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I frequently get asked “how have you been able to do this work for 25 years?”
There is no easy answer to this.
The work of community building is challenging. The ups and downs are many, and often extreme. We confront many obstacles as we try to help improve the lives of those we serve. Like many of my peers, I struggle with the human suffering that we see. It’s impossible to not feel hopeless at times as we confront the damage that poverty inflicts.
As I regularly drive through the 24:1 Community, I see all the abandoned homes and vacant lots that still exist, littered with debris. I can only sigh deeply and keep moving.
Other times, it’s deeply personal. Last year I wrote about the senseless murder of Aashya Quarles. Her memory remains vivid within me. I think of her almost every day.
But there are other moments.
I get to see the faces of the children and families we help each and every day. After hearing their stories of struggle, I get to hear how we have been able to help them overcome their challenges and improve their lives.
When I shop at the Save-a-Lot, or grab a bite at the 24:1 Coffee House and Café, I am consistently greeted by community members and other stakeholders who talk about the great things that we have helped make happen.
I am reminded that we have helped send children to college and helped them graduate. I get to see firsthand how we have given people a place to live and supported them on their journey to homeownership. These signs reassure us that our efforts are indeed making a lasting difference— breaking old, familiar cycles to create a better future for generations to come.
Recently I witnessed a sign of success that filled me great pleasure. It was a simple thing, but it gave me a wonderful feeling.
Many of you may know we moved into our beautiful new offices in Pine Lawn over two years ago. In addition to the renovation of this 40,000 square foot old school building, exciting transformations are happening all around us. We are building 41 new homes just a few blocks away. We are also on the tail end of completing a large infrastructure project with MSD that stretches right outside our office and all the way down to Barack Obama Elementary School. In addition to new streets, sidewalks, and trees being planted, part of this infrastructure is the construction of a new city park. The park replaced 15 abandoned and dilapidated homes—what was once a real eyesore for the community has been completely transformed. The park is modest, with a dedicated storm water runoff area in addition to a walking path, benches, and small playground—the latter which I can see from my office window.
The playground was completed about a month ago, but the weather has prevented the kids from the neighborhood from using it much. Over the last week and a half, the temperature has risen and the playground has had a lot more activity as the children walk home from school.
Working in my office, I stood up and a beautiful image caught my eye as I glanced out the window—children on swings. I simply stood there, watching the pure joy of kids swinging. They pushed each other high into the air and I could see them laughing. It brought back memories of the simple carelessness of my own youth. It reminded me that every child deserves to be carefree and happy in their community. It reminded me that our work is full of big and small steps to help those we serve live their best possible lives.
While I do not know the names of these kids or their individual stories, for the moment they were simply children playing on the local playground. It made me smile. It made the challenges of this work disappear for the moment. It reminded why the work of Beyond Housing is so important.
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.