The Courage to Dream, the Skills to Build, the Resources to Own the Future

Equity, as in ownership, can build social equity, says Michael Woods, co-founder and Executive Director of Dream Builders 4 Equity. “When you give people ownership of their communities, they realize the power they have to change the systems holding them back,” he says.

This philosophy is the foundation on which the nonprofit – established in 2016 by Woods and co-founder Neal Richardson – has developed youth-centered programming aimed at creating opportunities for students to become entrepreneurs, for home ownership among residents in low-income communities, for minority contractors to grow their businesses, and for residents to be part of revitalizing their neighborhoods.

Through the Dream Builders 4 Equity Real Estate Program, high school and college students tackle the rehabilitation of vacant properties in North St. Louis, earning wages as they work alongside local minority contractors through every phase of renovation. The revenue from the sale of the properties is then invested into college savings funds for the students, who also journal throughout their experience, turning their work into self-published books and receiving 100% of proceeds from book sales. The Book Program was the brainchild of Woods, a published author. “Again, it’s giving them each the resources to own their future and narrative,” he says.

“Without exposure to these vital things – knowledge, skills, role models – young people can feel trapped and hopeless,” says Sarah Kaufmann. Kaufmann is a director for the Wayne C. Kaufmann Charitable Foundation (named in honor of her father), a family foundation managed by YouthBridge. The foundation has supported Dream Builders 4 Equity since 2019 and recently awarded a $50,000 grant toward its strategic plan to renovate 25 homes – concentrated in the Hyde Park neighborhood – by 2025. “My hope has always been that as more community members buy into this mission with their resources, we can make a big difference in how these neighborhoods are perceived and valued as part of the city as a whole,” she says.

Woods says he and Richardson are grateful for the “believers,” including YouthBridge, which provided the organization’s very first grant in 2017, he says. YouthBridge also supported Dream Builders 4 Equity with a COVID Relief grant in 2020.