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Daniel Mendoza led his family in prayer before they ate enchiladas at dinner celebrating 18-year-old Ashley's birthday at the Estrada-Mendoza home in St. Louis, MO on Thursday, Sep. 12, 2019.
Daniel Mendoza led his family in prayer before they ate enchiladas at dinner celebrating 18-year-old Ashley's birthday at the Estrada-Mendoza home in St. Louis, MO on Thursday, Sep. 12, 2019.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

Family settles into home thanks to initiative’s ‘angels’

‘Good Catholic people’ at St. Joseph Housing work to stabilize neighborhoods

Enter the Estrada-Mendoza home, and just to the right is a large portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe. A smaller, colorful cross is on another wall.

The home on South Grand Boulevard in the Dutchtown neighborhood is the first to be renovated by the St. Joseph Housing Initiative, a faith-based, nonprofit entity seeking to produce quality housing for low- and moderate-income first-time homebuyers in the St. Louis

The Estrada-Mendoza family watered their flowers and yard at their home.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
area. Daniel Mendoza, his wife, Maria, and their four children moved into the home several weeks earlier.

They’re now settled in, though a few items are still in the garage, some yet to find a place and some to be donated to charity.

“We’re still working, a little painting and things like that,” Mendoza said.

The house was fully renovated, including a new roof, a second bathroom, electrical and plumbing updates and more. The well-maintained woodwork, doors and stained-glass windows stand out.

Three of the children now attend St. Cecilia School in the neighborhood, an eighth-grader, fourth-grader and kindergartner. They’re considering getting involved in sports at the parish.

“We play soccer outside,” Mendoza said, adding with a chuckle that the dog also plays but prefers to chew on the ball.

Henry Schaper was one of eight Schaper children who lived in the house renovated by the St. Joseph Housing Initiative. He greeted the Estrada-Mendoza family (from left Danielle, Ashley, Zenda, Maria and Daniel Jr.) on the day Archbishop Robert J. Carlson blessed the initiative's first house in St. Louis, MO on Thursday, Jun. 27, 2019. Schaper told the girls about how he and his brothers would make the front porch into a space ship when they were playing. It was their favorite place to play.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston

The family moved to St. Louis three years ago and has been renting. Their house payment is about the same as they paid in rent, “only now we have a place we can call home,” the new homeowner said.

They’re impressed with St. Joseph Housing. “We find a lot of good Catholic people here. They help us a lot. We just find angels, nice people, angels who help us no matter what,” Mendoza said.

St. Joseph Housing is a response to provide low- and moderate-income families with the opportunity to become homeowners, become part of a neighborhood community and build wealth. In blessing the home in July, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson prayed for the new owners and noted the importance of supporting growing families.

Praising the volunteers who helped with the effort, Mendoza said: “It’s a dream come true. We are so blessed.”

He listed the many features of the home, including the three bedrooms, large basement, yard and three-car garage. The children do homework in the dining room now, but plans are to add a desk.

After dinner Daniel and Maria Estrada-Mendoza watched over the children as they did their homework in their new home in St. Louis, MO on Tuesday, Sep. 24, 2019.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
“We bought a home and are so happy. We want to do everything right. We will do things little by little, exactly what we want,” said Mendoza, who works as a fork-lift driver.

They’ve met the next-door neighbors and are thrilled with the couple’s graciousness. On Labor Day weekend, when the Estrada-Mendozas went on a camping trip, the neighbors cared for the family dog. And the couple sent a note to St. Joseph Housing remarking how happy they are with the Estrada-Mendoza family.

Daniel Mendoza and his son, Daniel Jr., raked leaves in the family's backyard after the elder Daniel came home from his job as a forklift operator.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
“It’s a good neighborhood, lots of friendly people,” Mendoza said. “It’s perfect. Exactly what we were looking for.”

Archbishop Carlson and the Incarnate Word Foundation announced the initiative at a press conference a year ago at St. Mary’s High School — a program that grew from conversations Archbishop Carlson had with Bridget Flood of the Incarnate Word Foundation.

Mendoza said he and his wife’s family grew up close to the Catholic Church. “Our parents always taught us to do right, to go to church on Sundays. We always thank the Lord for everything. We respect the rules.”

Their oldest daughter, Ashley, graduated from high school this year and plans to attend college in January. “I like that there’s a lot of space here, so we’re not in each other’s way,” Ashley said.

Zenda Estrada-Mendoza, age 9, inspected a jalapeno pepper in the family's first garden.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston

>> Best days are ahead

Matt Lanzone grew up in St. Cecilia Parish four blocks from the first house renovated by St. Joseph Housing Initiative. Now a member of St. Catherine Laboure Parish in Sappington, he lives in St. Louis County but retains ties to his old neighborhood.

“I went to St. Mary’s High School and just have always loved this area,” said Lanzone, who was part of the initial board of the housing initiative, served as chairperson for its first year and now is vice chairperson. “We knew this area had not seen its best days. The

The Estrada-Mendoza family watches soccer every night of the week together and are very excited that professional soccer is coming to St. Louis.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
best days are ahead of it. It’s about connecting one house at a time, one neighborhood at a time. Once you start doing that, you have a beautiful thing going on.”

With the help of Archbishop Robert J. Carlson and Bridget Flood of the Incarnate Word Foundation, he said, “we were able to pull this off, and we’re not going to stop.”

St. Joseph Housing doesn’t provide a gift or what’s traditionally considered charity, Lanzone said. “This is just giving an opportunity. We have some resources and a plan, and we’re going to share that with the neighborhood.”

Tom and Doreen Gilliam of Holy Infant Parish also are bullish about the initiative. They read about it in the St. Louis Review and offered to volunteer. The couple planted shrubbery and some flowers before the new homeowners closed on the house on Grand Avenue. “We told them whatever they need we’ll do,” Doreen Gilliam said. “We’re blessed to be a little part of it.”

Jeff and Dede Pitts, parishioners of St. Clement of Rome in Des Peres, also volunteered on the project, helping with fundraising and other efforts. “To see the concept come to fruition — there couldn’t be a better outcome, with a young family moving into the neighborhood,” said Jeff Pitts.

>> What’s next?

Maria Estrada-Mendoza prepared enchiladas for dinner celebrating 18-year-old Ashley's birthday at the Estrada-Mendoza home in St. Louis, MO on Thursday, Sep. 12, 2019.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
St. Joseph Housing Initiative purchased its second home in the 4600 block of Alaska Ave. It’s in unlivable condition “and an eyesore for the neighborhood. But it has great bones, and we’re looking forward to turning it into a desirable home for a first-time homebuyer,” said Maureen McCuen, executive director.

The front porch will be rebuilt, and a new roof, gutters, deck, heating and cooling system, bath, kitchen and more will be included in the renovation. Volunteers from Continental Title Co. will assist with yard cleanup and landscaping. Wallflower Design also will assist. A block cleanup is included in a work day on Oct. 14, Columbus Day.

The initiative is a partnership of five Catholic parishes, the Incarnate Word Foundation, St. Mary’s High School, Saint Louis University, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and others.

Volunteers are sought for the house and additional houses that will be purchased. For information, visit www.stjosephhousing.org.

The second annual Raise the Roof benefit dinner for St. Joseph Housing will be held at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27, at St. Mary’s High School, 4701 South Grand Blvd. in St. Louis. For information or for tickets, visit www.bit.ly/2mj31jS.

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