“My grandmother used to have the most gorgeous skeleton key doors in her house on St. Louis Avenue. I loved growing up there, but now there is nothing where my home used to be.”
Lena Braylock grew up just down the street from Grace Hill and has fond memories of walk-ing the neighborhood with her grandmother. “My family was the first black family to attend St. Johns United Church of Christ - that was our legacy.” However, with time the house was purchased by the city and became vacant. It was not until recently that Grace Hill partnered with Old North Restoration group and began to rebuild the area, bringing businesses back into the neighborhood.
Lena rediscovered Grace Hill during college when she volunteered in St Louis Place Park on St. Louis Avenue at the Grace Hill Whitaker Urban Evening Concert series, a community event that attracts on average 1,200 guests a night from across the St. Louis metropolitan area. From there she found her way to the Women's Business Center at Grace Hill, where she helped bring minority businesses into the area every day.
She loves Grace Hill for the work they do in the community and was delighted to participate in the Images of Grace project. Lena had taken some film photography classes during college, and she enjoyed going digital during the project. Lena visited Forest Park, Crown Candy, the Missouri Botanical Garden and other iconic St. Louis destinations. Lena will be joining fellow photographer, Taylor Roberson, in London this fall to earn her Master’s Degree in Psychology and explore the world.
“Grace Hill always has resources available. They are my guiding light.”
Patrick Gutierrez is always looking for balance in life - mentally and physically, or as he would say back home, “Pura Vida.” Originally from Costa Rica, Patrick moved to Missouri as a child with his mother who has worked at Grace Hill for the last 19 years. He remembers serving as a translator for Hispanic parents, but mostly he remembers being interested in the arts with no one to turn to for guidance.
Through Grace Hill Patrick has met mentors and staff to see him along his way. While participating in Images of Grace 2017, Patrick attended a class where he was introduced to Mike Gibbons, this year's photography chair. Mike coached Patrick on the importance of lighting within and beyond photography.
Today Patrick owns his own company, UVA, where he sells custom-made clothing. However, UVA’s primary focus is on providing guidance to upcoming artists. Patrick is a graduate from McKinley High School and attends Webster University where he is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in graphic design.
“Having been with Grace Hill for seven years I look at the city differently, I see more potential for growth in St. Louis.”
Keith Hunter wanted to get into photography to capture the city that he sees every day including popular streets like Washington Avenue where he works as a personal trainer, the parks, and abandoned bridges. During the day Keith spends his time at Grace Hill working as the Systems Advancement Specialist for Head Start. He began at Grace Hill as an intern during his sophomore year of college. “Grace Hill really strives to make an impact for the community and each individual.”
What Keith enjoyed most about the project was shooting with the photographers at the Soulard Market. “It was different from what I was doing on my own. I had to adapt to the fast pace of the market to get the shot.” One of Keith's photos will be represented at the gala by St. Louis Post Dispatch photographer, David Carson. Keith’s hope for the future is to purchase a camera of his own.
“Growing up in my community means joyfulness, happiness, and a love for people.”
Jorja McAfee lives just around the corner from Grace Hill and is a graduate of Grace Hill Head Start. In August of 2017, Jorja was featured in the St. Louis American for gathering over 1,000 school supply items and distributing them to neighborhood children. “I just love to give back.”
Jorja is sixteen years old and is currently a junior at Grand Center Arts Academy. She spends most of her time volunteering at the Grace Hill Patch Neighborhood Center reading to children, participating in neighborhood walks, singing in the choir, and just recently started her first job at Qdoba Mexican Grill.
Jorja’s favorite part of the photography project was working with Sylvester Jacobs, who volunteered to be an instructor for the second time this year. “When I was with Mr. Jacobs, he inspired me to take head shots, get different angles and not be afraid.” One of Jorja’s photos featured in the gala is a picture of Miss Willis, a neighborhood leader who grew a crop of sweet potatoes in the community garden located just across the street from Jorja.
