Refugee Resettlement and Community Building Go Hand-in-Hand

Diego Abente, President, International Institute Community Development Corporation

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The United Nations High Commission on Refugees estimates that more than 70 million people are currently forcibly displaced. Today, there are 25.9 million refugees (up from 22.5 million in 2016) who have fled their homelands due to a well-founded fear of persecution; are vetted; and have, in some cases, waited decades for a bona fide resettlement opportunity.

In 2016, the White House administration, recognizing the unprecedented global humanitarian crises the world faced, increased the refugee resettlement ceiling to 115,000. Many of the folks who arrived in the U.S. thanks to this increase are now contributing to our economy as loyal employees and budding entrepreneurs, and helping our communities grow stronger as engaged neighbors and close friends.

The refugee crisis is on a world-wide scale, but the contributions refugees make are local and significant. The International Institute of St. Louis, our region’s leading refugee resettlement organization, has helped more than 24,000 families restart their lives here. These proud new Americans are doing their part to move our region forward and helping our community thrive. They are exemplary entrepreneurs, hardworking employees, professors, doctors, and community members. They strengthen our neighborhoods and make St. Louis a better place to live. Data from the St. Louis Regional Chamber shows that the 600 refugee and immigrant-owned businesses we have helped to start or expand since 1999 have contributed to more than $180 million in positive regional economic impact. In addition, in 2017 alone, refugee job placements by the International Institute resulted in $45 million in labor income and $250 million in economic output.

Unfortunately, these important contributions appear to have been overlooked by the current White House administration, which reduced the annual refugee resettlement cap to 45,000 in 2018 and to 30,000 in 2019. These cuts in resettlement numbers have put the lives of thousands of vulnerable people around the world at risk, including religious and ethnic minorities, Afghan and Iraqi allies, and victims of torture. 

The administration is now in the process of setting refugee admissions for 2020 and early reports suggest the administration will propose effectively ending the refugee program by setting the number of refugees admitted to zero.

This is a mistake. Refugees share with us the most important of our cultural values: love of country and family; hope for a better life for our children; desire for a home and a community where we can grow up free and safe. Supporting the refugee program strengthens these values and secures America for future generations.

The International Institute stands strong with other resettlement agencies across the nation, elected officials, and concerned community members in opposition to any further reductions in refugee resettlement. We urge the administration to set a robust resettlement goal. Our economy is strengthened by the presence of refugee communities. Our neighborhoods are more vibrant and resilient when many stories, perspectives, and life experiences are gathered around our shared tables. Our national security is heightened by honoring our international obligations. Our foreign policy options are broadened with resettlement as a tool. The ceiling for refugee admissions should be raised.

We hope that St. Louisans will raise their voices for the voiceless and advocate for the preservation of the U.S.'s time-tested humanitarian refugee resettlement program.


Diego Abente is Vice President of Economic Development of the International Institute and President of the International Institute CDC. In his capacities with the Institute he plans, monitors and evaluates the agency’s economic development services, including a micro-lending fund, small business development, Individual Development Accounts, and an urban farm.

Diego also leads the International Institute Business Solutions Center (IIBSC), which provides interpretation and translation services, as well as cultural competency trainings. Diego regularly speaks to and trains community members in the corporate, non-profit, and government space to identify, learn from, and leverage the rich cultural diversity of our society.

Diego has a degree in Law, a Masters in Governance and International Development, and an Executive Masters in Business Administration from Washington University in St. Louis. Prior to joining IISTL, he spent several years managing non-profit programs in Africa and Washington D.C.


Articles in “From the Field” represent the opinions of the author only and do not represent the views of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

We invite readers to contribute to the civic conversation about community development in St. Louis by writing an op-ed for the Community Builders Exchange. Op-eds should be short (400-700 words) and provocative. If you have an idea for an op-ed, contact Jenny Connelly-Bowen at

Community Development at Work: Edison Avenue Lofts in Granite City

From a Haunted House to Home: Shining a Light on Edison Avenue Lofts


What do a former YMCA, haunted house, movie set, and alleged REO Speedwagon venue have in common? All are ways that the property at 2001 Edison Avenue in Granite City have been used. Coming up next in community development for the Metro East is a partnership between CBN member Rise Community Development (Rise), the City of Granite City, and many other organizations. CBN recently had an opportunity to meet with Colleen Hafner of Rise to learn more about the Edison Avenue Lofts project. The former Tri-City YMCA and current city-owned historic building will contain 37 affordable rental units located across from City Hall in the city’s downtown.

