Among St. Louis' thousands of vacant lots, three on the city's north side are having a positive impact. The three community gardens along Enright Avenue in the Vandeventer neighborhood are a part of LOVEtheLOU's vision of creating a stronger community.
“You can't have healthy community in a place where there's very little positive and then there's no resources,” said Lucas Rouggly, founder of LOVEtheLOU. “So if we can take and harness the love that I know St. Louis people have, and if we can steward that into an area where we see the highest need, I think we'll see results."
Every Saturday, roughly 40 teenagers from the organization’s STL Lift program get their hands dirty tending the three community gardens and mowing lawns. Rouggly said that for many of the teens, it’s their first job, and the goal is to provide them with tools to succeed in the future.
“A lot of the program is simple things like, 'Hey, show up on time,'” Rouggly said. “And as you're showing up on time, continue to grow in doing all the little things right. And that's go be attractive to any employer. I don't care what business you're in.”
Those are skills that Jaylan Conway has already picked up on.
“It's fun,” he said. “It helps me learn to be responsible at a young age. I'm only 13. I still have a couple of years till I can get an actual job. So I've learned a lot these past couple of months about being responsible and just getting to work on time."
Each garden has something different to offer — flowers, watermelon and tomatoes in one garden and a chicken coop, bees and a firepit in another. There's also a farmers market at Whittier Street and Enright Avenue called the Enbright Market. The teens sell a mix of produce, flowers, herbs, fresh baked goods and eggs.
Tia Barndt, director of business development for LOVEtheLOU, said the market stemmed from many of the teens wanting to go beyond the grunt work of pulling weeds and planting seeds. She said the garden is one way to teach them entrepreneurship and what it takes to run a business.
“It gives them new opportunities within the garden to still be within the community to learn leadership and skills like POS (point of sale) systems and counting change and hospitality, communicating with guests,” Barndt said. “Learning what did we make [and] what we didn't make. Those type of things. So I think it's cool to see them have an opportunity that I didn't even have at that age."
But the program goes beyond gardening and sales. LOVEtheLOU also encourages tutoring, mentorship and activities that take the teens outside their neighborhood. Eighteen-year-old Jamel Williams got involved five years ago because he lived on the block. He said he’s gotten a lot out of the program.
“Now that I’m a mentor, [I’m] learning patience and just to be a good leader,” Williams said. “So that’s my role — just to be a good leader and just to be a role model for the younger generation.”
Rouggly, who lives in the predominantly black neighborhood, said the block has changed for the better since he moved there nearly a decade ago with his family. While gangs used to be on the block often, he said many of the kids who would have been in gangs chose to be part of LOVEtheLOU instead.
He adds that just the act of providing teens with an opportunity changes the trajectory of their lives.
“What [has] ended up happening is you have 14-18-year-olds who are now the leaders of the community and bearing a lot more responsibility than they would have in the past. And it’s been really good,” Rouggly said. “Not that they're the only leaders, but that they've stepped up to lead."
The Enbright Market is open from 9:30 a.m. to noon Saturdays.