Charity vs. Empowerment

Charity vs. Empowerment

“When we do for those in need what they have the capacity to do for
 themselves, we disempower them.”
– Toxic Charity, 
Robert D. Lupton

By July 2006, Mission: St. Louis’ Founder and Executive Director, Josh Wilson, had worked with inner-city kids and had seen first-hand the effects of poverty; he had seen need. With a dedicated vision to restore St. Louis, Josh started several conversations with his church, The Journey. His conversations led to an internship, which eventually developed into a full-fledge mercy ministry designed to connect The Journey with residents in at-risk neighborhoods.

After a three-month flurry of unfocused volunteer activity, Josh realized that we were doing harm rather than good. Volunteers did not have personal relationships with any of the people they were serving. Everyone involved was burned out. It was time for a change.


We were focusing on charity, and not empowerment.

Charity is a beautiful thing. It is the act of giving money, gifts or service to the poor or needy. It serves a major purpose, think of the Red Cross and the amazing work they do when a disaster strikes. It meets an immediate need, and is often a band-aid to help someone when they need it.

The turning point came in the form of a relationship with a local school.

Mission: St. Louis organized a school supply drive for a local school, Adams Elementary. This began a relationship between Mission: St. Louis, Adams Elementary and the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood. We narrowed our focus, guided our volunteers, and put all our resources into one specific community. We built relationships in this community and were able to get to know the people and their needs.

Empowerment is the giving of power or authority to someone. It is giving them more capacity, the tools they need to provide for themselves.  It is the difference of “doing for” and “doing with.”

Empowerment is difficult because it takes time, and often does not offer immediate results or feedback. It is the result of years of walking alongside someone, building relationship, and sharing knowledge.

Since our start in Forest Park Southeast, we have built deeper relationships with schools, businesses, neighborhoods, churches and organizations. We’ve created and grown life-changing programs for youth to older adults in order to empower people in our city with the tools needed to work their way out of poverty. Our two core programs, Beyond School and Beyond Jobs, are transforming lives. Kids in our Beyond School program are making 3 months reading and math growth for every month in our program. Men in our Beyond Jobs programs have a 75% chance of being employed within five months of graduation.

Today, we’re restoring our city through more relationships like the one we began with.

When Mission: St. Louis first found a home in Forest Park Southeast, it was a very different neighborhood. It was crime ridden and run-down. As it has grown and flourished in recent years, our relationship with the St. Louis community has spread further north. We have been called to North City, where many of the people we serve are living.


While we miss our old neighborhood with all its coffee shops, restaurants, and unique style, we are thrilled about our move. Relocating to our new building means we get to learn what makes a whole new neighborhood unique. It also provides us with substantially more space to use in a multitude of ways, and more importantly, our move provides us with the opportunity to work more closely with many of the people we hope to serve. We’d like to truly become a part of this community and empower individuals to transform their lives, families and neighborhoods. 

Ten Years in the Making: 2017 Open House

Ten Years in the Making: 2017 Open House

On May 11th, we came together with neighbors, partners, volunteers, donors and long time supporters to celebrate our new home at 3108 N Grand.

We are so thankful for such an amazing turnout. Our rooms were full of laughter, reminiscing and new found connections.

Our new home has gone through much change since we began working on the building last August. Thanks to staff and many volunteers, the first two floors of 3108 have improved remarkably. Not only has the building improved but its uses have also increased. Every Tuesday night, community members take advantage of our open gym. HiSET tutoring takes place every Tuesday and Thursday night. Community members have started renting space for local events. SLATE (St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment) has opened an office here to connect local job seekers to training programs and employment opportunities. St. Louis AmeriCorps VISTAs visit regularly for training programs and and our third JLT class just graduated from this building!

In May 2007, Mission: St. Louis was incorporated as a Missouri non-profit. Over the last 10 years, we have realized the importance of listening over telling and have learned how to act with more than just good intentions. Our journey has been one of many steps forward, a couple steps back and lots of conversations. Our move to N. Grand is another step towards our shared goals. In less than a year, we can already see how our move will shape our future and our impact on St. Louis. Thank you for supporting us as we celebrate our 10th year of relationship building, empowerment and community.