After the Tri-City YMCA moved from the Edison Avenue location to a new building in 2004, the property was purchased by the City of Granite City the following year. Tax credits and financing have played a role in securing funding for the project from government and financial institutions. One of the first steps in renovating the building was asbestos removal. Sources of support for the project include tax-increment financinglow-income housing tax credits, historic tax credits, and a grant from the HOME program. 

The HOME Investment Partnerships Program is a federal block grant issued through United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It is designed to create affordable housing for low-income households and allows for flexible funding uses. HOME funds are provided by Madison County Community Development and the Illinois Housing Development Authority; they will make construction and permanent financing of the Edison Avenue building possible. 

Funding for the project is also present through partnerships with CBN member financial institutions. Justine PETERSEN is a member of the Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) Coalition, a partnership of eight CDFIs that share a common mission to empower a comprehensively healthy St. Louis community through support for nonprofits, small businesses, and communities facing disinvestment. CDFIs differ from traditional banks and lending institutions in that they provide financial services to underserved areas where traditional lending institutions leave gaps. Both FCB Banks and Justine PETERSEN are playing an important role in making the Edison Avenue Lofts project happen: FCB Banks, a traditional bank, is providing a construction loan and Justine PETERSEN will provide services like financial literacy training and homeownership counseling for future residents of the affordable rental units. 

Affordable housing is central to both this project’s funding and to building strong communities. Housing affordability for counties across the country is determined through a statistic measured by the Department of Housing and Urban Development called area median income (AMI). Area median income marks the point at which half of area families earn less than the amount, and half of area families earn more than the amount. For the fiscal year of 2019, Madison County’s median income for a family of four was $81,309. Housing programs through the Department of Housing and Urban Development must address three levels of affordability relative to the area’s AMI: at or below 30% AMI, between 31% and 50% AMI, and between 51% and 80% AMI. The Madison County Housing Authority is also providing 10 Project-Based Rental Assistance Payment program vouchers, which are a variation of the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program. Costs of the rental units will range from $525 to $750. Altogether, the building will have 25 one-bedroom units and 12 two-bedroom units. 

Building accessibility for the Edison Avenue project will address not only financial accessibility, but also accessibility for people with disabilities. One of the building improvements will include the addition of an elevator. Four of the 37 total units will be fully ADA accessible, and all units will be visitable by people with disabilities. Although the building was not originally designed with accessibility in mind, renovations will allow a wider range of people to be a part of the building’s community. 

The future site of the building’s accessible entrance

The future site of the building’s accessible entrance

Greater accessibility for people with disabilities is just one way that the Edison Avenue Lofts will offer residents not just a place to live, but also a strong community with a deep connection to the arts. The building’s boiler room will be transformed into art studio space. There will also be an opportunity for an artist-in-residence to live at Edison Avenue Lofts and contribute to Granite City’s arts community, where initiatives like the artist-run Granite City Art and Design District (G-CADD) in the city’s downtown are bringing the community together through art exhibitions and events.

The Edison Avenue building has been bringing people and organizations together for almost 100 years. Since the space was first built in 1924, the building that will be known as Edison Avenue Lofts has had many uses. Soon the lights in the Edison Avenue Building will be on again. The project is a community transformation made possible through support from the government, nonprofits, and financial institutions. The addition of affordable rental units in Granite City at Edison Avenue Lofts will strengthen the Metro East community and provide a place for many people to call home.

Written by Laura Muther, CBN Communications Intern

Hard-to-Count Neighborhoods: Let's Do Something!

Katie Kaufmann, Director, Ready By 21 St. Louis

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Census 2020 is back in the news with the recent Supreme Court ruling on the potential inclusion of a citizenship question. We’re still nine months away from the official start of the count in April 2020, but it’s not too early to start planning for how we can really make this census work for the region.

Based on census estimates, 43% of residents of the City of St. Louis live in “hard-to-count” neighborhoods, defined as census tracts where almost a quarter or more households did not mail back their census questionnaires in 2010 and required an in-person visit during the “nonresponse follow-up operation,” during which census workers go door-to-door. The majority of these hard-to-count neighborhoods are north of Delmar and are home to residents who are predominantly African-American and have suffered decades of disinvestment in their neighborhoods.

