Posts Tagged ‘st. louis’

Photo: Tara Adhikari/The Christian Science Monitor.
Three Pluma siblings rushed to play the upright that Pianos for People had just brought from a donor in St. Louis.

Not all children take to the piano, but for those that do, cost should never be a barrier. At least, that’s the belief of a relatively new charity in St. Louis, as we learn from Tara Adhikari at the Christian Science Monitor.

“Nose pressed to the window, 2-year-old Mary Pluma is excited, her smile so big it’s visible even from the street. Her four older siblings lean in behind her. Eyes wide, they track the movers outside. …

“Today is the day the Pluma family receives their first piano. 

“The moment the upright is nestled in the corner, three of them beeline for the bench meant for one and tap on the black and white keys. Sometimes the notes sync in harmony, more often they do not, but the room is alive with music and joy. 

“The piano was delivered by Pianos for People, a St. Louis nonprofit that reduces financial barriers to music education by providing donated pianos and free lessons to low-income families. The organization is transforming what was historically a luxury item and symbol of financial success into a tool for growth – accessible beyond the American middle-class family.

‘Our philosophy is that a piano is more than just a piano,’ says Matt Brinkmann, the executive director. ‘We use the piano as a gateway to self-esteem and connection and community.’ 

“Tom Townsend, a St. Louis advertising executive, and his wife, Jeanne Townsend, an attorney, founded Pianos for People in 2012 in memory of their son, Alex. A pianist and artist, Alex died in a car accident while attending college. …

“Their focus on saving pianos – connecting unwanted instruments with recipients who can’t afford their own – expanded to music education more broadly. They opened a piano school, in 2014, at their Cherokee Street headquarters and have since delivered more than 300 donated pianos, opened a second school, and grown lesson enrollment to 129 this past spring.

“Of the families served, 92% have annual income below $25,000. While many recognize the benefits of music education – confidence, discipline, focus – paying the grocery bill takes priority. A good upright used piano can cost upward of $1,000; a new one close to $10,000; and lessons here average $50 an hour. By cutting the costs that make learning an instrument untenable, Pianos for People creates space for self-expression that, for many, wouldn’t exist otherwise. …

“There are far more pianos available for donation than the organization can accept, says Danny Ravensberg, piano donations coordinator. This allows Pianos for People to reject pianos in poor condition and protects recipients from repair costs. 

“Every piano has a history, and donors care where their piano, often a treasured part of family memories, ends up. 

“Jackie Wennemann’s five children enjoyed playing piano when they were growing up in the 1960s – so much so the family bought two, and she’d conduct from the basement door giving cues between the instruments. ‘Sometimes we would have duets and one would get on this piano,’ she says gesturing to one in the entryway, ‘and one on the one downstairs. I would say, “Ready, set, go,” and they’d both play the same song.’

“With her children grown, Ms. Wennemann wanted the pianos to be used again. She donated the one in the best condition to Pianos for People. The organization matched it with the Pluma family, three of whom had been taking free lessons for four years. …

“ ‘When they come [home] from school, they are stressed,’ says their mother Patricia Pluma, adding that the kids speak Spanish at home, which means in school they are having to learn in their second language. But sitting at the piano bench translating the music on the page into sounds on the keys is different. It’s freeing, she says. ‘They start playing the piano and they start smiling.’

“Indeed, the peaceful power of pianos is emblazoned on Pianos for People staff T-shirts: ‘A free piano inspires peace in a child. A peaceful child becomes a peaceful adult. Peaceful adults make a peaceful world.’ “

More at the Monitor, here.

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icki Houska is a woman of many gifts. But one of the first things that her friends and colleagues will tell you about her is that she is a hugger.

“ ‘No one leaves her without a hug and a smile,’ says Michelle Barron, a work crew supervisor for the St. Charles County Juvenile Justice Center. …

“On this busy Saturday, though, Ms. Houska is getting ready to dispense more than just hugs. She’s moving briskly through the jampacked rented rooms that house the operation she runs for FAST (Foster Adoption Support Team), a support organization for foster and foster adoptive families caring for children who are wards of the state of Missouri.

“Houska’s making sure that packages of frozen pork chops, fresh loaves of bread, and tiny snowsuits are all properly shelved and stacked, ready for the families who are about to arrive and lay claim to them. …

“A foster parent herself since 1998, she has fostered 12 children over the years and, of those 12, adopted three. ‘It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do,’ she says of foster parenting. The emotional challenges ‘will bring you to your knees.’

