Opus Foundation® & Associates Support STEM at Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation

​With stewardship as a core value, giving back to the community is a priority for us and the Opus Foundation®. The Opus Foundation supports youth development programs that promote healthy social and academic development and championing STEM initiatives is a natural fit for both the Foundation and Opus associates. One such program is changing lives for youth in East Saint Louis. 

The Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation (JJK) serves East Saint Louis, a community that encompasses the region's lowest incomes. 100% of students in the district qualify for free or reduced lunch. Founded by Jackie Joyner-Kersee, a native to East Saint Louis and a six-time Olympic medalist, JJK's mission is to instill in youth the dream, drive and determination necessary to succeed in life. It provides afterschool programming for more than 165 youth daily with activities and summer camps focused on leadership, college and career exploration, athletics, community service learning and literacy. Tutoring and nutritional meals are also offered. More than 3,200 youth between the ages of 5 and 24 participate in JJK programs annually.  

“The ultimate goal is to build these kids up," said Raven Ward, director of programs at JJK. “We want them to gain confidence, get educated and go out into the world carrying themselves with integrity so they can make a difference." 

Character Development + STEM Learning

The foundation of every youth's experience at JJK is Winning in Life, a character enrichment curriculum developed by Jackie that instills discipline, determination, self esteem and goal setting and attainment. Winning in Life is supplemented by additional curriculums like the STEM program, and that's where we enter the picture. 

Initiated in 2017 with the support of a $20,000 Opus Foundation grant, we supplemented the STEM program at JJK with design-build modules using hands-on, practical applications to expose 5th through 12th grade students to the architectural, engineering and construction fields. Along with the grant, associate project manager Mike Stromberg joined me in volunteering many hours to help JJK get the program off the ground. In addition to developing the training modules in partnership with St. Louis University, we devoted many hours to teaching classes to the students twice a week. 

We want to connect the dots for these kids and put as many options out in front of them as possible. It's our goal to open their eyes, keep them engaged and show them there's another path. If 10 out of 100 kids see the path, we are making a difference and making an impact. 

Taking STEM to the Next Level

The Opus Foundation recently granted an additional $40,000 to take JJK's STEM design-build program to the next level. A formalized framework is being developed to make the program sustainable, so it can be duplicated year after year. To build the program, JJK will hire St. Louis University (SLU) and Maryville University to create curriculums that are inclusive and age appropriate. SLU will provide expertise for the overall STEM curriculum, while Maryville University will focus their efforts on creating trades and skills-based career curriculum. A part-time STEM manager has been hired to manage day-to-day program activities. The grant will also afford weekly program supplies, coding and design build software, tablets and 3D printer supplies. JJK is now able to grow the program to serve upwards of 160 K through 12th grade students.  

“Without intervention like this, most kids in East St. Louis don't go to college," said Ward. “Instead, they work at places like McDonalds and Pizza Hut. Our goal is to prepare them for college or skilled trade labor, getting them thinking along the lines of careers instead of just jobs. We are so appreciative of the Opus Foundation and the Opus team in St. Louis for helping us instill in them the dream, the drive and the determination needed to ultimately win in life."  

The Opus Foundation is building community for a better tomorrow by supporting projects and programs that make our communities better places to live, work and raise families through grants to nonprofit organizations in the areas of early childhood education, youth development, workforce development, community revitalization and pressing/emerging needs. Read more about the Foundation's work.