Profile: St. Louis Fed’s Yvonne Sparks discusses career spent in community development October 1, 2016

IFF’s profile this month is on Yvonne S. Sparks, assistant vice president and community affairs officer at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Describe what you do at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
I work in community development at the Bank, and one of our priorities is staying in touch with the Eighth District. As a practical matter, we are an intermediary, a trusted source of research and information about best practices and emerging issues in community economic development and investment. We are the neutral convener that can bring diverse groups of people, institutions, and organizations together to learn, build relationships, and collaborate to accomplish the community economic development goals of their own communities.

We also identify and address an expansive range of challenges confronting low- and moderate-income communities. And we support the economic growth objectives of the Federal Reserve System by promoting community and economic development in these LMI communities, and fair and impartial access to credit in underserved markets, as mandated by the Community Reinvestment Act.

How does your unique combination of experience and impressive education help you in your current role?
Even though the organizations and sectors may have been different — public, private, or nonprofit — I have spent my entire career in the community development arena. The diversity of exposure and perspectives, along with continuity of experience in and being part of the evolution of the field, helps me to think broadly about the big issues, but with knowledge and insight about what it takes to actually do the work because I have done it. I have a historical perspective on the evolution and impact of policy as well as changes in practice, all of which allows me to be at once visionary and practical in doing my job.

How did you end up in St. Louis?
I was born and started school in St. Louis but did not grow up here. I grew up in what was then the very small (population 2,500), very rural town of Troy, Mo. I came to St. Louis to go to college, first at Saint Louis University and then the University of Missouri-St. Louis. I worked my way through undergrad, and my first job was with the first public-private community development planning initiative in the city. It was new and groundbreaking work that was challenging because there was no roadmap. My job was to work with residents in the neighborhoods in the targeted planning area to engage them in the planning process. That experience and subsequent ones working with people in challenging situations, gaining their trust, and sharing the moments of acceptance, insight, and engagement were rewarding. They inspired and motivated me to embrace community development.

You spent a few years in Dallas, Texas.
The work was similar to the work I did at the start of my career and in subsequent roles. I led a large-scale community planning process for a private foundation in an LMI community of color. The process was one of becoming familiar with and a part of the community, engaging with residents, businesses, and nonprofits, and a team of professional consultants from a variety of disciplines in a structured planning process to create a comprehensive community development plan. The community worked together to identify challenges and areas of focus (e.g., youth development, education, health, employment, and physical community development) and worked in partnership with the consultants to translate that work into a planning document.

How else are you involved in the community?
I serve on several advisory boards, committees, and commissions focused on national, regional, and local community development issues and in advisory roles for initiatives including the local Promise Zone, a regional sustainability initiative, Forward through Ferguson, and a new community development investment entity. I also enjoy investing time mentoring and advising students and other professionals who are interested in community development.

How do you spend your down time?
Nature photography, blogging, and reading. I enjoy music and visual and performing arts. I recently learned how to enjoy lake fishing.

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