raided others. Yet for every drug dealer or promoter of prostitution that moved away, another would appear within a few weeks. After all, this had gone unchecked for years, with often the occurrence of dealers and prostitutes renting the least expensive apartments in the neighborhood to set up shop.
By the spring of 2009, Lou and Anne began to realize that their vision and burden for the neighborhood would be better implemented outside the confines of a church, where 90% of the membership commuted into the neighborhood once or twice a week for church functions.
Therefore, that spring, Lou resigned his ministerial license and the Vinciguerras continued to minister to the community under an informal faith based initiative called “Name of Jesus Restoration Ministries”. Under this new structure they were much more free to focus on serving and developing the neighborhood, while collaborating with all like minded, community-oriented people and organizations regardless of race, color or creed.
As previously noted, the neighborhood was riddled with vacant and abandoned homes, blighted lots, and unoccupied storefronts. Furthermore, most of the open spaces were paved parking lots, which left just a handful of parks or green space available for outdoor activities and gatherings. An abandoned crack house with adjacent, empty side lots was identified as a key piece of property necessary to the revitalization of the neighborhood. The Vinciguerras bought the house and renovations began using as much neighborhood talent as possible.
In July of 2010, the Vinciguerras moved into the house and became permanent neighbors. As they continued their campaign against the illegal activities and renovated the house, they became more familiar with their diverse neighbors and their needs. With the development of relationships, they became more sensitive of the harm done and misunderstanding throughout the world and over the centuries by so-called “Christians “ in the name of Jesus. Therefore, in the spring of 2012, they began the process of formally incorporating their ministry under the name of Yeshua Restoration Ministries. Yeshua is the Hebrew name for Jesus, and like so many of the Vinciguerras newfound refugee friends, His name was also changed when He was introduced to western society.
At present, they are incorporated in New York State and have recently received their 501c3 non-profit status.