Census 2020 offers an opportunity to do something about disinvestment in communities and the people who live in them. One tangible investment in our future that Census 2020 will impact is child wellbeing, which in Missouri is largely funded by the federal government. The census data will help allocate over $800 billion per year in federal funds. Many of those funds support programs that both serve children and benefit communities as a whole, including:

  • Health insurance programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance program

  • Education programs like Title I funding to schools in low-income communities and IDEA special education funding for children with disabilities

  • Programs that keep children safe, like foster care

  • Programs that help children learn while their parents work by helping to pay for quality child care and after school programs

Compounding the challenges of counting some specific neighborhoods, children are at risk of being missed in census counts everywhere: in 2010, an estimated one in five children were missed in the census count because their family did not return the form, and an estimated four in five children lived in families that returned the form but didn’t include the young child on it. While a complete count won’t solve issues related to community disinvestment on its own, a complete count will ensure that we don’t leave any potential federal dollars “on the table.” These funds have real implications for St. Louis residents’ access to health and education and our community’s stability.

It’s important for advocates to know that children are more likely to be missed in a census if:

  • They live in large and complex households.

  • They live with single parents or young parents between the ages of 18-29.

  • They are not the biological or adopted child of the householder.

  • They live with their grandparents, aunts and uncles, or other family members.

  • They live in families that do not speak English or their family includes immigrants.

  • They live in poor families.

  • Their families rent rather than own their home.

Some adults may not realize that babies, toddlers, and young children are supposed to be included in the Census.

Let’s make sure in 2020 we Count All Kids in Missouri. As an advocate for children and communities, you can help by:

  • Working with other advocates to engage with Governor Parson’s Complete Count Committee and make sure they pay special attention to counting young children and hard to count neighborhoods like North St. Louis City.

  • Sign up to learn when outreach materials become available, then download and distribute them to families and individuals you work with.

  • Share #CountAllKids social media materials when they become available to increase outreach.

  • Since Census 2020 will be the first to encourage online responses, offer opportunities for families or individuals you work with to respond to the Census using your organization’s internet access.

We each have a role to play to ensuring that our region’s population is accurately counted, allowing all St. Louisans access to the full complement of resources to which we are entitled by the federal government. Our kids, our neighborhoods, and our region need us all to pull together on this.


Katie Kaufmann is the Director of Ready by 21 St. Louis, a collective impact initiative focused on aligning efforts and improving outcomes for children and youth across St. Louis City, St. Louis County and St. Charles County. Katie is a product of public K-12 education and began her career as a middle school math teacher in St. Louis City. Prior to Ready by 21 St. Louis, Katie worked in the non-profit world looking at systemic issues of quality and access to opportunities. Katie earned her BA in American Studies and Math from Wells College in Aurora, NY and has certificates in 5-9 Math and Nonprofit Leadership and Management from UMSL. Katie is a wife and mother to a three-year-old and a soon-to-be born baby, who will both be counted in the 2020 census, and serves as an elected member of the Maplewood Richmond Heights School Board.


Articles in “From the Field” represent the opinions of the author only and do not represent the views of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

We invite readers to contribute to the civic conversation about community development in St. Louis by writing an op-ed for the Community Builders Exchange. Op-eds should be short (400-700 words) and provocative. If you have an idea for an op-ed, contact Jenny Connelly-Bowen at

Open letter on Wellston housing crisis: St. Louis must break the cycle of systemic neglect and disinvestment

David Dwight IV, Lead Strategy Catalyst at Forward Through Ferguson

Karishma Furtado, Research & Data Catalyst at Forward Through Ferguson

This column was originally published on Medium.

David Dwight

David Dwight

The proposed demolition of the Wellston Housing Authority, a public housing development that serves almost entirely Black St. Louisans, paired with an insufficient plan for maintaining the Wellston community repeats a troubling pattern of disinvestment in historic Black neighborhoods. We call on HUD to Radically Listen to the communities and individuals that will be devastated by those actions, apply a Racial Equity Lens to its plans, and lean into its position as a key Policy and Systems actor with the potential to help heal and restore a community as opposed to throwing it away.

Karishma Furtado

Karishma Furtado

Across the last century, St. Louis has regrettably seen the destruction and redevelopment of many historic Black neighborhoods including Mill Creek Valley, Evans-Howard Place, Pershing-Waterman, Clayton, and Kinloch. Often, the rationales given to the communities pointed to the substandard condition of the existing housing, the potential for urban renewal, and the need for new infrastructure. These rationales ignore the history of neglect and disinvestment by governmental, financial, and private institutions that have created the substandard conditions. The proposed actions by HUD place Wellston dangerously on the edge of joining this list of decimated Black neighborhoods.

