Past Programs 2015-2016
May 12, 2016 – 5:30-8:00 pm
Annual Meeting – “Booking It to Flance!”
Speaker: Stephen P. Zwolak: Executive Director, University City Children’s Center and Chief Executive Officer, LUME Institute
Meeting attendees toured Flance, a 2-year-old facility for care of children 6 months to six years of age in St. Louis’s most disadvantaged zipcode, 63106. The beautiful Leed Silver-certified building features design elements that specifically address the developmental needs of pre-school children.
Stephen Zwolak, executive director of University City Children’s Center and CEO of LUME Institute, helped design the school. He explained that Flance is implementing the LUME Institute approach to early childhood education. Teachers are being trained to focus on building relationships with children by responding to their emotional needs. Without healthy attachments, children are unable to develop self-control, and lack of self-control is the reason most cited for school expulsion.
Although about 80 percent of children now attend preschool, states have failed to implement improvements called for by research in childhood education. Missouri is the tenth highest state in the number of children expelled from preschool. The state’s requirements for child care workers are inadequate, and corporal punishment in preschools is “epidemic,” Zwolak said. Research has proven that 90 percent of human brain development occurs by age 5, yet only 3 percent of the nation’s education dollars are invested in early childhood education.
When asked how Women’s Voices members can help promote early childhood learning, Zwolak said most child care centers need volunteers and qualified teachers. He also advised advocating for better educational policies. Research, he said, verifies that every dollar invested in early childhood education returns huge savings in mental health, substance abuse, and other costs.
After everyone arrived and delivered books, this table was filled side to side and piled high with books! Thanks to everyone who donated books.
April 14, 2016
Gun Violence Through the Lens of the Law
Capt. Janice Bockstruck, commander, specialized enforcement, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department
Jennifer Joyce, circuit attorney, city of St. Louis
At a packed meeting, we learned how gun violence is affecting all of us, no matter where we live.
Capt. Janice Bockstruck, a police officer for 27 years, said that in 2015 gun violence killed 178 people in St. Louis, a majority under age 25. Linked to gun violence is an ongoing heroin epidemic (321 overdose deaths in 2015). Heroin users are mainly white, middle or upper class youth, and they often pay for drugs with stolen firearms. With Missouri being a “right to carry state,” many guns are stolen from unattended cars, but heroin users also often steal guns from their families, Bockstruck said.
Jennifer Joyce described promising strategies the city is using to reduce gun violence in St. Louis:
- Gun court. With fewer judges (three) and dedicated probation and parole officers who work together and share information, this court facilitates tracking and coordinating treatment of nonviolent offenders in the judicial system.
- Redirect (diversion) Program. The first in the United States, this program is designed to help gun possession offenders avoid the penitentiary, get out of the criminal lifestyle, and obtain skills and jobs so they can become productive citizens.
- Crime Strategies Unit. In this intelligence-gathering effort, law enforcement officers use social media and other methods to identify criminals, conspiracies to commit crimes, and candidates for the Redirect Program.
What We Can Do
Gun-related crime is everywhere, Bockstruck said, so everyone needs to be vigilant for suspicious activity and report it to the police. Often drug transactions take place in low-crime areas in public places such as malls and parking lots. She advised gun owners to keep a record of the make, model, and serial number of any gun they own in case it is stolen, and to buy a security safe to store a gun left in a car. “Any time someone steals a gun, it’s going to be used in a crime,” she said.
But Women’s Voices members can do much more to prevent gun violence. We can get at the root of the problem: children who are growing up without good role models and structure in their lives, or who are struggling with the toxic stress of living in unsafe environments.
Mentoring these children, Joyce said, can make a huge difference. “All of you have the opportunity to influence young people,” she said, by becoming mentors in programs such as Foster Grandparents, and contributing money to mentoring organizations. Our speakers’ message was clear: Early intervention is critical. As Joyce said, “You can’t police self-esteem into a 17-year-old boy.”
March 10, 2016
Keeping Kids In School: Alternatives to Suspension
This issue is greater for children of color and children in poverty.
Babies are like sponges, absorbing what is around them. Early experiences decisively impact brain architecture; directly affects the way the brain gets wired. Genetics are like Interstate Highways and experiences develop the secondary roads. The more neural pathways get fired, the stronger the connection is. The brain, however, is plastic and can be rewired later.
Neural pathways are built until about age 11 and pruned from age 11 to 14. Relationship skills are built before age 3. From birth to 3, poor quality childcare helps make future criminals and bad pre-school creates drop outs.
