Building Hope in East St. Louis
In the building industry, sustainability is often discussed in terms of waste at construction sites and the environmental impact of materials used. As important as these aspects are, creating a sustainable future is about building communities, too. Charmaine Savage knows this better than most. Her foundation, I Am East St. Louis, tackles this question in East St. Louis through a variety of projects bringing both tangible change and hope to those who need it. For the BIMobject team, supporting I Am East St. Louis as part of our charity initiative Hope was a perfect fit. We spoke to Charmaine about building and rebuilding for the long haul.
When the big industries left East St. Louis, the middle-class soon followed. What remained were communities hit hard by the lack of jobs and severely plummeting property prices. Today, neglected buildings permeate the cityscape, despite the otherwise high quality of real estate. A large part of the population lives below the poverty line. But there’s far more to the city than that.
“Our mission is to change the image of East St. Louis. There’s a lack of positive coverage in the media, even though plenty of people who grow up here go on to achieve great things. But the younger generations aren’t taught about them, and so many in turn grow up without any hope for themselves or their community“, explains Charmaine.
According to her, one of the foundation’s long-term goals is bringing the city back to life – and life back to the city.
“We want to encourage people to move to this area. That goes hand in hand with businesses returning, and creating attractive opportunities for developers and investors”, says Charmaine.
To make this vision a reality, Charmaine started the advertiser-funded community publication I Am East St. Louis, The Magazine, in 2016. A precursor to the foundation, which came a year later, the quarterly publication tells a different and perhaps more accurate story of the city: A community that is full of individuals and initiatives to be proud of.
“We created the magazine to compensate for the coverage that existing media didn’t provide. It has been incredibly well-received with great response from our readers, so we will continue to publish it in 2018”, says Charmaine.
But the magazine is only one of three main focus areas for next year’s activities: Teaming up with a local university, the charity will host a speaker series to educate both within and outside of the community. Charmaine describes how the third area turns the spotlight on the city’s cultural assets:
“From museums to sports centres, there are many cultural gems in the area that we will organise tours to. We’ll also involve the public in art projects to combat deterioration.”
Finally, Charmaine and the board of directors will again present the annual Reginald Petty Service Award to a person or organisation who has served the community during the year.
To learn more about I Am East St. Louis, The Foundation, visit iamestl.com.