INDIANAPOLIS - The Rev. Jessi Langlie got a call from a security company back in 2004 about local youth breaking into a vacant building and shooting off bottle rockets. It was the former site of the United Methodist-related Fletcher Place Community Center, now located at State and Prospect, southeast of downtown Indianapolis.
Langlie, executive director of the center, saw the vandalism as an opportunity.
"I was beginning to think of these kids as hoodlums," Langlie said with a chuckle in her office at the new location near Fountain Square. "I decided what we needed to do was make summer plans for them."
Thus began Fletcher Place's summer program, called "Art in the City."
Langlie began talking with the children who hung around the building and found out they wanted to paint it.
"These kids had so much energy," she said. "And some needed community service hours. So we said next year we'd do it again and get money for the project."
Fletcher Place's "Art in the City" is funded through the Marion County Summer Youth Program Fund, specifically from the Indianapolis Foundation and the Lilly Endowment.
The United Methodist-related Brightwood Community Center's "Summer Fun and Frolic" summer program also is funded through the Summer Youth Program Fund. Brightwood also receives funds from churches, United Methodist Women, individuals and a few businesses, according to the Rev. Debra Grady, executive director for Brightwood Community Center.
Both centers are in parntership with MetroMinistries of the two Indianapolis districts. The mission statement reflects just that - it connects congregations with people in need.
As this summer approaches, both community centers are utilizing the time and space available to create educational and creative opportunities for kids in Indianapolis.
Fletcher Place also provides for the neighborhood year-round with meals, a thrift store, food pantry and skills training to break the cycle of poverty.
A time to engage
Grady said summer is a critical time to engage young people.
Brightwood's program, "Summer Fun and Frolic," is not solely arts-based like the programs at Fletcher Place, but allows for a potpourri of experiences, including African-American heritage, service projects and field trips.
"We have a gym in the building, but there also will be outdoor recreation, and character development with social workers from the health department," Grady said.
Grady, a former Indianapolis public school teacher, said she puts emphasis on arts and crafts, vacation Bible school and academic reinforcement with worksheets and games.
Grady said this summer's program includes an African American heritage study.
"We're using 'On the Move,' from the VBS materials," Grady said. "It's based on the Civil Rights Movement, so there will be some drama, stepping, crafts-related events and a service project built in."
But where Grady's program succeeds in structure, Langlie's program excels in lack of structure.
"The first week of the program, the kids decide what they'll do," Langlie said. "It could be a mural or jewelry, but the first week is about planning it. They need to figure out how much money is available and where they're going to get the supplies. It's about ownership and I think they get a lot out of that."
Langlie said this year five students from the University of Indianapolis, also United Methodist-related, will run the program. The students, whose majors are either art or social work, emphasize artist work to help express emotion. The last week of the program culminates in a celebration of the work.
"The UIndy students have a ton of energy; it helps their resume and they bring in a breath of fresh air," Langlie said.
This summer, Grady anticipates 40 or so students to be part of the program, "But there are so many churches and Indy Parks does some programming, so there's a lot of competition."
Langlie said 30 children, ages 6 to 16 years, from the Fountain Square neighborhood will participate in her six-week program.
Summer is crucial
Langlie said when students have no summer plans, this can lead to other problems. She grew up in Gary, Ind., a city with high crime rates. "If you don't have supervision, you can get into trouble that never goes away.
"We have had drug busts, some of the highest prostitution rates," Langlie said of the Fountain Square area. "So it's important that these kids have a place they feel is safe that they go to and use their creative energy.
Grady said she has noticed one boy, who has attended her program for several years now, is beginning to change for the good. "One young man is seven and the youngest of five children," she said. "He is moody and volatile. But in the last year he has been much calmer, so I can see he's made a lot of progress. We try to get children started out right and help them feel loved, valued and cared for in another place."
"At the community center, which is based on biblical principles, we plant and we leave room for the Lord to grow. We want to plant something well so it will grow later."
Volunteers are crucial to the success of not only the summer programs, but also year-round programs as well. Langlie said 80 percent of her staff is from the community, but there are many others who volunteer that are working towards a GED and may have had experience with tough times.
"We couldn't do all we do if we didn't have more than 11,000-volunteer hours this past year," Langlie said. "For example, in the kitchen, some volunteers are so dedicated. One lady calls herself 'The Biscuit Lady,' and takes pride in being in charge of the biscuits. One time, early on, a lady offered to get the biscuits, but the Biscuit Lady said "No, that's my job. I get the biscuits."
Brightwood Community Center, like Fletcher Place, has specific programs for senior citizens, too.
"We have seniors who come three-to-four days a week and they do memory games or play bingo," Grady said of the program that has been in place for nearly 40 years.
The Rev. Danny Walker, associate pastor of Meridian Street UMC in Indianapolis, who brings volunteers from Meridian Street to Fletcher Place, said community centers have a special purpose in the church. "The work reminds me of John Wesley's work and how he reached out to people. So in that sense, it's been very impressive to see what the volunteers do, to see the passion with which they do it, and to hear the success stories."
Both community centers offer additional year-round programs that serve nearby residents.
To learn more about Brightwood visit www.brightwoodcc. org. To learn about Fletcher Place visit www.fletcherplacecc.org.
Meghan Biallas is a journalism student at Butler University, who served as an intern with Together.