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St. Therese Little Flower Church

Tucked amid the sturdy bungalows of the Blue Hills neighborhood, the stone-sided St. Therese Little Flower Church looks impressive but hardly like a political powerhouse. Compared with Emanuel Cleaver's church, with its multimillion-dollar expansion hulking a few blocks away on the Paseo, St. Therese seems downright quaint. But this Catholic parish, where blacks and whites worship together, has made a lasting impact on Kansas City. In the mid-'70s, when the quality of housing in Blue Hills was on the decline, the church established one of the city's first (some say the first) community-based nonprofit organization set up to distribute federal neighborhood-improvement funds. Now there are dozens of such agencies. St. Therese was also the birthplace of Kansas City's Church Community Organization. This powerful grass-roots group has since spread to encompass more than seventy congregations working to improve Kansas City's way of life (most recent victory: state legislation aimed at reigning in predatory payday lenders). The CCO's main office still operates out of the church, as do a couple of police officers and a codes inspector, all of whom make Blue Hills a safer, more attractive place to live.

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