Baby Brain Development 201:
- Brain architecture is influenced by relationships
- Early Childhood Mental Health depends upon:
-Attachment/bonding (can be with multiple people)
-Social cue competence
- Toxic Stress
-Constant, prolonged activation of stress response systems (raises cortisol levels) can be from trauma or chronic neglect.
-Absence of protective relationships (caring/stable/nurturing)
-Higher impact during sensitive periods
-Caused by: strong, frequent &/or prolonged adversity; physical or emotional abuse; chronic neglect; caregiver substance abuse/mental illness; etc.
Poor Quality Child Care in Missouri
- MO has minimal staffing qualifications; you must be >18 and not have TB
- Low compensation, usually minimum wage and no benefits
- 28% annual rate of staff turnover
- Licensed facilities require 12 hours of training a year, none at unlicensed ones
This program is working in 6 zip codes in North St. Louis County for 2 years with 3 cohorts of 40 teachers each. They will receive 21 hours of training and have 6 coaching visits per classroom.
- Emotional Foundations for Early Childhood
- Collaborative model for peer support and integration of learning
- Projected EFFEC+ Outcomes:
-60% of kids show improvement in emotional and social development
-35% of kids measured as delayed are no longer delayed after Effec+
-Teachers will implement >80% of their planned strategies
-Teacher turnover will be reduced to <10%
This program is funded through Emerson, Centene and Ameren. Express Scripts helps with another program that helps child care centers become financially stable.
February 11, 2016
Crushing Student Loan Debt: Challenges Faced by Students and Parents in Financing Higher Education
Will Shaffner, Director of Business Development and Government Relations, Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority-MOHELA
Laura Steinbeck, Director of Business Development, Sallie Mae and previously Director of Financial Aid at William Woods University
Laurel Miller, Associate Director of Financial Aid, Logan University; previously Area Director of Financial Aid at Brown-Mackie College with experience at several proprietary schools
Will Schaffner described the big picture saying that student debt is trending news but what we really have is a financial literacy crisis. Financial aid for students began in the 1960s during the Johnson Administration and many of the programs are out-of-date. The reality is much of this news is about things that happened in the past prior to gainful employment regulations. The average student debt for college today is $20,000 to $25,000 with the average defaulted borrower owing < $3,800. He said that higher indebted borrowers pay loans because they have received degrees that allow them to receive higher salaries. Will stated the high interest rates on Federal loans today are set by Congress and based on prime; private loans have better rates. He said Parent Loans (PLUS) are too easily accessible with no caps or demonstration of ability to pay.
He asked if schools should have more accountability and stated the need for gainful employment regulations, especially for for-profit institutions. Will stated the challenges as
- Gatekeeping for educational loan access (a student’s major vs the amount of their loan)
- The subjective question, “How much is too much?”
- Student debt can be a life sentence as it cannot be forgiven in bankruptcy and can be taken out of Social Security.
Laurel Miller explained the traditional student no longer exists. Now students:
- Delay enrollment
- Attend part time and want to get out quickly
- Work part time
- Are financially independent from their parents
- Have dependents other than their spouse
- Attend for-profit institutions with no pre-requisites and really need to be smart consumers to insure they will succeed in these programs.
Laurel’s tips for students include:
- Completing FAFSA does not obligate you to take a loan
- Understand the difference between a loan and a grant
- Ask if the school you are applying to accepts credits from other schools you have attended and if other schools you may want to attend take theirs
- Ask for a shopping sheet to show costs and aid available
- Ensure none of their regulations will affect your financial aid eligibility (award year loan limits, aggregate loan limits, defaulting on other loans, lifetime PELL grant eligibility reached)
- Understand how taking time off from school can affect your loans.
- Be certain you are student-ready to handle an accelerated program
- Never feel pressure to enroll
- Invest wisely in yourself
- See what support (tutoring) is offered while you are in school
- More willing to stretch financially
- Have the expectation from childhood they will attend college
- Spend 21% more for college
- Contribute 2.5 times more income and savings
- Borrow less
Ways to save for College (including giving money for college instead of toys for birthdays/holidays)
- Simple savings account
- Educational savings account
- 529 college savings plan
- Find as much “free” money as you can. $8,843 is average annual scholarship amount and it is not just for HS Seniors
- Explore and apply early for Federal and State options (FAFSA, Grants, work study)
- Use other options to fill in the gaps
a) Parent Loans (including home equity but NOT 401ks! Remember the student has no legal responsibility to pay back a parent’s loan)
b) Private loans
c) Ask the school about payment plans
- Parents need to talk to students about their financial situation even though it can be harder than talking about sex!
