By Vicki Biggs and Melanie Ave
ST. LOUIS — Amid cheers and applause from the gathered residents and guests, Nicole Ridley, chief executive officer of LCMS National Housing Support Corp. (NHSC) — joined by LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison and St. Louis city leaders — cut the ribbon Aug. 23 to recognize the completion of the first home in the Nazareth Homes development in this city’s historic College Hill neighborhood.
“Now we have the opportunity to change the face of this neighborhood through new construction,” Ridley said.
The 1,340-square-foot, two-story residence will serve as the model home for the first phase of the planned 20-home development. The second home to be built has already been sold and will be completed this fall.
Local dignitaries who joined Ridley and Harrison in greeting guests and remarking on the occasion included St. Louis Mayor Francis G. Slay, Alderwoman Dionne Flowers — representing the city’s Ward 2, where the development is located — Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed and city Treasurer Tishaura O. Jones. Missouri State Senator Jamilah Nasheed also attended.
“Today is a glorious day,” said Flowers, as about 200 people gathered in the summer sun and gazed at the newly constructed house behind her. “This house is gorgeous.”
Slay thanked the LCMS, NHSC, College Hill residents and all those who participated in the project, which also included Laborers For Christ and Lutheran Church Extension Fund.
“Building a neighborhood is about a lot more than bricks and mortar,” Slay said. “It takes a commitment of people who believe in the neighborhood and the future, and it takes a willingness of organizations like the Lutheran church to partner with neighborhood residents, city government and others to help make this a reality.
“Now we’re going to have something that we can all be very, very proud of.”
Harrison assured the audience that the LCMS stands behind the project just as it has other housing development projects in other parts of the country.
“I want to commit to you today that we will, as The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, work together with anybody … to improve this neighborhood for the well-being of this neighborhood, for the well-being of this city,” he said.
Harrison recalled a similar project in Fort Wayne, Ind., that began with one house and later led to the construction of more than 100 houses.
“Unless the Lord builds the house, they that labor, labor in vain,” he said, referring to Psalm 127. “Let’s build the house.”
The audience cheered.
Harrison asked the Rev. Dr. David Benke, president of the LCMS Atlantic District, to share the story of the Nehemiah housing development project in Brooklyn.
“We have now built 4,000 homes in Brooklyn,” Benke said. “One can lead to 4,000 is what I want to tell you. One can lead to hope. What is planted when you plant houses is you are planting hope. You are planting hopes for families.
“God wants us to plant hope wherever we are.”
College Hill resident Denise Oguara came to the ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate what she hopes is a turning point for the neighborhood. She said she wants to one day buy a home.
“It gives me hope,” she said. “I feel blessed to be here. I’m at a loss for words, I truly am.”
Pat Woods, who lives across the street from the development and plans to open a restaurant in the neighborhood, said she was thrilled to see the first house completed.
“It’s been forever with nothing new across the street,” she said. “But now, to look out the window and see a new house with landscaping and people coming and going, it’s very exciting.”
Representatives from Concordia Publishing House also were on hand to present a Lutheran Study Bible to the family that will eventually purchase the model home.
Following the ceremony, guests toured the new home — named the “Harrison” after the LCMS president. The other models available are the “Marie” — named for Marie Kienker, NHSC’s first executive director who initiated the project in College Hill but died in 2010; and the “Concordia.”
A second home, the “Marie,” next door to the “Harrison,” is under construction and under contract with Carolyn Conner, who couldn’t keep from smiling throughout the event and said the home was her “dream come true.”
All subsequent homes will be built on a pre-sale basis.
Earlier this spring, NHSC held a groundbreaking for Nazareth Homes. At that event, many neighborhood residents were heard to say “finally” — referring to revitalization efforts that had been promised but never materialized until that time. College Hill, some four miles north of downtown St. Louis, is one of the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods. Click here for a Reporter Online story about that groundbreaking.
See a photo album from the groundbreaking here.
Vicki Biggs is director of Public Relations and Melanie Ave is senior writer and social media coordinator — both for LCMS Communications.