Word on the street

Word on the street: Here’s how Shepherd makes a difference in families’ lives

Word-of-mouth is the oldest form of marketing in existence. And it’s still one of the most effective.

When one person tells another person how someone or something improved their life, it resonates because it’s personal and authentic.

And the word is that Shepherd Community Center’s word-of-mouth testimonials on the near east side and throughout Central Indiana are phenomenal.

I was reminded of that recently while having coffee with a former colleague, a national-level journalist who lives in Indy.  She told me that, while on a recent assignment, a single father told her about the challenges he faces in raising children on his own. But he also shared that a Shepherd team member had shown up at their home with a bag of groceries at just the right time.

That special delivery not only helped the father and his children get through a rough patch. It also prompted him to share from his heart about what Shepherd’s support means to him.

And many others are doing the same.  Shepherd recently opened a much-needed child care ministry at the Minnie Hartmann Community Center.  Stories about how the new ministry is lifting up families already are pouring in.

Here are a few that Jessica Gardner, the center’s assistant director, recently shared:

  • A single foster parent expressed her gratitude that she had safe and affordable care for an infant and an older sibling while she worked. The children were recently reunited with their family, and the foster mom said when she receives another placement, she’ll enroll the kids in the Minnie Hartmann center.
  • A mother enrolled her child at Minnie Hartmann after suspected abuse at another center.  The mother said that since starting at Shepherd’s center, her child is sleeping better, eating and laughing again.
  • A single father expressed gratitude that he can have his daughter in a safe, clean and affordable environment to learn and grow while he works. 
  • A family was excited that their children can attend a faith-based center in their neighborhood. The mom attended Shepherd as a child and is thrilled that one of her former teachers, Miss Emilie, is still doing ministry on the near east side.
  • A mom whose family has been involved with Shepherd for many years is happy to now be working at the Minnie Hartmann child care center and to have her five children enrolled in Shepherd programs.

And each of those stories is from just the first month of the child care center’s operation.

What about you?  How has Shepherd helped you and your family?  How will you share about how Shepherd is making a tremendous difference in our community? 

Remember, your good word is an invaluable gift you can provide for free to Shepherd and to all whom it serves.

Innovation in the time of corona

Innovation in the time of corona: How Shepherd’s learning pods help students overcome pandemic-related learning loss

This summer, McKinsey & Co., a management consulting firm, published a report about student learning loss amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It carried this disturbing headline: “The hurt could last a lifetime.”

That hurt, like so many of the pandemic’s consequences, hasn’t been distributed evenly across American society.  The report concluded that while the average American student could lose seven months of academic progress, Black children may lose as much as 10 months in acquiring foundational academic skills and Latino students could lose nine months. Children from lower-income families of all races and ethnic backgrounds also are at high risk of falling behind in their studies.

 “Lower-income students are less likely to have access to high-quality remote learning or to a conducive learning environment, such as a quiet space with minimal distractions, devices they do not need to share, high-speed internet, and parental academic supervision,” the McKenzie report found.

And, without significant interventions, pandemic-related learning losses are likely to lead to lower-paying jobs, higher risk of extended unemployment and fewer opportunities to break from the cycle of poverty.

In short, a generation of children may suffer the economic consequences of the pandemic for the rest of their lives.

To confront that emerging reality, Shepherd Community Center has launched a cutting-edge approach to education in the year of the coronavirus: learning pods.

The pods, sometimes called micro schools, have popped up across the country as parents have come to realize that online instruction by itself leaves their children isolated and vulnerable to failure. The pods involve small groups of students who meet for in-person instruction or tutoring, and they’ve become a favored method for higher-income families striving to ensure their children’s success.

But Shepherd has brought learning pods to the near east side of Indianapolis, where poverty is prevalent. Shepherd recently launched a middle and high school pod that meets at Cornerstone Lutheran Church on east New York Street. 

A pod for elementary students is set to meet at Kids Inc. on east Palmer Street. And Shepherd is working with Indianapolis Public Schools to open a second pod for elementary-age students. 

The three pods, which eventually will serve about 125 students, center on not only tutoring but also enrichment activities. And students receive breakfast and lunch at the sites.

“While our middle and high school soft launch at Cornerstone is still small and growing, we have already noticed the huge opportunity to deepen relationships with students,” Andrew Green, Shepherd’s assistant executive director, said.  “Each site will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and that is an incredible amount of time to build into students and staff.  Volunteers are already embracing that and getting excited about it.”

Green said Shepherd will need more volunteers to help with meals and other support services as the pods grow.

Education is at the core of Shepherd’s mission to shatter the cycle of poverty on the near east side.  The pandemic poses a special challenge to that mission, but the Shepherd team has responded in a number of innovative ways – from turning the parking lot into a mobile hot spot to staging drive-through food giveaways for hundreds of families.

Learning pods are one more innovative adaptation in unprecedented times.

“We are responsible for the education of our neighbors,” Shepherd Executive Director Jay Height said. “We are called to educate, and we must find ways to serve both those who are in the academy on our site as well as our other neighbors.”

Hunger: a constant companion

COVID-19 has made hunger a constant companion for many Americans. Here’s how you can help.

The figure – in a nation with as much wealth and resources as the United States – is staggering.  

On Aug. 16, the Wall Street Journal reported, based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, that nearly 20 percent of American families said they could not afford to provide enough food for their children in July.

Next time you drive down a residential street count five houses – and know that on average at least one chronically hungry child lives in a home that you passed. 

But, of course, hunger isn’t distributed proportionately.  It falls much heavier on lower-income neighborhoods, like those Shepherd Community Center serves on Indianapolis’ near east side. 

“With the end to unemployment benefits and the end of the moratoriums on utility shut offs and evictions, we are seeing an increased pressure on the working poor,” Shepherd’s Executive Director Jay Height said. “For many, the future seems cloudier, with no return to work on the horizon.”

Shepherd has distributed thousands of meals to hundreds of east side families since the pandemic hit in March.  Food banks and other nonprofits in Indiana and across the nation have done the same.  And, as the Journal noted, the number of people receiving aid from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program increased 16% from March to April.

But the level of unmet needs is still great.  Indiana’s unemployment stood at 12.3% in May — and again job losses aren’t evenly distributed.  With Indianapolis’ convention, entertainment and sports sectors still shut down, many east side residents who worked in the downtown hospitality and service industries remain out of work.

“Retraining is part of what we are providing our neighbors,” Height said. “While we move people to employment, we will continue to meet the most basic of needs – hunger – in a deeper way.”

One critical means of meeting that basic need is to provide food packs for Shepherd families.  A $20 donation will feed a student for a week.  A gift of $65 will feed a family for a week.

You can donate to help feed a family struggling with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic here: https://www.shepherdcommunity.org/covid/

As the pandemic wears on and some aspects of life return more to normal, it’s easy to forget that the consequences of the worst economic disruption since the 1930s continue to torment millions of Americans, including many who call the east side home. 

Hunger is a constant companion for far too many of our neighbors.  They continue to need your help.