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I heard an interview of Paulo Coelho, the author of the iconic book The Alchemist, regarding his own journey in which he made reference to the difference between being a builder or a gardener. Coelho said, “Being a gardener, in real life and metaphorically, is inherently more difficult.” According to Coelho, a builder has a finite task, and the once his job is done and the building is complete, it then only changes when it decays. A gardener, conversely, must wrestle with the “constant demands” of the garden and must be adaptable and resilient. Demands can include:
Change is the only constant of the garden, but success in gardening can lead to great beauty, vibrancy, and resiliency.
We have built and rehabbed many buildings and continue to do so in our community. Today we own more than 375 single family homes, two senior buildings with a total of 95 units, a grocery store, a movie theatre, and a 12,000 square foot community service building. Additionally we own six former Normandy school buildings. One has been fully rehabbed and is now occupied with our new construction company. Another 40,000 square foot school is currently being rehabbed and will be the new world headquarters of Beyond Housing.
In total, Beyond Housing now has assets valued at $110 million. That’s a lot of buildings – and we’re not done yet! The main thrust of our plan is to continue to build up and rehab existing structures because changing the built environment is absolutely critical to community change. We know that once buildings are built or rehabbed families will have a home, a place to grow, and a place to become stronger. Equally important to me, however, is the need to plant seeds wherever possible in our community – seeds that nurture and grow not only food, but knowledge, confidence, and opportunity.
This school year we’ll open up another 350+ $500 college savings accounts for children entering Normandy kindergarten, bringing the total for the last five years to more than 1,400 accounts. That investment plants the seeds in our children for life long success. When we continue to support United 4 Children, now in their fourth year of providing technical assistance to 20 pre-k facilities in the Normandy Schools Collaborative, we are planting seeds that will grow eager-to-learn children into knowledgeable and more confident adults. When we partner with Big Brothers, Big Sisters, and the Wyman Center in elementary and middle school, we are tending the seeds we’ve all planted. When we run our after school program and Freedom School summer camp in Pagedale, we’re nurturing growth by providing essential nutrients and offering some protection from some of life’s hard times. When we partner with the Little Bit Foundation, Kidsmart Express, the Public Assistance League, the National Council of Jewish Women, and Operation Food Search to ensure children’s basic needs in every Normandy school are met, we’re watering our garden. When we partner with Express Scripts and other funders to offer matched college savings accounts and to provide ACT prep to Normandy High School students, we’re preparing for the final harvest that sends prepared, healthy, and confident adults into the world to succeed.
When we bring primary health care delivery to our community, (stay tuned for a big announcement coming soon), we are ensuring that our garden stays healthy. When we partner with Midwest Bank Centre, Prosperity Connection, the Red Dough Money Center, and St. Louis Community Credit Union to bring financial services to our community, we are ensuring our garden is supported by a firm foundation. When our 24:1 Construction Company demolishes more than 15 vacant, dilapidated and abandoned homes around our new world headquarters, we are removing “weeds” that hamper growth. Now that these weeds are gone, we will build a new park in their place for children and families to play, laugh, and enjoy our community. What a wonderful garden we’re planting!
Gardening is tough, and one of the first lessons in gardening is that bad things can happen beyond our control to thwart our efforts. But, like all good, committed gardeners who work for a bountiful harvest, we are unwavering in our commitment to tending to our garden each and every day, knowing the end result will be a flourishing, vibrant, and beautiful place we call the 24:1.
I’ve been working in community development in the St. Louis area for 25 years, and I’ve been the CEO of Beyond Housing since 1993. While I’m proud of our accomplishments, I don’t claim to be an expert. At Beyond Housing, the experts we listen to are the voices of the community members we serve. I’ll be raising issues here that I believe matter to our community. I hope you’ll join the conversation. We do reserve the right not to post comments containing offensive language. To paraphrase Dr. King, we can disagree without being disagreeable.