INDIANAPOLIS – Abandoning a successful summer program for youth in favor of one to benefit all the residents of its near north-side, Broadway United Methodist Church created a summer Roving Youth Corps that literally goes from house-to-house listening to stories of area residents.

Broadway engages 20 youths, ages 14- to 19-year olds, a half-day every weekday to spend three hours listening and journaling the comments of residents to share in a final hour of sharing back at the church located at East 29th Street and Fall Creek Parkway. Corps members share their findings with Duane Carlisle, the church’s children, youth and families minister.

The room was ringed with sticky notes hung on the walls surrounding the 20 youth seated in chairs in the basement of the church, when Together visited in mid-June. Notes were arranged by topics, such as home improvements, mechanics, medical, education, landscaping, cooking, sports, gardening and other topics. The notes were taken from the journals of youths, who had just spent three hours in the neighborhood listening to residents and their joys and concerns.

Carlisle asks corps members, “What did you learn today?”

One of the youth responds, “Miss Betty likes writing and sewing.”

“What did you learn about Miss Betty?” asked Carlisle.

“She is a people person. She likes home improvements and likes community organization,” came the response.

The conversation-debriefing session continued with reports about someone who killed someone else years ago, a paralyzed 18-year old, a 15-year-old who likes basketball, an 85-year old who needs someone to mow her lawn and ideas about improving the neighborhood. The conversation continued.

Carlisle focused on a three-point outline, which has become the structure for all the group conversations about the 4,000-resident neighborhood. Name the person, bless the person and connect the person with others in the community.

That’s the goal to improving the creating community for the Broadway UMC neighborhoods, according to the Rev. Mike Mather, senior pastor at Broadway.

Youth corps idea enlarged

The youth corps led to conversations that began this past year with the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) and the Department of Sociology at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). According Chad Abbott, organizer of generosity at Broadway, interest in the corps beyond the church began when he gave a presentation last year to a Sunday school class about the program at Second Presbyterian Church on North Meridian Street. Mary Ann Galloway, a member of the class and also head of the ISDH’s Maternal and Child Health Division, responded to the presentation.

With a deep interest to hear more about the corps, Galloway met with the Broadway staff. This meeting also led to a meeting with Dr. John Ridge and Broadway staff members in Philadelphia, Pa. Ridge is a pioneer in community health advocacy.

Also on this fact-finding trip was Tamara Leech, Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology at IUPUI who attends Broadway and is deeply interested in reaching out to the neighboring community.

Mather said, “It was great to talk with a physician about healing.”

He said Ridge told them that churches are not known as a place to deal with trauma, shame and guilt. Mather said Ridge asked us, “Who are the healers in your community? How do you support them?” The idea of going to the community for better health fits right along with the fledgling Roving Youth Corps, whose information is vital to developing new ministries at Broadway.

Mather said about the same time ISDH called them back to talk further about their involvement with Broadway. ISDH had received a $1.8 million PPASS grant around Teen Pregnancy Prevention, a program at the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and was seeking approaches to preventing teen pregnancy.

Maternal, child health issues

In May of this year, Leech from IUPUI, Galloway, others from ISDH and leaders at Broadway met to explore a community-based program around the issues of maternal and child health issues. The collaboration has led to a two-day listening session of 60 residents around teen pregnancy issues planned for August at Broadway.

According to Mather and Abbott, the goal is not to try to fix people but to develop ways to invest in what neighbors are already doing to make them healthier.

“We are working on the community level – neighbor to neighbor – but also (on) how our institutions will be brought into having a different way of thinking too,” said Mather. “For us, the deeper thing is among low-income communities. There is this belief that those communities can’t do it. Even at annual conference, the conversation was about helping them. Don’t people living in low-income housing, who are beloved children of God, too, have those gifts of the Spirit we just celebrated on Pentecost?

“On a practical level, just working around here with people like they are empty doesn’t work. Things haven’t gotten better… We believe people will be healthier by learning from the community.”

Together photo.

Broadway UMC staff member Duane Carlisle listens as youth corps members inform him of conversations they have had with neighboring residents.