Taking Charge -- From Blight to Bright
When Roosevelt - a beautiful, historic school - was sentenced to demolition a few years ago in Elkhart, Indiana, residents were upset and fought hard to keep the structure standing. Community members approached the neighborhood association for help and worked diligently with the city to find a solution. Some even decided to attend a NeighborWorks Leadership Institute. During this training, participants were not only encouraged to come up with ways to protect the building, but were asked to brainstorm strategies, plans and projects that would benefit the community as a whole.
These initial discussions eventually led to a new future for the building, as well as a community project aimed at engaging youth and building more social cohesion – the “Summer Academy.”
The building is now called the “The Roosevelt Center,” and was developed into 35 affordable housing units, meeting rooms, a kitchen, gymnasium and a theater stage, which is owned and managed by NeighborWorks affiliate La Casa of Goshen.
Summer Academy offers classes and programs throughout the summer months in drama, photography, gospel choir, basketball, cooking, gardening, bicycle repair and civil rights. The Academy uses Roosevelt Center space for their activities, is for children in grades K-12, and is entirely organized and run by volunteers. Since it began, 500 youth have participated in classes and activities.
Community organizer Jason Moreno, says finding volunteers to lead classes is easier than it sounds. Summer Academy was founded within an active community – one that has always been there -- and the program draws upon existing skill sets. “The community members were there before we were,” Moreno says. “We only guide what they can provide. The teacher roster fills pretty quickly.”
In 2014, LaCasa of Goshen released a six-minute video on the Summer Academy at Roosevelt Center, highlighting the hard work of local residents who not only salvaged a historical building, but created a youth program that is a true asset to the neighborhood. While La Casa did not create the program, they provided the venue, and are big fans. When asked about replicating this program, Moreno provided this advice: “Define a vision and fall into it. You need to have faith in the community you live in, and believe that it can meet the needs the community has.”
Programs such as Summer Academy build confidence and provide opportunities for local residents to share skills and creativity. What’s happening in your neighborhood? Is your community offering youth development activities?