“I continue to teach my kids to do their part for society and make the world a better place. You get what you give.”
Cathryne Reid has put two children through Grace Hill Head Start and sent the eldest off to college. This past summer while she struggled with health issues Images of Grace kept her mind off the negative possibilities and focused on the beauty in her life. While her oldest son Dustin was off to college, she often spent “mother-daughter time” with Madisyn, the youngest. They participated in the world's biggest marble hunt just off Clayton road, attended Cinco de Mayo, and walked the Loop viewing the “Make Music Day St. Louis” piano display.
“I am always finding different stuff for us to do at no cost. I love showing my kids the possibilities. I am living proof that single mothers can do it, too, especially with a great organizations behind them like Grace Hill. They bring together the community and teach employable skills.”
Cathryne enjoyed learning from instructors that would provide print outs on how to use their cameras during the project. She currently works for the IRS and looks forward to the 2017 Images of Grace Gala where she achieved her goal to take more photos than she did in 2015!
“Grace Hill gives everybody an opportunity to do what they want and excel in it.”
Dustin Reid is a testament to Grace Hill. He has been involved with the organization since he was three years old attending Grace Hill Head Start. “What I remember most about Head Start is the reading.” Dustin and his mother, Cathryne, who also participated in the project believes that Grace Hill propelled Dustin forward into accelerated classes during grade school and high school. He recently finished his first semester at Jefferson College in Hillsboro, Missouri.
This is Dustin’s second time participating in Images of Grace, and his photography has changed to accommodate the new found grace in his life. In addition to school Dustin has been promoted to lifeguard manager at a local recreation complex and joined a Rugby team where he has found new talents. “I have opened up a lot since the last gala. A lot of my friends call me a social butterfly.” Dustin’s photography included pictures of rugby games, women’s college basketball, and weekend family trips like attending the Winter Classic at Busch Stadium. When asked what he would name his collection of photos Dustin remarked, “My Year in Review.” In the future Dustin plans to continue to volunteer at Grace Hill, but of course, his first focus is graduating from College.
“What I remember most about Head Start is the smell. The atmosphere was warm and welcoming.”
Taylor Roberson was a Head Start kid herself, so it was destiny that she found Grace Hill through volunteering in the Head Start classrooms. Taylor was raised in Grace Hill's direct service area in the Jeff Vanderlou neighborhood. She attended one of the nation’s highest ranked high schools, and graduated in May 2013 from Webster University with a bachelor’s degree in advertising and marketing. In September of 2013 Grace Hill offered her a full time position as the Development and Marketing Coordinator. A roll where she went above and beyond for the last four years.
In this role and with a unique perspective on Grace Hill, Taylor planned the photography lessons for Images of Grace 2017 taking photos on each trip. “Grace Hill helped me build professional skills that will last a lifetime.” Taylor has experience in human resources, event management, and finance. She looks forward to growing these skills as she works towards her master’s degree in international business from Regent's University in London, England this fall.
“Everyday opportunity is having the courage to walk through the doors of Grace Hill, knowing that there are resources that cannot be activated until you bring your ideas.”
Serroge Watts was first introduced to Grace Hill during the Neighborhood Leadership program which encourages neighbors to lead projects where they live. During Neighborhood Leadership classes Serroge put together his own project proposal to provide the opportunity for North City residents to participate in wide spread clean up initiatives. He sees the new housing development in the city and the rise of businesses like the NGA and strongly believes that: “What was once down will one day be up.”
Serroge took this perspective into his photography with Images of Grace. One image that he recalls in particular was captured during a two day span when a red maple tree was in full bloom before quickly dying off again in the humid St. Louis weather. He often walked around with a stool and his camera looking for the right angle and spreading the word about the services offered at Grace Hill. “Images of Grace pushed me to go to new streets and made me brave enough to talk to new people, to explore, and become less introverted.” Serroge plans to continue to be an active member of the community and use his interest in photography to inspire his continued work at STL TV.