January 14, 2016
Crisis in Mental Health: Underfunded Services, Overwhelmed Providers
Missouri’s mental health Among the states, Missouri ranks 12th in need for mental health services but 31st in access to care. Only one in five Missourians with mental health needs obtains services. The problem is particularly urgent in rural areas: 72 counties have no licensed psychiatrist. A majority of psychiatrists don’t accept Medicaid and a growing number refuse all health insurance plans.
Jacqueline Hudson described these and other barriers to care (e.g., transportation), which are exacerbated by large cuts in Missouri’s mental health safety net during the recession that began in 2009. Funding was decreased from $30.3 million to $16.6 million. She welcomes President Obama’s executive orders for $500 million in new federal funding for mental health care, but suggested that more is needed, since the states cut funding by $4 billion during the peak of the recession. Hudson voiced hopes that the monies will go to evidence-based practices with proven track records, such as Assertive Community Treatment and supportive housing.
Interventions Family Care Health Centers, which serve 20,000 patients annually in the St.Louis metropolitan area, are helping to improve access to health care for the uninsured and underinsured, said Jacquelynn Cattage. In an effort to reach more people with mental health problems, the centers’ mental health providers work with primary care providers to integrate mental and physical care, addressing complex needs with a combination of treatment modalities, she said. The FCHCs partner with other organizations and universities to help patients obtain coverage and to treat an array of conditions (for example, depression, substance abuse, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia). They also utilize teams of behavioral consultants, including social workers, to provide holistic care, she said.
How to help Women’s Voices members can sign up to receive legislative email alerts at www.namistl.org; support bills S 1945 and HR 2646 by contacting U.S. representatives and senators by email or through the NAMI website; and join NAMI on February 24, 2016, to go to Jefferson City to meet with legislators (contact Hudson at firstname.lastname@example.org or the NAMI website).
More information: NAMI St. Louis helpline: 314-962-4670. Family Care Health Centers: www.fchcstl.org.
December 10, 2015 6-8 pm
Power of the Pedal: “Bicycle Works” Gets Kids on Road to Success
At our holiday program Thursday, December 10, Women’s Voices members and friends learned about the reach of the 3 St. Louis BWorks programs: the earn a bike St. Louis Bicycle Works; the earn a computer St. Louis Byte Works; and the Create a Book St. Louis Book Works. Thanks to Wilma Schmitz, board president of St. Louis Bicycle Works for joining us and introducing us to the wonderful work being done by BWorks volunteers.
Thanks also to Evie Hemphill a committed volunteer, Women’s Voices member and newsletter editor who introduced Wilma; to Susan Flanagan and Judi Jennetten for their work organizing and creating the festive atmosphere; to the Women’s Voices board members who brought a variety of delicious foods; and to John Jennetten for his photographs!
One man in Shaw neighborhood began fixing bikes for kids and realized the kids needed to learn how to do it themselves. BWorks for bicycles was born in 1988. ByteWorks for Computers was born in 1996 and most recently BookWorks was born to help kids learn to write and illustrate books.
BWorks students come from as far away as Farmington, MO, Warrenton, and Alton, with the majority coming from St. Louis City and County. Students are accepted with no questions asked. The bicycle program is 6 weekly, 2-hour sessions taught in 10 locations and they have been invited to present at 6 more.
Kids work in teams to take apart and put a bicycle back together. During the first session the kids pick the bicycle they will work on and are given a helmet as Safety is strongly stressed. Their graduation includes a one mile ride and a bicycle of their own.
ByteWorks allows kids to earn a computer. They are taught how to program a computer and software like “Scratch” from MIT for creating games, graphics programs and presentation programs. Each graduate receives a PC or laptop loaded with Open Source software and if they have any problems with it in the first year, they can bring it back for help fixing it. Windows 7 or newer computers are accepted for donation; Apple products are not utilized.
BookWorks allows kids ( 9 of them so far) to work 1 on one with an adult mentor to write and illustrated a book which is later bound and given to the kids and their parents as well as sold as a fundraiser. The program also includes a lending library.
Wilma’spresentation included a slide featuring some of the work done by children in the Create a Book program. We liked the photo of the book dedication created by one of the children!
BWorks has only 5 paid staff members but many volunteers. Retail bike sales bring in the most money for their program, but they receive grants and donations. They recycle bicycles and computers they cannot use and have also donated them to homeless shelters (a bicycle may be a homeless adult’s only transportation) and to the 100 Neediest Cases.
The Bicycle Men (inmates at Marion Prison in IL) rebuild many of the bicycles that are sold and donated. The men in the program become Master Bike Mechanics, a skill they can use upon release.