A principle of the Ferguson Commission that we feel is critical to all of our work is Radical Listening. This consists of taking the time to hear what the communities we intend to serve have to say, trusting them to be the experts on their experiences, and then formulating plans and taking action accordingly. It is clear: the community of Wellston was not properly consulted and does not want this course of action. They do not want to fall prey to the toxic pattern of discarding Black communities in the name of urban renewal intended to benefit others. They want to enjoy the baseline of investment and optimism that so many other neighborhoods in our region experience and expect.

The Ferguson Commission—after their comprehensive, regional study, which included over 3,000 St. Louis community members—next encourages us to judiciously apply a Racial Equity Lens. This means asking ourselves for any given action, program, or policy being considered:

  • Whom does this benefit?

  • Will this differentially impact racial and ethnic groups?

  • And, what is missing that will intentionally decrease or eliminate racial disparities?

The answers to these questions undoubtedly show that the destruction of the Wellston Housing Authority would be a shock felt almost entirely by a low-income Black community. 99% of Wellston is Black compared with 24% of St. Louis County. The disparate impact is clear and egregious.

The third principle of the Commission calls on us to recognize the historical treatment of Black neighborhoods in our solutions by prioritizing a Policy and Systems Approach. This technique enables us to understand how disparate outcomes are the product of the way our institutions, practices, policies, and laws were built and how they continue to impact community health today. It calls us to reach beyond reaction to symptoms—a neglected public housing complex—and to instead implement solutions that address the root causes of inequities.

This means situating the lack of opportunities to thrive for so many of our Black neighbors and communities—reflected in many indicators of access and wellbeing—within the broader context of local, state, and national systems and policies that not only passively fail to serve them but actively damage them. It also means acknowledging that weakening neighborhoods and destroying low-income housing when affordable housing is already exceedingly scarce goes on to have profound impacts across the lives of those whose homes and communities are lost. Dr. Jason Purnell of Health Equity Works at Washington University in St. Louis reminds us of this saying, a child who can’t hear, can’t see, hasn’t slept, can’t breathe, has been traumatized, hasn’t eaten, and doesn’t know where they’re going to sleep, doesn’t have the opportunity to learn. The planned actions of HUD will have profound and adverse ripple effects across the lives of those displaced.

Similarly, when tasked with examining the underlying causes of the civil unrest after the death of Michael Brown, the Ferguson Commission identified a long-standing history of disinvestment in Black communities as one of many interrelated factors that feed our persistent racial disparities across most life outcomes. It called for investment in more and better affordable housing and policy-based commitments to help predominantly Black neighborhoods thrive.

Forward Through Ferguson lends its voice to those calling for the proposed demolition of the Wellston Housing Authority to halt until HUD and local partners have taken the vital first steps to apply a Racial Equity Lens, Radically Listen to affected community members, and commit to a Systems and Policy approach. We must ensure that Wellston does not join the list of Black St. Louis neighborhoods lost to history due to systemic neglect and redevelopment.

*Note: This letter was sent to HUD and the Housing Authority of St. Louis County. It was submitted during the public comment period; a decision was later made Thursday, May 23rd to move forward with the “demolition and disposition” plan.


David Dwight IV serves as Lead Strategy Catalyst and Karishma Furtado serves as Research & Data Catalyst with Forward Through Ferguson.


Articles in “From the Field” represent the opinions of the author only and do not represent the views of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

We invite readers to contribute to the civic conversation about community development in St. Louis by writing an op-ed for the Community Builders Exchange. Op-eds should be short (400-700 words) and provocative. If you have an idea for an op-ed, contact Todd Swanstrom at

Don’t relocate Wellston’s public housing tenants—develop an alternative plan using selective rehab and nonprofit ownership

Jim Roos, former Executive Director of Sanctuary in the Ordinary

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For six months, HUD and St. Louis County Housing Authority need to reconsider their plan to issue Section 8 vouchers and relocate 500 people from 201 public housing units in Wellston.

Relocating all Wellston tenants will ultimately be no improvement for most tenants. We have seen this approach fail in other neighborhoods before.

For example, in 2003 St. Louis City allowed a developer to use eminent domain to take and demolish six entire blocks just north of Interstate 44, west of 39th Street. The area was then called McRee Town and is now called Botanical Heights. Neighborhood Enterprises managed 40 buildings with 120 rental units in the general area. Half of them were taken and demolished. The area was distressed, but we knew it was recovering: between 1995 and 2000 our vacancy list had dropped from over 15 to almost zero, and the average rent for 3 and 4 room apartments had increased from $175 to $225.

