Travel Log: Saint Louis
Sister Clare Lawlor, CSA
July 14, 2016
“The wheels on the bus go round and round” was the music on the bus as we entered the Forest Park Southeast area of St. Louis. Our site visit brought us to Southside Housing Coalition’s Midtown Center where we met with the women from Voices of Women.
Met by Ms. Bobbie Sykes, chairperson of VOW (Voices of Women), the sisters participated in a tour of the local neighborhood. We saw a very mixed neighborhood with houses in varying stages of redevelopment. Ms. Bobbie explained that the area is undergoing gentrification where houses that previously were affordable were now out of the economic range of the local population. Her organization helps families stay in their homes.
Ms. Sykes gathered a group of VOW members (clients, board members, elected officials) for a discussion about the Work of VOW at their community center. Their vision affirms women, particularly mothers, are decision-makers. VOW also holds the belief that all people bring diverse experience and knowledge to our efforts and that everyone has efforts, ideas and hopes to contribute.
In order to assist women as heads of households, Ms. Sykes and her Board of Directors have embodied this mission in a project called the “Unbanked Program”. Instead of using Payday Loans, the Board set up the “Unbanked Project”. Women can make take out small, interest free, loans. As Bobbie Sykes says, “We don’t do background checks, we do face checks!” Women repay the loans and contribute to the services of the program. Another microfinance project, Women’s Helping Hands and Tiny Hands for children, allows women and children to make and save money, amounts of which are matched by a generous donor.