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
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
>> 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.
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 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
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.