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'It brought a lot of hope to the community' | Dream Builders work to revamp north St. Louis community center

The first priority is to finish the first floor so it can be used for a 24-hour day care center

ST. LOUIS — Jamin Sutherland's mother, Melisa Murshon, had a "crazy dream" to open a community center in the inner city that would provide quality community services to poverty stricken people.

In 2001, Murshon proved that her dream wasn't so crazy after all when she purchased a three story brick building in North St. Louis's Hyde Park neighborhood and transformed it into the New Hope Community Center.

There was a day care on the first floor, a food pantry, and space for GED and parenting classes.

"She didn't just give people things," Sutherland said. "She wanted to teach people how to fish and give them opportunities to make money in the long term to support their families."

Sutherland said the simplest way to explain what the center brought to neighborhood is with one word: hope. 

"It brought a lot of hope to the community," Sutherland said. "A lot of hope. The people who lived around here didn't have much, but they had hope."

Nearly 20 years after Mershon opened the center, she passed away. Not only did Sutherland lose her mother, but she also seemingly lost her mother's passion project. 

"She was all about helping the next entrepreneur and lifting someone else up," Sutherland said. 

Sutherland said another tenant rented the space to run a day care center, but it didn't work out. 

"Things went south," Sutherland said. 

After the tenant moved out, Sutherland said she and her sister were forced to board up the building because of vandalism and squatters. 

Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened.

"I had to make the choice to board it up, and that was in the last six months. Think about what it would be like in a year," Sutherland said.

"It hurts," she said. "It hurts because the people here knew (my mom), so for them, too, this hurts. But God always has a purpose and a plan that's bigger than what we can see."

Sutherland, with the help of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association and the Childcare Entrepreneur Partnership, connected with the leaders of Dream Builders 4 Equity to create a solution. 

Dream Builders is an organization that hires and trains young people to rehab properties. This project matched its mission.

"We're bringing beautification that's much needed in the community but also creating job opportunities for our youth. And then we're hiring minority contractors to do the work," Dream Builders co-founder Neal Richardson said. 

The group recently started work on the project.

"There are very limited childcare opportunities in Hyde Park," said Mike Woods, who also founded the organization.

The first priority is to finish the first floor so it can be used for a 24-hour day care center. There's already a tenant who runs a day care ready to move in.

Andria Wrice, who plans to enroll her child in the day care when it opens, said it will be a gamechanger for essential workers in the area. 

"I just needed my child to be in a safe environment with people I knew were going to take care of her — where she could learn and grow," she said. 

Richardson said her group hopes to be done with the space this fall. 

Sutherland said this will be the first step in restoring her mother's vision. 

"I think it's going to be bigger than what she could ever have imagined," Sutherland said. "The fact that her legacy will live on and the seeds that she's sown … it's a beautiful thing."


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