By Erik Cassano
Like many inner-city neighborhoods, the near east side of Indianapolis has been struggling to overcome decades of decline. And while some signs point to a rebound, such as renovated houses and new construction in nearby Cottage Home and Windsor Park, much of the population is living with a difficult reality in which drugs, crime, and poverty are a fact of daily life, says Jay Height, executive director of the Shepherd Community Center.
Shepherd is working to change that reality for the people it serves.
“We engage people academically, physically, and spiritually to help them break out of poverty,” Height says.
To that end, the center runs after-school and summer school programs for kids and teens, serving about 400 children a day, and partners with other community organizations to provide life coaching in critical areas such as job skills, employment services, immigration services, and finance.
Easing the burden of poverty
The organization was founded at a community Thanksgiving dinner in 1985, as several dozen volunteers came together to determine what they could do to ease the burden of poverty for the area’s most vulnerable residents. Since that dinner, the center has grown exponentially.
“We’ve tried to become holistic in our approach,” says Height. “Especially with kids, we try to work along the continuum of the child’s entire early life, starting when the mother is pregnant and supporting them all the way until they’re in college.”
The goal is to intervene before the influence of the streets can send a child down the wrong path, and to work with children, parents, and community members to provide a strong support network for the entire family.
“The key to breaking out of the cycle of poverty involves both generations,” Height says. “You need to work with both the parents and the children.”
Huntington has supported the Shepherd Community Center for 20 years, not just with financial donations but with donations of time, lending its institutional expertise in finance to help eradicate poverty in the area.
“They’ve helped us lead a number of classes on financial literacy and awareness,” Height says. “Most recently, they’ve volunteered to help us educate people on the challenge of payday lending, how it can be predatory, and how to come up with different solutions for personal financial needs.”
More than 100 Huntington volunteers have given their time over the two-decade relationship.
“It’s been great to work with Huntington,” Height says. “We appreciate the commitment they’ve shown to investing in the lives of our neighbors.”
About the organization
Name: Shepherd Community Center
Phone: (317) 375-0203
Mission: Breaking the cycle of poverty on the near east side of Indianapolis by engaging and empowering the community.
How you can help
For information about how to get involved, from financial donations to volunteering to using social media to promote the organization, visit its website. To find out how to give or volunteer, click on the “give” tab at the top of the organization’s main webpage, listed above.