Cranksgiving was started 20 years ago in NYC, but St. Louis now has the largest event. It is a family friendly bicycle ride and food drive that brought in over 11,000 food items for Food Outreach in 2014 with 825 cyclists participating.
- Congregations and businesses to host bike drives
- Supporters to sign up with them at AmazonSmile
They are located at 2414 Menard in the Soulard Area of St. Louis in a very green building that includes geothermal heating and geothermal AC (from caves below). Their roof is covered with solar panels that power the entire block…allowing their electric meter to run backward!
To learn more about BWorks and to volunteer or donate see their webpage here.
November 12, 2015
Vision for Urban Development: Places & People
Sandra Moore, president of Urban Strategies, a not-for-profit corporation that helps rebuild distressed urban core communities into vibrant, safe residential neighborhoods. It specializes in human capital development, planning, and strategy implementation.
St. Louis is littered with failed urban renewal projects—the Bottle District, the Gateway Mall, Chouteau’s Landing, and others. Richard Baron and Sandra Moore said this course of failure can be stopped if St. Louis musters the political and public will. Blaming St. Louis’s decline on long neglect by city, state, and federal political leaders, their message was: Rebuilding needs a large public commitment. “It’s about will. It’s not about skill,” Moore said. Baron said leaders have not responded over the years to his proposals for development of the near north side. Nevertheless, the vision of Baron and Moore, whose companies often work together, has succeeded in parts of St. Louis. See www.urbanstrategies.com and www.mccormackbaron.com for more information.
But success has not come easily, according to Moore. With extensive experience as a lawyer and in government positions, she said, “This is the most complex work I’ve ever done. You’re trying to create transformation.” She said that transforming a community requires extensive planning focused beyond linking the poor with housing.
The planning, Moore said, includes assessing what is needed to develop an area’s human capital, including jobs, education, safety, and transportation. Urban Strategies links the design of a project with clear objectives: achieving neighborhoods that are safe and in which seniors are aging in place, adults are working, residents are healthy, children are ready to start school, and children and youth are in school. She described the remarkable success of St. Louis’s Flance Early Learning Center, which was planned and developed over 15 years, in the poorest zip code in the state, because neighborhood children were entering school unprepared. Today it serves 154 children with a nationally recognized curriculum. See www.flancecenter.org.
Baron said his housing developments are designed to reconstitute communities by attracting residents of all economic levels. All units are finished in the same way for all renters regardless of their incomes. All have amenities such as walk-in closets and laundry facilities.
Two of Baron’s developments in St. Louis–Murphy Park and Renaissance Place–have successfully replaced dangerous 1950s-era housing projects. Reiterating St. Louis’s need for increased community commitment to revitalization, Baron said many cities where he has worked have supportive business communities and investors that St. Louis lacks. Also, in other parts of the United States, state governments have invested in cities, he said. Moore added that when educational institutions and medical institutions become involved, communities can be transformed, as evidenced in St. Louis neighborhoods around St. Louis and Washington universities.
October 8, 2015
Place Matters: The Intersection of Racial Injustice & Economic Development
Daffney Moore, Urban Planner and Principal, Innovative Consulting Group
Todd Swanstrom, PhD, Des Lee Professor of Community Collaboration and Public Policy, University of Missouri-St. Louis
The Ferguson protests have brought to light the race and class inequalities that plague the St. Louis area, but correcting injustice requires more than civil rights legislation. What if African-Americans have the right to sit anywhere on the bus, but no bus runs past their home? What if they have the right to live anywhere they want, but they can only afford neighborhoods with high crime, under-performing schools, and shabby public spaces?
Civil rights laws are essential, Swanstrom said, but they become “hollow” when deeper issues of racial injustice are not addressed. Poverty is concentrated in primarily African American communities in north St. Louis county and city and other areas because of historic racial prejudice and a tangle of discriminatory public and private policies that prevented African Americans from building wealth, he said. Those living in areas of concentrated poverty face multiple inequities. They have less access than those in mixed-income areas to the basics of a good life: consumer goods; affordable groceries; health care; public safety services; jobs; transportation; and education.
Ferguson has highlighted the destructive effects of the existence of 92 municipalities in the area, both speakers said. Small communities lack revenue sources to provide services equal to those in communities with higher property values. To raise revenue, they turned to traffic fines and court fees, with the result that thousands of African Americans were singled out for traffic stops and various other minor violations, Swanstrom said. He proposed one “bold idea” to correct inequality: Extend Metrolink to enable residents of Ferguson and other communities to reach jobs in the central corridor.
