Our prayers for our city

Our prayers for our city

peace understanding dear hate.jpg

"Peace. Understanding.

 

Dear hate,

 

...love's gonna conquer all."

It’s no secret that our city has a deep rooted history of injustice and pain that continues to be written today. We see the pain and acknowledge we must play a role in the healing of our city. We asked members of The Journey church what their prayers are for our city. Over 200 cards were returned. We wanted to share some of our favorite ones.

This year, a majority of the prayers focused on the unrest our city has been experiencing. Even a month after the verdict announcement, it is still on everyone’s mind. Just as we need to find our role, the church also is figuring out their role. We know that God calls us to love our neighbors and we are all made in the image of Christ. We must learn to genuinely value one another and see the humanity of every person. We believe in the power of relationships to restore our city. Often these relationships are with people who do not look like ourselves. It’s important to reflect on our own relationships and make an effort to love our neighbors as God loves us.

“That people would be able to look at a person and their race would not be their distinction. That we in STL could be an example of overcoming old, flawed beliefs. We would all come together as brothers and sisters who love and help one another despite our differences.”

“That God would hear the cries of the brokenhearted people, that he would heal the the deep divisions in this city, that he would open the eyes, ears and hearts of those in power in the government to the injustice in the city and that they would be motivated to do something.”

“That we treat everyone with love. Love is a word that means so much. The Bible says ‘Love is patient. Love is kind.’ Those words power us to defeat hate. God did not create a special kind. He made a superb species that should love and take care of each other.”

“That people will listen to each other with humility and love and that people will remember that we are all made in the image of God.”

We all believe that St. Louis has the potential to serve as a model to other cities for racial reconciliation and justice. We see the strength and beauty of our city, now it's time to put in the work and effort to make it a place for everyone. All of us can commit to take action to improve our city. Use your gifts and passion to get involved, no matter how big or small.

  • Have a gift for writing? Write senators and members of congress to demand an end to discriminatory practices in law enforcement, the judiciary, education, and the media.

  • Love socializing? Start conversations with your family, friends and coworkers about ways to work towards justice.

  • Want to connect with others? Sign up to be a mentor in our Job and Leadership training program. Learn more about the program and opportunities here.

“St. Louis will encounter Christ and it will shake us and be the catalyst for change and restoration. May we have the courage to push through the lines of division so we can listen and understand. Please grant us the strength and wisdom for restoration.”

“That the systematic racism be completely removed, that people of color feel safe and valued...that we embrace diversity...that a child of color be given the same opportunity as white children.”

“The chains of generational sin are broken and the hearts of all are changed. That we (St. Louis) would become a model for the world for God’s power through racial reconciliation.”

It’s important to remember that prayers are necessary, but without action, nothing will truly change. How will YOU commit to making St. Louis a better place?

Grace in Lindell Park

Grace in Lindell Park

Pat and Kevin Huntspon at their home in Lindell Park, 2017

Pat and Kevin Huntspon moved to St. Louis from Chicago in 1994. They moved to Lindell Park (close to MSTL's new building) a few years after that. North St. Louis City is not an area known for many new residents, but the Huntspons took a chance and moved to a place forgotten by many in our city. And sure enough, even after businesses moved out, homes were left vacant and crime increased, the close-knit community of Lindell Park, like many communities in North City, continued to press on. After 14 years, Pat and Kevin’s neighbors are their family.

The house the Huntspon’s live in today is 102 years old, its history includes fire, abandonment and neglect. Through their local church, they made a sweat equity agreement to rehab it. Volunteers from all over the country came to work on their house.  Homemade BBQ was given in exchange for electrical work (Kevin is a retired chef). Pat affectionately calls her house the Grace House to commemorate all the work countless strangers put into it.

