Past Programs 2009-2010

May 13, 2010 – Annual Meeting

Social Justice Issues From a Grassroots Perspective: How Sustainable Urban Gardens and Farming Affect Change

Speaker: Gwenne Hayes-Stewart, Executive Director of Gateway Greening

Gateway Greening is an organization promoting urban neighborhood vitality and stability, healthy living and quality of life through a variety of community programs. Ms. Hayes-Stewart’s presentation focused on Gateway Greening’s three core programs: community gardening (access to healthy affordable locally grown food), school/youth programs (access to nutrition literacy and healthy food) and City Seeds Urban Farm (access to economic justice through jobs training for the under served).

Gateway Greening and Women’s Voices share interest in several issues: adequate health insurance, quality public education, conservation and energy policies, and racism. Interestingly, the gardens have been found to have an effect on racism. This finding is based on a University of Illinois study of Gateway Greening community gardens and gardeners’ interaction with those from different races and by extension, the interaction of their families.

For the last 13 years, Ms. Hayes-Stewart has served as the executive director of Gateway Greening, the non-profit community gardening organization in St. Louis. During her tenure, the organization developed from a small non-profit serving a few hundred people working in 30 community gardens into one serving over 2,800 people working in more than 170 community gardens, neighborhood greening projects, and citizen-managed open spaces. She is a Master Gardener who founded the Great Perennial Divide in 1998. Ms Hayes-Stewart has received national recognition for her work.

April 8, 2010

The Link Between Child Well-Being and Community and Economic Development in the St. Louis Region

Speaker: Richard Patton, Director of Vision for Children at Risk

At our April general meeting, Richard Patton, director of the Vision for Children at Risk (VCR), described the nonprofit organization’s mission. VCR works to ensure that the essential life needs of all children in the St. Louis region are met by producing data and information about children’s needs, including the comprehensive report Children of Metropolitan St. Louis, which is published every two years.

St. Louis Metropolitan Children’s Agenda. VCR facilitates the St. Louis Metropolitan Children’s Agenda, a collaboration of some 300 children’s agencies that design and implement programs and services to meet at-risk children’s needs. The Children’s Agenda addresses six basic needs of children: family support, early childhood development, maternal and child health, quality education, youth development, and safe, strong communities. (See the website www.visionforchildren.org for specific strategies and agencies for each of these areas.)

Community Benefits. VCR focuses on demonstrating that investing in children promotes community and economic development. VCR, he said, presents data to business and government officials showing that providing for developmental needs of children results in higher academic achievement, which leads to increased earnings and, consequently, larger tax revenues. An educated workforce, more than tax breaks, is key to attracting businesses to the area, he said. Other benefits to the community are lower expenditures for health care, law enforcement, and social services.

Ways to Invest in Children. Patton recommends actions to make children a priority as part of strategic approach to solve problems permanently, rather than relying on the provision of services as the predominant reaction to the overwhelming problems of children living in poverty:

  • Increase public awareness.
  • Engage top civic leaders.
  • Emulate other cities’ successful approaches.
  • Employ economic development strategies that focus on children/promoting human capital.
  • Establish child- and family-friendly workplaces.

More Information. For more information on Missouri children’s needs, see the report Kids Count in Missouri 2009 Data Book: The State of Our State’s Children, Citizens for Missouri’s Children, publisher. Full data set available at www.oseda.missouri.edu/kidscount.

March 11, 2010

Making Amends: The Missouri Restorative Justice Initiative

Speaker: Nina Balsam, J.D., Administrator of the Missouri Restorative Justice Coalition

It is well-known that our current criminal justice system, which primarily metes out punishment, is failing badly. Prisons are badly overcrowded and recidivism rates are extremely high. A different approach to justice-that is, restorative justice-is badly needed, said attorney Nina Balsam, administrator of the Missouri Restorative Justice Coalition, at our March meeting. Restorative justice is a guiding set of principles that focuses on identifying harm done to victims, healing the harm, and holding the offender accountable. These principles are put into practice through a variety of practices, including victim/offender dialogue, family group conferencing, community accountability boards, circle sentencing, and victim impact panels. Balsam said restorative justice meets needs that are not met in the traditional system:

  • The community has the opportunity to repair the damage done by the criminal act. Community service is often part of the healing of the community.
  • Offenders experience accountability and, often for the first time, recognize the harm done to their victims.
  • Victims receive information about the crime, feel empowered, and receive restitution.

