A trip to the grill for Darren Young these days is about much more than just a meal. It’s the place community organizer, youth pastor, entrepreneur, and chef all meet.
The Neighborhood Leadership Academy is improving communities one project at a time through a neighborhood education program that has quietly been operating in St. Louis for nearly two decades. They have another set of graduates ramping up in south St. Louis with a combination of good food and jobs for teens. Young and his wife, Charlene Lopez-Young, completed the program in autumn of 2018.
“How do we look at our gifts?” he asks when talking about his new project. “How do we also recognize our weaknesses, but how do we leverage the things that we’re naturally good at? For me that’s when the light bulb came on.” Finding a way to take all those strengths and put them to one use began when he and Lopez-Young signed up for the Neighborhood Leadership Academy (NLA), a joint venture between the University of Missouri Extension and the University of Missouri-St. Louis. At the NLS, participants come with an idea for a community project, and learn how to best execute it.
The couple wanted to do something to help their south St. Louis neighborhood – they just weren’t sure what it would or should look like. “We love food, but we love people more,” Lopez-Young said. “So that is woven out throughout our business plan, throughout our mission statement, throughout everything that the Fattened Caf does.” Through the Filipino barbecue food service business the launched with the assistance of the NLA, they will be partnering with the St. Louis Public Schools and helping kids they were already working with in their “day jobs”.