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

Categories: Summer Guide

Theo Welling
Attendees at last year's Festival of Nations.

Become a St. Louis ambassador
St. Louis is tough enough to navigate when you're just trying to figure out why everyone cares so much about your high school. And for our growing international population, this city — the new language, a different culture — is a whole new ball game, and it can take a lifetime to get anywhere close to the American dream. You can help welcome and support immigrants and refugees through volunteer opportunities with the International Institute (3654 South Grand Boulevard; 314-773-9090 or, which was founded in 1919 to resettle refugees from World War I. Emily Ratchford, community-relations specialist at the nonprofit, says that the Institute is always looking for volunteers to serve as teachers' assistants and tutors in their English and citizenship classes, help new arrivals find job opportunities through résumé assistance and interview prep, and offer general support around their offices in Dutchtown. Ratchford says that volunteers benefit from the opportunity "by meeting people different than themselves and experience the kind of diversity that we believe is a great asset to our St. Louis community. We really rely on our roughly 120 active volunteers to provide the one-on-one attention to our students and clients that allows us to cater to their unique needs and challenges." International Institute draws its clientele from every corner of the world, so volunteering there might put you face-to-face with people from Papua New Guinea, Myanmar, Guatemala and Ukraine all in the same week. Every year the Institute hosts the popular Festival of Nations celebration in Tower Grove Park, and it welcomes volunteers to participate in that culinary and cultural extravaganza as well.

Bridge the Delmar divide
North of Delmar Boulevard the median home value is $262,000 less than it is to the street's south. North of Delmar the population is 98 percent black; to the south it's 74 percent white. The median income is also some $32,000 lower. The inequality is staggering. If you want to give the north side some love this summer, consider volunteering at one of the city's oldest and most effective community organizations, Grace Hill Settlement House (2600 Hadley Street; 314-584-6900 or It's a nonprofit founded in 1903 with a broad mandate to make neighborhoods on the north side better, and there is a need for volunteers to help staff Head Start preschool programs, participate in beautification efforts in the College Hill neighborhood, maintain a community park and coordinate children's activities at the weekly Whitaker Foundation Summer Concert Series. Volunteer coordinator Barbara Katsen says she is very flexible in accommodating potential volunteers' interests. "Our work with volunteer groups is based on hearing what they'd like to do — what kind of skills do they have, what kind of project they are interested in," she says. "We're always brainstorming together with staff and prospective volunteers."

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