IMPACT STORIES



A+E Impact Stories

GATEWAY MUSIC OUTREACH: AmerenCares Equity in the Arts Grantee 

This spring, several Gateway Music Outreach (GMO) students participated in the Middle School District Music Festival, held annually for woodwind, brass, and string students at Holman Middle School in Bridgeton, Missouri. This competition is for local young musicians to perform solo and ensemble pieces judged by area music educators. For the months leading up to the competition, GMO's first-time competitors studied with their teachers, perfecting and memorizing their classical stringed instrument pieces for the big day. Their work paid off as each musician received fantastic scores! “Solo and ensemble festival participation encourages students to examine their pieces' musical form and phrasing, teaching them the importance of presentation in a performance. GMO's Adopt-A-Musician Program aids in this by subsidizing the cost of private lessons and helping students prepare repertoire for the festival. Seeing these young, budding musicians participate for the first time was fantastic!" - James McKay, GMO Co-Founder and Music Director.

Dedicated to empowering the community it serves, Gateway Music Outreach breaks down social barriers, bridges divides, and amplifies the voices of the people through arts, education, and volunteerism. GMO actively works to remove systemic barriers to achievement by meeting students and families where they are, providing tailored resources, and fostering a supportive culture that helps students develop their individual goals. Ensuring access to quality music education is essential, which is why GMO prioritizes offering private lessons during school hours or as part of after-school activities whenever possible. "Thanks to the AmerenCares grant, we have been able to make this possible. We strongly believe that music can be a powerful tool for personal and academic growth, and we are dedicated to making it accessible to underserved communities," said James McKay.

Gateway Music Outreach provides access to affordable quality instrumental music programming for underserved youth in the St. Louis metropolitan area. As a comprehensive instrumental music program, they are designed to build an orchestra at the host site. Since their incorporation in March of 2017, GMO has provided programming to over 250 students through their Adopt-A-Musician Program, Community Youth Orchestra, Summer String Institute, Young Musicians Workshop Series and Year-Round School and Community-Based Programs. More than 90% of the students participating in the programs were provided access to instrumental instruction for the first time. 


Gateway Music Outreach is a 2023-24 recipient of the AmerenCares Equity in the Arts Philanthropic Grant Program, a unique example of a shift in philanthropic giving designed to proactively and deliberately meet the needs of under-resourced and historically underrepresented nonprofits in the St. Louis region. This year, in the second year of the grant, 18 recipient organizations were each awarded a minimum of $5,000 for a collective total of nearly $125,000. These organizations are racially and ethnically diverse at the decision-making level, empowering artistic voices and dreams.  

POINTE OF SURRENDER DANCE STUDIO: AmerenCares Equity in the Arts Grantee 

Let’s heal. Let’s dance.” Erica Hill, Director of Point of Surrender Dance Studio, located in Florissant, Missouri, is dedicated to sharing the joy and freedom of the arts, empowering dancers to find their surrender through the universal language of creative arts and dance. Beginning at age two, children have the opportunity to learn creative movement with ballet, tap and jazz-inspired exercises. As they grow, dancers can study those dance forms more deeply, as well as learn hip hop, step, tumbling, musical theater, among others, with winter and spring recitals to showcase their learning and talent. To increase access for more young artists, Pointe of Surrender established The Essence of Dance Scholarship Fund, which provides for students to study the principles of self-discipline, commitment, and perseverance that are lifelong lessons for success. Students are equipped through social and emotional workshops, academic and economic goal setting workshops, group projects, field explorations and more. Through this funding, students of all social, cultural, and economic backgrounds can experience the transformative power of dance. As one young dancer shared, this scholarship is “supporting my dance journey and helping me and my family with tuition. I am so grateful!

Pointe of Surrender is a 2024 recipient of the AmerenCares Equity in the Arts Philanthropic Grant, which funded The Essence of Dance Scholarship Fund. The AmerenCares grant is a unique example of a shift in philanthropic giving designed to proactively and deliberately meet the needs of under-resourced and historically underrepresented nonprofits in the St. Louis region. In 2023-24, the second year of the grant, 18 recipient organizations were each awarded a minimum of $5,000 for a collective total of nearly $125,000. These organizations are racially and ethnically diverse at the decision-making level, empowering artistic voices and dreams.  

