President George H.W. Bush famously referred to “a thousand points of light” upon accepting his nomination as the Republican Party’s presidential candidate in 1988. After winning the election and taking the oath of office, he reprised the phrase, using it to elevate the constellation of community service and volunteer efforts needed to tackle society’s ills.
The phrase has been mocked over the years—recently by the sitting president, who, at a rally last July, said, “I never quite got that one. What the hell is that?” But we get it. And we agree with the late president that private acts of good should be encouraged and celebrated.
Indianapolis has its own shining example in the work being done by Eastern Star Church on the east side of the city.
Eastern Star’s The Rock initiative is taking a much-needed holistic approach to lifting up its neighborhood in the struggling 46218 ZIP code, where more than 40 percent of residents live in poverty.
The Rock, named for Eastern Star’s quest to “renew our community for the kingdom,” has invested more than $5 million in the area within a mile radius of the church at 30th Street and Lesley Avenue. If all goes as planned, it will invest another $30 million to $40 million over the next several years.
The program is run through Jewel Human Services, a not-for-profit subsidiary of the 100-year-old church. Eastern Star, with more than 8,000 members, has been a shining light in its neighborhood for decades, and for the last 10 years has operated a center that provides services for those in need.
But parishioners wanted to do more. They created The Rock to facilitate home ownership, provide affordable rental housing, encourage job creation and financial security, and offer a variety of life skills.
Among the community assets the program has delivered to date:
◗ Six new houses and five renovated ones adjacent to the church. The houses, which replace blighted properties and vacant lots, are selling for about half of what it cost to build them.
◗ Sunstone at Arlington Woods, a mixed-use apartment building that opened in August with 25 low-cost, one- and two-bedroom apartments.
◗ A variety of retail and service tenants on the first floor of Sunstone. The mix includes social service agencies, a Financial Health Federal Credit Union and Rock Fresh Market, which sells healthy food and provides nutrition and cooking classes.
More than just brick-and-mortar projects, Eastern Star’s good work depends on the dedication of parishioners who are committed to making a difference one person at a time. The emphasis on interpersonal relations is a quality usually missing from big government programs.
On the horizon is a community center that will provide STEM and vocational education.
We hope the church’s dedication to its community inspires others to act. The Rock is a timely reminder of the important role private, non-governmental initiatives can play in improving the lives of our neighbors—and, in some cases, entire neighborhoods.•
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