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.

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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.

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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.

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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 swanstromt@umsl.edu.

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.

 
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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.

Rising Star in Community Building: Aaron Williams

Congratulations to Aaron Williams, Committee Chairman, Young Friends of The Ville and 4theVille Team Member, recipient of our 2019 Rising Star in Community Building Award!

The Rising Star in Community Building Award recognizes an individual who:

  • Demonstrates dedication to and passion for the community building sector.

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

  • Shows promising potential to achieve outstanding impact in community building policy, investment, or community change.

Humans of St. Louis storyteller Maleeha Samer sat down with Aaron to learn more about his work and what it means to him. Here’s some of what he had to share.

Aaron Williams

Aaron Williams

“The first time I met some longstanding community members of The Ville, we hung out at their house for a bar-b-que. We had a little brotherhood and sisterhood smoke. Mind you, these are women that are the age of my grandparents or oldest aunts and uncles, and we hung out for about three hours talking about everything and nothing. And that built the bond we needed to try out some things as a community-based group. We’re definitely not a success story right now, but we’re moving and we were able to trust each other quickly. Us three, along with our other team members, were willing to put in the time to get to know one another and build worthwhile relationships instead of just doing the work right away. Now I’ve known them for close to two years, and we feel comfortable telling each other that we love one another. That, to me, is important, especially because I’m not a touchy-feely guy. When this 60-plus year-old woman tells me she loves me, my typical reaction would be, ‘Thank you,’ or to cringe a little bit. But I feel comfortable saying it back, and that’s a testament of where we are and what we’ve built together.”

- Aaron Williams, Committee Chairman, Young Friends of The Ville, and 4theVille Team Member

Aaron Williams

Aaron Williams

“I learned about The Ville when I was at Washington University in St. Louis. My freshman year, I took a class with Bob Hansman called Community Building, Building Communities. And then I became his teaching assistant for two years. That class always stops in the neighborhood, and I was attracted to this place because I grew up in a similar historic black neighborhood in Kansas City called the 18th and Vine district. The more I came, the more I learned, the more I got engaged. It reminded me of home. And I knew that if I were home, I’d be pouring myself into 18th and Vine. But I’m in Saint Louis, so I’m pouring into The Ville, my second home. Most people here are middle-aged or senior citizens, and I appreciate that. When I come here, it’s like talking to my grandparents. There’s this traditional way of respecting elders by listening to what they say and trying to make something out of it. So I’ll sit out here at the Northside Community Housing Office or at people’s houses and listen to them sometimes complain or sometimes just dream. And that helps me realize we already have everything we need here in The Ville. There’s a lot of talent here and a very experienced community, and that’s what’s driven what we’ve gotten done – creating with their thoughts, their pain, their concerns, and their vision. At this point, it’s more a matter of changing the outside world’s perspective of this area and deconstructing the negative stereotypes so people will start paying more attention to it and investing more of themselves into it.”

- Aaron Williams, Co-Chairman, Ville Collaborative

Aaron Williams

Aaron Williams

“Community means safety. It’s a place where you can let your hair down, let your guard down, and say what you really think and feel about whatever the topic may be. In The Ville, conversations usually revolve around how this region has never valued things that were created by this community. The level of expertise in the The Ville - Greater Ville and the beauty that was coming out of this neighborhood didn’t matter. They’ve just always been residual. And that’s why we brainstorm ways to circumvent that perspective and regenerate this place now... we don’t want to wait for the big developer to come here. We don’t want to wait for the City to say, ‘Momentum is going in that direction now. We should probably do something in The Ville.’ We want to remain the same little island that everybody thinks we are and create value, restore dignity, and invest in this place off of the strength of what it is. That’s it. And that’s the comfort that you find in this community.”

- Aaron Williams, Board Member, Northside Community Housing, Inc.

