Official Blog of the Education Exchange Corps

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Shopping this Weekend? Support Local Businesses, Support St. Louis

(NOTE: Keep checking back! We're updating the opportunities as more come in!)

Perhaps now more than ever, St. Louis businesses need our help.

Local businesses are very important parts of the community. Their owners have an interest in making sure the areas around them do well. The activity these businesses generate brings more people to their neighborhoods, builds connections between diverse groups of people, and keeps eyes on the streets. A thriving local business hub can do wonders for a neighborhood; we see the effects in many parts of St. Louis.

But a lot of these small businesses are hurting right now. Some have been looted or damaged. For a small business owner, the cost of putting up plywood boards and replacing windows can set the business so far back that its very survival falls into serious doubt.

We cannot let this happen. The loss of businesses will further damage neighborhoods that are already struggling with the seething consequences of inequity of opportunity.

This weekend, if you plan on shopping, please consider shopping local. Local businesses have so many unique gifts to offer. You'll enjoy visiting new places in the St. Louis area and revving your creative engine to find gifts for your loved ones (or for yourself!).

I took most of the day to make lists of local businesses in Ferguson, South Grand, and North City. Unfortunately, you will see that I could not find many in North City, a testament to the economic challenges present in the area. I'm sure I am missing many businesses, and if you have suggestions, please send them my way via email at I'll do my best to update the lists.

We have also had many people ask how they can assist the Education Exchange Corps as we continue to help children in Ferguson and St. Louis City. If you're out shopping and want to donate supplies to us, I've included a wishlist below. Please contact me via email to coordinate so we can keep the list updated as well.

St. Louis needs us to come together, to step forward with purpose, to make sure that tomorrow is better than today.

Local Shopping 

Education Exchange Corps Wishlist

Or click on our yellow donate button at the upper right of this blog page!

Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps

Windows on South Grand

I spent all of last night with a friend of mine who owns a business on South Grand. Like so many others on the street and in Ferguson, her windows are broken. And like so many others, her windows are now covered with boards painted up to reflect the enthusiasm of the woman who runs the shop. 

Peace, Love, Imo's

I attended a fundraiser one of her many supporters organized for her and other stores on South Grand. After the night was over, she graciously walked up and down the street with me as I stopped to take pictures of the paintings on the plywood. 

Open Your Eyes, Open Your Heart

She showed me the rocks that went through her windows, the two cats who luckily were unharmed, the store that needed to quickly find a way to cope with not being able to display its goods to passersby because the windows are all boarded.

We Need Our Jobs

Today is Thanksgiving. Today, everyone in St. Louis needs to take some time to reflect on where we are today, how we got here, and where we must be tomorrow. We cannot allow rage to consume hope if St. Louis is to come out better from this Ferguson moment.

Hand in Hand

The days after Thanksgiving, for one reason or another, are dedicated to holiday shopping. This year especially, there are many small businesses in St. Louis that are edging the line between survival and surrender. If you will be shopping, please take the opportunity to see what they have to offer. Not only will you bring home something more creatively pleasing for your loved ones, but your purchases will go directly into supporting a community that desperately needs it.

Love Thy Neighbor

These places are safe. I have been in Ferguson many, many times. And last night, I strolled South Grand until after 2:00 AM. Please do not let media hype deter you from exploring your town. These places need our love, not our fear.

The Upcycle Exchange Fundraiser

In our next post, we will include a list of local businesses that we will update as we get more information. We will also publish an Education Exchange Corps wish list in the event you do some shopping and would also like to support us as we work with kids in St. Louis. But for now, be with those closest to you, open your hearts, and let love take your day. More paintings below.

Bow Tie Pig

St. Louis Flag

Justice Is "Blind," But We Can See

Shine on St. Louis

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Case for Hope in Ferguson and St. Louis

At 2:00 AM, I was still watching the smoldering buildings on one side of my computer screen. On the other side, I was drafting more volunteer recruitment emails to beg the people of St. Louis to come out and support kids just hours later.

At 4:00 AM, I woke up, printed out sign-in sheets for "Emergency School" at the Ferguson Library, looked over emails, and headed to Walmart.

At 5:30 AM, I found the 24-hour Walmart in Maplewood, about 20 minutes south of Ferguson, closed, with private security patrolling the lot in cars. As I started to drive off in my old, rusty, dented Honda, I was hawked by one patrol car, the driver staring at me ominously as I attempted to leave. I just wanted to pick up some name tags for the kids and volunteers.

At 5:50 AM, I arrived at my day job, which was also locked down at the time. Thankfully, it opened within 10 minutes.

At 8:25 AM, I parked in the Ferguson Library parking lot. There were already a few men waiting outside, without kids, just wanting to use the library, which opened at 9 for the general public. When I entered, I was greeted by Carrie Pace, the Ferguson-Florissant School District teacher who has always been the driving force behind the emergency school program at the library, and Scott Bonner, the kind-hearted head librarian who embraces the library's role as a true community place. Teach For America teachers and alumni were back again. I've taken to calling them "the cavalry."

At 8:55 AM, we had no kids. The program was scheduled to start at 9. I walked from the library to the Ferguson Police Department, the site of protests just hours before, in the hopes of finding protesting parents looking for a safe place for their kids to learn. It was a cold morning, and an even chillier view as I walked on South Florissant. Store windows were smashed in. Glass was everywhere. A beautiful street was strewn with the remnants of violence and the plywood board reminders that the violence may not be over.

