Wednesday, February 29th, we had a lot to celebrate. Normandy School District middle schoolers participating in the Wyman Teen Outreach Program (T.O.P.) after school, had invited friends, family and other community leaders to share in what they’ve learned from their experience so far this year. Wyman T.O.P. is a national initiative integrated into schools and communities by youth practitioners to support teens in making healthy, successful connections in their lives. At its core, teens are instrumental in anchoring a safe space for discussion-based exploration of issues affecting their daily lives. Volunteer service learning projects are also tenets of the curriculum. For the first time this school year, Beyond Housing’s Pagedale Family Support Center is hosting T.O.P. after school on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Serendipitously, the T.O.P. facilitator assigned to Pagedale has a longstanding passion as a teaching artist, to uphold art and creativity as cornerstones of strong community development. I had the pleasure of meeting T.O.P.’s Sharon Williams last September when the program first convened at the Family Support Center. It was then that we began to imagine how Rebuild Foundation could become a strong partner in developing a creative, collaborative T.O.P. service learning experience.
I had recently received an email calling attention to a warehouse full of reusable wooden storage containers. This was the seed. The growth, in full bloom this Wednesday night, was a stage of young leaders unveiling their voices, imagination and service to their community. The T.O.P. students had transformed that once dormant storage container into a medium expressive of their collaborative experience, both in T.O.P. and outside of it.
Last week, the T.O.P. students invited family, neighbors and other community leaders to Celebrate the Crate and witness the products of their collaborative effort. The students opened the reception with a piece titled Cause and Effect, a skit dedicated to teen struggles with suicide.
The celebration in its entirety was a platform for the T.O.P. students to share stories from their lived experience with an important audience of peers, family, teachers and mentors.
Also present to honor the young leaders were: Beyond Housing President and CEO Chris Krehmeyer, Director of Community Art Programs & Public Art Initiatives at the Regional Arts Commission Roseann Weiss, St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley, Pagedale City Mayor Mary Louise Carter and Alderperson and Salerno House neigbor James Thomasson.
Lora Gulley, Director of Programs for the Maternal Child and Family Health Coalition (MCFHC) and Nurses for Newborns partner, stood up to reflect during Wednesday’s reception. She said she recognized the Crate Project as something highly relevant to the community, representative of the power of partnerships and young leaders bringing people together around the work vital organizations are doing in St. Louis. Please read on about Nurses for Newborns’ initiatives here.
Just before the Crate was unveiled, we presented a short video honoring the T.O.P. students’ process. Salerno House neighbor and photographer in residence Patrick Fuller captured moments from the T.O.P. students‘ work sessions. South City-based artist Jacob Berkowitz integrated those images into his moving picture documentation of the time spent at the Salerno House (link to former blog). Thank you to Jacob and Patrick for being a part of this project, and for gifting us with this important record from which we will continue to learn.