Innovate Indy nurtures community-improvement ideas

Mayor Greg Ballard’s plan to demolish 2,000 abandoned homes by the end of this year provides local environmental group Re-Hub with countless opportunities to find new uses for discarded goods.

But, for now, it’s taking things one house at a time.

Re-Hub is working with the Community Alliance of the Far Eastside to salvage materials from a house at 1336 N. Kealing Ave. before and after tearing it down. Some of the bits and pieces will become works of art, while intact items will be sold. They hope to turn the process into a feasible business model.

If it works, the project could create jobs, put worthless materials to use and increase the property values. But first the group needs contractors to safely tear down the house and artists to bring the pieces back to life.

“It’s just important that we become a more sustainable city,” said Maria Rusomaroff, a member of Re-Hub. “I want to propel that forward.”

Re-Hub formed through Innovate Indy, a program of the Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center and Public Allies Indianapolis that encourages community members to put their ideas for improving Indianapolis into action.

Four community action teams—including Re-Hub—launched as a result. The other groups aim to promote youth activity at a children’s summer camp, create a local currency through online bartering, and improve Indianapolis Public Schools.

Re-Hub isn’t the first group to think of repurposing materials in the community. People for Urban Progress, a not-for-profit that promotes environmental awareness in Indianapolis, has converted fabric from the RCA Dome roof and Super Bowl signs into bags, wallets, shower curtains and notebooks, for example.

“If [dilapidated materials] are just sitting there, they have no value,” said Michael Bricker, PUP co-founder.

He said Re-Hub sounds like a similar effort to create value—not only to improve a neighborhood, but also to honor it. Rusomaroff acknowledged that Re-Hub will operate on a much smaller scale than PUP, however.

The group has eight volunteer members, down from more than 10. Although Rusomaroff said she has had a positive experience working through Innovate Indy, one of the challenges has been to keep members involved.

But Re-Hub still has hope that its project will benefit the community and the environment. Volunteers have even toyed with the idea of becoming a charitable organization or for-profit business. For now, they’re planning to be a cooperative.

Re-Hub member Cary Woods believes if the group is successful with its first project, the work will continue.

“If you do it the right way and structure it the right way, you can do it the next time,” he said.

The community also sees the potential in Re-Hub. At Idea Riot!, a June 14 fundraiser for the four Innovate Indy groups, Re-Hub raised the most money: $540, which INRC matched.

Idea Riot! wasn’t as boisterous as the name implies. The most rowdiness occurred when a man shouted “Good idea!” while the crowd applauded the education-action team in the middle of its presentation.

The event drew about 75 people to the Madame Walker Theatre ballroom to learn about solutions for issues Indianapolis neighborhoods face daily. Metaphorically, it was a “riot” of thoughts and conversation.

Between 30-minute breaks in which people mingled, listened to local jazz band Rob Dixon Trio and dug into a buffet of sandwiches, vegetables and cupcakes, these “community action teams” presented their plans to improve the community.

“We think these groups are making a difference in the quality of life in Indianapolis,” said Marc McAleavey, site director of Public Allies Indianapolis.

Innovate Indy Coordinator Alvin Sangsuwangul, who has been mentoring the groups, said the projects have developed naturally—people with similar ideas have used teamwork to lay out goals and discover ways to achieve them.

“It’s been about redefining what it means to serve your community,” Sangsuwangul said. “These aren’t teams of experts. They’re just people with ideas.”

Anyone can have a good idea, but unless it’s put into action, it can only go so far. However, Sangsuwangul said the personal accountability of the people in these four groups is going to allow them to make progress.

Wendy Hsueh-fen Hsu, a 27-year-old who recently moved to downtown Indianapolis from Taiwan, said Indy Riot! showed her how to get involved with her new community.

“I’m really glad to see that it’s grassroots,” she said of the projects. “It’s from the people.”

She believes that the projects with the most potential for success are Re-Hub and Summer Super Play—a six-week summer day camp for children and teens in the Haughville neighborhood—because they are associated with enjoyable activities.

This is Sangsuwangul’s last month mentoring the groups, but INRC plans to continue to provide meeting space and other resources, such as project guidance or connections to helpful organizations.


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