Some relocated tenants were moved to Ferguson, Wellston, and other distressed areas, which made their situations worse. By contrast, one tenant who lived in a section of McRee that was not taken called me last month to say her husband was dying. She said they had rented from us for 31 years. They had raised all their children in our apartments, and she was grateful for the housing and for the relationship. I visited her husband in the hospital and attended his funeral.

When units are vacated with no immediate plan to repair and re-rent, they will be vandalized, demolished, and forever lost as existing or potentially decent lower-cost housing. In Wellston, there are currently 155 occupied and 46 vacant public housing units. I have driven or biked by most of them. I haven’t seen the interiors, but I suspect that many of the units could be adequately rehabilitated with the selective rehab strategy I used for 45 years.

Wellston Mayor Nate Griffin, City Administrator Janice Trigg, and Chris Krehmeyer of Beyond Housing are working on an alternative to the HUD proposed relocation, which would likely end in demolition. I believe they have support from county, state, and federal elected officials, St. Augustine Church and Archdiocese, bankers, and Audubon Associates LLC. Give them some time to develop an alternative plan!

Grand Scale Development is often shortsighted or unrealistic. The Wellston “Choice Neighborhoods Transformation Plan” in November 2015 produced no results. The 1947 “large scale” development plan proposed by the St. Louis Plan Commission declared that all areas around the central business district were “obsolete” and “must be cleared and reconstructed.”  If the city had completed the plan, Soulard and Lafayette Square would have also been demolished.

Let’s remember St. Louis City’s Neighborhood Stabilization Team’s motto: “You don’t have to move to live in a better neighborhood.” Use selective rehab principles and work around existing tenants.


Jim Roos is currently retired after 47 years with Neighborhood Enterprises (NE) and Sanctuary in the Ordinary (SITO). NE repaired and managed—and SITO owned—lower cost rental housing.


Articles in “From the Field” represent the opinions of the author only and do not represent the views of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

We invite readers to contribute to the civic conversation about community development in St. Louis by writing an op-ed for the Community Builders Exchange. Op-eds should be short (400-700 words) and provocative. If you have an idea for an op-ed, contact Todd Swanstrom at

Missouri Towns: Places for Building Health

Bob Hughes, Ph.D., President & CEO of Missouri Foundation for Health

This column was originally published in Bob Hughes’ blog on the Missouri Foundation for Health website, where he regularly writes about improving the health and well-being of individuals and communities most in need.

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Our default view of health is to think in terms of individuals—a specific disease or disability or how long a person will live. But a perspective that focuses only on one person omits a crucial, indispensable component of health: the well-being of people collectively.

When we talk about the health of a family, a neighborhood, or a city, we understand that health occurs at multiple levels, and these are mutually reinforcing. A healthy town produces healthy people, healthy people produce healthy towns. That is why Missouri Foundation for Health’s mission is to improve the health of people and communities.

This has important implications for all of us. It means that we are interdependent; the health of your neighborhood influences your health and vice-versa. The obvious example is how communicable diseases spread, but many other factors that influence health—from toxic stress to adequate shelter to access to education and healthy food—are our collective responsibility.

A principle site for this collective responsibility to take place is in our towns. Their importance to health is captured in the phrase, “Your ZIP code is more important to your health than your genetic code.” Towns are where we can take direct action to improve our lives—to create healthy environments, start businesses, find meaningful work, raise families, and help each other so that together we build community well-being.

Towns are the principle locations of—to use De Toqueville’s phrase that captured our nation’s unique character—”associations.” These are the organizations formed when citizens came together and took action to respond to community needs. The result is a diverse nonprofit sector that includes health clinics, day cares, places of worship, food pantries, senior centers—the institutions that support us and our fellow residents when we need help. And the people who work in these institutions know that their work is meaningful for the people they work with, for themselves, and ultimately for the entire community.

De Toqueville’s famous 1837 tour of the United States now has a contemporary companion – “Our Towns” by James and Deborah Fallows. The Fallows travelled more than 100,000 miles over five years to visit dozens of towns across America to examine the civic, economic, and social renewal of areas outside major metropolises and under the radar of national media. They found stories of growth, challenge, and creativity in the ongoing renewal and rebuilding of these towns.

