ST. LOUIS — Sometimes, what we build ends up building us.
Rehab work continues on a home in the Lewis Place neighborhood in North St. Louis.
"The property has been sitting vacant for about four or five years," said Neal Richardson.
The house was in such bad shape, it would've been a tough go for an experienced contractor. But for this job, experience isn't required.
"I had no clue about anything in the construction field," laughs 17-year-old Jermaine Grimmett.
In fact, instead of construction work, these laborers are usually doing homework. They're all high school students in a program called Dream Builders for Equity which helps at-risk teens escape poverty.
"They have dreams just like everyone else they just need someone else to give them the hope to inspire them that they too can do anything they put their mind to," explains Richardson.
The 30-year-old Richardson founded the non-profit with his friend Michael Woods. Like the students they mentor, they had to overcome the obstacles of growing up in a low-income neighborhood.
"Everything that was in my neighborhood was actually destructive," Woods told us. "The friends and family members that were younger or older than me all were engaged in things that were very harmful to me and to others."
But thanks to a strong family support system, Richardson is now the head of financial education for U.S. Bank and Woods is a poet and the author of four books. They say it's amazing how far you can go when someone believes in you.
"So really Michael and I here to give these students our love and fill them with hope, "said Richardson.
Woods bought the dilapidated home for pennies on the dollar. The students then took classes and started renovating it for resale. The profits then go into their college savings accounts.
Make no mistake, it's hard work but everybody in the program is here for a reason.
"I didn't want to end up like kids that are doing dumb things in the streets and getting killed out here, "noted 17 year Teron Floyd.
"They forced me to think about my future," said 16-year-old Carvon Ward. "You can't just do this, you have to think about my future."
The dream for Dream Builders is to one day change an entire neighborhood.
"We don't want to just pluck a house here and pluck a house there, we actually want to build a community," Woods explained.
"There's no money in the world that can add more value to me or my life than making a difference in these students lives," added Richardson.
Giving young people the tools for success, Dream Builders for Equity, constructing the building blocks of hope.