In just four short years – she came to St. Louis in 2009 – the now 26-year-old New York native has rapidly built a life of passionate and fulfilling civic engagement. Her ability to do that is part of the reason she so loves living in her adopted new home.
“There are so many people here doing amazing things,” she says. “I think there’s just a unique energy in the community of young professionals and entrepreneurs and artists. The city already offers so much, and yet at the same time, there’s so much opportunity to build on what we have and make it better.
“And all you have to be is willing” she adds. “No one is trying to block your way. Young professionals can have a lot of responsibility and impact.”
Rosa’s own story speaks to the truth of such reflections, and also illustrates some of the reasons why, in recent years, the St. Louis area has reversed an old trend and begun attracting more 25-34 years olds than it was losing. Rosa’s story also illustrates some of the reasons why the City of St. Louis led the nation between 2000 and 2010 in the percentage growth of 25 to 34 year olds with a college degree living in the urban core.
Rosa came to St. Louis in 2009 to join AmeriCorps, the federally sponsored service organization, having just graduated from the State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz. Through AmeriCorps she landed a job with College Bound, a local nonprofit that provides promising students from under-resourced backgrounds with the academic enrichment, social supports and life skills needed to succeed in college and careers. She loved the work, but after a year she felt she needed to earn more money.
Her timing, however, was poor. It was 2010, not long after the nation’s financial collapse, and opportunities were scarce. So Rosa made plans to go to San Francisco, where she thought she might have better luck.
Before giving up completely on St. Louis, though, she decided to try something bold. She wrote an email to Mayor Francis Slay, whom she’d never met, telling him she was a young college graduate eager to contribute to the community, but unable to find work.
To her complete shock, she got a reply. An aide to the Mayor suggested she contact several people involved in the community who might know of opportunities.
Rosa quickly followed up, and soon learned of a position managing a “co-working space” in a downtown office building. The term describes a space where entrepreneurs of various kinds share office space and benefit from both low costs and the opportunity to exchange ideas.
She grabbed it, and hasn’t looked back.
A year later, Rosa got hired by the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis to manage another co-location space, this one in a giant, largely vacant downtown office building where civic leaders wanted to jumpstart new tech firms. In two years the space, called T-REx, has grown from nothing to occupy two floors and 100,000 square feet, filled by 70 startups with 200 employees. The venture’s success – and its impact on downtown and the morale of the whole region – has been beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.
Meanwhile, Rosa moved into a duplex in the South Grand neighborhood with a couple of roommates. That puts her close enough to downtown to be able to peddle to work, then park her bike in the new Downtown Bicycle Station. And it puts her in the middle of a thriving district of small, ethnic restaurants, as well as a short walk from St. Louis’s gorgeous, Victorian-era Tower Grove Park, where she loves to spread out her newspapers on Sunday.
At the same time, Rosa has begun immersing herself in the community in other ways. She joined the board of a nonprofit, Perennial, which “up-cycles” discarded items like banged-up old furniture into beautiful objects that people can reuse, and which is itself run by a 20-something Texas native, Jenny Murphy, who has also fallen in love with St. Louis. She began helping one of her roommates promote her new designer jewelry store in the emerging, ethnically diverse Cherokee Street neighborhood in South St. Louis. And she joined a group of other like-minded young people who meet every Tuesday night in a “Lounge Club” to talk about what’s going on in the city and how they can help.
At such meetings, Rosa is consistently astonished by the resources of the community and the willingness of people to help. “Any time you need something, it appears,” she says. “You put it out there, and somebody knows somebody who can – and will – do it.”