SAINT LOUIS STORY STITCHERS: AmerenCares Equity in the Arts Grantee 

Many years ago there was a stitcher who liked to embroider stories from the newspaper. One afternoon she was stitching about two sisters who were shot on their porch in University City. One sister died. Two brothers were arrested for the crime. The stitcher reflected on the power of stitching throughout history, of the Aids quilt and quilts on the Underground Railroad. She determined to join with others to create change. In August 2013 eight artists gathered in Old North St. Louis and founded the Saint Louis Story Stitchers Artists Collective — to make change.” (storystitchers.org)


Story Stitchers utilizes a collaborative studio model, joining creative youth development and intergenerational experiential learning, to develop and present high quality original works of art to the public. Story Stitchers is a youth-driven organization, taking its focus from youth interests and needs, many of which center around public health and safety and holistic youth wellness. "Story Stitchers helped me become more open minded about my community and what I can do to change it," a youth participant shared.


Support received by the AmerenCares Equity in the Arts Philanthropic Grant strengthened key programs in 2024, bringing the voices of Black youth to the forefront through the youth-led, award-winning podcast, StitchCast Studio, available on all major podcast platforms. Another signature program is a production about youth empowerment rooted in Missouri's Black History called The WHY of MY City - Fair Ground, and Open Studios, gives young people access to The Center, Story Stitchers' studio space for creative youth development in music and the arts. The Center, a concept developed by young people at Story Stitchers, serves as a safe space to gather, create, learn, explore, intern, engage with adult mentors, share meals, play and relax.


Through Story Stitchers, young artists of color join hands to lift themselves up into healthy, happy adulthood while learning to be engaged, responsible citizens. "StitchCast has helped tremendously with my mental outlook on life. I always feel better coming from Story Stitchers events than I do on a regular basis," said a youth participant.


In 2024, StitchCast Studio, The WHY of MY City, and Open Studios at The Center received support from the AmerenCares Equity in the Arts Philanthropic Grant through an $8,000 award to Saint Louis Story Stitchers Artists Collective.

The AmerenCares Equity in the Arts Philanthropic Grant Program is a unique example of a shift in philanthropic giving designed to proactively and deliberately meet the needs of under-resourced and historically underrepresented nonprofits in the St. Louis region. In 2023-24, the second year of the grant, 18 recipient organizations were each awarded a minimum of $5,000 for a collective total of nearly $125,000. These organizations are racially and ethnically diverse at the decision-making level, empowering artistic voices and dreams.  

FREEDOM ARTS & EDUCATION CENTER: AmerenCares Equity in the Arts Grantee 

In the summer of 2012, as nationwide funding for arts programs were being cut at startling rates, Freedom Arts organized their first event at a local park inviting young people to learn bucket drumming alongside various African dance styles. From that event, Freedom Arts began to offer recurring arts workshops to children. Within the next year, a group of twenty children became the first cohort of students, participating in myriad arts opportunities and after school tutoring, always focused on student voice and strengthening bonds. This laid a strong foundation to build a village within St. Louis and, as a testament to the power of their efforts, several of the first students are now Freedom Arts staff members, carrying the program to the next level through their growth. 


Inspired by Fred Hampton and the Black Panthers mission to feed the people, teach the people, and heal the people, Freedom Arts is a team of like minded artists, educators, and organizers committed to making a positive impact in St. Louis, particularly for those living in systemically under-resourced areas. Not only does Freedom Arts advocate for youth and provide arts and academic enrichment, the organization is committed to supporting young people using their voices and artistry to impact the broader community. Understanding that the arts provide outlets and hones skills necessary to shift ideas and communities, under the direction of their youth, Freedom Arts has participated in local and national campaigns to right the ship for young people across the country, including as members of the Missouri Coalition of Debt Free Justice, a national campaign to abolish fines and fees incurred in the juvenile justice system, through the development of community gardens, and myriad other community initiatives. 


Despite periodic pushback for standing up for Black lives, the Freedom Arts team presses on in their mission to feed, teach and heal using the arts as a catalyst for individual and community growth. As they grow, so do their goals of continuing to provide the best resources for their youth to keep classrooms and studios vibrant with resources, and the less glamorous but critical efforts that sustain small, mighty teams like becoming ADA compliant and providing health insurance for every staff member to ensure each is cared for and resourced in this demanding work. It’s through this thoughtful, community-centered effort that Freedom Arts embodies the work they aim to empower young people to do out in the world.

