Alum Paige Walden-Johnson graduated from Webster University in 2013. Now, she calls on Webster students to join her to work within the St. Louis community service scene.
“I always felt like Webster was this gated community within St. Louis, where you don’t know anything about the St. Louis makeup or culture. My eyes were opened when I left Webster to understand what type of struggles the city was having,” Walden-Johnson said.
Whether through the university’s Impact Center or directly with nonprofit organizations, Walden-Johnson wants to shake up Webster’s view of community outreach.
Walden-Johnson came to Webster University as a dance major. She planned to pursue dance movement therapy, although her plans eventually shifted. According to Walden-Johnson, she acquired a passion for community service, passed down to her by her mother.
She fused a love for dance and outreach during Webster Works Worldwide, Webster’s now-defunct day of school-sponsored community service. Here, she performed a lecture demonstration at a children’s home.
Upon graduating, Walden-Johnson began her non-profit organization, CommUNITY Arts STL. She founded the organization in 2017 to raise awareness for violence in St. Louis.
“Community Arts STL is founded on the kindness specifically of Webster alumni. A classmate, Rain Stippec, was shot eight times in the torso and miraculously survived with a 5% chance of survival coming into the hospital,” Walden-Johnson said.“Through our grief, several Webster alumni from New York to California to those who are local in St. Louis, use their artistic talents to put on this festival.”
Although the fundraising and awareness efforts were successful, Walden-Johnson felt that performances were not enough.
Although a few other projects stood for short amounts of time, CommUNITY Arts STL’s most prominent program is the CommUNITY Arts Bus (CAB), which offers kids in the St. Louis area free and safe transportation to and from arts and learning programs.
“I was hearing a commonality of, ‘we have scholarships for kids, but they go to waste because they can’t get there.’ Transportation is terrible in St. Louis,” Walden-Johnson said.
The children in the CAB program can try different forms of art, from handiness skills like woodworking and metalwork to fine arts like painting, choir, and dance. The CAB program helps kids around the city to build confidence in programs where they feel like they fit.
Walden-Johnson calls Webster students to serve the St. Louis community by reaching out or finding others who need help and says that getting involved is important, whether through volunteering, monetary donations or sharing information to spread awareness.
“You hear about the big organizations with the big names and the big dollar signs, but it was nice to go in and find those grassroots. So I would love for Webster to find those smaller organizations that have so much passion that they can kind of shake up what service looks like in St. Louis,” Walden-Johnson said.