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Reviving hope: Local pastor helps to transform St. Louis neighborhood

"Here's the message I want people to take away from this. Our neighborhoods are worth investing in," said Alexander.

ST. LOUIS — In the heart of the city, where history and neglect collide, a groundbreaking ceremony ignites a spark of hope.

"It's like a breath of fresh air to see it like come to fruition," said resident Shakara Green.

Plans are announced for a multi-million dollar development that will bring 15 new homes and 11 rehabs to Hebert Street in St. Louis' Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhood.

And the architect of this vision is Pastor Andre Alexander of the nonprofit Tabernacle Community Development Corporation.

"That was a day, that was six years plus in the making of trying to bring it together," said Alexander, referring to the groundbreaking ceremony.

Alexander graduated from Mizzou with a degree in electrical engineering and went to work for a defense contractor. But after moving back to St. Louis to be closer to family, his journey took an unexpected turn.

"Started spending time with our pastor in our church, church my wife grew up in. And we just really connected," he said.

Alexander now serves as senior pastor of The Tabernacle Church in a neighborhood with more than 2,000 vacant properties. And it didn't take long to learn his neighbors priorities.

"Housing was at the top of that list," Alexander said. "We want safe, secure places to live. We want to be able to walk down our neighborhood and be safe."

Only two years after opening his church, Alexander traded in his pulpit for a PowerPoint. He started the nonprofit looking for investors to address the vacancy problem.

"Here's the message I want people to take away from this. Our neighborhoods are worth investing in," said Alexander passionately. "I know what we see, I know what we hear. Our challenges are real, I will never minimize them, but there are also solutions."

Money from the American Rescue Plan and $2 million in new market tax credits from U.S. Bank helped get the project off the ground.

"Architects, engineers, surveyors, they don't work for free, right? No, matter how great your mission is," he said, laughing. "They say, 'that's great and I'll be there to pick up my check!'"

The Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhood was once home to Coca-Cola and Sportsman's Park, home of the Cardinals and Browns. Now, out of the shadow of disinvestment, longtime residents are finally seeing some light.

"Some people come in, do one project and they're gone, you know,"  longtime resident Diana Wingo said. "And he is committed to this area, this neighborhood, and these people and, you know, and that means everything to us."

The new homes will be designated for families who make below 80% of the area median income.

"You hear churches talk about wanting to help the community. Wanting to help the people and it be talk, but to actually see it in action and to see it in motion, it's amazing," Green said.

Alexander said this new development, he calls "The Village," will benefit more than 100 people once it's completed in the next 12 to 18 months. And he hopes it's just the beginning.

"So what we really see over the next 15, 20 years is a thriving community of people from all different types of backgrounds. With this one thing in common, we say the village because we say it takes a village to raise a village," Alexander said.

Using a blueprint of compassion and determination, Pastor Andre Alexander is helping to turn vacant lots into affordable housing. Showing us all, that hope takes shape one brick at a time.

"I can't wait to see what's next," said Green.

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