Pat hasn’t taken that grace for granted. Since making St. Louis her home, she has become an active engaged citizen. In 2015, she started the Lindell Park Grassroots Community Leadership organization. She leads regular meetings at her local church to educate her neighbors on important issues confronting their close knit community. These meetings bring together neighbors and guest speakers to talk about local developments, crime, grant opportunities and much more.  For Mission St. Louis, attending the meetings has meant a closer connection to the community and the ability to learn about the struggles facing our neighbors, along with their accomplishments.

Homes seen from the backyard of the Huntspon's house, 2017 

Living in North City comes with its own unique trials. Many of the homes in Lindell Park were once valued above $100,000. Today however, those same homes are valued below $20,000. This value decrease stems from a variety of reasons including high crime and few nearby amenities. Not only that, but vacant and abandoned homes owned by those uninterested in upkeep further decrease home values for the whole neighborhood. From Pat’s back porch you can see two such vacant structures; two once beautiful buildings now with sagging roofs and broken windows.  Such a drastic change in property value not only makes it impossible to sell a house at a price close to what it was purchased at, but it also makes it very difficult to get a loan for home improvements. If most people on a street can’t get loans to improve their homes, then the values of all those homes decrease even more (even for those homes where improvements have been made).

Another difficulty for residents is the surrounding commercial areas. When you picture an ideal city neighborhood, you might envision a playground with a grocery store next door; a local restaurant up the street and a dry cleaner close by. When many current neighbors first moved into the area in the late 50s and early 60s, they moved into a busy, business filled community. Their once integrated neighborhood soon lost almost all of their white neighbors to white flight and with them many businesses. Further population decline along with a lack of loan opportunities for new minority business owners hollowed out the commercial streets, leaving more vacant buildings, empty lots and few surviving business. Neighbors like Pat hope to one day see their community grow and flourish again.  She says she hopes Lindell Park can be “truly vibrant” with local schools, coffee shops, fresh food, walking paths and department stores. A place where businesses are owned by residents involved in the community.

An AMP group from Texas works with residents to clean up a lot near Mission: St. Louis, 2017

An AMP group from Texas works with residents to clean up a lot near Mission: St. Louis, 2017

As for Mission: St. Louis, Pat says she is happy we chose this location; happy we filled a vacant building; happy we are asking for advice from our new neighbors, who have been here much longer than us! She says that being inclusive to the neighborhood is essential to becoming part of the community. “When you move into our neighborhood, you become family”. Although fostering these neighborly relationships are not part of Beyond Jobs or Beyond School, we believe that being part of that family is essential to our long term success. We have to earn our place in the community and we are doing our best to meet that challenge.  We want to continue attending neighborhood meetings, and to get to know the neighborhood outside of Lindell Park. We want to introduce visitors to our community and have already conducted cleanups with our neighbors working alongside AMP volunteers. We want to be a resources for homeowners trying to improve their homes and for those who would like to one day be homeowners themselves.

When asked what she would like to say to Mission: St. Louis supporters (especially those who have not visited our new building or even visited North City), Pat said, “Come, see, learn and get to know us”.

For a long time, St. Louis has been a city disconnected from its individual parts. If you have the opportunity to play even a small role in connecting this city together, please take it. Please get to know a part of the city your do not know. Get to know people you do not know. It won’t always be easy and the path will not always be clear, but it's usually worth the reward. 

To learn more about ways people are trying to connect our city together, check out these important programs and studies:
St. Louis Promise Zone | Forward through Ferguson | For the Sake of All

And don’t forget to visit us and meet our neighbors at 3108 N Grand!

Meet Morgan

Meet Morgan

Meet Morgan.

2017 Spring JLT Graduation

2017 Spring JLT Graduation

Morgan, a recent Job & Leadership Training student, spent his childhood in South St. Louis. After turning 18, Morgan left foster care and dove head first into adulthood. Despite his hard work, financial struggles still came, Morgan had no one to turn to for support. 

A few months ago, Morgan’s life changed forever. On a normal night, Morgan dropped off his friend at someone’s house. He learned later that night that his friend was killed causing Morgan to start evaluating the people in his life. He had another friend who was on the honor roll in high school and graduated college yet was now on trial for murder. It seemed as though things weren’t turning out as expected.