The AmerenCaresgrant allows us to increase arts programming in our after school program. Our Teaching Artists have been able to devote more time to lesson planning, enabling our scholars to increase their artistic skills. Our drumline has started rehearsing again, we have explored sculpture and new visual art styles, and we recently took a field trip to Julia Davis Library to use their Creative Experience Lab and get library cards. All of this was made possible by the generous investment from AmerenCares and the Arts & Education Council.” - Andrew Gibson, Executive Director


Freedom Arts and Education Center is a 2023-24 recipient of the AmerenCares Equity in the Arts Philanthropic Grant Program, a unique example of a shift in philanthropic giving designed to proactively and deliberately meet the needs of under-resourced and historically underrepresented nonprofits in the St. Louis region. This year, in the second year of the grant, 18 recipient organizations were each awarded a minimum of $5,000 for a collective total of nearly $125,000. These organizations are racially and ethnically diverse at the decision-making level, empowering artistic voices and dreams. 

FERGUSON YOUTH INITIATIVE (FYI): AmerenCares Equity in the Arts Grantee 

One evening this spring, teens gathered at an area high school for a fun evening of poetry and music, showcasing the tremendous student talent and community love for which Ferguson Youth Initiative (FYI) is known. Aaron Harris, FYI’s Executive Director, was even seen breaking it down on the dance floor, always able to find ways to connect and create joy with St. Louis’ young people.

Ferguson Youth Initiative empowers teens from Ferguson and surrounding communities to become productive, positive and contributing members of the community through artistic opportunities, along with community service, college and job readiness programs, after-school activities, among others.


"Through the AmerenCares Equity in the Arts grant we were able to magnify the voices and creativity of students in the Ferguson Florissant School district by hosting a SLAM poetry event at Innovation High School in Cool Valley,” shared Aaron Harris.

Ferguson Youth Initiative is a 2023-24 recipient of the AmerenCares Equity in the Arts Philanthropic Grant Program, a unique example of a shift in philanthropic giving designed to proactively and deliberately meet the needs of under-resourced and historically underrepresented nonprofits in the St. Louis region. This year, in the second year of the grant, 18 recipient organizations were each awarded a minimum of $5,000 for a collective total of nearly $125,000. These organizations are racially and ethnically diverse at the decision-making level, empowering artistic voices and dreams. 

ARTISTS FIRST: AmerenCares Equity in the Arts Grantee 

Imagine a creative environment established to facilitate experiences where every participant can explore their artistic potential, where each person’s unique contributions are nurtured and celebrated, and where that collective effort is made visible through inclusive programming, collaborative projects, and art exhibitions, among other events, enabling all St. Louisans access to the transformative power of the arts.


Artists First is dedicated to fostering creativity and empowerment through art. Their commitment to equity and inclusion translates to providing a platform for artists of all abilities and backgrounds. This is evident through the variety of programs they offer, such as Adult and Youth Open Studio, Artists First for Veterans, and Portfolio, which provide opportunities for artists to express themselves and deepen their skills. Artists First also offers programs like Opening Minds Through Art, which helps reveal the creative abilities of people with dementia, and Healing Trauma of Isms, which addresses the impact of various forms of oppression. Grant funding plays a crucial role in increasing Artists First’s reach.


Healing Trauma of Isms, funded by the AmerenCares Equity in the Arts grant, uses art and conversation stemming from the creative process to explore the lasting effects of race-based trauma.  Recently, youth participants were invited to create masks using multimedia to explore their identities. Staff facilitated conversations on thoughts and feelings that arose through the process. Issues of racism, xenophobia, and religious discrimination were explored topics many students had not discussed before. Staff and youth alike shared that making space for creativity, vulnerability and connection was transformative.


 "Ameren has demonstrated understanding and commitment to equity in the arts. The support from the AmerenCares grant has been instrumental in propelling Artists First forward in expanding our equity work through the powerful medium of creative self-expression," Sheila Suderwalla, Executive Director.


Artists First is a 2023-24 recipient of the AmerenCares Equity in the Arts Philanthropic Grant Program, a unique example of a shift in philanthropic giving designed to proactively and deliberately meet the needs of under-resourced and historically underrepresented nonprofits in the St. Louis region. This year, in the second year of the grant, 18 recipient organizations were each awarded a minimum of $5,000 for a collective total of nearly $125,000. These organizations are racially and ethnically diverse at the decision-making level, empowering artistic voices and dreams.  

DIFFERENT DYNAMICS: Arts & Healing Initiative Grantee 

Realizing the music community she was rooted in only included people of some abilities and neurotypes, Jessica Ingram was motivated to found Different Dynamics. In 2017, Jessica was accepted into Washington University’s Social Enterprise Impact Accelerator (SEIA) to create a more inclusive community through music. Six months later, with support from Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, Different Dynamics was officially established. 