We are excited to spend this year celebrating our past accomplishments while looking forward to a bright future of impact, partnership and change. 

Click here to learn about the history of Mission: St. Louis!

Remember When

Remember When

Everyone grows up differently, but many of us share that same nostalgia for the place where we were raised. Whether you miss walking to the park with your friends, learning the day's gossip from your next door neighbor or visiting your favorite local restaurant, the safety and love you felt in your first neighborhood stays with you forever. For many residents living near our new office, that is Lindell Park.

Although our new building officially sits inside the larger neighborhood of Jeff Vander Lou, we are also a part of the smaller community of Lindell Park. We were lucky enough to sit down with five residents of Lindell Park to learn more about their home.

Four of the five residents we spoke with grew up in Lindell Park and their families have lived here since the 60s. Mr. Robert's family moved into the neighborhood in 1961. He remembers watching baseball and even football at Sportsman's Park, and as a young man he made extra money as a valet for spectators who drove into the city for the games. Ms. May's parents moved here in 1968 as first time homeowners moving from a large apartment complex.  Mr. Will's grandparents purchased their home in Lindell Park in 1966. What he remembers most about growing up here is "the closeness of the neighborhood". He remembers being able to walk safely to Fairground Park, Herbert Hoover and the YMCA where we are situated today.  Mr. Robert told us that "Whatever you needed, you didn't have to go far". There was a Woolworths up the street and Percy's Barber Shop on the corner. There were mom and pop restaurants in walking distance, dry cleaners and even a movie theater on Natural Bridge and Grand.

It's easy to get caught up in reminiscing, but here, there are also goals for the future. Long time residents worry about decreasing home ownership and hope that more sit-down restaurants will move in and play an active role in the community. They also want to see systemic change such as faster response times and better relationships with local police. 

Today, this neighborhood is still close-knit. Neighbors take care of each other and pray for each other. Ms. May and Ms. Marilyn regularly pick up trash on their street that flows in from Grand, a neighborhood organization meets once a month at Jubilee Community Church and residents stay in contact with local politicians to push for positive change throughout their community. 

We asked Ms. May what she wants supporters of Mission: St. Louis to know about Lindell Park. She said,

“This is a loving, caring, family oriented neighborhood that just needs a little revitalization".

We hope that our relationship with Lindell Park and all of Jeff Vander Lou will continue to grow and we are excited to see what our shared future will bring. 

Meet Mission: St. Louis' Ambassadors Board

Meet Mission: St. Louis' Ambassadors Board

The Mission: St. Louis Ambassadors Board is a group of dedicated individuals who work together to plan, promote and participate in events supporting our programs and mission.  We would like to showcase our committed members of the Ambassadors Broad to celebrate the board's two year anniversary. To learn more about how you can get involved, contact us at 

Get to know the current members of the Ambassadors Board!

From top left to bottom right; Daniel, Natasha, Morgan, Pam, Crystal, Barrett, Nate, Cate, Michelle

Natasha: It was an opportunity to support Mission: St. Louis with one of my favorite pastimes; event planning. When I was younger, I aspired to be a celebrity event planner (probably needless to say that it didn’t work out). But I was excited to be able to incorporate some fun into philanthropy!

Pam: I wanted to spread the word about Mission St. Louis and come up with creative ways for young professionals to learn about it.

Daniel: I moved back to St. Louis after being abroad and wanted to reconnect with the St Louis community by getting involved.

Michelle: I decided to become an ambassador because I had been volunteering for specific events for MSTL since 2007, but wanted to get more involved. I also was looking for the opportunity to meet new friends, and , as a professional, it's a great resume builder!  So far, it's met all my expectations!

Crystal: I wanted to be a part of something highly needed in this city and Christ centered. 

Natasha: Seeing the finished product, when the event comes together.

Barrett: Spreading the word.

Crystal: The team I get to work with and how it keeps me aware of the reality of the needs of others in my city.

Cate: Learning about all the different programs and witnessing real positive change happen in the St. Louis community.

Daniel: Being able to provide support to a great non-profit and working with other ambassadors to come up with new fundraising events to benefit Mission St Louis's different programs.

Pam: Meeting other young professionals who are passionate about supporting Mission St. Louis and seeing new people become involved.

