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.


 

 


 

St. Louis Promise Zone

St. Louis Promise Zone

In the last few years, you may have heard the phrase "Promise Zone" when listening to the local news or reading about St. Louis politics. You may not have even heard it at all. But this little phrase is making a big impact in our city. It could help shape our development for decades to come. So what is the St. Louis Promise Zone? And how is it changing our city today? 

In 2013, the Federal Promise Zone Initiative was put into place by the Obama Administration. Since then, 22 high poverty urban, rural and tribal “Promise Zones” across the country have received 10 year long designations to foster healthy and sustainable community development. These geographic areas were selected through a national competition. Each area had to demonstrate a “consensus vision for their community and its residents, the capacity to carry it out, and a shared commitment to specific, measurable results.”  In 2015, St. Louis succeeded in obtaining this designation for much of North City and North County.

Learn about the neighborhoods and participating organization by taking the Promise Zone tour here.

  • Population: 199,792
  • Includes 28 Municipalities
  • Encompasses 7 School Districts
  • Poverty Rate: 35.5%
  • Median Income: $26,546
  • Unemployment Rate: 21%

Each Promise Zone designation sets up partnerships between the Federal Government and local leaders to address a specific set of community revitalization challenges. In St. Louis, the lead organization is the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership (STLPartnership). They work to coordinate partners, engage the community and ensure accountability. With local and federal partners, STLPartnership has pinpointed 6 goals for the project. 

 

  1. INCREASE ECONOMIC ACTIVITY: "Strengthen high-potential business clusters by expanding the pipeline to jobs in these sectors. Support and develop job hubs and assemble land for businesses".
  2. REDUCE SERIOUS AND VIOLENT CRIME: "Achieve consistent annual reduction in rate of violent crime across the Promise Zone through great collaboration among police departments".
  3. IMPROVE EDUCATIONAL OUTCOMES: "Ensure students in the Promise Zone are college and career ready by improving schools. Schools will return to accredited status and provide wrap-around services to support children from birth to post-graduation.
  4. CREATE SUSTAINABLE, MIXED INCOME COMMUNITIES: "Design and implement a collaborative strategy for largescale, mixed-income, mixed-use development that will foster transformative, sustainable communities."
  5. IMPROVE HEALTH AND WELLNESS: "Address systemic needs and individual interventions to reduce disparities in the life-expectancies of Promise Zone residents."
  6. INCREASE WORKFORCE READINESS: "Stimulate the economic self-sufficiency of individuals living in low-to-moderate income areas by connecting unemployed and under-employed resident with job readiness, training and placement opportunities."

 

To implement these goals, the Promise Zone has been provided with 5 AmeriCorps VISTA members, federal staff to help designees connect with resources, preference for certain competitive grants and technical assistance from participating federal agencies. 


A key benefit of this designation is that the Promise Zone provides preference for many competitive grants and programs from 13 federal agencies. An applicant with goals in line with Promise Zone goals can apply to receive a “Certification of Consistency” and work with Promise Zone partners to improve their projects while increasing their chances of receiving funding (you can learn more here). In the last three years, over 60 million dollars have been awarded through grants. 

For example, in 2016 the Near North Side (an area encompassing parts of Near North Riverfront, Downtown St. Louis, Old North, Columbus Square, St. Louis Place and Carr Square) received almost $30 million through the highly competitive Choice Neighborhoods Implementation grant. Through this grant, a plan dedicated to transformation, revitalization and empowerment has been created. This plan includes 700 affordable and mixed income housing units, a community center, increased focus on homeownership, micro-lending opportunities and other community development initiatives created through local partnerships and neighborhood input. Without the Promise Zone designation, the City of St. Louis may not have received this important grant. 

OTHER IMPORTANT GRANTS AWARDED:


In order to better coordinate efforts across partner organizations, STL Partnership created six committees made up of implementation partners and other organizations to insure long term success of the project’s goals. M:STL is proud to be a member of the Workforce Readiness Committee. Our move last fall places us inside the Promise Zone. We were thankful to be brought alongside other organizations who are working in the Promise Zone and focused on job readiness goals. This committee is dedicated to improving access to skill-training, employment planning, career development and placement, education, and transportation services. Through the work of this committee we are able to share experiences, strategize together to improve and connect programs and gain funding opportunities.

ST. LOUIS PROMISE ZONE IMPLEMENTATION PARTNERS:

  • City of St. Louis
  • St. Louis County
  • St. Louis Development Corporation (SLDC)
  • St. Louis City Planning & Urban Development
  • St. Louis County Office of Community Development
  • U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) - St. Louis Office

You may not live in the St. Louis Promise Zone, but that does not mean you won’t be impacted by it. With the influence of more resources, there are growing opportunities for investment in local business, job training and new developments. For example,  the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency is moving to the Promise Zone (more info here). A contributing factor to their decision to move to North City was the Promise Zone designation. With it will come the redevelopment of the Pruitt-Igoe site and surrounding areas. The influx of its employees will create a need for new businesses and new investments. 

Through increased grants, active relationships with the Federal Government and better relationships between local organizations, the Promise Zone puts our city in the position for change. When one part of our community succeeds, the whole community succeeds. The influence of more resources can bring jobs, businesses and development for its residents and the surrounding area. A healthy North St. Louis is not only what Promise Zone residents deserve, it is what the whole St. Louis region would benefit from.  Now it's up to us to educate ourselves, get involved and use this opportunity to its full potential.

To learn more and stay updated visit the Promise zone website here (don't forget to sign up for the newsletter!) and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.  


Works Cited: