Ken and Beverly Jenkins used to stand in the parking lot of the old shopping plaza in Dellwood, back when it was a shell of its previous self, and pray.
The plaza, at 10148 West Florissant Avenue, had been anchored by a Schnucks supermarket and had stood vacant for nearly 20 years. The Jenkinses, both pastors, saw potential in the plaza, in the community, in its people.
“We would talk about changing the narrative,” Ken Jenkins says. “Everybody (in the media and from outside the community) that descends in this area, they only talk about the bad things — the racial struggles, and the unrest, and the disinvestment, which has all happened. But we talk about the possibility, of changing a story.”
The couple, who live in Florissant, hosted a grand opening in September at the plaza, a $20 million, nearly 90,000-square-foot development they call R&R Marketplace. It’s owned by their nonprofit, Refuge and Restoration, which started as a transitional home that had helped men who had been incarcerated, unhoused, unemployed, or underemployed.
For about 20 years, Refuge and Restoration has also managed a career-training program called Jobs for Life that has helped more than 3,000 people move into more meaningful and stable careers.
“For us, Refuge and Restoration really means a safe place to be restored,” Ken Jenkins says. “We always say, everybody always needs a little R and R.”
Tenants of the marketplace include Employ St. Louis, North County Innovation Center, Assisted Recovery Centers of America, a daycare center called Brilliant Angels Academy, a second location for Cathy’s Kitchen, and a branch of Midwest BankCentre. The restaurant and daycare center are still under construction, with plans to open in early 2024.
A second phase of development, with construction to begin next year, will include a black-box theater, the Refuge and Restoration non-denominational church, an area for video and media production, and a commercial kitchen.
The effort, about 10 years in the making, wasn’t easy. The Jenkinses weren’t used to raising large amounts of money, but they knew how to connect with people.
They were able to lock in more than $4 million from U.S. Bancorp Impact Finance, which provided philanthropic contributions and investments facilitated by $13 million New Markets Tax Credit allocations from Heartland Regional Investment Fund and USBCDE, U.S. Bank’s community development entity. Midwest BankCentre also loaned them $5.75 million.
“We have faith, but at the end of the day, you have to have capital,” Beverly Jenkins says. “But we believe that it works hand in hand.”
Aligning with a Mission
Midwest BankCentre has committed to loaning $200 million for community development projects throughout the region.
As bank officials looked at the Dellwood area, they learned there were 35 predatory lending businesses within a five-mile radius of the marketplace, says Wes Burns, the bank’s executive vice president for community and economic development.
The bank wants to help people who have been sucked into the cycle of payday lending, and partner with those who use other services at the marketplace. When the bank’s executives first met the Jenkinses several years ago, they knew their missions aligned.
“One of the things that the bank finds so endearing about Pastors Ken and Beverly Jenkins is just how humble they are, how compassionate they are, and how intentional they are about their approach,” Burns says. “They are not real estate developers. They were not just looking for an opportunity to redevelop a piece of real estate and fill it with any tenant. They were looking for intention for the partners they were seeking to bring into the space at Dellwood. And we’ve found that concept to be extremely thoughtful, extremely well-intentioned. And frankly, we’re excited to be a part of it.”
Said William Carson, vice president and senior business development officer for USBIF: “Refuge and Restoration has shown that they understand the needs and aspirations of Dellwood and Ferguson residents, and we are thrilled to be their partner in creating R&R Marketplace.”
Dealing with finances, talking construction, and making a business plan is all new territory for the couple. Beverly Jenkins grew up in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, and Ken Jenkins, who grew up in Gary, Indiana, moved with his parents and siblings to Dellwood when his father retired.
The couple met through his brother and sister-in-law, Jerome and Cathy Jenkins, who own Cathy’s Kitchen, a popular restaurant in Ferguson. They were engaged within three months and got married within the year. “Everybody thought we were crazy,” Ken Jenkins says.
Neither had been raised in the church, but they started attending services because that’s what they thought they needed to do to be good spouses.
Ken Jenkins had a career in corporate recruiting. Beverly Jenkins did a variety of things — consulting, substitute teaching, but mostly ministry. They became youth pastors, and hosted Bible study groups in their home. That evolved into their own church and nonprofit, both called Refuge and Restoration.
They raised four children and established roots in North County, growing their church community and network of family and friends. That helped the banks and business partners have faith in the Jenkinses.
“They knew that we were in this for the long haul,” Beverly Jenkins says. “We’d already been here. We have no plans of going anywhere else. Our kids are here. We’d love for them to stay here, or at least in St. Louis. This is home.”
After the 2014 police killing of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson and the uprising that followed, the couple were asked to lead a Bible study group for predominantly white executives and to talk about race. They developed more friendships and connections, and they learned how others viewed their community.
Ken Jenkins remembered media reports saying there was “no hope” in Ferguson. “That wasn’t true,” he said. “People just need access to resources.”
Meanwhile, the Jenkinses kept hearing from people in their own community about the resources they wanted: more local investment, more job opportunities, even nicer grocery stores.
“And not just because there’s no food around here,” Beverly Jenkins says. “It’s just that we’re like, we want an organic banana, too.”
The couple came up with a structure for the project, supported by five pillars: early childhood education, workforce development, small business development, banking, and the multiplex that includes the church and community resources.
“That was what we considered to be the ‘God vision’ — things that have to be in place in order for this to really work,” Beverly Jenkins says.
Meanwhile, many connections and friendships led to people with more funds and even more connections.
“We were actually doing racial reconciliation,” Ken Jenkins says. “It became organic. We were meeting all kinds of folks. We never approached people and said, ‘hey, give us money.’ We said, ‘hey, come look at what we’re doing. Let us share this vision with you. Let’s get lunch. Let’s talk. How many kids have you got? This is our family.’ And we really have always taken that approach.”
Beverly Jenkins adds: “We had this circle that went from one or two people over 10 years grow to hundreds of people saying, ‘hey, we are on board with this.’”
Still, they didn’t have a location.
Establishing a Home Base
The Jenkinses kept coming back to the vacant shopping plaza at 10148 West Florissant Avenue. Like many properties in the area, the owner wasn’t local. If they were willing to sell, they wanted more than its worth. For years, they haggled with the plaza owner, who lived in another state.
“It got to the point for us we called it a civil rights issue,” Ken Jenkins says. “This is why you will see a community blighted, because it’s held hostage by the people who are controlling the real estate. And so for us, that made it even more personal. This is when we kind of dug in and knew, OK, God, this is what you’re calling us to. This is bigger than just buying a piece of property.”
When they finally closed the deal, people noticed. For years, people dumped trash and construction debris on the property, but when the Refuge and Restoration sign went up, the dumping stopped.
“Now it raises the level of expectation,” Ken Jenkins says.
They wanted the facility to be high-tech and beautiful. On a recent tour of the facility, the Jenkinses showed off the North County Innovation Center’s (NCIC) podcast studio, workout room, and meeting spaces that make it easy to connect in person and virtually.
Visitors can enter a branch of Midwest BankCentre from the outside, and an interior door connects it with the innovation center, a design decision that’s both symbolic and practical.
“The bank is saying that we’re here on purpose,” Beverly Jenkins says.
Julian Keaton is the director of the innovation center. He’s an entrepreneur who grew up in the St. Louis neighborhood of Walnut Park, another community in need of resources and support.
Here, he’s charged with filling the seats and offices within the coworking space as well as setting up networking and educational programming. The NCIC offers lunch programs on topics like marketing and the legal pitfalls of operating a business.
Keaton plans to ask the innovators, as they call the tenants of the offices, what they need to grow and succeed. He sees their potential.
“I think about that every day,” he said. “I think about it in my sleep. In all honesty, I dream about it.”
“But I know the constituents I grew up with have dreams, they all have hopes, they all have aspirations,” Keaton adds. “And so do the people of North County. How do we support these folks to get where they want to go? That’s what fuels me — to be able to help the next person be able to achieve their dream.”
On the other side of the Midwest BankCentre branch is a large classroom space and offices for Employ St. Louis, which uses a modified version of the Jobs for Life program the Jenkinses have utilized for years. Previously, the cohorts had met in community centers and church halls, so the permanent home base, conveniently situated on a bus line, will help everyone, the Jenkinses explain.
Employ St. Louis helps teens through adults build things like communication and conflict resolution skills to help them advance and grow in their careers, says Shonda Gray, the program’s director.
“We just help them with the vision,” she says. “So our curriculum helps them build their confidence, change their minds and their hearts about understanding their purpose and who they are.”
It’s a tall order, Gray says, but it works.
“You can see them working together and supporting one another. They have six weeks, and then they are part of a larger network after that,” she adds.
Ken Jenkins points to a group picture of a recent graduating class: one woman became an accountant for a large firm, another woman opened a restaurant, and one man went back to college at Washington University.
“We’re trying to get into the inside, to get into the heart of the matter,” he says. “What are your roadblocks? What’s stopping you? We’re watching people just transform before our eyes.”
Wrapping up their tour, the Jenkenses stood in the parking lot — the same parking lot where they gathered and prayed for years.
The marketplace, they said, isn’t about the shopping center property itself.
It’s about transformation.
“We get up every day knowing if somebody drives into this lot or walks into this lot, their life is gonna change,” Ken Jenkins says. “And that’s the goal. We find great peace and joy knowing that hey, somebody came out here, and they left a different way.”