Natasha: I love that Mission: St. Louis strives for empowerment, giving people the tools to succeed rather than a handout. I’m proud to support an organization that is focused on those fundamental steps to overcome poverty.

Crystal: When I hear the success and accomplishments of this organization, I get goosebumps.  It’s truly making a lasting impact. 

Daniel: I believe in the work that Mission St. Louis does and want to help by using the resources and experience that I have from my career.

Cate: Their mission is holistic and very rooted in relationship-building. I think the only way to really make a difference in a person's life is to build a relationship with them. That takes time, energy, and is challenging to do well, but MSTL isn't afraid to put that at the core of it's programs.

Natasha: I spend a lot of time playing with spreadsheets. Though outside of the office, I love to travel, go to shows or dabble in some up-cycle craft projects.

Crystal: I enjoy doing a variety of things with interior design, decorating and real estate.

Daniel: My work as an engineer regularly takes me abroad to support our other sites. Outside of work, I play music or train for my next race.

Pam: I'm active in local politics.

Morgan: I love reading, being outdoors and looking for new places to hike across Missouri.


Crystal: All things foodie and festival related.  We’ve got some great food and music! -Blue City Deli has the best smoked pulled pork sandwich ever!!

Cate: My husband and I are members at the Botanical Garden so I love to visit when the weather is nice. I also love tossing around a Frisbee in Tower Grove Park and catching matinee movies at the Hi-Pointe theater. As for food, I'd have to say all the Bailey's restaurants for dinner and dessert, Union Loafers for lunch, and SweetArt or Rise Coffee House for a latte and breakfast sandwich that is out of this world.

Daniel: Vista Ramen is a new favorite restaurant of mine. 

Pam: I love Tower Grove Park and Garden on Grand. 


Michelle: My favorite thing to do in St. Louis is probably the Tower Grove farmers market and free yoga on Saturday mornings.  Also hiking in Castlewood Park. My favorite place to eat right now is Lulu's Local Eatery. Try the cauliflower bites! 

MorganEating! My favorite restaurant is Guerrilla Street Food and favorite place for ice cream is Clementine's Creamery.  

Natasha: I could probably live in Forest Park; there’s so much to do! My favorite place to eat is The Vine, without a doubt.

Natasha: My advice is to consider your hobby or expertise; then think about how that can be be put into action for a cause that you’re passionate about. And most importantly, say yes! There are lots of opportunities out there, so don’t be afraid to take one.

MorganThe great thing about St. Louis is there are volunteer opportunities all around. I think people should decide on a cause that is important to them and do some research. It's important to believe in an agency's mission and know who or what their programs serve.

PamFind something you're interested in or care about - and lookup local groups related to it. It's amazing how many circles overlap in St. Louis, which makes it a lot easier to meet people once you start getting involved. 

Daniel: Look to friends and family who are already involved in something. They will be your best resource for helping you find something that will work for you. 

Barrett: It's easy! Reach out to an organization that you feel strongly about.

Michelle: There are so many avenues! Find something that interests you and volunteer to try it out.  Network!  Go to your neighborhood association meetings.  The key is to find something that excites you and spend more time doing it.  Don't worry about how long you'll be in St. Louis or if you'll be good at something; anything that makes you smile is worth whatever time you can give.  This city needs everyone to get involved doing what they love!!!  Get your kids/family/friends to do it too!  The more the merrier!

Cate: Spend time in the neighborhood you live in and learn more about the causes that really resonate with you. Build relationships with people who are different from you. I think people's passions are really developed when they invest in and observe the spaces that they spend time in and when they really pay attention to what is going on.

Crystal: For low commitment but very helpful: Join our Ambassador Network to attend and invite friends to social activities with a cause.  For more commitment: Apply to be an Ambassador to help plan future fundraising events. Or check out volunteer opportunities directly with Mission: St. Louis and their programs.



If you thrive on planning events and relish at the chance to meet new people, the Ambassadors Board is looking for you. We want to bring together enthusiastic and self motivated leaders to champion our mission and develop partnerships throughout the St. Louis Community. Join the Ambassador Board Facebook to keep updated on events or contact Mandy at to learn more.