Dream Builders 4 Equity focuses on making bosses out of local youth
Dream Builders 4 Equity has pioneered a new workforce development model in St. Louis over the past six years.
The nonprofit teaches young people ages 16 to 24 about construction, personal finance and real estate investing so that they can then use those tools to re-invest in their neighborhoods.
“Everything that you see with our organization is really centered by that ownership because we understand that ownership creates a sense of value and pride,” CEO and President Michael Woods said on Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air.
Dream Builders then takes it a step further, having the trainees apply their newfound knowledge on construction sites. The nonprofit’s goal is to renovate 50 properties in north St. Louis’ Hyde Park neighborhood by 2025. Dream Builders partners with minority contractors to renovate properties and then shares equity with their mentees in the form of scholarships once the properties are sold.
Woods and Neal Richardson, the executive director for St. Louis Development Corporation, co-founded the organization. To date, the nonprofit has had about 75 participants, most from either St. Louis or north St. Louis County.
The first time Terrell Jones painted a room was on his first day with Dream Builders.
“That was a new skill I learned right then and there,” Jones said. “A lot of us aren’t fortunate enough to learn stuff like that. So, to be learning that on the first day and actually be active with it and learn from a professional — I loved it since then.”
Jones said the program also taught him how to take constructive criticism and express his emotions more clearly.
“I thought being emotionless and thinking, just pure off my mind and not off my heart, was a good thing. So it kind of made me nonchalant, it kind of made me not really have passion about certain things.”
Jones realized people often misunderstood him because he didn’t express his emotions.
“Now, I always make sure somebody understands that, ‘I appreciate you,’ or, ‘I really want to do this,’ or, ‘I am excited about this,’” he said.
Erica Wilson said Dream Builders helped her personal development immensely — even though she doesn’t want to pursue construction as a career.
“They've supported me with EMT school,” she said. “Their support is way deeper than just ‘Here's a house. We're going to rehab it.’ Their support is long term.”
As part of the process, each class of students co-writes a book chronicling its yearlong journey. This year, the class of 13 mentees also recorded an album, which will premiere at their book signing on April 24.
Woods said rehabbing houses and authoring a book are just the vehicles for a greater purpose.
“The bigger objective is for them to be bosses,” Woods said. “And when I say bosses I mean really owning your story, owning your narrative. Taking control of their neighborhoods, remaining invested in our communities, and just taking dominion of their bodies and their future.”
Once the students realize they can publish a book and transform a house, the possibilities increase exponentially — whether it’s on a construction site or in a C-suite.
”If you can knock this out, the rest of the world is nothing,” Woods said.
What: “Brick by Brick: Dreams We Build” book signing
When: April 24
Where: Sophie's Artist Lounge, 3333 Washington Ave., St. Louis 63103
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Emily Woodbury, Kayla Drake, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.