Moore demonstrated how public policies have exacerbated inequities. She said urban renewal policies, which created failed developments such as Pruitt-Igoe and provided tax abatement for developers of shopping centers, displaced third-generation residents from established communities in Brentwood (Evan Place, Hadley Township) and Kirkwood (Meacham Park). Often compensation to the displaced residents was not enough to allow them to purchase homes in nearby more affluent areas.
She insisted that redevelopment proposals should provide resources to allow community residents to participate in planning. They should contain community benefit agreements that create jobs, including support for entrepreneurial ventures. She said St. Louis has failed to take advantage of redevelopment funds available from national foundations. Other cities, she said, have large foundations that support community development work. If St. Louis banks and foundations would invest, national organizations would follow suit. The Greater St. Louis Community Foundation and other St. Louis foundations have supported some successful efforts, she said. But she lamented that because the city and county are separate, the region is not able to compete for jobs and investment with larger cities such as Chicago and Dallas.
The speakers advised Women’s Voices members to continue advocacy efforts for laws that correct inequalities. The advised us to support candidates who care about people’s lives, attend community meetings, and contact elected officials to hold them accountable for how funds are spent.
Resource: Peter Dreier, John Mollenkopf, and Todd Swanstrom, Place Matters: Metropolitics for the Twenty-first Century, rev. ed., University Press of Kansas, 2005
September 10, 2015
In Our Backyard – World’s Oldest Nuclear Waste Site
Dawn Chapman, Co-founder, Just Moms STL; Ed Smith, Safe Energy Director, Missouri Coalition for the Environment
Summary of presentation:
Speakers Urge Governor Nixon to Declare State of Emergency
A smoldering underground fire is moving toward a vast store of nuclear waste in a landfill near a large U.S. city. Desperate residents in the surrounding area are frantically imploring officials to do something to prevent a major disaster. A movie plot? A nightmare? Maybe both. But the usual happy ending is nowhere in sight, and this is no dream.
Dawn Chapman and her neighbors are wide awake. In 2012 Chapman and two other mothers concerned about their families’ health near the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton founded Just Moms STL to fight for the safety of their community. In just three years, 300 residents of the North County area surrounding the Superfund site have joined the organization. Chapman said a report released September 3 by Attorney General Chris Koster indicate that the fire could reach the radioactive material in 3 to 6 months. A planned barrier cannot be built because the perimeter of the nuclear waste cannot be accurately established.
This disturbing finding is one of several. The studies have also identified radiological contamination in trees surrounding the site, which indicates migration through groundwater and/or the air. Other studies by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services have found significantly elevated rates of various types of cancer along Coldwater Creek, which runs through North County to the Missouri River.
How can we help? The need for action is urgent. The groups are calling on Governor Jay Nixon to declare a state of emergency in the landfill area and urged people to contact him (573-751-3222). It is also important to call U.S. Senators Claire McCaskill (314-367-1364) and Roy Blunt (573-334-7044) and U.S. Representatives William Lacy Clay (314-383-5240) and Ann Wagner (636-779-5449) to encourage them to produce legislation to transfer jurisdiction to FUSRAP.
Widening concern. Chapman said her organization is focusing on issues beyond the underground fire. She cited the need for health testing in more zip code areas, as well as testing for contamination in more yards and parks. Doctors need training to diagnose illnesses related to exposure to toxic waste. Speaking from the audience, Missouri Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal said her office is looking at all the quarries and landfills in the St. Louis area.
Where did the nuclear waste come from and what’s being done about it? In the 1940s Mallinckrodt chemical company purified tons of uranium for nuclear reactors as part of the Manhattan Project. The company dumped massive amounts of waste materials at various sites, including then-rural areas near the airport.
Currently, disposal of the radioactive waste in the landfill, which is owned by Republic Services, is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The agency has conducted studies that have denied a serious threat. Now Just Moms STL, the Missouri Coalition for the Environment (MCE), and other groups are asking Congress to transfer jurisdiction to the Army Corps of Engineers Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Actions Program (FUSRAP).
MCE’s Ed Smith explained that FUSRAP would conduct studies and make recommendations for waste removal, removing the influence of parties that would be financially responsible for any remediation. Republic Services, which would bear financial costs for remedies, paid for the EPA site studies. The transfer of jurisdiction would provide“second opinion” on the EPA’s findings, Smith said. FUSRAP has extensive experience and already manages two other sites with the same type of radioactive waste as West Lake, he said. Under FUSRAP, management of all the metropolitan area sites would be coordinated, with long-term oversight.
To learn more:
“Koster releases new findings on West Lake Landfill,” September 3, 2015, www.themissouritimes.com
Facebook: Humans of West Lake Landfill.