Two organizations of St. Louis business leaders — Civic Progress and the Regional Business Council — announced new funding for a group of local community organizations Tuesday. The funding amounts range from $15,000 to $200,000, but add up to $1,040,000 for nine organizations.
The organizations receiving the money are: STL Youth Jobs; St. Louis County Library; St. Louis Public Library; Beyond Housing; Better Family Life Inc.; The Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis; KIPP: St. Louis; The North Side Community School and The Little Bit Foundation.
An additional $1.2 million in in-kind contributions will be made to the Operation Clean Sweep neighborhood revitalization project.
At an event announcing the funding, James Clark, vice president of community outreach for Better Family Life, spoke about the program’s gun violence de-escalation program, which the funding will help. Since its establishment in December 2016, Clark said, the program has de-escalated 82 conflicts that were on a trajectory to violence or already involved violence.
“We should be embarrassed,” Clark said, of the city’s association with violence. “These are the kinds of investments that will move us out from under that light.”
Tom Santel, executive director of Civic Progress, said the organizations were chosen because of their track records of helping the St. Louis community.
“They’re proven organizations that really get out in the community and help people change their lives,” Santel said. “If James prevents violence, you don’t see it, but it happened.”
The money announced Tuesday will also support about 80 jobs for young people in St. Louis, said Hillary Frey, executive director of STL Youth Jobs.
College student Jayla Cooper, 20, grew up in the St. Louis area and has participated in STL Youth Jobs for two summers. In 2018, she worked for Peabody Energy, and now Cooper is on her second week of working at the mayor’s office, where her supervisors are already asking about her plans for winter break.
“Beyond the funding, having the corporate stamp of approval from those organizations ... is very powerful for our ability to expand,” Frey said.
STL Youth Jobs has been around for six years. In 2018, the organization placed about 750 youth in summer jobs, and for 2019 they expect to reach 1,000 placements.
$250,000 will go to the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, largely to support the League’s Save Our Sons employment program, which seeks to help economically disadvantaged men find jobs and earn livable wages.
Johnnie Cotton, a graduate of the Save Our Sons program, was incarcerated when he was 32 years old, and received a 30-year sentence. He was granted clemency by former President Barack Obama after 16 years.
After his release, he got involved with the Save Our Sons program, which connected him with a job.
“I got the job immediately, and right now I’m working,” Cotton said at Tuesday’s press conference.
He works nights at a laboratory, which allows him to work as a barber during the day, he said.
The program also provided him with a suit, which he said empowered him.
“I felt strong then,” Cotton said. “I felt unjudged. I felt like I could do anything I want.”