Building a Field for The Immigrant Dream

by Tom Finan, Executive Director, Construction Forum STL

“Changing St. Louis demands an inclusive society and a welcoming place,” we recently told a reporter from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was writing an article on the Gateway Welcome Project, an effort which Construction Forum STL co-founded and is supporting. “It’s not just the right thing to do. It’s the future of what any city that aspires to be anything needs to look like," we told the reporter.

John Finan, immigrant, ironworker and first American Finan family entrepreneur. My grandfather is at his right. 

John Finan, immigrant, ironworker and first American Finan family entrepreneur. My grandfather is at his right. 

A followup Post editorial called the Gateway Welcome article, "the feel-good story of the week." This effort to help immigrant/refugee kids become a productive part of STL society is a positive story in a city that sorely needs positive news. 

But this story is just as much about our history. 

My family immigrated to St. Louis in 1857. My great-great grandfather John Finan worked as an ironworker, building ironclad boats on the Mississippi south of where the Arch is now. Then he started his own business. My family has fielded multiple generations of entrepreneurs since then. 

I believe in the immigrant dream. The Gateway Welcome Project began when architect Peter Tao, son of a very successful immigrant entrepreneurial engineer, asked us about paving the playground at Nahed Chapman New American Academy on South Grand near SLU Hospital. It has morphed into something more, because of people in STL who believe in that immigrant dream. 

In a letter to the editor, Amy Hirsch Diemer, director of St. Francis Community Services Legal Assistance Ministry, juxtaposed Post headlines on an article about Rex Sinquefeld giving $4.5 million to political campaigns with the Gateway Welcome story.

"Perhaps one day," she wrote, "the two stories might be combined, with a headline such as this: 'Sinquefield group puts $4.5 million into St. Louis immigrants' school' to help cover costs of soccer field, teachers, books, trauma therapy, athletic and other after school programs.'

"The subhead could read: 'Missouri among few places in U.S. with no limits on donations in furtherance of an inclusive society that focuses on healing children in distress.'"

John Finan would like that.