Transforming a community -- one soul at a time

PERTH AMBOY, N.J. -- When Bishop Donald Hilliard walks down the main street of Perth Amboy, New Jersey, he can feel the love of a community he has served for more than 30 years. He has helped transform the city, starting with a foreclosed adult movie theater which is now his church.

Hilliard's Cathedral International Church has grown from 100 members in the 1980s to more than 5,000 today. And a downtown that was once filled with liquor stores and abandoned buildings is now very different.

"No one else was doing anything," said Hilliard. "People were moving out of Perth Amboy, not in. We were the number one investor in Perth Amboy in that time period."

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Bishop Donald Hilliard's Cathedral International Church in Perth Amboy, New Jersey
CBS News

But it's not just buildings he's focused on. Hilliard also has dedicated his efforts to first changing the lives of the men in the community.

"I believe that where there are God's people, that the community should be transformed right along with the people's souls," said Hilliard.

Kevin Smallwood was a drug addict -- now he's an entrepreneur. Smallwood said he cooked fish for Bishop Hilliard one afternoon and was told: "Kevin, this fish is so good you could market it."

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Bishop Donald Hilliard walks in Perth Amboy, New Jersey with CBS' James Brown
CBS News

Six months later Smallwood says he opened his first restaurant.

State Assemblyman John Wisniewski says Hilliard and his church have been key to the steady growth of the city over the last two decades.

"His ministry has been remarkable, in that it is hands on," said Wisniewski. "He's got the calluses on his hands to show the difference that he's made in this community."

Hilliard told me he wants to leave a legacy that says: "He tried to help me. He made a way for me. He made space for me and opened a door for me so I could go in that door."

And he says he intends to open many new doors for years to come.