There’s a new national standard for helping the community find jobs.
It’s empathetic. It’s strategic. It’s inclusive. And it’s happening right now in St. Louis and on Cherokee Street.
Stevens, who serves as Regional Director of the Save Our Sons program—an affiliate program of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis—says partners across the country are inspired by the way his team in St. Louis is changing lives.
“We have some Urban Leagues in other states that have started to model our program, and eventually making this the staple program of Leagues throughout the nation,” Stevens said. “This model works; this model shows success; and that’s what I anticipate and hope for the program.”
Save Our Sons, which opened its newest location at 2626 Cherokee Street in October, was created in 2016 following the events in Ferguson. Urban League team members, including President and CEO Michael McMillan, had noticed that the majority of St. Louisans seeking the League’s services at the time were women—leaving a large portion of the community underserved.
“We asked, ‘After everything is done, how can we as an agency help?’” Stevens said. “The number one consensus was jobs, and men saying they don’t have the chance to get them. [Mr. McMillan] realized that workforce development needed to happen for men in our community. Save Our Sons seeks to make sure that the men in our community have access to the opportunities they deserve.”
The Urban League has 22 offices across the city, four (soon to be five) of which are devoted to Save Our Sons. The program provides a four-week job placement training program, hosted by professionals and HR managers from across the city; hiring fairs with local and national businesses such as Panera, Schnucks, Worldwide Technology, and AT&T; job incentives such as transportation fares and professional clothing for interviews; and day-to-day support like energy bill assistance.
“There’s no real framework; it’s really tailored to the client,” says Mike Doss, a Workforce Development Specialist who works out of the Cherokee Street office. “We build self esteem and self confidence, and let men know these resources are available to them. We do everything in our power to meet their needs and bridge the gap for individuals in our communities.”
While the program might be new, the team has hit the ground running. In 2018, the Urban League implemented Save Our Sisters, which replicated the success of the Save Our Sons program to serve job seeking women. Both ventures are thriving.
“We have close to 100 hiring partners, and at any given time, have around 60 that are super active,” says Lindra Harvey, who serves as the Cherokee Street location’s Program Coordinator. “We’ve had hiring fairs where businesses interviewed as many as 126 people in one day.”
Harvey found her way to Save Our Sons when her previous longtime employer partnered with the organization. Touched and energized by the work the group was doing in the community, she decided to be a part of it and—hasn’t looked back.
“The Urban League provides hope in times of hopelessness,” she said. “I’ve seen people come in who didn’t know where to go, or what they wanted to do. I’ve seen hope provided to an individual who walked in that didn’t know where their next meal was going to come from. It’s hope that we’re providing, and it encourages me to support this vision.”
The job, Harvey says, humbles her every day.
“I came in with a different view of life; and when I look at those we’re serving, it’s overwhelming and it’s heartwarming,” she said. “When I see people jumping up and down because they got a new job or a new suit…That gives them the indication that somebody cares. That’s what it does. I hope that they walk away with hope.”
The secret to fostering that hope, Stevens says, is to break down obstacles.
“There aren’t too many barriers we cannot help remove,” Stevens said, citing the story of a client who is finally fulfilling his lifelong dream of becoming a pilot. “Life happens. And when it does, you forget about the dream you had until someone talks to you about it. We have the tools, the scholarship dollars, and the resources and connections to see people live out those dreams.”
Save Our Sons is able to leverage its own unique job preparedness model, along with the funds and other programs available to it as a satellite of the Urban League, to provide holistic services for someone seeking to better their lives. No appointments for services are required; and the team wants St. Louisans to know that anyone is welcome to walk through their doors.
“I meet a lot of people who are hesitant to better their futures, maybe because they feel incapable of receiving services, period,” Doss said. “But we just want you to come in. We don’t accept the mundane here; and we don’t accept less than. If there’s one thing that I want the community to know, it's that there are people who do care, who are willing and wanting to change other peoples’ lives. I’m honored and really love the work I do on a day-to-day basis because it’s so unique in this way.”
As Save Our Sons works to become a staple of the community, the Cherokee Street office gives the organization a chance to meet South St. Louisans where they’re at and helps Save Our Sons become a vital part of neighborhood life.
“I’m extremely excited about it because I was born and raised in South St. Louis, and I know the climate and what is or is not easily accessible to the folks here…and having access to opportunities is huge,” Stevens said. “I believe we have the perfect opportunity to do our best to get individuals employed; and when we do that, the whole community changes. You see everything grow. I’m looking forward to us making a huge change in South St. Louis.”
Doss agrees; he believes that the Cherokee Street space is special.
“It has a lot of character, a lot of history, and a lot of culture,” he said. “We try our best to branch out from a standalone headquarters to being in the communities we serve. It’s been nothing but open arms and smiles when we tell people here we’re with the Urban League and Save Our Sons.”
For that reason, Harvey says, Cherokee Street is beginning to feel like home for the team.
“I think that the community has embraced us,” she said. “We know many of the business owners up and down Cherokee; we literally put feet to the ground and walk up and down [the street]. It’s just enjoyable because we’re doing something that’s being valued in the community.”
As the Save Our Sons team looks to the future, they have a few key goals. Become a community staple. Grow the organization’s services and increase the number of satellite locations. Continue to be a thought leader for Urban Leagues and other charitable organizations across the country.
But their main priority? Getting you in the door. Because, as Stevens says, your dreams are waiting.
Learn more about Save Our Sons, and the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, here