The sun was hidden behind an overcast sky and the wind whipped around, carrying a few snow flurries through the air. But the poor April weather was not enough to dim the sunny outlook of Old North St. Louis Restoration Group in their quest to restore their historic community. And on Friday, members of the St. Louis Rams staff and team partner, Monsanto, were on hand to help further that goal.
Residents of the neighborhood established Old North St. Louis Restoration Group in 1981 as a way to help revitalize both the physical and social dimensions of the area. It has a board of directors made up of residents of the community, and undertakes projects that focus on bettering the area while respecting its historic culture and urban character. Housing development, community gardens and neighborhood cleanups are just a few examples of some of the projects.
“It seems like every weekend there’s some project going on, whether it’s the annual Brightside Blitz Clean Up, or a vacant building board-up project, residents volunteer to help with projects like those,” said Sean Thomas, executive director of Old North St. Louis Restoration Group. “They also work in the Farmer’s Market from June through October.”
It is important to the residents to take a hands-on approach to the revitalization effort of their community.
“Really what they want to do is stabilize the place where they live and make it as best a place as possible to raise their families,” Thomas said.
As self-sufficient as the community is, Old North St. Louis Restoration Group also relies on the help of outside volunteers to assist with the constant array of projects. The Rams saw an opportunity to make an impact on the area by incorporating the work into their monthly Staff Day of Service.
“We learned about Old North St. Louis Restoration Group awhile back and were intrigued by the work they were doing for this historic community,” said Molly Higgins, vice president of corporate communications/civic affairs for the St. Louis Rams. “When the opportunity to partner with Monsanto on a service project arose, Sarah Rouland, who manages our staff day of service program, connected the dots and it turned in to a great day for all involved.”
Old North St. Louis Restoration Group was equally as happy with the partnership.
“We’re excited the Rams are showing an interest in the community here,” Thomas said. “The (Edward Jones) Dome is practically right down the street, so you could almost say we’re neighbors. So we’re thrilled such a high-profile organization is interested in helping.”
And help, they did. Upon arriving, Old North St. Louis had a number of tasks with which they needed help. And the Rams and Monsanto were eager to get started. Divided into groups, more than 100 staff volunteers took on a variety of roles for their contribution to bettering the Old North St. Louis neighborhood.
Armed with shovels and sledgehammers in addition to hoes, rakes and other tools, the volunteers got to work. The projects included: planting trees, breaking concrete for urban gardens, maintaining the community garden, putting an irrigation system into place and helping to set up for a trivia night held last Friday. By the end of the morning, the Rams and Monsanto staff had accomplished all the projects set before them.
“The projects that were completed would have taken several weeks for our neighborhood volunteers to do,” Thomas said.
The Rams and Monsanto were happy to ease the burden on Thomas and other community residents, while bettering Old North St. Louis in the process. And although the weather was cold and dreary on Friday, Thomas sees a bright future in store for the neighborhood.
“Old North St. Louis has gone through decades of deterioration and depopulation, just a general downward spiral that a lot of urban core neighborhoods experienced,” Thomas said. “But over the past 10 years or so, the community has really been turning the corner with new housing, bringing new residents in and new investments. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but we see a continuation of the upward progression.”
For more information about volunteering with Old North St. Louis Restoration Group, visit their website at www.onsl.org.