“But one thing that doesn’t have to be so hard on foster parents, she decided some years ago, is the financial burden. …

“Foster families are expected to provide food, clothing, and household items like toothbrushes and hairbrushes, and to cover school expenses and any additional treats, lessons, or outings.

“From her own experiences and those of other foster families she has met, Houska came to feel that financial challenges were one of the biggest obstacles to the foster-parenting experience. So in 2005, to help alleviate the strain, she lined her own basement with industrial freezers and shelving, sought out donations, and began distributing food, diapers, and toiletries each Saturday, free to all local foster families. …

“Eventually, the OASIS Food Pantry, a local nonprofit, notified Houska that it had rental space available near its own operation in a nearby strip mall. …

“Houska’s pantry offers not only household items but emotional and social support. …

“Foster families arrange play dates, with pickups and drop-offs scheduled at the food pantry. Sometimes, for siblings who have been assigned to separate families, a trip to the food pantry is a chance to reunite in the pantry’s backyard, where the children are invited to romp on the playground equipment donated by a local church and other well-wishers. …

“ ‘Poverty doesn’t take a vacation,’ [Houska] says. ‘Kids in need don’t take a vacation. So neither do I.’ ”

Read what happened to Houska at age 21 that is one reason she is so dedicated, here.

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Not sure how I learned about this story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, but I knew right away it would be good for the blog. It seems that enterprising neighbors of some vacant urban land started a garden on it 35 years ago, always wondering what would happen if the owners ever turned up.

Reporter Paul Hampel writes, “Joe Spears was ready to give up the farm. He had no legal claim to the plot of land in Kinloch, after all. Spears was just one of several dozen people who, without any official clearance, had been planting and harvesting greens, okra, melons, beans, tomatoes and peppers for the past 35 years on about nine vacant acres abutting North Hanley Road.

“When an executive from one of the largest construction firms in the Midwest approached the amateur farmers in the fields last fall, it looked like a good thing was coming to an end.

“ ‘We were never trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes,’ Spears, 70, of Rock Hill, said … ‘It wasn’t our property. And it wouldn’t be right for us to make a scene when the rightful owners told us to move on.’

“The rightful owner, Clayco Inc., explained that the minifarms lay in the path of the planned expansion of NorthPark Business Park, the company’s massive development … Then came a proposal that caught the farmers, including Armstead Ford, by surprise.

“ ‘Clayco offered to give us another place to farm,’ Ford, 75, of Northwoods, said. ‘I was hopeful but skeptical.’ …

“Clayco president Bob Clark allayed those concerns when he announced that the company was relocating the farmers to 8 acres in Berkeley that they had asked him for, just across North Hanley Road from the old farm.

“And the farmers won’t have to capture rain in barrels or haul in water to the new site: Clark, 56, was throwing in an irrigation system, along with a building on the property that has running water, electricity and restrooms.”

Read the rest of the story here, and check out the other photos.

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In 1972, an idealistic young man graduated from Duke University and returned to St. Louis.

There Joe Edwards became both a successful entrepreneur and “a powerful force for civic good,” writes Marjorie Kehe in the Christian Science Monitor.  …

“Casting about for a career, he decided to bank on his love of music and opened Blueberry Hill, a small restaurant and bar that featured live performances. For his venture he chose a storefront on Delmar Boulevard, a retail area that locals call The Loop (named for the trolley that once used to turn around there).

“Back in the 1920s and ’30s The Loop was an elegant shopping street, and up through the ’50s it remained a major draw for young St. Louisans …

“But by the early 1970s the street had become a ghost town. About half The Loop’s storefronts were vacant or boarded up, and crime was rampant. Edwards remembers sweeping up debris and broken glass in front of Blueberry Hill each morning and feeling despair.

” ‘Within a week of opening Blueberry Hill I realized that I wouldn’t make it if the neighborhood didn’t make it,’ he says.

“And so began his campaign of gentle persuasion. ‘I talked to other residents, to city hall, to the police,’ Edwards says. He reminded them of what many seemed to have forgotten – that The Loop was a valuable asset, graced with appealing architecture and a rich history. He formed The Loop Special Business District and served on committees that worked on issues from lighting to sanitation to flower planters to security.

“But Edwards’s best move was to become a success. ‘The business establishment has been willing to listen to him because he’s been so successful,’ says Bill McClellan, a columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper. ‘He’s an unusual combination – a hippie-visionary-business type.’ ”

Read more about how one person made a big difference in a city he loved.

Photograph: Ann Hermes/Christian Science Monitor
Joe Edwards sits in the display window of his restaurant Blueberry Hill on Delmar Boulevard in St. Louis.


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