Aaron Williams

Aaron Williams

“Maybe this is a fault of mine, but I love bending or breaking rules. Maybe that’s why I don’t get caught up in trying to be on the right side of history. I would love to see this region adopt that way of moving more often. Let’s have some arguments. Let’s talk about the elephants in the room. We don’t have to attack each other and hate each other afterward. Everyone can contribute. It doesn’t matter how many degrees you have or how much street cred you have. This region needs to do a better job of not being afraid of discourse. We polarize too easily, and instead of trying to understand things and seek innovative solutions, we’re afraid to step on toes. I’ve run into white people who are afraid to give their suggestions about The Ville because they don’t want to offend anyone. No! Tell me exactly what you’re thinking. It might be helpful.”

- Aaron Williams, Urban Land Institute St. Louis - Urban Plan Committee

“One thing that this region can do is stop celebrating people before their work is done. We are quick to call somebody an expert, or praise them for what they said without doing our homework, and actually seeing if they execute on what they say. Personally, I avoid awards. I avoid leadership programs. I avoid them because I don’t want that kind of attention, especially when I feel the work that I’m trying to do is not done. It was hard for me to accept this award from Community Builder’s Network. I asked if there were a way I could defer to someone else, because accepting it breeds mediocrity to me, when we actually need to push people to do better, do more. Acknowledge your shortcomings and ignorance and then seek out groups that can help you improve them. Don’t just be content with sticking with what you know and what makes you comfortable. I hate saying that, too, because I hate buzzwords. It’s like ‘comfortable space,’ ‘lean in,’ and ‘equity.’ But, I am human, and after you hear them so much, you start adopting the language. Show up. That’s really what people need to do. That’s the one thing we talk about a lot in Young Friends of The Ville, and when we started we didn't have the silver bullet or the answer. We decided we were really just here to listen and see where we can fit in. We’d have to raise money for the North Side because that’s what a young professional group does. But outside of that, it’s just figuring out where we can be helpful and stepping into that role.”

- Aaron Williams, Committee Chairman, Young Friends of The Ville

 

We hope you can join us to celebrate community builders like Aaron 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.

Excellence in Resident Leadership: Megan Betts

Congratulations to Megan Betts, Co-Founder of Northside Neighbors United and community member of Saint Louis Place, recipient of our 2019 Award for Excellence in the Public Sector!

The Award for Excellence in Resident Leadership recognizes an individual who:

  • Has shown incredible volunteerism and involvement in their community and/or community initiatives.

  • Goes above and beyond normal resident action to sit on boards, head committees, or encourage the engagement of other residents.

Humans of St. Louis storyteller Maleeha Samer sat down with Megan to learn more about her work and what drives her. Here’s some of what she had to share.

Megan Betts

Megan Betts

“A defining moment I really reflect on is the day that the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency decided that they were coming to St. Louis. I was sitting in my backyard very upset because of all the friendships I had made with all the residents in my neighborhood, and I knew that they wanted to stay in their homes and that they were losing those homes that had been in their family for decades. At that point, I thought, ‘What else is there to do?’ I looked up and around, I saw the vacant lot, and I thought, ‘They’re coming for us. How are we going to make sure that the rest of us can stay?’ I think about that day when I feel like nothing’s going right, or I’m tired, or I don’t want to do this work anymore. I looked around my house and saw that I might not even be able to stay here to raise my kids, and my neighbors would be far worse off than I would. So what am I going to do to change that?”

- Megan Betts, Co-Founder of Northside Neighbors United and Community Member of Saint Louis Place

Megan Betts

Megan Betts

“My kids go to Gateway Elementary and they’re right by the Pruitt-Igoe site. The trees were being torn down and the dirt from the NGA site was coming up. There was a big spike in asthma attacks in the kids and teachers, and even in those that didn’t have asthma beforehand. How do we get ahead of this to make sure our voices are heard and that we’re on top of working with the developer? One thing I truly remember from a neighbor that has lived in St. Louis Place her whole life is her reminder to always take a step back and think about how this work impacts your family. When I ran for office, I had to be away from my family and from community work. It was perceived that my doing work at the neighborhood association was to win the election. I can’t say yes to everything and make a real impact. So what should I be involved in because my time is limited and I want to do this work for all of them? The hardest was to not be doing the work that gave me the ability to run in the first place. And, oftentimes, you can get so engulfed in this work that your family might suffer. After the election, I realized community and family meant more to me.”

