In 1981, a group of North St. Louis residents gathered together to solve a problem: the decline of their historic neighborhood. Together, they formed the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group, a nonprofit organization committed to preserving the history and culture of North St. Louis, which dates back to 1816. Today, the group focuses its time and manpower on maintaining and restoring historically significant buildings. In addition to construction and demolition projects, the group's staffers hold annual festivals and events to raise money for surrounding businesses, support local artists, and fund a grocery co-op aimed at bringing locally sourced produce to North St. Louis.
Debate is about more than arguing a point. It is about understanding an issue so well that you can coherently defend its merits against an opponent. It requires critical-thinking skills, an understanding of facts and logic, and the ability to perform under pressure. And it can change the trajectory of a student's academic career.
The Saint Louis Urban Debate League helps youth in underserved communities rise to the challenge. Every month, more than 150 students at nine area high schools research a topic of national or international importance and make logical, fact-based arguments for action. Weekend workshops and annual tournaments pit the strongest debaters against each other for the chance to debate in ever more challenging arenas and improve their debating skills. In addition to fostering academic achievement by engaging students in their own learning, the Saint Louis Urban Debate League aims to propel students along the path to college and career success, with the ultimate goal of closing the achievement gap for students from poor or minority backgrounds.
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The green thumbs at Gateway Greening believe in the power of a garden. For nearly three decades they have promoted gardening in both public spaces and private backyards as a solution to urban issues ranging from food insecurity to sedentary lifestyles. Through a citywide network of more than 200 gardens—including community vegetable gardens, tree and shrub plantings, and street beautification projects—the organization brings fresh food to the community, teaches hands-on lessons, and uses empty space in a positive way. Member gardeners can attend educational workshops on garden care, watering, and landscaping principles, and take advantage of assistance with project planning and procurement of materials.
Other key Gateway Greening programs work with specific populations to encourage self-sufficiency. The City Seeds Urban Farm, provides job training to individuals experiencing homelessness and distributes fresh, locally grown produce to nearby food pantries. Also youth gardens supported by Gateway Greening dot the grounds of more than 60 local schools.
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VIPink assembles an evening of art, lively libations, and quiet bidding to benefit Bright Pink, a nonprofit organization focused on the prevention and early detection of breast and ovarian cancer in young women. Sip on complimentary cocktails and peruse retina-regaling work from local artists, mingling with other attendees or cheering on the Cardinals at the select TVs broadcasting the World Series. Hors d’oeuvres accompany drinks, as well as prevent stomachs from committing the egregious faux pas of calling out during the silent auction.
Fire. Hammers. A pottery wheel. Some of humanity’s most elemental and primitive tools, yet into the 21st century they remain. And Craft Alliance Program Director Susan Donahue Yates attests that they’re some of the coolest. With each season’s catalog of classes, some of the most popular, according to Yates, let students play with fire, hammer metal into jewelry, or shape a lump of clay into something as fundamentally beautiful as a baby seal mimicking the Mona Lisa’s wry smirk.
At Craft Alliance, the focus is art in all its forms. Whether the tool is the raw flame fusing cut copper or a Mac loaded with Photoshop image-editing software, the intention to inspire and to create remains the same. Its two locations schedule seasonal terms with four- to six-week classes, as well as intensive workshops and children’s classes. Guiding each student along his or her adventure, skilled faculty instruct from experience. Most are working artists who exhibit their work and who have reaped their experience from the trenches of the art world.
Craft Alliance is not just empowering people with knowledge; they are also helping people make mugs, bowls, wooden spinning tops, rings, rugs, and digital photo albums. Many of these things are practical and serve a functional purpose. But many do not—they’re just beautiful things, like vestigial tails. A good number of these pieces are created by hand and are meant to remind us, as Yates remarked, that everyone can do something different from their everyday, workaday lives by adding beauty to a world that truly needs it.
The student and faculty artists backbone the Craft Alliance community, which in 2014 celebrates its 50th anniversary. The Grand Center location represents a regeneration of an arts district already pillared by the Fabulous Fox Theatre, Powell Symphony Hall, and St. Louis University.