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North Side projects percolate from bottom up

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 28, 2011 - Developer Paul McKee's plans for remaking north St. Louis continue to grab the headlines, but several organizations made the point Thursday that even microeconomic projects and programs can have a big impact on economically distressed neighborhoods.

Some of those projects were on display during a Marketplace of Ideas program, sponsored by the Incarnate Word Foundation, at De La Salle Middle School, at 4145 Kennerly Ave., in the Ville neighborhood.

"These projects percolated from the bottom up," says Bridget McDermott Flood, the foundation's executive director. "They give people hope and power to make change at the neighborhood level."

The foundation awarded $5,000 in start-up funding for seven winning projects, all of which will be eligible for a second level of funding of up to $15,000 from other foundations. These include the Missouri Foundation for Health, the Lutheran Foundation and the Trio Foundation.

Most of the projects focused on generating jobs and teaching skills as well as developing practical solutions to basic neighborhood needs. For example, the North Grand Neighborhood Services got funding for a program called Fences for the Future. The group's executive director, David J. Carroll, says the goal is to put young men and teens to work erecting chain link fences around some homes.

"A fence isn't a complete barrier to crime, but it does make property safer," Carroll said. "It cuts down on foot traffic into your yard, and it cuts down on break-ins. Not only will the fence increase property values, kids will benefit from pay checks and training."

Another project, called Parents as Entrepreneurs, will try to instill business development skills in parents and guardian of students at Clay Elementary School, 3820 North 14th St. The group hopes to have a few new businesses up and running by the end of the year.

Other projects that got funding were:

  • Transforming Our Community: Strengthening Families: St. Louis Healthy Families will teach 40 youths about developing responsible relationships and help 15 adults develop stronger parenting skills.
  • City Greens: 4-H Teen: Catholic Charities Father Tolton Center is taking the lead to have teens deliver fresh produce to more than 700 seniors, especially the homebound, for eight weeks this summer.
  • Fresh Soil: Urban St. Louis K-Life is behind this ongoing weekly program that has included renovating and transforming part of a building into learning centers.
  • O'Fallon Park Jazz Concert Series: The Acts Partnership is trying to establish a summer jazz concert series in O'Fallon Park.
  • Urban Expressions: Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church and School is continuing an existing Saturday class, and engaging and training youths as docents to tell the stories of their neighborhood.

Flood, of the Incarnate Word Foundation, credits people like former city school board member Ron Jackson with encouraging the creation of a program of small grants to effect neighborhood change.
The event's moderator was former Post-Dispatch columnist Sylvester Brown, who heads an organization called When We Dream Together. He recalled growing up in public housing, attending St. Louis Community College and ultimately becoming a journalist. He said that just as others had believed in him and showed him he was "something special," the Marketplace of Ideas program was helping young people to grow.

"Sometimes big dreams come in small packages," Brown told the audience of about 200.

Alderman Antonio French, D-21st Ward, says the jazz concert program in O'Fallon would build on an existing concert series during the past two summers. One drew 3,400 people, French said.

"This will bring new life and activity to the park," he said. "After doing it for two summers, there was no violence at all. You had senior citizens doing the electric slide after dark."

Robert Joiner has carved a niche in providing informed reporting about a range of medical issues. He won a Dennis A. Hunt Journalism Award for the Beacon’s "Worlds Apart" series on health-care disparities. His journalism experience includes working at the St. Louis American and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where he was a beat reporter, wire editor, editorial writer, columnist, and member of the Washington bureau.