Morgan wanted to live a life that would make his friend proud. He thought to himself, “how can I do this if I’m not doing anything with myself?” That’s when Morgan learned about JLT. Thinking back to this time, Morgan reflected,

“Before joining the program, I wanted to change. I was just hoping to grow up in this program. I wanted to learn what it looked like to be apart of this working society, to be a better person. That was the minimum. When Jason interviewed me for the program, him sharing his background with me made me think it was perfect to learn from him, someone who knows where I was and exactly what I need to do to overcome my surroundings.”

Morgan joined the 2017 Spring Session and committed to the eight-week journey. Classes 3 days a week allow students to work through heavy topics and share their opinions. One of the discussion questions that impacted Morgan centered on violence in St. Louis, a topic that hit home for him. Morgan challenged classmates to not just stay away from it, but to do something to prevent the cycle of violence from continuing. “If you aren’t doing anything about the problem,” he says, “you’re just as much a part of the problem.”

When it came time to select an internship, Morgan selected and was matched with Bubenik Painting, owned by Joe Bubenik. With Joe, Morgan learned not only the skill of painting but also learned about himself. It wasn’t always easy (he even spilled an entire bucket of paint on his first day), but it was humbling. His perseverance through the internship and Joe's patience helped make the learning process rewarding.

During Phase I, Morgan also developed a strong relationship with his mentor, Kevin. “Every time we were together, I forgot he was a mentor and just talked to him like he was a friend. We are supposed to meet for an hour, but we would go way over that hour. He doesn’t say, ‘I’m just here to talk to you.’ He’ll help me with anything I need.” The relationship built between mentor and mentee is meant to create another layer of support for students throughout their time in the program and beyond.

Morgan at the JLT Internship fair, 2017

Mission: St. Louis strives to be a safe place for students in and outside of class. The accessibility of our staff and our open gym makes this possible. Morgan would take advantage of our space by spending extra time in the building. He says, “this building is an escape for me. When things are going bad or crazy, I know I can come up here and hang out at the gym, do whatever. It’s a big part of my life now.”

What makes JLT work?

For Morgan, it’s the staff. He says, “the staff put so much into seeing you succeed. For a grown person, people don’t put that effort into you, but coming in to JLT they take you under their wing until you’re ready to go off on your own, they’ll have your back.”

JLT is more than just an eight-week training bootcamp; it is a commitment to our students to walk with them as they set goals for their future. Even after the Phase I program, our staff follows up with graduates for a year after graduation, providing resources and additional support through their transition into the workplace. Joe Bubenik, Morgan’s employer, attributes the success of the program to how we empower students. Joe believes, “JLT has great success not because it gives the participants job skills, but because it instills in them the truth that they are valuable and they can accomplish difficult tasks.”

Morgan graduated from the program in the the spring session of this year. Not only is he employed by Bubenik painting, he sees his work as more than a job: it is a career. He plans to someday have his own painting business and continues to tell Jason Watson that he will one day take his job. Jason tells the students at graduation that he hopes they do take his job: what better way to see success in students than to see them exceed the potential of their leaders?

Congratulations Morgan and congratulations to all the men from all over our city that commit to this eight-week-plus journey. We want to empower men to be leaders in our community, whether that is in their workplace, their homes or their neighborhoods. Though, we cannot do this alone. It takes many people working together to make JLT possible. Whether you are an individual that can volunteer your time or you work for a business that can provide an internship opportunity, we need your help! Contact Cami at 314.534.1188 or cami@missionstl.org to see how you can get involved.

From Belief to Action: Why Mike Volunteers

From Belief to Action: Why Mike Volunteers

The humid St. Louis summer is officially upon us. Most students are on break from school, and some families are off taking vacations or finding fun things to do around the city. For the students in our Job & Leadership Training Summer session however, the hard work is just beginning. Students in the program commit to an 8-week bootcamp experience: with class three days a week, an internship the other two and weekly mentor meetings, this summer will be full of new opportunities and challenges.

One important component of JLT is a mentorship program. Students meet with a mentor on a weekly basis to discuss their goals for their time in the program and beyond. We interviewed mentor Mike Eaton, Chief Innovation Officer at Intellivisit and co-founder of Switch Coffee Collective, on his experience volunteering with the program over the past 2 years. This past session, he worked with a man named Kevin, a recent graduate of our spring class who completed an internship and is now employed at BJC Healthcare.


When did you get involved in the JLT program? What influenced your decision to get involved?

I first heard about Mission St. Louis through Give STL Day.  My wife and I were browsing for a non-profit to give to when we noticed M:STL was the only one near the top of the leaderboard that was investing in people. The rest of the organizations were animal oriented, which is cool, but we saw Mission: St. Louis as an ironic underdog serving people, so we went for it not knowing much about the organization.

After this, I watched Mission St. Louis from afar. I enjoyed hearing about how Mission: St. Louis was investing in under-resourced communities. Their approach seemed different, logical and lasting. After the shooting of Michael Brown happened, I wasn’t very comfortable just watching from the sidelines. My worldviews were challenged as I watched pain I never knew existed boil over and systemic problems I never experienced myself brought to light. This inspired my decision to finally get involved with JLT. I knew I needed to stretch my comfort zone and build real relationships with people from contexts different than my own. JLT offered opportunity, structure, and purpose for me to do that.

 
Kevin, Mike's mentee during the Spring Session

Kevin, Mike's mentee during the Spring Session

Was there a moment that really stood out to you in your time working with Kevin?

Sometimes with a student there’s this breakthrough moment along the way where they begin to recognize in themselves the value they can bring to their family, community, and work. It’s an inspirational thing to see a man, beat down by his own decisions or circumstances, begin to believe that he has value to contribute to society. This is the moment I aim for as a mentor. With Kevin, I never had that climactic moment.

It didn’t take long to see that Kevin is infinitely more talented, hard-working, and resourceful than I am.

"I realized he didn’t need to rediscover his own value when he proudly talked about recently getting married, bragged about the virtues of his children, and even started encouraging me in my own gifts and abilities."

What Kevin needed was distance from his past, open doors, and people to vouch for him. This was a reminder for me that the difference in our paths was primarily open doors and advocates.

 

Was the mentorship process what you expected it to be?

I don’t think I had any expectations of what this would be when I started. But as I reflect on my experiences so far, I suppose I do see a change in how I view my role as a mentor. From the day I started to today, I think I have evolved from being a tutor and crutch to an encourager and friend.

"If there were men in my city asking for help, who was I to deny them that help by not participating?" -Mike Eaton, JLT Mentor

"If there were men in my city asking for help, who was I to deny them that help by not participating?" -Mike Eaton, JLT Mentor

 

What makes JLT work?

This is not my answer, but something I have heard from almost every student I’ve met: JLT is different because it addresses who people are at their core, not just what they do. It works because Jason, Chris, and the entire JLT staff and volunteer team actually care about the students as people of value.

 

What would you say to a potential future mentor or volunteer that might be hesitant to get involved in JLT?

One, just do it. Two, grab a friend to do it with you. I was hesitant, waiting for work to slow down or to feel like I was ready to be a mentor. Then my friend Jon said, “Hey, have you heard of this JLT thing? Let’s do it together.” He had no idea I was reluctantly thinking about signing up but it was the push I needed. You might be that push someone else needs. Plus, things are typically easier to start when you do it with someone you know.


The Job & Leadership Training Program seeks to empower men in our community to become leaders in their lives, families and workplaces. If you are looking for a way to get involved, contact Cami at cami@missionstl.org for more information. Many volunteer opportunities are available, including becoming a mentor like Mike, a job coach, small group leader,  HiSET(GED) tutor or simply providing a meal for JLT's evening classes. We are also always looking for businesses that would be willing to serve as internship providers for the men in our program.