- Megan Betts, Co-Founder of Northside Neighbors United and Community Member of Saint Louis Place

Megan Betts

Megan Betts

“We had the opportunity to bring in a store that brought everyday basic amenities. It was a Family Dollar, but it’s more than anything that we’ve ever had over here after a while. We had little to no business in the neighborhood and that became detrimental. Our elected officials were not in support, and we actually didn’t know that until a neighbor found out. Within a week, we got a petition together for Family Dollar to come in, contacted the company’s representative, had a community meeting schedule, gathered almost 400 signatures, and were able to get it passed at City Hall. That was huge because I know how many people go to that store now. We have a very walkable community and there aren’t a lot of vehicles. So I would consider that a win over here in St. Louis Place.”

- Megan Betts, Co-Founder of Northside Neighbors United and Community Member of Saint Louis Place

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“When I go to community meetings I often hear, ‘What is the biggest thing residents talk about in the neighborhood?’ And ours is not really safety, but home repair. People can’t afford to fix their homes, but they know that new things are coming to the neighborhood and they want to be part of that. There are so many layers for us to get to that equitable standard. We’re still at the bottom, sadly, but we’re working, working, working. Money would make a difference in this work. In my neighborhood, no one is paid to do any community building. Everything is volunteer. One way to look at it is, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s great. Look at all those people volunteering their time.’ The other thing is that there’s a lot of stuff we’re missing out on because we don’t have someone fully dedicated to get deeper into the issues. A lot of us dedicate our time, but then life happens. So we veer off and then we come back together when there’s a fire and we have to put it out. I applaud everything that we’ve done with the little resources we have. But if we were able to pay somebody to do this, we could do so much more.”

- Megan Betts, Co-Founder of Northside Neighbors United and Community Member of Saint Louis Place

 

We hope you can join us to celebrate community builders like Megan 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.

Excellence in the Community Building Nonprofit Sector: Messiah Community Center

Congratulations to Messiah Community Center, recipient of our 2019 Award for Excellence in the Community Building Nonprofit Sector!

The Award for Excellence in the Community Building Nonprofit Sector recognizes a community-building nonprofit that:

  • Demonstrates excellence in multi-year, place-based, collaborative, comprehensive community building based on strong community engagement.

  • Uses data and evaluation to achieve maximum impact in their efforts.

Humans of St. Louis storyteller Maleeha Samer met with Becky Gill and Pastor Mike Okine of Messiah Community Center to learn more about their community building work. Here’s some of what they had to say.

Becky Gill (left) and Pastor Mike Okine

Becky Gill (left) and Pastor Mike Okine

“I come from Ghana, where community building is just the nature of the people. Throughout the large cities, small cities, and rural areas the sense of community is very high. Everybody cares about everybody. You have different people in your church from different backgrounds. You watch the news. You see what is going on. And you want to be in a church that has hands and feet in the community, so people don’t see you just as a building that people go to on Sundays. At Messiah Community Center, we are defining this space to ensure that it’s open to everybody. We make sure that even though there are divisive issues in the community, we try to save politics. Let’s say you have one party wanting to do something in this space? What about the other group? Yeah, people individually belong to parties, even in the church. But we try to do things that will not divide. We want this to be a place where people can come and have understanding; where they can live together and get to know each other to understand each other.”

