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Groups work to revitalize communities

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The Greater Ville neighborhood in St. Louis represents the rich history and complex future of the city as it struggles to show fellow citizens “there’s life up North.”

“The State of St. Louis” theme allowed four locals to present to students seated at their respective table about their work within the Greater Ville and Old North neighborhoods.

Representatives from Northside Community Housing Project, Revitalization 2000 (R2K), Midtown Catholic Charities and Old North Neighborhood Revitalization commented on their companies’ grassroots movements within the area.

The Ville area has seen its fair share of changes throughout the decades. The neighborhood, which grew to prominence in the 1930s and 40s as a historically African American region, fell into decay as the professional class families moved to outer suburbs, leaving the neighborhood with less socioeconomic diversity.

However, the Political Round Table did more than just talk about problems facing St. Louis’s neighborhoods, their guest experts explained the projects currently implemented and their positive effects on the Ville and Old North communities.

The R2K established a lawn mowing business for youth in the neighborhood.  The R2K established a lawn mowing business for youth in the neighborhood.

Children in the business mow lawns and tend gardens in the neighborhood. Half of a young worker’s salary is given directly to him or her for personal expenditures, and the remainder is put into a post-secondary bank account. The program aims to provide work experience and support for youths that hope to attend institutions of higher education.

Other R2K initiatives include a community garden and collaborations with other area organizations like the Northside Community Housing Project.

Erin Szopiak, a representative from R2K, touched on a Ville neighborhood community celebration, which saw all of the local organizations working together to offer a fun event for residents to meet and provide commentary on the programs.

“We can’t think in ‘isolation’ terms, but [rather] a holistic approach [to problems]” Szopiak stated, adding that the collaboration of local community groups allows more progress to be made than the groups working alone could ever produce.

Likewise, the Northside Community Housing program aims to convert abandoned apartment buildings and houses into affordable options for families looking to rent in the Ville neighborhood.

The organization currently rents 180 housing units at affordable prices for lower-income residents.  The tenants receive tax credits, which can be applied towards eventually purchasing the house or apartment.  The Northside Community Housing representative, Jessica Eiland, emphasized the organization’s use of vacant houses in the Ville and the importance of providing residents the opportunity to purchase their own home.  .  She said that the values of properties that are owned, rather than rented, tend to increase.

The city of St. Louis continues to be plagued by neighborhoods riddled with crime, high poverty rates and low economic and educational opportunities.  But make no mistake, the Ville and Old North neighborhood residents and community organizations are working hard to reverse trends.

One Comment

  1. On behalf of Old North St. Louis Restoration Group, we want to thank the student organizers of the event for showing an interest in the positive side of what’s happening on the north side of the City of St. Louis. It’s also worth noting that while residents of Old North are the driving force in the neighborhood’s dramatic revitalization, St. Louis University alumni and current students deserve recognition for their role in this process. Two-thirds of our professional staff are SLU grads (including myself), as are a few of our Board members, who also happen to live in the neighborhood, including our Board President, Tino Ochoa (SLU Law). Two of our current interns, Malik Brown and Alexandra Durdello, are SLU students, and we always enjoy support from SLU volunteers with various projects throughout the year. If you’d like to catch a glimpse of the work accomplished by SLU volunteers in October, one of our Board members prepared a YouTube video to show off the results of SLU’s Make A Difference Day volunteers at just one spot in the neighborhood: http://youtu.be/puuhJcMDY-4.

    Thank you to all SLU students, past and present, who are living examples of the “service to humanity” aspect of the university mission.

    Sean Thomas, Executive Director
    Old North St. Louis Restoration Group

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