ROCHESTER, N.Y. — A bishop in Rochester has been changing his community for decades. 

Bishop David J. Singleton explains how his time serving as a firefighter taught him how to leave a lasting impression for generations to come.

What You Need To Know

  • Bishop David J. Singleton Sr. leads a regional prayer hotline every weekday starting at 6 a.m.

  • He transformed the Rochester Fire Department's internship program into a firefighter trainee program to help African American recruitment efforts nearly 30 years ago

  • Singleton is the founder of the 'Celebration of Life Community'

  • After retiring from RFD, he launched a Help Me Read Program at School 17 to help children improve their reading skills

Singleton knew early in his life that he would go on to serve God. 

"I knew early in my career though that I would leave fire service for full time kingdom service,” he said.

The bishop starts every morning by praying on a regional prayer hotline he started 14 years ago. He says everyone is invited to join at 6 a.m. Monday through Friday to listen, ask for prayers or pray with the group. There are members who join all the way from South Carolina and even Florida. The group prays for the community and all who make it, including city, state, federal, global and religious leaders.

But his journey serving the community began with the Rochester Fire Department. He has always had a passion for helping the community. He recalls seeing police recruitment efforts while on the hunt for his career, but says everyone loved the firefighters in his neighborhood. After joining RFD, Singleton remembers being one of the few Black people on the force. 

“Rochester didn’t have but out of nearly 500 firefighters, I think there were probably three Blacks,” Singleton said. “And you have a community that is primarily people of color." 

When his minority status was brought into the conversation, it was suggested that he should lead the Internship program which aimed to help recruit more African Americans. He says he prayed long and hard about the opportunity and decided it was an offer he could not decline. He was able to recruit dozens of people of color into the department, and ultimately the community, during his two decades of serving. 

He has been retired for more than two decades now and still sees some of his old recruits at the department from time to time. His retirement pushed him towards a new initiative to serve the community. 

“My mom was illiterate and I remember her going to an adult literacy program trying to learn how to read and write,” Singleton said. “And I remember how in my mind it was a little, you know, quite noteworthy to me. She’s trying to read works, I don’t know, maybe I was around third, second or third grade, and she was trying to read words that I could read easily.”

He says this is something that inspired his launch of the Help Me Read Program at School 17. His role is to find tutors within the community to help elementary students with their reading skills. His success is something program coordinator, Linda Maulding, says at one point, bought more tutors in than teachers. She says the importance of students' reading skills at such a young age.

"We would give every tutor in the first and second grade, and most of the third grade, a tutor because you want to get them prior to fourth grade,” Maulding said. “Because they say the prison population is built on kids that don't make it past third grade - can't read a third grade." 

According to their program's research, attendance has improved in their students. Sometimes the kids might still miss school, but Maulding says they won't miss school on the days that their tutor is coming in for a visit. 

“A lot of them just need a little bit of attention and 30-40 minutes a day individually with a grown up, and an adult that’s mentoring and then that’s assisting them in some of the things they may be afraid of,” she said. “It just makes all the difference.” 

Johnny Washington is among the students to have succeeded in the program.

“I passed my reading class and I got a lot of scores and I was better I was getting better at reading,” Washington said. 

Ultimately, Bishop Singleton's extra initiatives for the community is leading the next generation to success. 

“I believe that we have a responsibility to others,” he said. “I believe we exist for the benefit of another. [I] believe a lot of our joy in life and a sense of fulfillment and purpose comes through serving someone else.” 

He says, for him, it was not aiming for leadership.

“For me, it was simply things I cared about and I started doing,” he said.