Judgment-Free Zone

Originally published to the March STR/SOR Newsletter Thu, Mar 28, 2019 5:54 pm

An interview with Better Family Life’s Community Outreach Case Manager Supervisor, Jerry Rodgers on what makes their  Ground Zero street team successful, tips on community building, and how to keep a vision for the future.

An interview with Better Family Life’s Community Outreach Case Manager Supervisor, Jerry Rodgers on what makes their Ground Zerostreet team successful, tips on community building, and how to keep a vision for the future.

With neighborhoods besieged with crime, homelessness, drug dealing, and substance use, Saint Louis based organization Better Family Life has established triage locations in some of the most densely crime heavy areas of the city. Offering access to Narcan®, HIV testing, blood pressure screenings, direct intake into residential treatment, access to care, harm reduction strategies, as well as a number of other necessary resources, Better Family Life aims to clean up their neighborhoods by combating crime with honest, judgment free help. The Treatment Services staff at UMSL-MIMH reached out to Jerry Rodgers, the Community Outreach Case Manager Supervisor at Better Family Life, to learn more about the mission of Ground Zero, the keys to success, and what the future holds for the organization.

"The mission of Ground Zero is to bring neighborhoods and residents together with resources that can benefit everybody. We will help anyone who comes through our doors needing help. We offer assistance to a diverse group of people from all walks of life. It doesn’t matter where you come from, or what you’ve been through, we want to help. Because to do this kind of work, you have to want to help. But you can’t really help if you’re judging people. Everybody has their own dirt. We just want to make sure that the people we serve have the same advantages and are taken care of the same was as anybody else.

The majority of the people we minister to have a history of drug use. For this reason, building trust with the individual is important to successfully helping them. When someone has very little and they are offered help by someone who isn’t trying to make them sign their name to a long list or trying to sneak in sub clauses into the assistance offered, they are far more willing to listen. Also, people are especially appreciative of the Narcan.

On the other side of things, we also work with a lot of church members and pastors. We have found that building relationships with pastors in Saint Louis is key for community building and helps establish a base level of trust for the people we minister to. Everybody just wants to help one another. All the time we get people who will honk their horns and stop by just to say, “Hey, we appreciate what y’all doing.” Or people will stop in just to see how our work is going. Our work helps make the neighborhoods a safer place. When we succeed, it’s because the community is working together to succeed.

As to challenges, I would say our biggest challenge, as with most outreach organizations, is always needing donations. Whether it’s hot dogs, or clothing donations, or toiletries, we could always use some help. Oh, and of course trying to stay ahead of this Missouri weather.
Our biggest strength, however, is the people on our team. Everybody on the team is extremely real when it comes to talking to the people we work with. We aren’t going to sugar-coat anything. We are going to let you know exactly what we can do on our end and what you should be doing on your end.

Everybody for the most part on these teams grew up in these neighborhoods. We’ve seen it all: the good, the bad, and the ugly. And we just want our neighborhoods to be clean and safe. We want our grandmothers to be able to go outside and not be afraid. That’s why we’re here. It’s a blessing to be able to do something like this.

Under STR funding we have kept a lot of our tried and true outreach methods, but what has changed is that we see a lot of new faces as we’ve grown. We want to see new faces but we do not want to see old faces. We want people to eventually make it on their own and not need to come back. Our ultimate goal is to not need to have a Ground Zero."

A special thanks to Jerry from Better Family Life for taking the time for this interview and a special thanks to the Ground Zero Outreach Team for the incredible, life-changing work they are doing in Saint Louis.

Jerry Rodgers. Telephone Interview. Aaron Ruiz March 22, 2019.