Community Partner Spotlight Eastern Star Church
Eleven Fifty Academy is so excited to be working with many community partners on our Advancing Tech in 46218 Initiative. Thanks to the support of a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., we are collaborating with many area stakeholders to further open the doorway to tech for residents of Arlington Woods. We recently sat down with Leigh Evans, Director of Community Development at Eastern Star Church-JEWEL Human Services, and Ma’at Lands, Executive Director and Founding School Leader at Rooted School Indy, to learn more about how these affiliated organizations have been working with intention for years to partner with and grow the Arlington Woods community.
Eleven Fifty Academy: What is the history and work of Eastern Star Church?
Leigh Evans: Eastern Star Church has existed in Indianapolis for more than 100 years, and has been led by Senior Pastor Jeffrey A. Johnson, Sr., for 33 years. Today, we have three locations: our original location near 30th Street and Arlington Avenue in the Arlington Woods neighborhood; a location on Indianapolis’ West Side near Cooper Road, and our newest location in Fishers.
Our pastor grew up in the Arlington Woods community and wanted to support his childhood home, which has suffered from decades of disinvestment, lost jobs, and lost amenities. Over 20 years ago, we continued the social expression of our faith in the 46218 zip code through Jewel Human Services. This program offers benevolence assistance through housing and utilities support, a food pantry, and a clothing pantry. We also teach our neighbors wealth-building skills to manage their money—to use it to gain skills and own things, not just buy things.
We are so grateful that Eastern Star Jewel Human Services Corp recently received its own $8.1 million grant from Lilly Endowment to build the ROCK Community Center for Youth and Children. The center, which is also being supported with $1 million from our members, will offer programming for childhood youth development, including STEM educational programs, recreation, and job training. We are committed to providing more opportunities for the most vulnerable youth in our community.
Five years ago, we received an additional vision for the ROCK Initiative, which stands for Renewing Our Community for the Kingdom. This phase introduced more comprehensive economic development in the Arlington Woods community, such as building homes and stabilizing the neighborhood association so that residents can advocate at a higher level. We also partnered with a banking institution to provide financial resources in the neighborhood; opened a local grocery store, and established an urban farm to make healthy, affordable food options available in the community. The ROCK Initiative also has a fourth pillar related to education as a continuum, from pre-K through high school. We have strongly supported IPS School 99, now the Sankofa School of Success, by providing mentors, financial support, and tech equipment to ensure that each student had a device. We also worked with the Mind Trust to create Rooted School, a high school focused on technology, on our church campus.
What is the mission of Rooted School?
Ma’at Lands: The mission of Rooted School (Rooted) is to provide our students personal pathways to financial freedom. We will do this by altering the trajectory of Indianapolis’ most financially insecure students, thereby increasing their access to four-year colleges/universities and technical programs that prepare them to compete in the city’s high-growth, high-wage industries. We exist to see our students academically prepared and financially free. We teach students how to learn in an ever-changing world, develop their skills for the most in-demand job sectors, and create technology that is transformational.
Why is increasing access to tech jobs important to your shared mission?
Lands: At Rooted, we believe that our students can reach their fullest potential when they are given access to the region’s high-wage jobs in tandem with an academically rigorous high school education. We ultimately aim to disrupt the cycle of poverty by ensuring that Rooted students are equipped to succeed in their post-secondary plans—whether that be obtaining a college degree, building the next groundbreaking company, or working in a high-wage job.
Evans: We all learned in the pandemic that the “next normal” is focused on technology. As the world becomes more digital and the need to communicate globally is heightened, there are basic tech skills that need to be acquired by every member of every community. It is our mission to expose our neighbors to knowledge and opportunities and create platforms to help them develop the skills they need to thrive and claim their equal place in today’s economy.
Lands: Technology has not only shifted the way we do business but has improved our access to information, enriched our lives, and revolutionized how we work. Those who don’t develop tech expertise have a strong chance of being left behind in the digital revolution, further increasing the digital divide. Those who continue to develop their technological expertise will develop their problem-solving and logic skills, allowing them to keep up with the changing world of work and play an active role in their future versus becoming passive consumers of technology.
How does the Advancing Tech in 46218 Initiative specifically advance your goals?
Evans: Quality of place supports and improves quality of life. We are not trying to “fix” anything about our community, simply improve quality of place. We want to make sure we are in partnership with the community and our neighbors, responding to their needs and goals. The Advancing Tech in 46218 Initiative creates more opportunity to amplify the pillars of the ROCK Initiative in ways we are very excited about. We are committed to building partnerships and securing resources so all Indianapolis residents have a sustainable and supportive community to call home. We know Eleven Fifty Academy, Lilly Endowment, and our other community partners in this initiative share our values.
Lands: Our goal is that Rooted students will leave with a job offer in one hand and a college acceptance letter in the other. As a result, I believe it is important for our students to have options. We have students who have varying levels of interest and readiness in tech. Coding bootcamps can provide pathways for our students who are already accelerated in tech but need or want to learn a specific skill quickly. Bootcamps like the ones at Eleven Fifty Academy can provide them opportunities to learn at a faster rate, which could possibly get them into internships and/or jobs quicker. While Rooted’s mission is focused on the achievement of students, our success has the potential to transform an entire community by supplying homegrown talent to our region’s fastest-growing companies, raising the median income, and improving quality of life for students and their families.
Evans: Historically, our congregation’s relationship with Eleven Fifty Academy has supported the education goals, financial goals, and job creation goals of the ROCK Initiative for some individuals within our membership. The Advancing Tech in 46218 Initiative is an intentional, broad, deep effort to strengthen that relationship outside our congregation. As trusted members of the 46218 community, we are excited to perform outreach and education to help introduce residents and individuals to this opportunity.