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Monday, March 15, 2010

Guest Piece: Sun Ministries in Hyde Park

The following is a guest piece by Jason Calahan of Sun Ministries. Mr. Calahan contacted me after reading a previous post on the vacant buildings bill. Sun Ministries' "Board Up Hyde Park" effort--as well as other undertakings in the neighborhood--are, I feel, more than worthy and deserve space on this blog.

Sun Ministries is launching a nationwide effort to rebuild America's most devastated inner cities.  We are calling this undertaking the Isaiah 61 Initiative.  We hope to unite people to serve these areas, and are calling for missionaries to relocate to the inner cities, in order to live and work, rebuild decaying structures, minister to the neediest residents, and make a generational impact on these desperate areas.  We want to minister to the whole person and the whole community by addressing physical, emotional, spiritual, and educational needs, providing creative opportunities, as well as restoring homes and buildings, starting new business and cooperating with existing ones, and beautifying public spaces. 

This house, which actually faces Hyde Park, exemplifies the neglected state of the skillful artisanship found in the Hyde Park neighborhood.  It is one of the better preserved structures.

We are starting in the historic Hyde Park neighborhood, located in North St. Louis.  Although Hyde Park is beautiful in its layout, classic old-city brickwork and architecture, welcoming sidewalks and parks, the area has been subject to generations of poverty, oppression, and neglect.  There are over 900 vacant buildings in the ward, half the population lives below the poverty line, and a third are single parent households.  The neighborhood is one of the most desolate in St. Louis.  There is little tax base, as many residents and businesses have left.  You can walk down streets where one whole side consists of abandoned, decayed buildings, many of which look like they have been bombed.  Pruitt-Igoe was a notorious failed segregated housing project, and though it wasn't located in Hyde Park, it sent damaging shock-waves throughout all of North St. Louis, and is a symbol for the kind of abuse and division affecting the area.  

A common sight in Hyde Park.  Good examples of the architecture and brickwork of the area.

One of the many "bombed out" buildings.


Unfortunately, this is not a rare sight in Hyde Park.

We hope to partner with groups of any kind, including schools, colleges, churches, police forces, city governments, student activity groups, and other social entrepreneurial organizations in order to reach our goals.  We will be moving into homes in the area and restoring buildings.  We hope to provide job skills and training, start businesses, help the homeless enter the workforce, and provide business/retail incubator space.  We are working on providing community programs in sports, arts, and tutoring.  We hope to address spiritual and emotional needs in a one-on-one manner.  We aim to lay foundations of change and attack root problems to poverty and hopelessness in the area. 

Our current base of operations is a building on Newhouse that was given to us by G. W. Helbling and Sons, a silk screening business that had been in the neighborhood for 45 years.  We are currently working on bringing the building up to code and beautifying the property and surrounding city block. 

We hope to transform this huge, beautiful house into our Leadership Center, which will house missionaries and interns and provide space for them to develop community service ideas.

We are planning to restore this building and create our Opportunity Center, which will have offices for providing job skills and training, and a retail space for providing work for poor, homeless, and missionaries.

This building features exceptional brickwork, a cast-iron facade and corner entrance, beautiful architecture, and it is decaying at an alarming rate.  We want to preserve and restore it and use it to provide employment.

In ministering to this community, we have noticed that racism and division are still very alive in St. Louis and the surrounding counties.  St. Louis suffers from little tax support from its county.  People in the suburbs warn us of violence in the city, oblivious to the violence happening in their own “safe” towns.  It has been difficult getting groups with highly-aimed mission statements to come into a poor area.  Individuals and groups in the city have been confused by a group that seeks to build nothing but community.  But we have met really great people in the neighborhood.  Our neighbor Ralph was eager to help us clean out our building.  We played football and wrestled with a group of about ten rowdy young boys.  The people at Cornerstone Cafe have been very kind and welcoming.  Alderman Bosley and his staff have been cleaning parks and alleys with us, and have assisted us greatly in getting established in the neighborhood. 

In ministering to the whole person and the whole community, we hope to preserve and restore the architecture and history of Hyde Park, to retain the beauty and artistry of the neighborhood and increase the sense of community identity.  Most of the structures in Hyde Park are beautiful, classic, St. Louis-style brick buildings with ornate brickwork, and some even feature cast iron facades.  In an effort to protect and preserve these properties, beautify the area, and make a declaration that someone cares about these people and this neighborhood, Sun Ministries is partnering with Alderman Freeman Bosley, Sr. in an effort we are calling Board Up Hyde Park.  We are looking for groups of all kinds who want to help us decorate boards with positive words and images that we will then install in the vacant properties.  If you want to be a part of this effort or learn more about our work, you can see the flyer below or visit or

The flyer:


Anonymous said...

This is great news. Work of love, for sure. I want to correct one statement in the blog post, tho: Pruitt Igoe was NOT originally conceived, designed or occupied as a "notorious segregated housing project." It was most definitely integrated when it opened, similar to Laclede Towne.

Matt M. said...

I believe Pruitt Homes were for blacks and Igoe was for whites, so it was built to be racially segregated. According to the wikipedia page on Pruitt-Igoe, Missouri housing projects were somehow legally segregated until 1956 (even though the Brown v. Board decision came in 1954, the year Pruitt-Igoe was constructed).

Anonymous said...

awesome! though i'm not religious and sometimes wary of ministries, i think this group will be a "blessing" for hyde park.

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