A new initiative aimed at engaging young people in Dutchtown and surrounding south St. Louis neighborhoods has the support of the Incarnate Word Foundation and other Catholic entities.
In July, the Incarnate Word Foundation received $100,000 from the state of Missouri to support the Dutchtown Opportunity Coalition for Youth. The initiative will work with young people ages 12-17 in the greater Dutchtown, Marine Villa, Gravois Park and Mount Pleasant neighborhoods who are not currently attending school or in a job training program or employed. The program seeks to reduce their likelihood of becoming both victims and perpetrators of crime.
“A big part of this is building relationships with others in the community who can help families,” said Bridget Flood, executive director of the Incarnate Word Foundation. “It’s not just about mentoring the child, but also building partnerships with others in the community to build wraparound services.”
A program director, Caitlyn Dorion, was hired in August. She will work to identify youth to receive services. A coalition of service providers and case managers also will be built to coordinate efforts with existing programs, neighborhood organizations and community stakeholders to identify disengaged youths and provide assessments and referrals to resources.
The coalition will work with partner organizations in several areas, including education and youth development, employment and basic needs. Catholic entities include St. Mary’s High School, St. Anthony’s Food Pantry, the Franciscan Connection and St. Joseph Housing Initiative.
Another partner organization is Gene Slay’s Girls and Boys Club, originally started in 1929 as the Boys’ Club of St. Louis by Father Charles P. Maxwell at St. Vincent School. The youth organization, which opened a Dutchtown location in June 2021 at the former St. Hedwig School, serves young people in the neighborhood through academic support, recreation programs, character and leadership development, healthy living and the arts. The coalition’s program director will be based at the Dutchtown location.
“Through referrals and networking, we want to have conversations with families and get about 50 kids in the first year,” said executive director Bob Puricelli. “If they’re truant, it’s getting them back in school. If they’re not participating in social or educational programs, we want to get them enrolled.”
Organizers say the rates of poverty and violence in these areas have skyrocketed in the last decade, along with an increase in vacant and abandoned buildings. Many of the problems are attributed to a lack of resources, civic infrastructure and regional inattention.
Dutchtown and Gravois Park in particular have a high concentration of African Americans, immigrants and refugees and minority youth. The neighborhoods also have some of the highest concentration of youths in the city of St. Louis. The St. Louis Partnership for a Healthy Community says 24.1% of residents in 63118 are under 18 years old. In 63116, 20.4% are under 18; and in 63111, 23.3% are under 18.
Through the outreach efforts, the coalition hopes to ensure that young people are enrolled in school and have a path to high school graduation and employment opportunities; and to improve academic performance, particularly in math and reading proficiency.
>> Dutchtown at a glance
The Dutchtown neighborhood is the second largest in the city, with a population of 15,356, according to 2020 U.S. Census Bureau information. The Greater Dutchtown area, adding Gravois Park (4,683), Mount Pleasant (4,376), and Marine Villa (2,530), has a total population of 26,945.
Over 25% of the neighborhood’s population is under the age of 18. Dutchtown’s youth population is considered high compared to other parts of the city, particularly among the areas south of Interstate 44.