Leisure Features

A Tradition of Service

Communities function better when people from all backgrounds team up to improve where we live, work, learn and play, not just for themselves but for everyone. Being involved with the Veiled Prophet Organization means embracing such a commitment. Members and their families, including the maids of honor at this year’s ball, continuously work alongside other volunteers to continue a tradition of service.

The organization’s Community Service Initiative (CSI), started in 2002, provides countless volunteer opportunities each year. Its most extensive project to date is the building of an outdoor learning space and playground at The Biome School in Midtown. Opened in 2015, the charter school currently serves kindergarten through third grade and is expanding each year. Its focus is hands-on, project-based STEAM education (science, technology, engineering, arts and math).

Volunteers build playground equipment at the Biome School. Photo: Bill Barrett

“The outdoor learning area is a two-phase project,” says Troy Duncan, vice chair of community service for the VP. “We’ve already poured concrete, put down mulch and built the playground; in the spring, maids who are home from college will help us landscape the area with more than 1,100 native Missouri plants.” The Biome School project will include new playground equipment, green space and an outdoor classroom where students can learn about the natural world. The effort has included volunteers from the Royal Vagabonds Foundation, a fraternal organization that began in the 1930s as a social club for African-American businessmen.

“Our collaboration with the Royal Vagabonds is one of the most exciting developments of the last couple of years,” says Jim Johnson, the VP’s outgoing chair of community service, who is finishing his term and handing the reins to Duncan in 2018. “They are a group of successful, professional men who want to give back. Some of our members belong to the Vagabonds as well. We’ve been listening to their ideas about other ways we can work together to improve the community.” Royal Vagabonds volunteers also partnered with the VP last year to complete a school playground project in Ferguson.

Duncan owns PK Construction, which has donated volunteer time and materials for The Biome School effort. Many other VP members’ companies and employers contribute to CSI projects as well. Duncan says they used to be completed mainly by the VP maids and their fathers, but now, other family members and volunteers get involved. “We’ve been very glad to see our efforts expanding to include more of the community,” he says. “My kids have worked with me on projects since they were very young. I think it helps them better understand and appreciate other people and the community.” Volunteering for CSI means pitching in and working hard, and it brings a real sense of satisfaction and purpose, he notes.

Johnson says he also is glad more hands are helping. “Four years ago, we had about 310 volunteers working on CSI projects,” he notes. “Now we have about 750.” CSI is shooting to have 1,000 volunteers in 2018, and Duncan says that goal is within reach since so many VP members want to get their families and friends involved. “Many of our newer members tell us that the service aspect is the main reason they wanted to join the organization,” Johnson says. “Initiatives like The Biome School are something the whole community can be proud of and support, and they enjoy being part of that.”

According to Duncan, VP members are encouraged to keep the momentum going by continually suggesting new charities CSI can partner with on future projects. “We tell members, ‘Find an organization that is meaningful to you, and we’ll add it to the list and figure out how we can help,’” he says. “The VP’s ethic of growing in service comes from its leadership and is passed on to each new member.”

2016 VP Queen Eliza Johnson helps with a Brightside St. Louis project. Photo courtesy of the VP Foundation

Johnson says the VP Organization appreciates the churches and other nonprofits that do important work to unify St. Louis, and it frequently asks how it can help them. “It’s about embedding the idea of service into everything we do,” he notes. “When we contribute more time and effort each year, it sets a good example and spurs other groups to do the same.”

It was a banner year for community service all around, and the coming year brings further promises of growth, Duncan says. “The 34 CSI projects we completed in 2017 have been very successful, and that keeps people motivated and interested in what we do,” he notes. Other 2017 initiatives included sending care packages to military serving overseas, an affordable giftshopping event and breakfast for families in need, giving supplies to area students and kids in foster care, and school landscaping and beautification work.

“CSI’s efforts throughout the year improve our neighborhoods and allow a wide cross-section of groups to interact with each other,” Duncan says. “The people you are helping really can see that you care. That’s always a positive thing. And we have a lot of exciting ideas on the table for 2018.

Pictured above: A playground project at Zion Lutheran Church in Ferguson
Photo courtesy of the VP Foundation