I could not help thinking of Missouri’s smaller communities as I read this book, and the progress underway across our state. The Fallows note the value of “big plans” in successful towns, which they define as a plan that sets a reasonable time horizon of around 20 years to deliver results. #STL2039 is the year Forward Through Ferguson chose as an indicator of when generational change in STL racial equity should be achieved; these are the kind of big plans we need.

During their travels, the Fallows came to understand that “public-private partnerships” are an important ingredient in successful towns. I immediately thought of Springfield, Missouri, and the myriad community-wide public-private partnerships, such as the Healthy Living Alliance, a network of people and organizations working together to advocate for healthy policies and encourage healthy, active living. It also brought to mind the work of Bootheel Babies and Families, a key partner in our Infant Mortality Reduction Initiative, and how it is joining together with public and private entities to address a tragic issue that puts an emotional and economic burden on everyone in their region.

In successful towns, the Fallows also found that “people work together on practical local possibilities, rather than allowing bitter disagreements about national politics to keep them apart.” This is an important reminder for us all. In these politically divisive times, there remains so much more that ties us together than what separates us. The health of our very communities relies on our ability to work together and use our differences as an advantage, not an obstacle that prevents us from moving forward.

In many ways the Fallows’ findings shouldn’t be too surprising, but it’s an excellent reminder that the towns that are successfully reinventing themselves are doing so by thinking big, creating new partnerships, and by taking care of their residents. At their heart, these are lessons that communities of any size can benefit from.


Bob Hughes is president and CEO of Missouri Foundation for HealthIn his blog, he regularly writes about improving the health and well-being of individuals and communities most in need.

Before joining the Foundation as chief executive officer in 2012, Bob was a visiting research professor in the Center for State Health Policy at Rutgers University and served in various leadership positions for more than 20 years at The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in New Jersey. Since joining MFH, he has enhanced the strategic direction of the organization and positioned it to be a catalyst for change throughout the region. Under his leadership MFH focuses on fostering a culture of learning, exploration, and collaboration that promotes improvements in the health of underserved Missourians. A native of Illinois, Hughes received his doctorate in behavioral sciences from the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health. Hughes serves on the boards of Grantmakers in Health and the St. Louis Regional Chamber of Commerce, as well as on the Advisory Board of Center for Effective Philanthropy.


Articles in “From the Field” represent the opinions of the author only and do not represent the views of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

We invite readers to contribute to the civic conversation about community development in St. Louis by writing an op-ed for the Community Builders Exchange. Op-eds should be short (400-700 words) and provocative. If you have an idea for an op-ed, contact Todd Swanstrom at

Thank you to our 2019 Give STL Day donors!

Thank you so much to everyone who donated to CBN on May 1, 2019 for Give STL Day!

This was our biggest Give STL Day yet, and you were an important part of it.

We are so grateful for your support & partnership as we all work to build a stronger, more equitable St. Louis, where all people live in safe, economically strong, and vibrant neighborhoods and all community-based organizations are sustainable, supported, and valued.


2019 Give STL Day Donors

Abby Buckhouse
Adam Bowen
Cindy Mense
Dan & Claire Hutti
Dara Eskridge
David Dwight
Elizabeth Simons
Emma Klues
Jessica Payne
Joe Cavato

Joe Jovanovich
Dr. Julie Birkenmaier
Katie Carpenter
Paul Woodruff
Peter Burgis
Rachel D’Souza-Siebert
Rebecca Weaver
Stephanie Co
Susan Bowen
Ted Floros


An Open Approach to Community Development

Kimberly McKinney, CBN Board President & CEO of Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis

Sal Martinez, Previous CBN Board President, Treasurer of North Newstead Association’s Board of Directors, & Chairman of the St. Louis Housing Authority Board of Commissioners

Kimberly McKinney

Kimberly McKinney

When the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis (CBN) was formed over seven years ago, it took trust—among other things—to get a group of already too-busy nonprofit and business professionals to come together for the greater good of the community development sector, under an umbrella that we knew would likely evolve into an organization partly sustained by membership dues. Reflecting on where CBN began and where it is now with our first full-time Executive Director and talented staff, we can celebrate much evolution that has proudly led to recognition of CBN as a “go-to” entity on issues that affect our community. 