But well before 8:55 AM, the sun rose over Ferguson. Amongst the chaos, groups of people, some with their children, were diligently at work, sweeping sidewalks, cleaning stores, removing glass shards. I met some volunteers from the last library program out on the street that morning too who had traded in worksheets for push brooms.

I arrived at the police department, and no one was there. Over the course of the day, I called kids and put out blasts on social media. I even convinced a band of rowdy high school boys (as they naturally are) to stay and work for a while.

I saw a parent break down in tears as she talked about her community coming apart at the seams. I saw many more parents who were tired and frustrated, wondering out loud about what will happen in the coming days.

I also saw over 50 volunteers show up at the Ferguson Library. I saw donors drop off school supplies and food. I saw a couple dozen kids absolutely absorb the attention they received.

We all saw what a community can do when it cares about its future. But that can only happen when the community has hope.

Today, we had some reporters visit the library, the majority from foreign news outlets. A Canadian reporter asked me about the situation, about why there seemed to be so much anger. As I responded, I felt myself become enraged.

I felt angry that for the last seven years I've been doing this, little has changed. I felt angry that more and more kids are sinking into poverty, and we as a society are doing almost nothing about it. I felt angry that even those parents who work hard and try to do well by their kids too often see their children swallowed by the hopelessness of a broken system. I felt angry that St. Louis, in 2014, is still set up in a way that segregates by race and socioeconomic class. I felt angry that we have to wait for an 18-year-old to get shot dead outside his home and for the National Guard to be deployed before our region starts to care about the underlying problems that led to this reality.

I felt angry that even after all that we have witnessed in these past few months, it may not be enough to get us out of our chairs and into classrooms and boardrooms and courtrooms and city halls demanding a fairer St. Louis.

But I do not stay enraged because I refuse to live in that world. I refuse to allow the cycle of poverty to continue to cut down our future. I refuse to believe that we as a whole will turn our backs on children.

I refuse to be consumed by hopelessness. And I'm not the only one.

There are others running organizations that refuse to stop working in the face of overwhelming and deeply rooted obstacles. There are parents and school teachers who refuse to give up on their kids. There are kids who refuse to give up on themselves.

But you have to understand that years and years of seeing the same results, of experiencing the same negativity, of being ignored or even admonished by a society that ought to care can leave anyone hopeless. The fact that anyone can thrive in such an environment is a testament to that person's supernatural substance, not to some imagined myth that anyone can make it.

Everyone should have the opportunity to make it. But not everyone does. That simple fact is what spawns the widespread hopelessness.

And so it is up to all of us to banish the hopelessness. It is up to all of us to care about each other, to show it, to make those trips into the unfamiliar and touch our shared humanity. We are the hope.

No matter what happens during our darkest hour, the sun will rise again over Ferguson. It will rise again over St. Louis. And every time it does, we once again have the opportunity to not go gentle into the night.

One day, we won't.

Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Call For Reserve Volunteers: Backup School in Ferguson

We need volunteers to help run a backup school in Ferguson in case the school district must suspend school again.

The St. Louis region is bracing for the grand jury's decision whether to indict Officer Darren Wilson for shooting Mike Brown. No one knows what to expect. But I pray that, whatever happens, we all remember the children who are still expected to go to school and learn through all of this. Yes, the events of these past months are a learning experience in and of themselves, but that doesn't mean our kids don't need to be learning multiplication and spelling too.

Shortly after Mike Brown's shooting, when protests hit a major street in Ferguson and police efforts escalated, the Ferguson-Florissant School District postponed the start of the school year. School was delayed for kids for almost a week and a half. Carrie Pace, a teacher with the district, held school at the local Ferguson Library. We were happy to help her and so many other people from the community as they came together to serve more than 200 children.

I hope we don't need your help to do this again, but we might be facing similar circumstances in the next few weeks. I believe that, no matter what the grand jury's decision is, our community won't descend into the chaos so many people seem to be predicting. People desperately want to make their lives better, not worse. As a region, we must come to the understanding that ensuring equity of opportunity is a shared responsibility, and I think we are moving in that direction.

But if I'm wrong, kids in Ferguson temporarily may not have an open school to go to. Kids need to go to school. Part of the movement that has grown in honor of Mike Brown is in response to the fact that too many kids in our region aren't given the opportunity they ought to have in many areas of life. Kids who don't go to school have even less opportunity.

We need a reserve group of volunteers ready to mobilize with short notice. We need people who are willing to have high expectations of kids, create a positive learning atmosphere, and listen to what kids need. If you've taught before, GREAT! If you haven't taught before, that's OK too! If you can only commit a day, or a few hours a day, or a flexible lunch hour - whatever it is, we would greatly appreciate your support.

We would be happy to have protesters and police working together to help the children of Ferguson. If you are personally willing to be a positive influence on a kid, we will be happy to find a way for you to help.

St. Louis, we called upon your compassion and hope and "huStLe" to help in Ferguson once before, and you came through in a huge way. Be ready to help us do it again for the sake of all of our kids.

If you are interested in helping, please email me directly at We will also have our normal ongoing programming for kids too, and you are welcome to help our kids then too.

Elad Gross
President and CEO
Education Exchange Corps