St. Louis, Mo., is nicknamed Brick City, and one of its quintessential brick buildings is a hundred-year-old three-story walk-up that in recent years has served as transitional housing for women rebuilding their lives after domestic violence.
Owned by the nonprofit Lydia’s House, a CHHSM member ministry, the building provided an affordable home for up to two years for women referred from St. Louis’ emergency shelters. That is, until the need for major renovations forced it to close in October. Now, barely six months later, Lydia’s House is preparing to welcome residents to its 11 newly renovated apartments — all because of a remarkable outpouring of generosity from the community.
“It’s a really cool old building,” says Ellen Reed, executive director of Lydia’s House. “But it needed noisy, messy, intense repairs.” Essential renovations included major plumbing work, new flooring and shoring up an unstable fire escape. An energy audit revealed the building also needed more insulation, a new boiler and weather-stripping for its doors and windows.
“We wrestled with whether or not to sell it, but the housing market was such that we knew we wouldn’t get enough to acquire a replacement,” says Reed.
Lydia’s House acquired the building in April 1998, three years after the organization’s launch. And though the organization did not have the funds to renovate the building, Reed knew the demand for services was climbing. “In St. Louis, the fatality rate related to domestic violence continues to grow,” she says. “And the turn-away rates are growing because we don’t have enough spaces for the women who need them.”
Like many nonprofits in these tough economic times, Lydia’s House faced a dilemma. It had no choice but to close the building last fall, leaving women in need without a place to go.
The organization will accomplish the reopening "with a tiny shoestring budget and an enormous amount of volunteer energy,” says Reed. The nonprofit program at the University of Missouri-St. Louis provided a volunteer coordinator, and the facilities manager and maintenance staff at Lydia’s House took on extra responsibilities.
“We’ve had groups come in and paint, hang drywall and paint ceilings,” says Reed. “They cleaned. They have brought drywall sheets in, and in a three-story walk-up that’s no small deal. A moving company took out the nasty furniture and put the usable furniture in the basement. Then other groups came in and cleaned and restored it.”
Volunteer contractors are remedying asbestos, fixing plumbing, shoring up the fire escape, doing electrical work, replacing cabinets and stripping and sanding floors. Once all those repairs are complete, various United Church of Christ congregations will step in to decorate and stock the apartments – something they have done for residents for years.
“We get it repaired and painted, then the group has a drive for linens, dishes, decorations for the walls, pillows, cleaning supplies, personal hygiene supplies,” says Reed. “They spend hours and dollars out of love and mission.”
Though Lydia’s House will receive about $100,000 in weatherization materials through a federal program, they will conduct a special appeal this spring for donations to help them pay for the other renovations.
“It has been a massive project and everything has taken longer than we thought it would,” says Reed. “We’re extremely aware of the clock ticking. We work very closely with the emergency shelters and they’re all looking at us going, ‘Please get those units open.’”
Thanks to dozens of volunteers, they are about to do just that.