- Pastor Mike Okine, Messiah Community Center

“A high priority for us is having community-led events. This isn’t a space that’s about the experts coming in and teaching things, but about the apartments’ residents and neighbors with certain skills that can offer what they know. We had our martial arts classes taught by someone who brought his kids to programming and was like, ‘These classes are great. I would love to do this.’ Now he’s been volunteering for close to a year. Our cooking classes have been led by someone we met who’s living in an apartment building in the neighborhood. We hosted a block party in the fall, and the weather was pretty crappy because we’ve had crappy weather since November. It was fun to see neighbors and different people that have been involved here. One lady noticed we didn’t have any large trash bags because we only had smaller trash cans. So she brought a huge trash bin and started helping with cleanup. We had our cooking instructor bring her family and others to help. And one of the ladies who comes to exercise and her grandson was helping them, too. We had fires going, and kids were coming from down the block to make s’mores. It was cool to see everybody saying, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ There was food and fun. People were talking and getting to know each other. And a lot of different people that didn’t necessarily know each other before the day started had a really good party together.”

- Becky Gill, Messiah Community Center

 

We hope you can join us to celebrate community builders like the team at Messiah Community Center 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.

Mental Health and Community Development

Laura Choi, Community Development Research Manager at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

This column originally appeared in Shelterforce.

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The first time I became acutely aware of the importance of mental health was in high school, when I lost a friend to suicide. It remains one of the most defining experiences of my youth, both in terms of the immediate shock and grief, as well as what I learned by observing the reactions of others.

In our tight-knit immigrant community, the prevailing response was to actively avoid the issue. I assumed everyone stayed silent to minimize the family’s shame, but looking back, I now realize that we were woefully unequipped to respond. We lacked a fundamental understanding of mental health and how to talk about mental health challenges in productive ways, largely driven by cultural stigma. Adults also missed a critical opportunity to change the narrative and shine a light on the importance of proactive mental health promotion. That experience taught me an important lesson: mental health is foundational to every aspect of a healthy, productive life and it must be actively and openly cultivated.

Expanding the Healthy Communities Conversation to Include Mental Health

Over the past decade, the community development field has made great progress in bringing a health lens to its work, and exciting new partnerships between the health and community development sectors are taking shape across the country. These efforts have tended to focus on the connections between place and physical health, with a focus on neighborhood revitalization as a strategy for reducing rates of preventable chronic disease like asthma, diabetes, and obesity. However, the healthy communities movement has been less explicit about mental, emotional, and behavioral health, and it’s time for that to change. The stunning increase in suicide, alcohol- and drug-induced death, coupled with rising rates of anxiety and depression, particularly among youth, demands our collective attention and action.

Promoting mental health and well-being throughout a lifetime is critical for supporting the economic resilience and mobility of low-income people, a key aim of community development efforts. For example, there is clear evidence that poor mental health is associated with reductions in labor force participation and employment. Mental health problems among children have a severe negative impact on educational outcomes, which can limit future economic well-being. Approximately 50 percent of students age 14 and older who are living with a mental illness drop out of high school, the highest dropout rate of any disability group. Perhaps most critically, adverse childhood experiences, which include abuse, neglect, having an incarcerated household member, or substance misuse within the household, are risk factors for poor mental health and have been linked to a number of negative health and well-being outcomes, including risky health behaviors, chronic health conditions, and early death.

The community development field has the opportunity to explicitly recognize the relationship between mental health and physical health, and the role that social factors play in both aspects of overall well-being. “Upstream” conditions, such as neighborhood quality or household financial well-being, are important determinants of mental health and can influence factors such as emotional resilience, social connectedness, and self-efficacy. Poverty is a major risk factor for poor mental health. Research shows that community-development-related issues such as unstable housing and unemployment are connected in a complex negative cycle with poor mental health (see figure below). The pursuit of improved population health and expanded economic opportunity for all should include upstream strategies that address community conditions and their underlying structural drivers as a means of promoting good mental health.

