ST. LOUIS — Davian Caldwell is having more fun now that he gets to get his hands dirty.
The 16-year-old is in his second year with Dream Builders 4 Equity, a nonprofit that enlists area youths to rebuild and sell homes in north St. Louis. He met his mentor through the group and now helps out at more jobs: painting, framing and his favorite task so far, demolition.
“It really don’t feel like work,” Caldwell said. “It feels like straight family, like at most I’m doing chores.”
On Wednesday, Caldwell and dozens of other youths gathered to watch as Midwest BankCentre donated its branch, located at North Broadway and Mallinckrodt Avenue east of Interstate 70, to the nonprofit, which will turn the building into its new headquarters and a “community resource hub” for the nearby Hyde Park neighborhood.
St. Louis County-based Midwest BankCentre acquired the bank building, at 3529 North Broadway, when it bought Bremen Bank in 2016. It operates another north St. Louis location out of Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church. The North Broadway donation to Dream Builders includes adjacent parking lots that total about 1.25 acres.
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Dream Builders enrolls high school students, paying them up to $15 an hour, to help rehab north St. Louis homes alongside minority contractors, helping small businesses grow while teaching youths the trades. The homes are then sold back to neighborhood residents. The group also runs a summer academy that teaches financial literacy, urban planning and civic engagement. It has also branched out with its “Black Squares” chess program in recent years.
The nonprofit plans to repair 25 homes, helping those homeowners build equity, and renovate 25 homes to later sell. It has acquired 14 homes slated for renovation — one is completed while four others are under way — and has finished 12 home repairs. The Hyde Park Neighborhood Association donates some of the homes for renovation; Dream Builders buys others, usually for bottom-barrel prices, from the city’s land bank.
The nonprofit employs 50 teens during the summer and has grown to have a waiting list of dozens more wanting to join, said Executive Director Michael Woods.
“They’re not only showing up, but they’re like excited,” Woods said. “They love it.”
Woods co-founded Dream Builders more than five years ago with Neal Richardson, who now leads the city’s economic development arm, the St. Louis Development Corp. The early years were tough, they said, and Woods and Richardson would often pick up kids to take to job sites.
“It just goes to show when you start to make progress, that momentum continues to push forward,” said Richardson, who stepped down from the nonprofit when he joined SLDC in 2021.
Gerald Burton, 19, joined the nonprofit three years ago with no real estate or construction experience. But he quickly bought into the Dream Builders mission, and has since worked on 20 to 30 homes, some under Dream Builders and some he found outside the group.
“I love being able to restore something that was once beautiful and prominent and build it back up,” Burton said. “It means a lot to actually start that process at age 19 and have that type of impact on the city I love.”
Reporter Jacob Barker contributed to this story.