LifestyleFeb 01, 2013
Power to the People
Two local organizations aim to make St. louis a better place to live, work, play and stay.
Story: Christopher Reilly
Photos: Jennifer Silverberg; shot on location at The Four Seasons.
It’s the impassioned efforts of grassroots organizations and visionary individuals that make the difference between a good city and a great one. Two new organizations in St. Louis are doing their part to make STL great, and they’re going about it in two distinct and creative ways.
When Karl Guenther and Todd Swanstrom discovered through their work in UMSL’s Public Policy Center that community development in the St. Louis region has fallen into a decline, they set out to reverse the trend. Partnering with Greater St. Louis Community Foundation, Guenther and Swanstrom founded inveSTL as a charitable fund dedicated to supporting the development of great neighborhoods in the region. InveSTL aims to engage young professionals to invest in the city’s struggling neighborhoods so that in the end, everybody benefits. “We need strong and vibrant neighborhoods if we’re going to have a strong and vibrant region,” Guenther says.
They got the ball rolling with start-up funds from Swanstrom’s Des Lee Creating Whole Communities Initiative, and are currently raising funds (with a goal of $10,000) for the first grant cycle, with an anticipated application deadline of late February. Then, the top grant applicants present their community improvement projects to members of inveSTL in person. Individuals who have donated $100 or more to the cause vote on which applicants are most worthy of funding, and the idea or organization with the most votes gets the grant. In turn, the grant recipient reports regularly on the project’s community impact and engages inveSTL supporters with events and volunteer opportunities to help them get to know the community they have helped support.
To help get the word out, inveSTL is hosting Know Your Neighborhood events around the region to introduce the program, engage with local residents and generate some word-of-mouth buzz.
Visit investl.org or find inveSTL on Facebook for more info on upcoming events, investment opportunities or grant applications.
Rally Saint Louis
When Aaron Perlut, co-founder of the St. Louis-based PR firm Elasticity, wrote an article for Forbes magazine titled “St. Louis Doesn’t Suck,” it generated hundreds of thousands of page views and an avalanche of suggestions on how to improve St. Louis and its public image. The response inspired Perlut and his business partner Brian Cross to create Rally Saint Louis. Launched in November 2012, Rally Saint Louis is a crowd-funding platform that allows people to pitch ideas to improve the city, help them become a reality and ultimately send out the resounding message that St. Louis is cool. Cross says, “The biggest challenge is defining what life here is like to those outside of St. Louis.”
Because the ideas are suggested, voted on and financed by the people, Rally Saint Louis can do things that city-funded groups can’t. “Like hanging swings around St. Louis,” Cross says, referring to an idea currently on the website. On the first of each month, the five top-voted ideas move on to the crowd-funding phase. If enough funds are raised within 90 days, the project is implemented. If not, all money is returned to the investors.
When Rally Saint Louis first launched—with support from the Kemper and Taylor families and several local organizations—170 ideas came pouring in during its first two weeks. The top five projects were announced in early January and are currently up for funding. Perlut is particularly excited about the PR buzz to be generated when the winning projects are implemented. “St. Louis is a creative place; a great place to raise a family,” he says. “We want people outside of St. Louis to know it.”
Visit rallystl.org to browse, vote on and help fund ideas, or to submit your own.
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