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GO RIGHT TO HEAVEN, DON'T PASS GO AREA WOMAN SEEKS TO MARKET RELIGIOUS BOARD GAME

LIKE Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit, Hazel McNair McAllister's homespun board game sends tokens on a goal-oriented journey down an unpredictable path.

But instead of acquiring houses, hotels or colorful pies, players of the Abundant Life Game search for divine guidance and spiritual knowledge.

The Lackawanna woman's 18-year quest to market her game and create a cottage industry for her not-for-profit group has been a unique blend of entrepreneurism, religious conviction and political maneuvering.

After working with a product design expert, Ms. McAllister finally has a slick, four-color prototype that looks like it may have come off the assembly line at a major game company. But bigger challenges lie ahead -- like raising $60,000 to produce the first 5,000 units and finding office space where assembly, packaging and marketing chores can be performed.

It may sound like a pipe dream to some, but people who have met with Ms. McAllister said if anyone can pull it off, she can.

Lackawanna First Ward Councilman Ricardo Estrada said he sat down with Ms. McAllister for two hours and was dazzled by her determination.

"This woman hurdles every barrier that's placed in front of her," he said. "She just keeps on going."

Estrada is chairman of the board of Friendship
House, a financially-ailing not-for-profit agency that owns a vacant three-story building a few blocks from Ms. McAllister's house. Since 1981, the woman has been meeting with Lackawanna officials and community leaders in hopes of convincing them to let her group -- the Jesus is Alive training center -- take over the abandoned elementary school at 90 Dona St.

Friendship House ultimately purchased the former Lincoln School and used it for administrative offices and human services programs. But when the agency filed for bankruptcy in 1997, operations were consolidated at a facility on Ridge Road and the Dona Street building was put up for sale.

Ms. McAllister said her group has been trying to acquire the site for $30,000 in hopes of transforming it into a multiuse facility that would include a spiritual training center and space that could be used for the organization's entrepreneurial pursuits. She said her long-term vision would create new jobs, a thriving start-up business and revitalize an empty building.

Estrada said that as much as he would like to help the group, Friendship House needs at least $275,000 for the Dona Street building.

Ms. McAllister and her husband, James, a retiree from Bethlehem Steel, live in a home on Stoney Street that also serves as the base for her Jesus is Alive group -- 25 active members who participate in bible study sessions and other events in the basement.

Her mission began in the late 1970s when she became a Born Again Christian. Two years later, she said she was inspired to create the game.

"Christians are at a loss when trying to find positive ways to entertain themselves and others," she said. "The game can be played strictly for entertainment, but it also encourages love and unity."

While scriptures form the framework for most of the game elements, Ms. McAllister said players don't need to know about the Bible to enjoy the Abundant Life Game. Points are earned by answering questions about everything from football to politics.

Ms. McAllister worked closely with ProductLogic, a Linwood Avenue company that specializes in designing consumer products. Owner Merry Riehm-Constantino has helped companies to design everything from diaper pails to denture brushes.

But even with her diverse resume, Ms. Riehm-Constantino said the game was a genuine challenge. "We worked for a year on the design concept," she said. "We knew that the market would be relatively small unless the end-result could be appreciated by people who are not as devoted to the Christian faith as Ms. McAllister. I think the game communicates very well."

If the Abundant Life Game moves beyond the prototype stage, it will face some stiff competition. Bender's Christian Supplies on Sheridan Drive in Williamsville sells more than 50 games that have religious themes, ranging from inexpensive card games to elaborate board games. Store manager Harvey DeFries said one of the most popular products is called Bibleopoly.

"It's played like Monopoly, only from a Christian point of view as players build churches and things like that," DeFries said.

Ms. McAllister is undaunted by the prospect of competition. The mother of four has also written a couple of inspirational books that she hopes will someday become entrepreneurial fodder for her group. "I've been learning so much about business over the years. It has been a step-by-step progression and it's been pretty frustrating at times. But I've had a lot of help from the Holy Spirit," she said.

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