Balsam enumerated documented successful outcomes of restorative justice: Victims are much more satisfied; offenders are less likely to reoffend; and community members feel safer and more satisfied with the criminal justice system.

Restorative justice is used all over the world; and in Missouri, which has the eighth highest imprisonment rate in the United States, in several courts and community justice centers. To learn more about what is being done in Missouri, check out the website of the Missouri Restorative Justice Coalition. The website also has information for those interested in membership in the coalition.

February 11, 2010

Improving Urban Education

Speaker: Henry S. Webber, Executive Vice-Chancellor for Administration and Senior Lecturer, Washington University

Fewer than half of big-city students graduate from high school and only 9 percent graduate from college.These rates are an improvement over the past, so why is this important? And what’s going on with charter schools, which seem to be riddled with problems? These questions were among the many discussed at the February general meeting. Henry Webber, executive vice chancellor for administration at Washington University, explained current problems and possible solutions in urban education. Webber, who helped establish the Urban Education Initiative at the University of Chicago, shared his broad experience with an audience that included many present and former teachers, as well as people concerned about schools’ role in urban development.

Calling low graduation rates “a moral disaster,” Webber said that in today’s economy it is no longer possible for non-graduates to make a good living. The jobs that did not require high-level cognitive skills have largely disappeared.

In the early 1980s, America began to focus on the need to improve education, and waves of reform have included collecting data; increasing teachers’ pay and reducing class sizes; changing organizational structure, the most dominant trend being mayoral control of school systems (as in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles); recruiting teachers in nontraditional ways (e.g., from other professions); and using technology to improve teaching techniques. School districts have made some progress, but “the problem has been more difficult than we thought it was,” Webber said.

He described some promising approaches in education reform:

  • More early childhood education. The returns are enormous, but it is very expensive.
  • Harlem Children’s Zone model. In this approach, children receive comprehensive, intensive services. The educational gains have been “astonishing,” Webber said, and President Obama has established a program to fund similar models in other communities.
  • Knowledge Is Power (KIP) and KIP-type programs. These charter school networks, which emphasize college and provide long school days and years, have been successful in getting students to graduate from high school and enter college.

Webber explained that the St. Louis school district has been unsuccessful for several reasons, including an unstable school board and a large number of students who attend private schools. He is hopeful that the state takeover of the district will provide needed stability. In St. Louis, charter schools (attended by about 25 percent of students) are generally weak. Webber said charter school sponsors are not held accountable and no process of regular review exists.

Webber ended his presentation with a comment that elicited wide agreement: The short school day and year have no relation to our economy today, where most families have working parents. “This has powerful effects on earnings differences by race and class,” he said. He added that American students are lagging behind students in other countries where children spend much more time in school.

January 14, 2010

Sustainable Urban Living – The North St. Louis Case Study

Speakers:
Peter W. Salsich, Jr., J.D. St. Louis University, McDonnell Professor of Justice in American Society, School of Law and Professor in the Department of Public Policy Studies in the College of Education and Public Service
Sean Thomas, Executive Director, Old North St. Louis Restoration Group

Sustainable living. Various definitions of sustainable living include factors such as housing, jobs, transportation, education, and environmental protection, Salsich said. Lack of collaboration among the races has inhibited progress in sustainable living in St. Louis. He also pointed to the complexity of the region–encompassing 2 states, 16 counties, and more than 200 local governments-as a deterrent to adequate planning for sustainable communities.

