During its last fiscal year, the Assistance League of St. Louis and its nearly 500 members logged 63,200 volunteer hours, serving more than 21,000 St. Louisans. Those numbers represent a strong commitment to transforming lives. For more than 35 years, the nonprofit has used its community programs to make a tangible impact on the region. One of the largest chapters in the national Assistance League organization, the nonprofit is operated entirely by volunteers, and it’s evident the league’s members are dedicated.

The Assistance League has five community programs. “We believe that education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty, so all of our programs are connected to it,” president Denise McKibben says. One of the nonprofit’s major initiatives is Books From Friends. Last year, the literacy program provided books to more than 14,200 aspiring young readers in 36 schools. “The American Academy of Pediatrics says exposure to books and reading goes far in assisting children toward success in the future,” McKibben notes. “Through Books From Friends, we want to inspire kids to learn and love to read, not just read to learn.”

The primary way Books From Friends inspires literacy is through book festivals at local schools. Last year, the Assistance League held 11 events, including those organized in partnership with Gwendolyn Diggs, Ed.D., vice president of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis’ Head Start program. The festivals begin with a character parade where volunteers dress as popular characters like Pete the Cat and Clifford the Big Red Dog. “It’s incredible to see the kids light up when they see these characters,” McKibben notes. “They’ve read the books, so it creates a connection.” After the parade, students get to enjoy a puppet show inspired by Why Not You? by Ciara and Russell Wilson, listen to stories and choose two books to take home. At some festivals, older students get to meet with local author Micheal Anderson, who helps inspire the exploration of STEM topics and related careers.

The Assistance League’s other programming includes Operation School Bell, which provides students with new school uniforms, winter coats, hygiene kits and more. It also operates AL’s Closets in 36 schools to help meet students’ basic needs. Steps to Success provides new athletic shoes to more than 3,400 students. To help survivors of domestic abuse, Project ROSE provides essential items to women in shelters and scholarships to St. Louis Community College. The Assistance League also operates an outreach program to support the urgent needs of families in crisis.

To make its important services possible, the Assistance League operates an upscale resale shop in Creve Coeur called Fantastic Finds. One of the nonprofit’s other largest fundraisers is its annual Imagine! gala. This year’s event will be Nov. 11 at Doubletree by Hilton-Chesterfield and is themed Rhinestone Cowboy. McKibben notes that guests can look forward to an amazing evening, including a live auction lead by emcee Rene Knott with items like a cooking class at Frank Papa’s, visits to luxurious vacation homes and tickets to Cardinals and Blues games. “Not only is Imagine! our primary fundraiser, it’s always a lot of fun,” she says. “This year, we’re offering people a glittering cowboy and cowgirl experience while they step up and support our programs.”

Completely run by volunteers, the Assistance League of St. Louis puts caring and commitment into action through community-based, philanthropic programs. Its Imagine! Rhinestone Cowboy Gala is Nov. 11 at Doubletree by Hilton-Chesterfield. Pictured on the cover: Gwendolyn Diggs, Ed.D., of Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis and the Assistance League advisory council, Assistance League president Denise McKibben and author Micheal Anderson with students from Iveland Elementary School. For more information, call 636.227.6200 or visit alstl.org.

Cover design by Julie Streiler
Cover photo by Tim Parker Photography

Cutline: Assistance League volunteers give away books at the Urban Expo Back to School & Community Empowerment Festival
Photo courtesy of Assistance League of St. Louis