Congratulations to our 2024 Advocacy Award Honorees

The 2024 legislative session is nearing the finish line, and with that will come a chance to celebrate what we have accomplished this year. At Empower Missouri, we know that eradicating poverty can only be successful as a group effort – a team of anti-poverty advocates and a community of supporters all using our voices to change policies that will help our neighbors across the state. Our annual Advocacy Awards Brunch is our opportunity to celebrate those efforts and recognize a few of the outstanding individuals and organizations leading that work in Missouri. Please join us in congratulating our 2024 Advocacy Award winners:

Lifetime Achievement in Advocacy: Barbara Baker 

Barbara Baker is a dedicated advocate with 25 years of service at Keyway Center for Diversion and Reentry. Her efforts focus on advocating for alternatives to incarceration for women convicted of non-violent crimes and championing legislative reforms to support women reintegrating into their communities post-incarceration. As a formerly incarcerated woman herself, Barbara brings a unique perspective and unwavering passion to her work, believing fervently in the transformative power of proper support systems. She has used her experience to connect with women leaving incarceration, worked in Jefferson City meeting with legislators, brought women transitioning out of the system from Keyway to Jefferson City, and leads an Advocacy Advisory Board. Her commitment to helping women like herself navigate the challenges of reentry underscores her invaluable contribution to the fight for justice and equality.

Barbara has dedicated her life to supporting women leaving incarceration to be successful, and her advocacy efforts have touched the lives of countless individuals. She will be retiring this year, and we are thrilled to honor her contributions to the community with the Lifetime Achievement in Advocacy Award.

Coalition of the Year: Close the Workhouse

El Close the Workhouse campaign fought mass incarceration by calling for the closure of the Medium Security Institute, better known in St. Louis as the Workhouse, and the reinvestment of the money used to cage poor people and Black people into rebuilding the most impacted neighborhoods in this region. Despite challenges and delays, their tireless advocacy led to the eventual defunding of the jail, marking a significant milestone in the fight for justice.

The coalition included individuals subjected to incarceration at the Workhouse, organizations fighting mass incarceration in the region including Action St. Louis and ArchCity Defenders, and lawyers and activists engaged on the issue. In their own words, “By closing the Workhouse, St. Louis can achieve justice for thousands and focus on the important work of healing and rebuilding the communities where the Workhouse has brought suffering.” Close the Workhouse exemplifies unwavering dedication to ending mass incarceration, and we are honored to recognize them as our 2024 Coalition of the Year.

Affordable Housing Advocate of the Year: The Care Service 

The Care Service epitomizes the essence of advocacy and community empowerment, making them an excellent choice for receiving the honor of Affordable Housing Advocate of the Year. With an unwavering commitment to their community of St. Charles, Lincoln, and Warren counties, The Care Service guides individuals and families toward new beginnings every day. They believe that affordable housing is a basic human right, and their efforts in protecting the vulnerable, regardless of background, from the cycle of poverty and injustice demonstrate a level of tireless dedication to their mission. By championing safe housing as a fundamental human right and envisioning a community where no one goes hungry or homeless, they strive to lay the groundwork for a more equitable and compassionate society.

The Care Service recognized that a key factor in reducing housing insecurity is increased housing options. In 2021, they initiated a Housing Campaign with the goal of raising funds to purchase 20 housing units and prepare them for struggling families and individuals who need relief from housing insecurity or homelessness. They were able to raise 1.6 million dollars and, at the end of 2023, purchased a mix of affordable housing units for low income individuals and families. The Care Service now has a total of 15 affordable housing units located through out St. Charles and Lincoln county. Residents of all Care Service homes receive supportive programs to attain and sustain their housing.

Community Justice Advocate of the Year: ML Smith

A transformative force in the realm of prison advocacy, ML Smith is the founder and Executive Director of Missouri Justice Coalition, and the co-executive director of Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty. She has been a tireless advocate for social justice and prison reform, and through relentless dedication, stands as a beacon of hope for incarcerated individuals across the state, bridging the gap between legislative action and community empowerment.

ML is a strong civil rights, human rights, women rights, LGBTQ, housing, and healthcare warrior. She has educated and informed clergy, civic leaders, and other Missourians about the long list of obstacles that incarcerated youth and adults face including the suffering that their families often endure, especially among black and brown communities. By advocating for crucial reforms, educating and uniting community members, and shedding light on the injustices within prison walls, Smith catalyzes meaningful change towards genuine rehabilitation and justice within Missouri’s carceral system, and has earned the honor of Community Justice Advocate of the Year.

Food Security Advocate of the Year: STL MetroMarket

El St. Louis MetroMarket is a trailblazer in the fight against food insecurity. Utilizing an innovative mobile grocery store concept, MetroMarket brings fresh, affordable produce directly to underserved communities, empowering residents with access to healthy food options at reduced prices. Since its establishment in 2016, MetroMarket has forged partnerships with local organizations to address food access challenges and raise awareness. MetroMarket’s innovative approach uses a customer model to empower the community to shop at significantly lower prices than retail grocers. Fresh, affordable produce has been carefully selected from local farm partners and is brought directly to partner sites in the community.

Now, as a member of the Operation Food Search family, MetroMarket continues to expand its impact by offering nutrition education, community engagement activities, and more, reaffirming its dedication to enhancing food security across St. Louis. Congratulations to the St. Louis MetroMarket, our Food Security Advocate of the Year!

We’re thrilled to be celebrating this incredible group of advocates at our Advocacy Awards Brunch on Saturday, June 29th, at 612 North in downtown St. Louis. The event will not only include recognition of this outstanding group of advocates, but also a delicious brunch, cocktails, amazing raffle opportunities, and a chance to celebrate the work of our entire community! Tickets are on sale now, purchase yours today to join the celebration!

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