Sal Martinez

Sal Martinez

As a growing organization that represents a diverse group of members—including community development corporations from all areas of St. Louis, for-profit businesses who support and benefit from the work, public agencies, and a variety of other nonprofit service providers—we are routinely called upon to take a stance on, lend our name to, or provide support around various causes. These causes can range from advocating for the distribution of Federal and State Low Income Housing and Historic Tax Credits, to working to reduce vacancy in the City of St. Louis, to pushing for the establishment of an Affordable Housing Trust Fund in St. Louis County. Through its evolution, CBN has come to be recognized as a voice for the broader community development sector, as well as a facilitator and convener for a number of coalitions addressing a variety of critical community issues.

This is certainly a wonderful outcome of growth—that is, until issues and agendas divide membership, or even our Board, as we may find ourselves on opposite sides of or benefiting differently from an outcome. We also must be constantly mindful that the loudest voice isn’t necessarily the collective voice of our membership or Board.

Past and present leadership of CBN recognize that the best outcome is in finding common ground. This led us to a recent conversation on what that common ground may be. Knowing that there is more than one answer to this question, we both came back to one in particular time and time again: transparency. 

When an organization or individual finds themselves for or against something, their feeling and conclusion can often be traced back to an important question: how transparent was the process, decision, or action? Major planning or implementation decisions that are made openly and with the community at the table look and feel different from major decisions that appear to have been brokered through back-office deals. And when an issue starts as one that is community-driven, keeping community stakeholders at the table—and valuing their work—as things evolve helps to build irreplaceable trust.

Transparency rarely means that everyone will be completely happy once decisions are made, of course. But when those decisions are made in ways that make people feel heard and respected, all are more likely to be satisfied and to trust the process again in the future.

The intersection of trust and transparency is complex. It is also critical as we enter an age when residents and stakeholders are increasingly demanding to be included as a valued part of the present and future of their communities.


As Chief Executive Officer of Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis, Kimberly McKinney is responsible for the overall operation of the St. Louis affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International. Locally, Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis has built over 400 houses. Kimberly’s primary duties include board recruitment and development, strategic planning, community relations, and advocacy.

Kimberly initially began as Development Director with Habitat for Humanity in 1997 after relocating to St. Louis from Tennessee where she held management positions in both the public and private sector.

Kimberly serves on the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee of Rise (formerly, RHCDA), the Board and Executive Committee as Board President of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis, the Board of Innovative Technology Education Fund, and the Board of Nonprofit MO. She is a past member of the US Council for Habitat for Humanity International and a current member of St. Louis Women’s Forum and CREW.


Sal Martinez has established himself as a force in the comprehensive revitalization of the St. Louis region. Martinez, who received his Bachelor of Science degree in Urban Education in 1994 from Harris-Stowe State College, was employed by the college as Neighborhood Services Coordinator from 1996-1998. During his tenure at College, Martinez served as a liaison to many local social service and non-profit agencies. These experiences had a profound effect on Martinez, as he developed a keen interest in assisting in the rebuilding of St. Louis’s many disinvested neighborhoods.

Since then, Martinez has spent years working with St. Louis-area efforts to develop and promote mixed income and affordable housing, innovative economic development, historic revitalization, and safety, security, and health programming for residents. He has served as Executive Director of the Grand Rock Community Economic Development Corporation, the Vashon/Jeff-Vander-Lou Initiative, and Community Renewal and Redevelopment, Inc. In January of 2017, Martinez was appointed as the Executive Director of North Newstead Association (NNA). NNA (which merged with CRD in 2017) is recognized as a community development corporation and has developed over 135 units of affordable housing in addition to promoting a number of human development initiatives for families residing in North St. Louis City. Martinez currently serves as CEO of Employment Connection, a nonprofit St. Louis community asset that breaks down barriers to self-sufficiency for individuals with limited opportunities including the homeless, ex-offenders, U.S. veterans, high school dropouts, women on welfare, and at-risk youth.

Martinez currently serves as chairman for the St. Louis Housing Authority Board of Commissioners and is in his fourth term; during his first, he was elected as the Board’s youngest-ever chairman. He serves on several advisory boards and committees designed to increase minority (MBE), women-owned (WBE), and Section 3 business and workforce participation on both publicly and privately funded construction projects, and is the co-founder of the Minority Contractor Initiative (MCI), which provides training, capacity building and technical assistance to St. Louis-region MBE/WBE/Section 3 construction firms. Martinez is also a long-time member of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Martinez has received numerous community service awards from regional and national organizations, including the Human Development Corporation; Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.; Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.; Better Family Life; Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.; Metro Sentinel Journal; Senior and Disabled Services Committee; St. Louis Argus Newspaper; Employment Connection; St. Louis Housing Authority; Community Asset Management Company; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Committee; and the East-West Gateway Coordinating Council. He also has received the Harris-Stowe State University Distinguished Alumni Award. Martinez serves on the boards of several civic organizations, including the Community Builders Network, Central Patrol Business/Police Association, Civil Rights Enforcement Agency, and North Grand Neighborhood Services, Inc.


