Helping St. Louis

A Blog About Helping Each Other

Archive for February, 2009

New Kiva Loan

Posted by Schevus on February 27, 2009

I had $18 sitting in my Kiva account, so I threw in $7 to make a new loan. I have been considering this for about a week now, but until I looked today every single loan listed had been fully funded. I find this very exciting as it means the level of support for Kiva is tremendous. I hope they and their partners are able to continue to expand their operations to continue to meet the increased demand for donation options.

This loan is my sixth loan to Kiva and my first loan to a group of entrepreneurs. I used to be irrationally wary of loaning to the groups on Kiva, but after reading Muhammad Yunus’ Banker to the Poor I have been converted to the lending group idea. Every member of the group is accountable and responsible for not only their loan, but also every other member’s loan. They must support and encourage each other to ensure that their loans are paid back appropriately.

I decided to loan to this group of women in Pakistan. Pakistan is a region plagued by problems and I feel that improving local conditions and economies can only bring good to the country. If a family is able to provide for themselves legitimately, they will be less likely to turn to illegal means to do so.

There appears to be a swath of new loans available today on Kiva, so I encourage you to take a look and consider donating.

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Are You Impacted?

Posted by Schevus on February 25, 2009

I will be honest – I have not been personally impacted by the current economic situation. I have a good job, my wife and I were just pre-approved for a nice sized mortgage loan, we have paid off nearly all of our debt, and we have accumulated some serious savings. I do not say this to boast, merely to share that I really have not been affected.

This lack of impact extends to those around me as well. I only know one person who has been laid off that might have been a result of the economy (granted many of the people I know are in the military). The charities I work with have of course been affected, but even Shalom House recently got a significant grant and is looking at expanding its programs.

So, are you impacted? Have you lost your job? Are you losing or have you lost your home? If you have been impacted, what steps were you forced to take to survive? I would like to hear your story to get a better grasp of the personal side of the recession. Also, as always, if you are in need of services and are having trouble finding them yourself please leave a comment and I will gladly help you.

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St. Louis – After School Programs

Posted by Schevus on February 20, 2009

In my first post about education in St. Louis I talked about the importance of after school programs. I have done some research, and it seems that the majority of St. Louis programs are affiliated with the After School for All Partnership (ASAP). ASAP is itself a partnership between Area Resources for Community and Human Services (ARCHS) and St. Louis For Kids.

If you are looking for a program for your children, ASAP offers a comprehensive list of programs. They also offer good homework advice for parents. Remember, you are the first line of defense for your child’s education. If you are interested in volunteering with an after school program, I will highlight three providers.

First is Youth In Need. This organization provides before and after school programs in ten schools in St. Louis. From their site:

Volunteers needed to tutor, play and interact with school-aged children, 5-12, in before and after-school program. Volunteers needed Monday-Friday, from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. in 10 St. Louis City Schools.

Youth In Need also offers head start programs and have need of volunteers for that as well. Youth In Need offers many other youth oriented programs including an emergency shelter, a street outreach program, a teen parenting program and more. You can find volunteer information here.

Next is the YWCA of Metro St. Louis. The YWCA provides programs in several St. Louis schools, as well as head start programs. Additionally, the YWCA offers other services for girls and young women. Information on volunteer opportunities can be found here. Be sure to call the appropriate number listed under each category for more information.

Finally I will highlight the Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls Club. Boys and Girls Clubs offer myriad programs and services for kids and teens. In addition to after school programs, they offer character building and mentorship, community involvement, and sports and fitness programs. You can find volunteer information for all of their programs here.

If you find none of these organizations to be to your liking, there are many more that offer similar programs and services and which are not that difficult to look up. I strongly encourage volunteering with an after school program if you are looking for volunteer ideas.

Feel free to share information about other programs. Also, stop by and leave a comment here and $2 will be donated toward education in St. Louis!

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Shalom Outreach Society Event

Posted by Schevus on February 19, 2009

The Shalom Outreach Society is holding a promotional event at the Third Friday event at Third Degree Glass Factory this Friday 20 February from 6 – 10 PM. There will be Outreach Society members on hand to provide information about the group and Shalom House and to answer any questions. Information about Tri-BALL-Athon 2009 will also be available. There may be a Third Degree item up for raffle or small items available for purchase with proceeds benefiting Shalom House (exact details to be determined).

Third Friday is a social evening event that involves “glassblowing and flameworking demonstrations, glass art by Third Degree artists for sale in the HotShop Gift Gallery, live music, art exhibits in the Third Degree East Gallery.” Music this Friday will be provided by the Local Gents. There will also be artwork on display from the faculty of the St. Louis University Department of Fine and Performing Arts.

Stop by and have some fun and find out more about the Shalom Outreach Society.

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Supporting Education With Comments

Posted by Schevus on February 18, 2009

I feel that education is the cornerstone for significantly improving St. Louis and the nation, so I did not want to move on from it quite yet. With smarter, better prepared youth coming out of our schools there is no limit to the advancements and progression we might see. Because of this importance, I wanted to offer an easy tangible way for you and I to support the education system. Thus the Supporting Education With Comments event.

What I would like you to do is leave a comment sharing a positive or negative experience you have had with a school, teacher, student, or the education system. If it is a negative experience, what might be done to improve the situation? If it is positive, what might make it better still?

For every unique comment that fits this criteria, I will donate $1 to the Active Minds Institute and $1 to the St. Louis Public Schools Foundation up to $50 total (25 comments with the possibility of extension if we reach that number). Comments will be accepted until 11:59 PM central time 31 March.