Positive and Negative Factors that Influence Mental Health

Partnerships as the Way Forward

In his recent book Lost Connections, journalist Johan Hari synthesizes decades of social science and medical research and finds that poor mental health is driven by a range of factors outside of individual genetic and biochemical factors, which in addition to unresolved childhood trauma, include disconnection from:

  • Meaningful work

  • Other people

  • Status and respect

  • The natural world

  • A hopeful or secure future

Reflecting on these drivers of poor mental health, it becomes clear that the community development field has a meaningful role to play in addressing these root causes. The community development and mental health fields have a critical opportunity to work together, leveraging each other’s strengths, in supporting the mental health of low income communities. Some examples include:

  • Expanding trauma-informed practices, including critical interventions for young children

  • Considering mental health promotion in community design, which includes community gathering spaces and natural elements

  • Designing interventions that increase social connections and foster a sense of belonging

  • Facilitating opportunities for communities to work on violence prevention

  • Partnering to offer community-based mental health and behavioral health services

  • Developing community-driven mental health campaigns and arts and cultural strategies to reduce stigma and shame

  • Raising awareness of mental health issues among frontline staff and providing resources such as training on mental health first aid

As with all complex challenges, no single organization or even sector can do it alone; improving mental health at the population level requires strategic partnerships across disciplines and sectors. To help advance the conversation, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco recently released a publication dedicated to the topic of mental health and community development, recognizing that good mental health helps to contribute to a healthy and inclusive economy. This collection of essays brings a mental health lens to important community development issues like climate change and resilience, racial equity, and affordable housing. It also explores emerging strategies to promote mental health including arts and culture, resident community action, and community-driven solutions in rural areas. Read the full issue here.

As designer and urbanist Liz Ogbu says, “When we work in low-income communities, we tend to focus on need because the lack of resources is so readily apparent and visible. We don’t focus enough on aspiration. In fact, having an aspiration is a luxury we rarely ascribe to poor people, but they’re human; they have hopes and dreams.” Ultimately, this work is about ensuring that every community can be a place of healing and connectedness, where aspiration is a given, and building hope for the future is as central to our field as building housing.

Let’s bring mental health into the open and keep the conversation going. How are mental health issues impacting your community, and what is working to address them?

The views are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco or the Federal Reserve System.

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Laura Choi is community development research manager at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, where she works with a team to expand economic opportunity for low-income communities and communities of color. She is co-editor of the Community Development Innovation Review and was an editor of What It’s Worth: Strengthening the Financial Future of Families, Communities, and the Nation, a book jointly published by the SF Fed and Prosperity Now.

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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 swanstromt@umsl.edu.

Excellence in the Public Sector: Loretta Hiner

Congratulations to Loretta Hiner, Senior Housing Analyst with the City of St. Louis Affordable Housing Commission, recipient of our 2019 Award for Excellence in the Public Sector!

The Award for Excellence in the Public Sector recognizes an individual, government, quasi-government agency, or tax-supported entity that:

  • Develops or protects policy that supports investment in communities.

  • Demonstrates innovative use of resources for community improvement.

  • Is proactive, persistent, professional, and efficient in finding ways to support community building initiatives.

Humans of St. Louis storyteller Maleeha Samer sat down with Loretta to learn more about her work and experiences. Here’s some of what they talked about.

Loretta Hiner

Loretta Hiner

“When I first started this work, I was focused on what I needed to do and what my responsibilities were. I didn't realize the interconnectedness. Now I see that I’m just one little piece in this much larger pie. And instead of fighting for a slice of pie, I see us making it a bigger pie. Playing off our strengths together, we are all working for a much greater good. It could be people working together to get a city swimming pool open in the mornings. It could be people working together to create traffic calming techniques and to make roads safe for pedestrians and bicyclists. It could be people realizing that they want to live in a community that’s clean and safe, so they start to pick up the trash. Or people looking out for where they live, demanding more, and taking the first step to make it the way they want to make it. When people realize the power within themselves and start using that power, we all see a new exponential strength that we sometimes didn’t even know we had.”