Old North St. Louis. Sean Thomas demonstrated how a model for sustainable living is being established in Old North St. Louis, a specific neighborhood, which was founded as a village near downtown St. Louis almost 200 years ago. The 29-year-old Old North St. Louis Restoration Group (ONSLRG) provides opportunities for the diverse population of the area to come together and discuss issues. A coordinating agency to provide such services is a key requirement for effectively restoring a community, Thomas said. He showed slides of rehabbed homes and new developments that provide affordable housing for people of various income levels in Old North. He invited everyone to visit the ONSLRG office, where a library and exhibit show what is going on there.

McKee and Old North. Speaking about developer Paul McKee’s plans for a major development adjoining Old North, Dr. Salsich said he hopes the project succeeds, but expressed concern about the secrecy with which it began. In a question-answer session, the speakers deplored the lack of communication among various parties in the city. Thomas said residents of Old North do not know how soon McKee’s plan will be implemented and how it will affect their homes and neighborhood. Salsich said, “It would be ideal of McKee and Old North could be partners.”

Learn More: Caught in the Middle: America’s Heartland in the Age of Globalism by Richard Longworth; Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City by Colin Gordon; Green Living: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less Are the Keys to Sustainability by David Owen.
Old North St. Louis Restoration Group: http://www.onsl.org

December 10, 2009

Microfinancing in Africa: A Path to Self-Sufficiency

Speaker: Sister Toni Temporiti

At our December holiday meeting, we enjoyed great food and wine, but what made the evening so special was our speaker, Sister Toni Temporiti, CPPS, who kept us laughing (and sometimes crying) as she explained “how strong people in Africa bring themselves out of poverty with a small loan.” Sister Temporiti founded Microfinancing Partners in Africa (MPA) in 2006 after realizing one day in a restaurant that the small amount she was paying for her lunch could actually lift a person in Africa out of poverty. How is this possible? A tiny, fixed-interest, no-collateral loan can make it possible for a woman to launch a business and become self-sufficient. This is the approach of MPA and its partner organization, Jamii Bora, or happy family, in Kenya. MPA raises funds to provide loans as small as 50 cents, and Jamii Bora provides health, life, and disaster insurance with every loan, as well as a variety of support services to help business owners succeed.

MPA also helps fund the Uganda Cow Project. Families are given a loan of $800 to purchase a pregnant cow after being taught how to care for it in a rigorous preparation process that includes learning sanitation practices and soil conservation methods, and planting trees and grasses to feed the cow. A cow gives 20 liters of milk a day of which the family uses two liters and sells 18. From the milk sale the family pays for expenses and puts money in the bank to pay back the loan. The cow’s calf is passed on to the next family that has been trained. The bio-fuel from the cow’s waste is used for cooking and lights in the house and for fertilizer for the banana trees, the main food in Uganda. Sister Temporiti is based in St. Louis and returns to Africa every year. She showed us a delightful video featuring the people helped by MPA and Jamii Bora. She makes presentations to many groups in the United States and ensures that every dollar donated reaches the people by personally delivering donations to the organizations in Africa.

At the meeting, members and their guests opened their minds, hearts, and checkbooks and contributed more than $1,600 to the Uganda cow project. This will purchase two cows, which will provide consistent nutrition and a steady source of income to families living in extreme poverty. If you could not attend the meeting but you’d like to help buy a cow, contributions can be sent to: Microfinancing Partners in Africa, 4949 Columbia Ave., St. Louis, MO 63139-1013.

 

 

November 12, 2009

Bridges Across the Racial Divide: A Program That Really Works!

Speaker: Nikki Weinstein, Policy and Community Engagement Director

The St. Louis region is the most racially divided metropolitan area in the United States, said Nikki Weinstein, the speaker at the Women’s Voices general monthly meeting on November 12. The area’s progress to eliminate racial polarization has been limited, according to Weinstein, who said “there’s a denial of need at the municipal level.”

FOCUS St. Louis works to address this need in several ways. Weinstein, who is policy and community education director at FOCUS, said the organization addresses racial inequities in housing, jobs, education, and health through programs that develop leaders, influence public policy, and facilitate communication among citizens.

