A self-described data geek, Shatomi Luster-Edward has the All Things Missouri link bookmarked for ready access. Luster-Edward has found the MU CARES data-mapping and data-visualization tool vital to her work as MU Extension Urban West regional director.

“Data builds credibility with the neighborhoods we work in, and it helps the neighborhoods build credibility with potential funders,” Luster-Edward said. “This is especially important in areas of chronic disinvestment and inadequate outside resources.”

Take MU Extension’s work with the Historic East Neighborhood Coalition (HENC), which comprises 13 neighborhoods that are in “the most divested district in Jackson County,” said Antoine Lee, HENC chair and pastor of the Central Christian Church in Kansas City, Mo.

Data confirm that the life expectancy of the area’s residents is about 10 years less than the national average.

“Regular folks don’t have a whole lot of access to the research behind what we’re experiencing every day — that living in neighborhoods where you suffer from lack of hope cuts years off of our lives,” Lee said. “The data-informed work we have been doing with MU Extension has given voice to that. In turn, it helps us get access to funding, information and the opportunity to understand how to reverse the cycle of disinvestment, decline and poor mental and physical health from struggle and stress.”

This data-driven approach has helped the east side neighborhoods more effectively advocate for their fair share of Kansas City Public Improvement Advisory Committee (PIAC) money, Luster-Edward said. These funds support infrastructure improvement neighborhoods, such as road and sidewalk improvements, landscaping and clearing overgrown vacant lots.

To compete for these funds, neighborhoods need help documenting their need beyond anecdotal accounts of what the residents personally experience, she said. By pulling demographics for each of the 13 individual neighborhoods that comprise the coalition, HENC can document conditions, which can make all the difference in successfully applying for PIAC funds.

“We have learned that data builds on communities’ grassroots strength,” Lee said. “It empowers people who wouldn’t have a voice otherwise. Data gets the attention of the municipality, and that provides an inroad of connectivity with the neighborhoods that just didn’t exist before.”

MU Extension also helped HENC access data that documented the correlation between excess trash, dumping and blight with residents’ mental health challenges. The research that MU Extension provided was instrumental to HENC receiving a $25,000 grant from the Health Forward Foundation for a public awareness and cleanup campaign, Lee said.

Longer term, this data-driven approach is helping HENC develop a comprehensive strategic plan for the 13-neighborhood area — “one that makes sense, that is based on data, and one that is viable to our representatives and the residents so we can all work toward the same goal,” Lee said. “The Bible says, ‘Write the vision and make it plain.’ I can have an idea of what the neighborhood should look like, someone else can have a vision, but we need that data and information to show us how we can work toward a collective vision of reimagining our neighborhood.”

For more information about the uses of MU CARES data in Historic East Arts Asset Mapping process, MU Extension faculty and staff can contact Shatomi Luster-Edward, MU Extension Urban West regional director, at

For questions about All Things Missouri and data-mapping, contact Jamie Kleinsorge at