Different Dynamics’ mission is to champion access to the life-changing power of music for people of all neurotypes and abilities. A collective of music educators, special educators, musicians, and disability activists and advocates, the organization works to provide support, services, and activities for people with cognitive and developmental disabilities to improve their mental health and quality of life through the power of music. The dedicated team creates inclusive spaces for music-making and concert attendance that embrace neurodiversity, making music accessible to individuals with different thinking, communication, and perception styles.

In Fall 2023, Different Dynamics opened their first music studio in Webster Groves, MO, and launched The Music Exploratorium. This inclusive, adaptive music class welcomes people of all neurotypes, abilities, and support levels to come together and enjoy the power of music. The Music Exploratorium is “a safe space where my daughter can express herself through music and instruments, and she’s supported and celebrated for her uniqueness,” shared a participant’s parent. On average, the organization serves more than 2,000 individuals each year through community music-making, professional development for music educators, and sensory concert production, all aimed at enhancing the mental health and quality of life of people with disabilities through the transformative power of music. 

Different Dynamics is a 2023-24 recipient of the Arts and Healing Initiative, a partnership with Missouri Foundation for Health, designed to increase the capacity to heal through the arts and improve the quality of life for people throughout the region. In this 5th year of the grant, 10 organizations were awarded a collective total of $100,000. Each organization has a primary mission concerned with arts, arts education, healing and well-being. 

CIRCUS HARMONY: Arts & Healing Initiative Grantee 

In 1988, Jessica Hentoff formed the St. Louis Arches youth circus troupe. The troupe received rave reviews and with them a desire to bring circus arts to more young people across the city. In 2001, Circus Harmony was born, a nonprofit dedicated to helping children learn to defy gravity and other perceived limitations. 


Driven to motivate social change through circus arts, Circus Harmony is the only social circus organization in St. Louis. Welcoming children of all ages from across the city, Circus Harmony invites students to learn circus skills while building character and community bridges through the process. With classes like Peace Through Pyramids and Circus Teaches the Art of Life, students are provided tools for artistic expression, teamwork, and life skills like financial literacy and communication across differences. 

Circus Harmony has supported thousands of young people in their journey through the years. Many alumni take the circus arts and life lessons learned and pay them forward as teachers, performers, and motivational speakers.


Alum Sidney Iking Bateman, a member of The 7 Fingers arts collective and Cirque de Soleil performer, launched his own motivational speaking nonprofit organization to help children create their own life maps to navigate systemic barriers in order to thrive.


Circus Harmony is a 2023-24 recipient of the Arts and Healing Initiative, a partnership with Missouri Foundation for Health, designed to increase the capacity to heal through the arts and improve the quality of life for people throughout the region. In this 5th year of the grant, 10 organizations were awarded a collective total of $100,000. Each organization has a primary mission concerned with arts, arts education, healing and well-being. 

THE CORE COLLECTIVE AT SAINT VINCENT: Arts & Healing Initiative Grantee 

Founded in 1850 in response to a cholera pandemic and city-wide fire, The Core Collective at Saint Vincent (The CC) has served children and youth in crisis for 174 years. During that time, The CC has continually adapted its programs to meet community needs  In December 2022, the agency unveiled a new organizational vision and mission, informed by listening sessions with community members and stakeholders. Formerly St. Vincent Home for Children, The CC now reflects an emphasis on collaboration to meet the needs of an expanded service population: youth ages 16 and up, their families, and the community. Each year, The CC helps 750+ at-risk youth who have experienced trauma and adverse experiences and need intensive support to heal. The CC provides housing and wraparound services for youth ages 16-22 via the Transitional Living Program (TLP), community-based mental health support to youth ages 6-19, street outreach to unhoused or youth at-risk of housing instability, and hosts community youth at The Hub, a recreation and resource center. c , street outreach to unhoused or youth at-risk of housing instability, and hosts community youth at The Hub, a recreation and resource center.


Youth in the Transitional Living Program (TLP) are provided comprehensive therapeutic services, including art therapy. "Art therapy has been incredibly beneficial for me in expressing myself and my creativity. Through art, I have found a powerful outlet for channeling my emotions and processing my past experiences. Unlike traditional therapy, art therapy has truly empowered me to express myself and confront my past. I am determined to continue with art therapy in the future," shared a participant. Art therapy at The CC is supported by funds from the Arts and Healing Initiative.


The Core Collective at Saint Vincent is a 2023-24 recipient of the Arts and Healing Initiative, a partnership with Missouri Foundation for Health, designed to increase the capacity to heal through the arts and improve the quality of life for people throughout the region. In this 5th year of the grant, 10 organizations were awarded a collective total of $100,000. Each organization has a primary mission concerned with arts, arts education, healing and well-being.

Photo shows artwork created by youth in art therapy at The CC.