Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A Better Future; Our View; New Center Creates Hope for Thriving Page Corridor

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A Better Future; Our View; New Center Creates Hope for Thriving Page Corridor

Article excerpt

Eight years and two weeks ago, Malik Ahmed stood in a former kindergarten classroom of the long-closed Ralph Waldo Emerson Elementary School on Page Boulevard in the city's west end neighborhood and declared victory.

Mr. Ahmed's community development nonprofit, Better Family Life, had bought the shuttered elementary school a historic building designed by famed architect William B. Ittner for use as a center to help rebuild the surrounding neighborhood.

In the days, weeks, months and years since that premature declaration, vines grew over neglected chain-link fences and more houses were abandoned as the economic collapse that gripped the country hit hard. North St. Louis already was struggling; the recession made it worse. The schools were unaccredited. Parents and children fled.

The challenges facing Mr. Ahmed, his wife, DeBorah, and the many employees and volunteers who have labored to make Better Family Life's 30-year vision come to reality became more difficult.

None of those challenges, none of those difficulties, were apparent on Wednesday, when the Ahmeds again stood on the steps of the Emerson School, now remodeled, and later on the stage of a gymnasium packed with a couple hundred community leaders, and once again, and with vigor, declared victory.

This time, they really meant it.

The Emerson School has been transformed into a center that will serve as a magnet to investors and African-American families looking to revitalize their community. Partners in the business community have invested millions of dollars into helping the Ahmeds translate their vision into meaningful and lasting success.

Key to that hope is a partnership with the congressionally chartered NeighborWorks America program. Authorized by Congress in 1978 as a federally recognized network of nonprofit organizations working to revitalize urban neighborhoods, the program led to more than $4 billion of investment in hundreds of communities across the country in fiscal year 2011. …

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