A local 46-year-old businessman heads to medical school
Legal News Reporter
Published: August 17, 2012
It’s a meeting that has happened for the last five years. Bill Downing and Pastor Duane Crabbs have a standing appointment every Friday at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. The location––The Front Porch Café––is located a block away from the Summit County jail in Akron.
These men, who are dedicated to helping others, meet weekly to talk about what is going on at South Street Ministries.The mission is to renew the neighborhood and make it safe for all who live there. Pastor Crabbs is the founder and Downing, up until recently, held the position of board president.
Downing stepped down so he can attend medical school full time at the age of 46. He already holds degrees from Bowling Green State University and Harvard Business School.
“I believe this is a calling. I believe it is an opportunity to make a significant difference in the community,“ said the father of three.
Not only is Downing reducing his volunteer commitments, but he relinquished his position as president and CFO of the family business, Downing Enterprises, to pursue his dream of becoming a physician.
His father started Downing Enterprises in 1972. The Copley-based company designs and manufactures trade show exhibits and purchase displays. It employs about a 100 people.
“I understand the risks of being a middle aged career changer,” Downing said. “And there are some things that are skewed against me. I would rather take the risks and give it my best than be regretful I didn’t try to do that.“
Downing will attend Cleveland State University in the fall. The school has a new joint program with Northeast Ohio Medical University. He will be among the inaugural class of 35 students from all walks of life. When he completes the six- year program, Downing plans to return to urban Akron and provide medical care to those who are under insured or have no insurance.
“I got very inspired by seeing the different doctors, nurses and social workers in the community who are making a difference. I felt that really for me the best way to invest in the community for the rest of my productive life is not to run a company, but taking the best of who I am and address the problem that was the most glaring.”
The Grace North Church member said his parents instilled in him the importance of giving back to the community as a child. But it wasn’t until ten years ago that he really dedicated a significant amount of time to volunteering. The Copley resident started by mentoring young men with Oasis Outreach Opportunity.
“That is when I first learned what faith-based volunteering is all about,” he said. “I went down with wanting to reach out and I quickly learned I was receiving more than I was giving. It was really gratifying. And I probably learned as much from them if not more as I was able to teach them.”
But after three years he wanted to do more. And that is how he met Crabbs with South Street Ministries.
At first he just attended church service. But quickly started helping out where needed. And within a year, Crabbs asked Downing to sit on the board. And eventually he became the board president and held that position for five years.
Crabbs believes it just made sense. It came at a time when he was getting pressure to put more professionals on the board.
“We began to have creditability because his name was on the letterhead,” Crabbs said.
The pastor started what he calls a grassroots ministry 15 years ago. At that time, he was living in a nice home on Akron’s westside and working as a firefighter. In time, he moved his family into the neighborhood and quit his job. He wanted to dedicate all his time and resources to helping others.
“One thing that is really important to us is not distance caring. Part of our model is if we live in the neighborhood , then it is our problems,” the father of four said.
He goes on to say that South Street Ministries struggled in the beginning, but once Downing got on the board, things started to change.
“We were able to get enough money set aside to hire somebody,” Crabbs said.
Today, they have several programs that include mentoring students after school and an urban garden. They also have been able to hire five teenagers during the summer. They have six full time employees that include some ex-felons. The 52 year-old and his wife, Lisa, opened the Front Porch Café. Crabbs says a big part of the ministries’ success is because of Downing and his humility.
“Bill always respects me and Lisa,” Crabbs said. “He never tried to impose a business model on us but he would help us get the best of that without sacrificing our personal commitment and grassroots effort.”
These two men’s faith in Christ and journey of volunteerism has brought them together, Crabbs said, adding that they’ve become friends and they inspire each other.
With the support of his family, Downing believes he is ready for medical school. He has been taking classes at Cuyahoga County Community College for the last two years to prepare. Some of the classes he will take this fall include organic chemistry and an urban health seminar.
He will continue to volunteer at the neighborhood health clinic and Akron General Hospital while in medical school.
But Downing won’t let the title of doctor go to his head. Rather, he wants the title to give him access to not only having a healing relationship with his patients, but be an advocate for community health as well.
“It is such a privilege to be in this position. I have good health, family support and the financial means to do this. I am very grateful. It is a privilege to come alongside people like Duane and the folks who are serving here in the neighborhood that need the most help and become apart of that team,” the soon to be doctor said.