Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Incarnate Word Offers an Invitation to Dream Differently

Thursday's “Marketplace of Ideas” Supports Grassroots Innovation

Posted in the St. Louis Beacon

opefully, the recent St. Louis Post-Dispatch series on the region’s failure to compete with other metropolitan cities sparked a collective desire to dream differently. It’s obvious that our stubborn reliance on big development projects as panacea for job growth, increases in tax revenues and neighborhood stabilization has not achieved desired outcomes in the region.

If the articles failed to inspire, perhaps an event this week will. On Thursday, the Incarnate Word Foundation will host the “Marketplace of Ideas,” a showcase of seven proposals developed by local collaborative grassroots groups. I will serve as MC of the event.

The competition sprang from the need to have grassroots organizations propose solutions that will address the needs of children, families and communities in North St. Louis. Material from the “Marketplace of Ideas” application package defined the purpose of the pilot project:

“It seems that too often community ideas are not heard and creative collaborations are not explored in North St. Louis. Therefore, the Marketplace of Ideas has been created to spur collaborations between community stakeholders, to uplift the community’s solutions to community problems and to provide publicity to the richness of community activity in North St. Louis.”

The seven selected ideas include a green garden and market project designed to increase access to healthy food in distressed areas; the creation of a one-stop grassroots resource center for systematic neighborhood development; an outdoor concert series arranged to build a sense of community and beat back negative perceptions; initiatives specifically developed to train and employ at-risk youth; and church-based programs that will offer educational, computer and business training services with the goal of building stronger families and communities.

Each finalist will be awarded $5,000. During the showcase they will present their ideas before a panel of potential local funders. They will detail their plans, explain its need in North St. Louis and share information about the collaborations that will implement and sustain the endeavors.
“It seems that too often community ideas are not heard and creative collaborations are not explored in North St. Louis."
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch series also discussed the exodus of innovative minds from the region. Many students graduate from our prestigious universities and head for greener pastures in more progressive cities where their enthusiastic and pioneering spirits are appreciated.

The seven ideas presented on Thursday provide opportunities to keep those adventurous minds here. The projects already have seed money and the potential to attract more funds. Institutions of higher learning that offer research and public policy know-how can expand these ideas.

With help, youth training centers can be linked to new local business enterprises or federally-supported urban grocers, green jobs or other infrastructure opportunities. Church-based educational centers can become even more effective if backed by social scientists and health practitioners who are well aware of groundbreaking techniques, curricula and successful health service models. Students can help rehab dilapidated buildings, train at-risk youth, plant seeds, harvest gardens and volunteer at community grocers, gardens and urban centers.

Most certainly these seven ideas won’t solve the multitude of problems plaguing North St. Louis nor will they immediately boost tax revenue or create a groundswell of new jobs.

Still, it's a detour in unchartered waters. Backing and partnering with the finalists serves as an affirmative nod to a long-ignored segment of our population. It welcomes those who use creativity everyday just to navigate the obstacles of poverty, unemployment and crime into the arena of progressive community change.

In short, it’s a powerful invitation to dream differently.

The “Marketplace of Ideas” will be held on January 27th at De La Salle Middle School at 3pm. For more information call the Incarnate Word Foundation at 314-773-5100

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