Linda Nash has been a part of the Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhood of north St. Louis for more than a quarter of a century. So she speaks from experience when she describes the peacefulness of her neighborhood.
Nash lists her neighbors one by one along the block of Garfield Avenue where she lives: there’s Sheila and Mike, Bert and Rhonda. Visible from her backyard is another important neighbor, Sts. Teresa and Bridget Church, where she is a parishioner.
“It’s like a little family here,” she said.
By next year, Nash expects to have another new neighbor, in a house that will be rehabilitated by North Grand Neighborhood Services. The nonprofit organization, founded out of Sts. Teresa and Bridget in 2005, develops affordable housing in the community through its Solomon Project.
Over the years, North Grand Neighborhood Services has rehabbed or taken on ownership of 25 homes within a four-mile radius. Some were purchased through St. Louis’ Land Reutilization Authority, including the structure on Garfield, across the street from Nash, for $700. Another home on Fall Avenue, a two-story brick structure dating back to 1883, was purchased from LRA for $5,000. That house is expected to be move-in ready by the fall. Five people already have asked when it will become available.
The rehabilitation efforts are solely possible through volunteer laborers, financial contributions and donated building materials. Volunteer groups and individuals help with carpentry, plumbing and electrical, tuckpointing, clearing debris and yard work. Included among the regular volunteers are students and alumni of De Smet Jesuit High School, including several retired De Smet teachers.
“You get so much more back from this work,” said Joe Feld, board president of North Grand Neighborhood Services and a retired De Smet teacher. “It’s what you were brought up to do: a sense of helping, and giving back, and supporting your brothers in need. I can’t imagine something more worthy of my time and energy than this.”
Volunteers also gain a better perspective of the neighborhood they’re serving in, said Donna Torillo, executive director of North Grand Neighborhood Services.
“So many people talk about being afraid of north St. Louis,” she said. “But you’re afraid of what you don’t know. Once the (volunteers) started coming here, it just made it real. The people in north St. Louis don’t want anything different than the people in south St. Louis or West County. They want decent housing. They want safe neighborhoods for their kids to go out and play. They want community.
The work of North Grand Neighborhood Services reveals the real side of North City, said Father Scott Jones, pastor of Sts. Teresa and Bridget. “It’s an example of faith in action,” he said. “It’s exactly what Jesus taught us to do. It’s an exciting place to be, and I have the opportunity to get to have some of the best neighbors.”
Neighbors show they care for one another by checking in on each other, and empowering one another to be homeowners, Father Jones said. Volunteers, such as board member Marty Meier, help current homeowners with routine maintenance, like cutting the grass or other small repairs.
Nash, the homeowner on Garfield, noted that the biblical Solomon, a king of Israel, comes from the Hebrew word shalom, meaning “peace.” And peace is exactly what she finds in this place that she calls home.
“We’re all trying to create a peaceful community,” she said. “We’re all a little community and I love it here.”
>> Solomon Project
In the time of King David, the Lord spoke to him saying that his son Solomon would build a house in honor of the Lord. Solomon fulfilled the Lord’s command by building a Temple and a reign of peace followed.
Today, the Solomon Project seeks to build houses in honor of our Lord, recognizing that we are temples of the Holy Spirit. The Solomon Project was started by North Grand Neighborhood Services with a goal of establishing affordable housing in north St. Louis.
>> How to help
Volunteers and donations are needed to support the ongoing work of North Grand Neighborhood Services. To learn more, visit www.ngns.org or call Donna Torillo at (314) 614-1711.