I look forward to hearing your experiences!

Update:

In light of only receiving one comment submission, I have donated $10 to each charity. Thank you Nessie!

Posted in Contests | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

A Bit Of Good News

Posted by Schevus on February 4, 2009

I just happened across this post which has some good news to share. Apparently the St. Louis area will be receiving $14.8 million in federal grant money. Here is an excerpt from the post:

The money is being provided through the Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP), which was enacted in 2008 to assist state and local governments in addressing the impact of abandoned and foreclosed properties in the nation’s communities.

Hopefully this money will do some good for revitalizing the less trendy parts of the city. I guess we will have to wait and see.

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St. Louis – Education

Posted by Schevus on February 4, 2009

All too often when talking about the declining quality of education in America public schools take the lion’s share of the blame. Certainly there are many aspects of public schools that could be improved, but ultimately many of the shortcomings of our youth’s education are caused by parents. This point is one that President Obama makes regularly. No matter the quality of the school a child goes to, if the parents are not actively involved there is no guarantee that the child will be engaged and productive at that school.

I know that many families are single parent homes with the parent struggling just to make ends meet, let alone being able spend enough time involved with their children’s schoolwork or activities. I think if you absolutely cannot devote time to your children’s education then it is important to get them involved in a program that will serve to fill that role. There are many varied mentorship and after school programs that serve this purpose. If you need help finding one, please leave a comment and I will try to help.

Getting back to public schools, as I said there are definitely problems that need to be addressed. Many public schools are underfunded, which can result in loss of extra-curricular activities, lack of basic supplies, outdated equipment and books, or in some cases not even enough books for all students. It is pretty obvious to anyone that students need some basic amenities for education to be really successful. In many cases teachers spend large amounts of money out of pocket so that their students have the supplies they need. Obviously this burden should not fall on the shoulders of teachers.

Aside from material issues, public schools are often accused of dumbing down the curriculum. This is normally blamed on the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. Basically the act states that students must progressively do better on standardized tests from year to year or the school will lose funding and face reforms to “get back on track.” Taking away funding from schools that are not “performing well” seems incredibly foolish to me, but I digress.

Based on these guidelines and fear of lost funding, many schools are accused of “teaching to the test,” rather than actually trying to educate students. Certainly curriculums must be tailored so that they focus on the information covered by the test, and this might limit flexibility.

In an effort to bring back some flexibility, the charter school movement was born. Charter schools are granted a charter to operate in a more unique way or to target certain special needs or at risk groups. Charter schools have their proponents and critics (I happen to be an ardent supporter), but one key point is that they are still open to the general public and still fall under the NCLB act.

After a cursory search, it does not look like St. Louis currently has more than a few charter schools. A friend of mine is currently in the process of setting up a new charter school called the Active Minds Institute.

So, what can we do to improve the quality of education in St. Louis? I have already mentioned what I feel is the most important solution, which is increased parent involvement. Every parent has the ability to improve the education of their children by taking the time to work with them. They also can improve situations at the school by becoming involved in PTA/PTO groups or simply by opening lines of communication with teachers and staff. Schools often welcome volunteers for various activities.

You can become involved in the charter school community by joining a committee at Active Minds, or even starting your own charter school.  Charter schools almost always welcome donations to improve their programs and also normally appreciate volunteers.

If you are interested in donating, but would prefer to improve the public school system, you can donate to the St. Louis Public Schools Foundation. Here is their mission statement from their website:

The St. Louis Public Schools Foundation seeks to fund projects and activities with a measurable impact on academic achievement, high school graduation rates, and the successful transition to post-secondary goals, such as college or entry into the workforce to ensure that each student has the opportunity to become a productive citizen.

Finally, you can volunteer for a mentorship, tutoring, or after school program designed to help at risk or underprivileged children. I have participated in these programs in the past and they are extremely beneficial for the participants. I will do some further research and try to highlight some of these programs in the St. Louis area in a future post.

If we work together we can make our education system better and keep it from continuing its slide compared to other developed nations. Our future depends on it.

Posted in St. Louis, St. Louis Charities | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

St. Louis – A Dismal Picture

Posted by Schevus on February 3, 2009

St. Louis is a city plagued by problems. The city is hemorrhaging jobs, the crime rate is extremely high, the education system is so poor that it lost its accreditation, there are large swathes of dilapidated buildings and neighborhoods, and the city is largely segregated and racial tensions are very prevalent. Now, I am not trying to say that St. Louis is significantly worse as compared to any other city, but only that there is plenty of room for improvement.

The “urban revitalization” of St. Louis is much vaunted, but seems to focus heavily on the trendy downtown areas. If you travel for 5 or 10 minutes past those areas you will inevitably find extremely run down neighborhoods. You cannot watch the evening news without a report about a murder or other violent crime. The news also brings stories of continuing layoffs and business closures.

I would like to write more on what might be done to ease some of the issues I have mentioned. This will require a level of commitment, research, and outreach that I have not yet attempted to devote to this blog, so I cannot guarantee success. That said, I would like to see real change and real good come to St. Louis, and I will try to do my part to make that happen. I will still continue to write about things you as an individual can do to help the community and beyond as well as other charitable happenings in St. Louis.

I honestly believe that if we all work together that we can make the St. Louis area a much better place. It will take much sacrifice by many to accomplish, but the reward will definitely be worth it. In this new era of our nation we must put aside our differences and come together as one people to propel our respective cities and our country forward. We cannot sit idly by as our infrastructure and society stagnates and festers, hoping that someone else will solve our problems. I ask you to join me in moving our city forward.

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