ST. LOUIS – Lucas Rouggly grew up in Jackson, Mo., a town of 14,000 near Cape Girardeau, but has spent the last decade living with his family in North St. Louis.
Rouggly is the founder of LOVEtheLOU. He says his whole goal is to surround neighborhoods with intentional relationships and bring outside opportunities and resources to the community.
“Did a lot of praying about where to go, felt like we should go where there was the most need. At the time that was North St. Louis,” said Rouggly.
Rouggly says it took awhile for his neighbors in the Enright neighborhood to warm up to him.
“First year, no one knew what to do with us,” explained Rouggly during an interview with FOX2Now.com. “I’d introduce myself, everyone knew who we were because we stood out but I was just getting to know everyone.”
Rouggly said at the beginning several of his neighbors thought he was part of a police sting operation or working undercover for the FBI.
“After a year, trust was built. Not only were we accepted with open arms, but that is when we were really able to get down to business.”
Rouggly’s family and friends started lending a helping hand to restore the neighborhood. Over the years, LOVEtheLOU has grown to work with more than 1,000 volunteers from St. Louis and other states.
The organization matches them with community development projects that align with their skills and talents. They work on projects like turning vacant lots into gardens or fixing abandoned properties. The group also mentors 40 students.
Rouggly explains though, it’s really about introducing them to people and creating relationships that can then turn into opportunities.
“Because of the segregation we’ve experienced as a city, the isolation that my neighbors feel in the inner city, they are disconnected to all types of access to things like healthy eating, hospitals, good education. There is not a lot of opportunity around. That makes it feel depressed, makes it feel like there is no hope, and that gets depressing and leads to all other issues you can have,” explained Rouggly.
Rouggly said before Michael Brown’s death, he had to convince people in St. Louis we had a problem with race.
He said he would hear neighbors saying they hated the police. He said he assumed they had misinterpreted the situation. Rouggly says when he would repeat their stories to others, no one believed him either.
Rouggly says after the unrest in 2014, many of the people he was connected to in St. Louis County that were white really just had hoped the problem had gone away.
He says that was the attitude up until earlier this summer. He says that is when the conversation started to change.
“I actually think there is a majority of people who not only know that there is a problem but believe they could do something about it. And that’s really encouraging.”
Rouggly says he believes reforms are needed but grassroots efforts are needed to bring long term change.
“Until you have healthier neighborhoods, you are not going to have healthy systems, such as police systems, school systems, banks, and grocery stores wanting to move in,” explains Rouggly.
He also believes St. Louis is in the position to lead the nation in this grassroots change.
“I wouldn’t have said that 5 years ago, but I’ve watched this groundswell of people that care,” said Rouggly. “We have thousands of people that want to make a difference. With that kind of momentum, listening, and understanding, we’ve got this.”