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'Rung For Women' Aims To Help St. Louisans Move Up Economic Opportunity Ladder

Leslie Gill is president of the newly launched nonprofit Rung for Women.
Elizabeth Wiseman
Leslie Gill is president of the newly launched nonprofit Rung for Women.

For more than 20 years, St. Louis native Leslie Gill has been focused on getting women what they need, whatever that may be. When she worked for Annie Malone Children & Family Services, that could mean shelter, clothing or food. Now, as president of the new nonprofit Rung for Women, it’s about providing what she terms “holistic self-sufficiency.”

After three years of intentional planning and design, Rung for Women is getting set to launch its first immersive, six-month program for local women “looking to thrive, not survive.” It’s geared for women 21 or older making $50,000 or less per year, and Gill couldn’t be more excited about leading the effort.

“Rung, for me, is a unicorn job,” Gill told St. Louis on the Air. “It’s just almost too good to be true. It is such a good mix of all of my professional experiences in addition to being a Black woman.”

Gill is also divorced and a single mom, characteristics that she says help make her uniquely suited to lead Rung for Women.

“This is really about taking the time to focus on self and looking at ways to transform your life so that you’re capable of moving up the rungs on the economic opportunity ladder,” Gill said.

On Wednesday’s show, Gill joined host Sarah Fenske for a closer look at what makes Rung for Women a distinctive and critical resource — and what drives Gill’s passion for this work.

She noted that many organizations in the St. Louis region “focus on crisis and stopping the bleeding.” Rung is different.

“Rung is really that next step [toward] success and holistic self-sufficiency,” Gill said. “We didn’t want to just be another crisis organization — we really did want to focus on women who are living in the middle: working poor, living on the brink of crisis but stable enough to really think about what their future could be.”

She explained that the in-depth, monthslong, wraparound nature of the program, whose first cohort will get underway in March 2021, is a very intentionaldesign — with busy women in mind.

“We have designed our program to really focus on meeting women where they are,” Gill said, “so that means we’ll primarily offer evening hours, some weekend opportunities, coaching, instead of case management — so matching of our members with a coach who can really be their accountability partner in making those services accessible now virtually but also at our campus here in Fox Park.

“We also have built the space with busy women in mind, so we’ll provide daily grab-and-go meals, we’ll provide onsite child care — a variety of services to remove those barriers that would typically keep women from being present. And to be more aligned with [the] services that women in privilege typically have access to.”

All of Rung’s service will come at no cost to the members of each cohort.

“We have a variety of nonprofits who are co-located here in Fox Park with us, and we have a very generous founder who sees this as her legacy, so she is giving us the on-ramp [financially] to get started, and then eventually we will raise money to sustain the effort long term,” Gill said.

While the first application period for the program doesn’t get underway until January, women can express interest and sign up for updates on Rung for Women’s website.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.