6 Ways to Spend Summer Making St. Louis a Better Place

May 21, 2014 at 5:00 am
Volunteers for Gateway Greening under the arch. - Courtesy Gateway Greening
Courtesy Gateway Greening
Volunteers for Gateway Greening under the arch.

All week long we're rolling out content from our Summer Guide 2014. In it you'll find all the best ways to enjoy the season in and around St. Louis. Click here to read the rest of the guide or pick it up in print at the red Riverfront Times box nearest you.

If you want to spend the summer getting drunk and watching baseball, that is your St. Louis right. But if you want to get up off of that thing and work for the city we want and dream of this summer, that is truly St. Louis values in action.

We've compiled a list of very different volunteer experiences, from working with dogs, to helping salvage reusable material from condemned buildings, to becoming a Summer Guide yourself by helping an immigrant settle into life in the Gateway City. What follows are six ways to make your summer in St. Louis truly unforgettable.

See also: St. Louis is the 9th Best Place in America to Own a Dog

Volunteers working in raised beds. - Courtesy Gateway Greening
Courtesy Gateway Greening
Volunteers working in raised beds.

Garden a community Michelle Obama, eat your heart out. This year Gateway Greening (2211 Washington Avenue; 314-588-9600 or www.gatewaygreening.org) maintains a record 220 (and growing) community gardens across the city, and this urban aggie revolution wouldn't be possible without its thousands of volunteer gardeners. Annie Mayrose, the organization's outreach coordinator, says that urban gardens are about a lot more than hipster folly. "They beautify our city, reduce crime, increase property values, bring communities together," she says, citing studies that correlate these positive outcomes with the presence of community gardens. "Over time, all of these great things can happen in a neighborhood because a garden is there." Mayrose says that the organization, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, is always looking for volunteers to pitch in on their own neighborhood gardens or help train and direct youngsters at one of the 90 youth-run gardens. This summer Gateway Greening is also trying out its first community garden run by senior citizens. Its website includes a map of community gardens, so it's easy to find the ones closest to your 'hood. Here, the fruits of your labor may be actual fruits.

House the homeless Carlos Restrepo is a communications specialist for Room at the Inn (3415 Bridgeland Drive, Bridgeton; 314-209-9198 or www.roomstl.org), a community-based nonprofit that provides emergency shelter for women and children. He says he and his colleagues have quickly learned that anyone can become homeless. Founded in 1993 by a group of nuns, Room at the Inn offers short-term lodging, meals and classes at its main facility in Bridgeton. About 60 faith congregations across St. Louis offer their buildings as "night sites" where volunteers take turns hosting families who have nowhere else to go. (A map of existing "night sites" is available on Room at the Inn's website.) Restrepo says that while St. Louis' outreach to the homeless is outstanding in winter, Room at the Inn often sees demand increase during the warmer months. "In the winter sometimes, people are more apt to help their friends and families, to keep them out of the cold," he explains. "But in summer people have fewer options. There's really a great need every day of the year." Room at the Inn is seeking additional facilities to serve as "night sites" (about once a month or just a handful of times a year) and individual volunteers who can coordinate activities, provide child care, teach Internet classes or résumé workshops, or just visit with clients.

After the jump: Did you know your dog could help make St. Louis a better place?