Articles in “From the Field” represent the opinions of the author only and do not represent the views of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

We invite readers to contribute to the civic conversation about community development in St. Louis by writing an op-ed for the Community Builders Exchange. Op-eds should be short (400-700 words) and provocative. If you have an idea for an op-ed, contact Todd Swanstrom at

Welcome to CBN’s Newest Board Member, Monica Campbell!

CBN is excited to welcome Monica Campbell to our Board of Directors in April 2019!

CBN’s Board appoints a Board Nominations Subcommittee to oversee the nominations process. During spring 2019, this committee evaluated current Board strengths and gaps, created a scoring tool based on identified priority areas, solicited nominations, scored and evaluated finalists, and made a recommendation to the full Board in April.

Board_Monica Campbell.jpg

Monica Campbell
Enterprise Bank & Trust
Vice President, Community Development

Monica currently serves as Vice President, Community Development at Enterprise Bank & Trust. She is responsible for sourcing relationships that further Enterprise Bank's fair and responsible banking objectives to achieve better strategic positioning in each community. Monica joined Enterprise in 2014 as an Assistant Vice President, Business Banking Specialist and has been working in the banking industry for over 22 years.

Monica teaches and otherwise helps with financial literacy classes at various organizations in the St. Louis area, including one financial empowerment class with the City of St. Louis. She also works to further Enterprise’s social mission around homeownership by partnering with area nonprofits to help people learn more about homebuying and get them the resources they need to buy their own homes.

Monica has been engaged with CBN’s Civic Capacity Building Committee over the past several years and was one of the first people to step up and provide funding and support to the Vacancy Collaborative as it was initially being formed in 2017.

Outstanding Achievement in Community Building: Joe Cavato

Congratulations to Joe Cavato, Principal & Owner at JAC Consulting LLC, recipient of our 2019 Award for Outstanding Achievement in Community Building!

The Outstanding Achievement in Community Building Award recognizes an individual who:

  • Demonstrates a long-standing commitment to the community building sector.

  • Exhibits leadership, vision, and a commitment to action and results.

  • Has achieved an outstanding impact in community building policy, investment, or community change.

Humans of St. Louis storyteller Maleeha Samer met with Joe to learn more about his experiences and what he's learned during his years of community building work. Here’s some of what he had to share.

Joe Cavato

Joe Cavato

“One of the biggest obstacles to community building is creating engagement and the trust that it takes for people to feel like it’s their thing. I read this quote the other day: ‘If you’re coming into my neighborhood and doing something for me, you’re doing something to me.’ That often happens in large programs and initiatives unless there’s a sense of ownership. I didn’t know how hard it was to engage people productively, and I appreciate how important that is. I always assumed that there’s a product out there that needs to be delivered, and you figure out how to deliver it. And in order to deliver the right product and produce the right result, you’ve got to engage the community and get them to own it.”

- Joe Cavato, JAC Consulting LLC

Joe Cavato

Joe Cavato

“A lot of times the available tools provided by government programs don’t fit a particular need. The Wellston Housing Authority is a good example right now of a problem that doesn’t have a solution yet. Wellston’s got some housing that is difficult to own and operate. It’s one of the poorest towns in St. Louis County. And the housing authority has 200 units and about 600 residents. Well, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) came along a few months ago and took over, even though the housing authority was trying to work their way out of that situation. Some of the units needed to be brought up to date. Under the auspices of a new mayor, the housing authority was making significant efforts to upgrade its capacity. But HUD basically said that this housing authority sucked and couldn’t be saved. And instead of HUD using the tools and programs that they have, they decided to put it out of business. That’s an example of the architecture that housing authorities are working under and how there are structural obstacles in community building. You have to use the local resources and community engagement to work around that bureaucracy. Community development moves at the speed of trust.”

- Joe Cavato, JAC Consulting LLC


We hope you can join us to celebrate community builders like Joe at our 7th Annual Community Building Awards on April 11!


Photostory by Humans of St. Louis and Maleeha Samer. Photostory narratives represent the opinions of the speaker(s) featured only and do not necessarily represent the views of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri-St. Louis.