- Loretta Hiner, Senior Housing Analyst with the City of St. Louis Affordable Housing Commission

Loretta Hiner

Loretta Hiner

“There’s a project called East Fox Homes, started by a church in the South Grand area, with a lot of refugee and immigrant congregants who were being priced out of their housing. The church paired up with a nonprofit organization and started identifying a number of vacant and dilapidated houses around the Gravois Park neighborhood, and acquired them. They submitted a multilayered finance project to us, of which we were one funder, to rehab a number of historic structures and convert them into affordable rental housing. At the ribbon cutting, I remember seeing representatives from all the different funders coming together and seeing what it took to get that project done. The church and the nonprofit created a living example in which these units, for the next 30 years, will be able to house generations of people who will no longer be cost-burdened by the price of housing. The new residents have a stake in the community, and they’ll be able to retain more of their income. Now they have firmly established that they belong in the neighborhood and that this is their home.”

- Loretta Hiner, Senior Housing Analyst with the City of St. Louis Affordable Housing Commission

 

We hope you can join us to celebrate community builders like Loretta 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.

Excellence in Banking: U.S. Bank Community Development Corporation

Congratulations to U.S. Bank Community Development Corporation (CDC), winner of our 2019 Award for Excellence in Banking!

The Award for Excellence in Banking recognizes a bank or lending institution that:

  • Gets involved beyond traditional lending in community building activities.

  • Is creative in how it supports community building.

  • Provides direct support to community building organizations.

  • Has a strong community presence.

  • Demonstrates a deep understanding of the sector and a willingness to accept more risk.

Humans of St. Louis storyteller Maleeha Samer met with Darren Van’t Hof, U.S. Bank CDC’s Managing Director of Environmental and Community Capital, and David Desai-Ramirez, Executive Director of the Southern Region of IFF, to learn more about the CDC’s community building work. Here’s some of what they had to say.

Darren Van’t Hof (left) and David Desai-Ramirez

Darren Van’t Hof (left) and David Desai-Ramirez

“I hear talk about the need for more people that are passionate, committed, and have expertise in investing in the community or engaging in public service. For someone like myself, I’ve literally never thought a day about running for office, and it feels like something that other kinds of people do – something that, if you ever did do, you’d have very little agency within a broken system. But as long as we all continue to have that skepticism, then it’s going to be hard to get to the policies to start to turn things around a little bit. I’ve been influenced by a lot of the activists and what I’ll call truth-tellers. They are telling us the truth about these systems. And they keep reminding us, ‘Are you guys really moving the needle? What about this family over here and their housing? How do we continue to get better and do more?’

The good news for states like Missouri that tend not to be first movers on social policy is that there are models everywhere that we can follow. The even more hopeful news is that they’re in places that politically resemble Missouri. We need more people engaged in public service, and we need corporations that are economic engines. But it’s hard when their shareholders are saying, ‘What are next month’s earnings?’ We’ve got to get to a place where we’re pushing them to take a longer view and ask, ‘How can I exist in 20 years? What will my workforce look like? What investments am I making into the community so that I can be around and be thriving and flourishing in 20 years?’”

- Darren Van’t Hof, Managing Director, Environmental and Community Capital at U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation, and David Desai-Ramirez, Executive Director, Southern Region of IFF

