An eastside Indianapolis church is extending its mission to address the racial health, education and wealth disparities of children and youth. With the help of an $8 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., Eastern Star Church is building the ROCK Community Center for Children and Youth. Community Development Director, Leigh Evans spoke with WFYI’s Terri Dee about the center’s purpose and the impact it will have.
WFYI Reporter Terri Dee: Let’s start with a foundation. What is the mission and purpose for building the ROCK Community Center for Children and Youth?
Leigh Riley Evans, Eastern Star Church Community Development Director: We are responsible for the implementation of the ROCK Initiative and providing a social expression for the mission of the church through evangelism and discipleship.
Dee: Eastern Star Church is getting ready or will break ground for the Rock Community Center for Children. When is the completion date and when will it be open for service?
Evans: Well, we actually did break ground already. That took place a couple of months ago in March, so we were able to celebrate with our neighborhood partners, representatives from the city of Indianapolis, Center for Leadership Development, The Mind Trust, and the staff. So, we are already starting the construction for the ROCK Community Center for Children and Youth. It is a 57,000 square foot facility that will be located on the main campus of Eastern Star Church, inside the Arlington Woods neighborhood, which is a part of the 46218 zip code.
Dee: Where did the idea originate to build the ROCK Community Center for Children and Youth?
Evans: In 2017, our senior pastor Jeffrey A. Johnson, Sr., had a vision, which we call the ROCK Initiative. ROCK is an acronym for renewing our community for the kingdom. From that came a very comprehensive community and economic development vision for the Arlington Woods neighborhood.
The ROCK Initiative has four pillars. One, building a sense of community for the people who live here in the neighborhood. The second one is enhancing the range of housing options within a mile of the main campus. Third is just growing overall financial security, then lastly, enhancing both formal and informal educational opportunities for neighborhood residents. It creates the bridge, if you will, between the congregation and the communities and serves our future.
The goal really is developing children and youth to become whole and healthy men and women. We’re working with enhanced opportunities for racial equity and civic engagement as they become the future leaders of Indianapolis. Making sure that they have a quality education and understanding wealth building principles, disrupting the systems of oppression, discrimination and disparity, giving them a sense of pride in their community and creating a safe space for all of that to happen. So that's really where the vision has come from.
Dee: Since the announcement the center will open, what has been the neighborhood’s response?
Evans: The neighborhood response has been positive. Part of our pillar of building is a sense of community for the people in the neighborhood, encouraging and supporting beautification and crime prevention activities. For our application to the Lilly Endowment for funding, they obviously have had their interest piqued now that the construction has happened, and they know that it's real, so they've decided to participate. Construction is scheduled to be finished by the spring of next year. We’re on track to have substantial completion even by the end of this year and begin programming next spring.
Dee: What does Eastern Star Church see as the greatest impact or need, that the center hopes to fulfill?
Evans: Well, the greatest impact will be a safe space. Having programming that really encourages positive development for children and youth. We want to impact and expose individuals to experiences that will enhance their opportunities academically, mentally, spiritually, as well as professionally, and cultivating that in a safe space, to create a positive future so that they can have a quality of place while they are learning to be healthy individuals. That’s the need.
Unfortunately, there is a degree of poverty and decades of disinvestment in this community. We want to take a very trauma informed system of impact in their behavioral health and their well-being to create better physical health for them as they develop as children.
Dee: Is the center for young people in the surrounding neighborhood and to all ethnicities and cultures?
Evans: Yes, it is open to all ethnicities and cultures and for community members outside of members of the church. They do not have to be members as parents nor members as children to receive or have access to the services. We are looking to serve the broader community.
Dee: Thank you, Leigh, for your time and information today.
Evans: You're very welcome. I appreciate the time today and your willingness to help us share the story.