Spreading Love and Hope in the Lou

YouthBridge is committed to the sustainability of vital community services that build strong individuals and families. In this article, we highlight a 2020 recipient of our Nonprofit Recovery and Resilience grant, which has also received ongoing support through YouthBridge donor clients.

Lucas Rouggly loves his neighbors. Not only because it’s the Golden Rule, he says, but “because they are some of the most phenomenal, faith-filled people you will ever meet.” Rouggly, Executive Director and Founder of Love the Lou, has made his home in the north side of St. Louis city, where he believes he has been called to serve.

After joining the ministry, Rouggly and his wife started an outreach for the homeless in Portland, Oregon, always believing that someday they would take their mission to the unreached in some faraway country. “We had no idea we’d be led back to Missouri, but the glaring need for racial reconciliation in St. Louis – for the city to be one – called us home,” says the Jackson, Missouri native. “We’ve gone through a number of phases with our work, but we’ve always been driven to see St. Louis restored.”

Photo: LOVEtheLOU

Rouggly knew his first step was to move his family to the heart of where they would be working, so they bought a home in the Vandeventer neighborhood. “It’s not enough to talk about love – you have to show it and meet people where they are,” he says. The initial idea was to start a church, but it quickly became apparent to Rouggly that there were “plenty of those” and what was really needed was a focus on the physical needs, along with the spiritual.

“We were holding a bible study and a young man asked if I might have a pillow he could use,” says Rouggly. “I found out that he didn’t have a bed; he slept on the floor with his head propped on his jacket.” From there, Rouggly says, the gears switched and Love the Lou was created. Early on, Rouggly began enlisting volunteers to help pass out food, pull weeds, fix a neighbor’s plumbing, be anywhere they could “show love” through service, he says.

While the organization has continually evolved over the last dozen years, Rouggly says that three main issues have emerged as the most pressing in their assessment of the community’s needs and those are 1) safety 2) jobs and 3) cleanup of vacant properties in the city. So, Love the Lou has developed three primary pillars of programming to help address these areas, he says. “There are no easy fixes – the issues run deep – but the solutions are here if the people are empowered to own them.”

Through STL LIFT, Love the Lou’s youth mentoring program, the aim is to end the negative trends of gang violence, drug abuse and other destructive paths. The idea developed, says Rouggly, after he became acquainted with a gang that took up residence across the street, each of whom eventually were either taken to jail or shot and killed. “I’d bring them bottled waters and sit down to talk with them, but they’d chosen their path as a way to survive,” he says. “I then got to know their younger brothers and sisters and would ask them, ‘do you want to do something different with your life?’”

The mentoring program – primarily for youth 12-18 – provides counseling; constructive, paid activities, such as gardening, woodworking, landscaping; coaching in life and people skills; and the opportunity to experience the world outside of their neighborhood, with camping, fishing and other retreats. Weekly tutoring also is provided. Rouggly says about 50% of participants in the program go on to college, and all find productive purpose.

Photo: LOVEtheLOU

At the next level, STL LINK is about helping North City residents, 18 and older, develop career paths through apprenticeships with area businesses and individualized curriculum. Internships also are offered through Love the Lou to learn about the various aspects of running an organization. Recently, Love the Lou launched its third pillar, STL LIVE, the organization’s most ambitious initiative to date according to Rouggly. The goal is to restore vacant homes in the North City area through volunteer workers and then enable city residents – many of them first-time home buyers – to enter into rent-to-own agreements for the homes. With the assistance of Grace Church, Rouggly says the first property was purchased, restored and handed over to a family in 2019.

Riding the momentum of Love the Lou’s programs, its many community partnerships and over 1,000 dedicated volunteers, Rouggly says it all came to a halt with the pandemic in 2020. “We were desperate to continue programming as soon as possible, but there was so much uncertainty.” It was then he says they turned to YouthBridge.

For several years, Love the Lou has been introduced to and supported by YouthBridge managed foundations and funds, and in July of last year, received a YouthBridge Nonprofit Recovery and Resilience grant. “We were so grateful, because the grant gave us confidence to push forward,” says Rouggly. He and his team retooled and began emphasizing smaller groups and outdoor activities, until it was safe to resume normal programming.

“There is so much unresolved trauma with COVID and a blanket of hopelessness; I feel we are needed now more than ever before,” says Rouggly.

Callings can be a bit of a mystery, but Rouggly is certain that he and his family are where they need to be and encouraged by the many people that have become part of the mission. “If we can help one family, one student change and thrive, it provides a pathway for others to follow. Ultimately, we want families to be able to stay and have a future in their communities, not have to find it elsewhere.”

If you would like to donate or have any questions about this organization, please contact Allison McDonald.