Darren Van’t Hof (left) and David Desai-Ramirez

Darren Van’t Hof (left) and David Desai-Ramirez

“One of the challenges I express every time I’ve been in an Anti-Bias, Anti Racism (ABAR) workshop has been that the people in the room are generally there because they want to be there. You already have a group of willing participants. How do you get at the people that don’t want to have the conversation or don’t think there’s an issue? One of the observations that I’ve seen in a lot of this work has been where people, particularly white people, come into the conversations as their starting point. Some would step into an ABAR workshop and it would be a punch in the face: ‘I don’t understand this. Why are we having this conversation?’ And then there’s a lot of people in the room saying, ‘Oh, we’ve known this for a hundred years. Why are you just now hearing about this?’ So, to me, the challenge is making more people aware. That would go a long way to addressing the problems. There are now second and third generations of families that have only known the suburbs and avoid urban centers like the plague. That didn’t happen a generation or two ago when you might have had parents or grandparents that were part of the urban core. It’s becoming increasingly disconnected, and it’s led by a lack of awareness. If we had awareness, we could start to chip away at some of these conversations.”

- Darren Van’t Hof, Managing Director, Environmental and Community Capital at U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation, and David Desai-Ramirez, Executive Director, Southern Region of IFF

 

We hope you can join us to celebrate community builders like the U.S. Bank CDC team 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.

No One Single Source Can Fund Transit; However, Missouri Needs to Be a Partner

Dorothy Yeager, Executive Director of OATS, Inc.

Kim Cella, Executive Director of Missouri Public Transit Association & Citizens for Modern Transit

This column was originally published on Citizens for Modern Transit’s website.

Dorothy Yeager

Dorothy Yeager

The State of Transit Funding Commentary

OATS is one of the largest and oldest transit systems of its kind in the nation. It has been serving Missouri since 1971 and currently provides reliable transportation service in 87 counties, with the help of 636 drivers and a fleet of over 800 vehicles. Last year, OATS buses travelled 15 million miles in the state providing over 1.5 million one-way trips. People rely on OATS bus service to get to work, doctors, grocery stores, pharmacies, senior centers, sheltered workshops and anywhere else they need to go. However. the lack of financial support from that state of Missouri has a significant impact on OATS ability to serve them – and, weather federal government shutdowns.

Kim Cella

Kim Cella

Transit investment must become a priority in Missouri. Transit systems across the nation receive approximately 40 percent of their annual operating budgets from their respective states. This is not the case in Missouri. For more than a decade, the state legislature has continued to slash funding to an all-time low, with $1.7 million split among 34 transit providers last year. Many local transit providers now get less than one percent of their annual operating budgets from the state.

This void means OATS, and other Missouri transit providers, must rely more heavily on federal dollars, while seeking creative means to secure funding resources. The federal government shutdown has forced OATS to cut service by 15 percent, and further cuts will have to be made if the shutdown continues.

Despite the here and now with the federal government, persistent lack of state funding is taking its toll on transit providers. This issue must be addressed. According to the Missouri Public Transit Association, service cuts and fare hikes are being made in various communities statewide. This means service in some counties in no longer available at the same level of frequency. Those living in more rural communities are only able to gain access to one or two rips a month. This is not enough for the people who are dependent on transit to gain access to doctors and groceries. And, it certainly doesn’t help someone who might need daily service to get to work.

I’ve worked to further the delivery of transportation services for more than three decades, and if there is one thing I’ve learned over the years, it is that there is no single funding source with enough money to ensure OATS can serve all the people in need of its services. It is not being suggested that the state figure out a way to fully fund transit. What’s needed is a bigger, more reliable partnership.

It takes multiple sources to keep buses running – local, state and federal funding, fare revenue and support from riders and other individuals, businesses and organizations. It is essential to the ridership and to the vitality of the state, as public transit helps to stimulate economic development, attracts and retains business, establishes healthier communities, connects individuals to job opportunities, furthers equality and builds sustainable communities.

The need for public transit in rural areas was identified way back in 1971 and Missouri led the way in developing the solution. I ask state legislatures to rally behind this cause and keep transit moving forward.

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Dorothy Yeager is the executive Director of OATS, Inc. and executive committee member of the Missouri Public Transit Association.

Kim Cella is Executive Director of Missouri Public Transit Association and Citizens for Modern Transit.

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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 swanstromt@umsl.edu.