One program–Bridges Across Racial Polarization–brings together people of diverse races and cultures who want to form relationships. Bridges groups, which usually have about 16 people, meet regularly to discuss racial or cultural issues.

Several Bridges members attended our meeting and gave us a look at how their group, which has met monthly for six years, works. They said the group generally gets together for a potluck dinner and discusses the evening’s subject after dinner. They also go to events and restaurants together.

Weinstein said each group determines its own meeting schedule and discussion topics. FOCUS provides support to groups by suggesting topics and resources, and by putting people together in compatible groups. Schools and church congregations are starting to form Bridges groups, Weinstein said. Anyone who wishes to participate in the Bridges program may contact FOCUS St. Louis at 314-622-1250 or www.focus-stl.org.

October 8, 2009

Disparities in Health Care and the Challenge of Covering Everyone

Speaker: Dr. Will Ross

Health care reform proposals provide the opportunity to address disparities in health care in the United States. This was the message of Will Ross, MD, associate dean for diversity, Washington University School of Medicine, and Amy Smoucha, community organizer, Jobs with Justice, at an informative, well-attended Women’s Voices monthly meeting on October 8. They defined “disparities” as unequal health problems among various populations. For example, Dr. Ross said the infant mortality rate in Clayton is 5.4 per 1,000 live births, while in an area in North St. Louis it is 20 per 1,000.

Some reform proposals would reduce disparities through “medical homes”– centers where people receive coordinated care and holistic treatment that emphasizes prevention, he said. The medical home concept embodies the elements required in a health system that reduces disparities: patient-centered care that is affordable, accessible, culturally sensitive, and contains costs by using treatments proven to be effective.

Because health disparities are caused by many factors (e.g., inadequate housing, poor nutrition), the medical home provides support services such as transportation, Ross explained. The Cleveland and Mayo clinics use the medical home model and have lower costs and improved outcomes, he said.

Amy Smoucha encouraged the audience to continue to contact all of their elected officials to voice support for health care reform–“even those we think support it, because they need reinforcement.” In advocating health reform with officials or others, she advised us to stress that current proposals:

  • Continue employer-based coverage.
  • Strengthen Medicare and Medicaid.
  • Guarantee access to coverage and affordable choices through health insurance exchanges that allow small businesses and individuals not covered by Medicare, Medicaid, the Veterans Administration, or their employer to purchase coverage under fair, consistent rules.

It is not clear whether proposals will include a public insurance option in health exchanges, but, she pointed out, Medicare is a good example of such an option. The Medicare program covers everyone over age 65 and offers all beneficiaries the same benefits, cost controls, and access to providers. The public option would affect only 5 percent of the U.S. population, she noted.

September 10, 2009

Energy Policy

Speaker: Former Missouri Governor Bob Holden

Women’s Voices kicked off its new season of regular meetings with former governor Bob Holden, who gave us a fascinating look at the role of the Midwest in today’s economic and political environment. With his comprehensive knowledge of all the issues states are facing, he made many salient points, including:

  • For two decades, the Midwest has lost more jobs than any other part of the country. It’s time to try something new to generate jobs. How? Connect our energy policy to manufacturing jobs–retrain workers to produce goods for the burgeoning green technologies.
  • Without cap-and-trade policies, we won’t get societal change in energy use. We need to elect politicians who will make the tough decisions and promote progressive changes that will ensure the U.S.’s (and the Midwest’s) leadership in the global economy. The U.S. is lagging behind other countries that are making huge investments in new energy technologies.
  • Education is the foundation for the our ability to compete in a global economy, yet the U.S. is far behind other countries in reading, math, science, and other subjects. Education reform that includes year-round school and good teacher salaries is needed.

The meeting was one of the largest we have ever had, and we were pleased to welcome many new guests. We especially appreciated Governor Holden’s generosity with his time, as he fielded the enthusiastic audience’s many questions.