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Gary Nipper, left, with St. Stephen the Protomartyr Parish’s Holy Name Society, and Ron Decker with First Presbyterian Church of Kirkwood, joined other workers organized by St. Joseph Housing Initiative to construct a backyard fence Saturday at a house in the Dutchtown neighborhood of St. Louis on Aug. 29.
Gary Nipper, left, with St. Stephen the Protomartyr Parish’s Holy Name Society, and Ron Decker with First Presbyterian Church of Kirkwood, joined other workers organized by St. Joseph Housing Initiative to construct a backyard fence Saturday at a house in the Dutchtown neighborhood of St. Louis on Aug. 29.
Photo Credit: Jerry Naunheim Jr.

St. Stephen parishioners lead housing initiative’s volunteer effort

Rich Nigro carefully measured a board before cutting it with a miter saw. On the opposite side of the backyard of a home under rehab, Gary Nipper measured the extra wood on the top of a post that needed cutting.

The two members of the Holy Name Society at St. Stephen Protomartyr Parish in St. Louis volunteered to lead a fence-building day Aug. 29 at the home in the Dutchtown neighborhood being renovated by St. Joseph Housing Initiative for a family who are first-time homebuyers. The four-bedroom house and two other houses in the same neighborhood, the fourth, fifth and sixth to be renovated since the formation of the faith-based, nonprofit entity, will be completed this summer.

Nigro said he volunteered at a benefit for St. Joseph Housing Initiative last year and was attracted by its mission to produce quality housing for low- and moderate-income families in the St. Louis area. He recruited Nipper, his neighbor, who just built a fence in his yard.

Rich Nigro, with St. Stephen the Protomartyr Parish’s Holy Name Society, and other workers organized by St. Joseph Housing construct a backyard fence Saturday at a house on Mount Pleasant Street in south St. Louis.
Photo Credits: Jerry Naunheim Jr.
“It’s good to be involved and I want to do more to help in the mission of helping people get into a single-family home and to be active people in the community,” Nigro said. “Plus it helps lift up the neighborhood. Helping people is definitely part of my faith.”

Nigro had helped Nipper with his fence, so they had recent experience. A local Lowe’s store helped with material selection and delivery, and additional volunteers came from First Presbyterian Church of Kirkwood. The posts already were installed, so the process involved installing rails, pickets, gates and hardware. The process went quick, and Nipper referred to the phrase, “Many hands make light work.”

The Holy Name Society is an organization of men at the parish that seeks to meet needs that go unnoticed and to address big-ticket items, he said. Giving back to the community is important to him. His parish supported his family at one point when they needed help, and “whatever charity things I do, I feel like I’m trying to repay them in some way.”

The St. Joseph Housing Initiative grew from conversations Archbishop Robert J. Carlson had with Bridget Flood, executive director of the Incarnate Word Foundation. The aim is to provide increased homeownership and added stability in neighborhoods with high rates of rental housing and vacancies.

“It’s a wonderful example of the community coming together for a good cause,” said Maureen McCuen, executive director of St. Joseph Housing Initiative. The volunteerism helps keep the homes affordable, she added.

The fence-building and yard work observing social distancing guidelines was the first volunteer effort for the housing initiative since COVID-19 restrictions were initiated. Sharon Croissant of First Presbyterian said she was attracted to the housing initiative’s ability to make an impact. “And we like the ecumenical factor,” she said of volunteering with the St. Stephen parishioners.

Annie Purcell, administrative coordinator for St. Joseph Housing Initiative, said “I feel so overwhelmed by the generosity of folks, willing to come and spend a Saturday doing this. We’re a staff of two, and when I go out trying to fund raise or whatever, this makes it easier because I can tell people how hard people are working to help provide a good opportunity for homeownership.”

Most people have had some help obtaining a home — an uncle who lent them money or a mom who taught them about saving money, Purcell said. “Everyone deserves some help.”

Gary Nipper, with St. Stephen the Protomartyr Parish’s Holy Name Society, and other workers organized by St. Joseph Housing Initiative, construct a backyard fence at a house in St. Louis on Aug. 29.
Photo Credits: Jerry Naunheim Jr.

The rehab also means the neighbors no longer have a vacant house on their street.

In a little more than a year, St. Joseph Housing Initiative sold three homes to families and now is planning to acquire its seventh and eighth homes.


>> How to help

St. Joseph Housing Initiative seeks volunteers to help with cleaning, yard clean-up, landscaping and more.

Other ways to help include making a financial contribution or donating property. The initiative is holding its third annual Raise the Roof fundraiser, virtual this year, on Sunday, Oct. 18. For information, email [email protected] or call (314) 529-1861.

To donate or volunteer, visit www.stjosephhousing.org, write to St. Joseph Housing Initiative, 4701 S. Grand Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63111 or call (314) 919-6176.


>> Holy Name Society

Membership in the Holy Name Society usually is through a parish and often is a men’s organization known for service work in the parish and community.

The National Association of the Holy Name Society promotes reverence for the Sacred Names of God and Jesus Christ, obedience and loyalty to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, and the personal sanctification and holiness of its members.

Members are called to contribute to the evangelization mission of the Church and to make perpetual acts of reverence and love for our Lord and Savior. The apostolate of the society is to assist in parish ministries by performing the corporal works of mercy: to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, shelter to the homeless, tend the sick, visit those in prison, and bury the dead; as well as the spiritual works of mercy: to convert sinners, instruct the ignorant, counsel the wayward, comfort the sorrowing, bear adversity patiently, forgive offenses, and pray for the living and the dead.

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