2023 Annual Report:

Bringing Together Leaders for Shared Learning and Support


In March 2021, Lilly Endowment made grants totaling $93.6 million to 28 Indianapolis organizations through its Enhancing Opportunity in Indianapolis (EOI) initiative. Directed at addressing poverty and financial insecurity affecting nearly 40 percent of Marion County residents, the EOI grants went to organizations implementing new or expanding existing strategies, programs and services aimed at helping individuals and families meet basic needs, build self-sufficiency and create better lives.

A little over a year and a half later, in December 2022, the Endowment convened EOI grant recipients at Eastern Star Church’s The ROCK Community Center for Youth and Children on Indianapolis’ eastside. This was the first time that leaders gathered in person to share stories of their work, celebrate early successes and learn from one another about common challenges and emerging opportunities. In planning the event, Endowment staff surveyed individuals who were leading the EOI-funded programs to determine what topics would be most helpful to address. Survey results led to sessions focused on collaboration, evaluation, and staff recruitment and retention. Gathering at The ROCK was an intentional choice because the 60,000-square-foot building is the centerpiece of Eastern Star’s own EOI-funded efforts to help residents in its Arlington Woods neighborhood by providing safe, accessible, holistic programs and support services to youth and families that can lead to long term economic stability and self-sufficiency.

Being part of the meeting was a rewarding experience for Evelyn Evans. She directs the child care and afterschool enrichment programs based at New Beginnings Church. In 2021, the church, which is located in the westside Indianapolis neighborhood of Haughville, received a $1,474,677 EOI grant to implement Yes, I Can (shown right). The program helps families with child care and educational support for older kids. It also strives to help parents build economic well-being by providing financial literacy classes, legal services, job training, job placement and career mentoring. At the gathering, Evans learned how other organizations share New Beginning’s commitment to helping individuals and families. Throughout the day, Evans was reminded that she and the others leading EOI-funded efforts are not alone in striving to change lives and improve communities across Indianapolis. “When you’re doing the work,” she says, “sometimes you can get so consumed. Even though we work with businesses and schools with our program, we weren’t meeting with the other grantees. The convening allowed me, and I’m sure all the others, to learn about the good work that all the other people are doing.”

Enhancing programs

In addition to fostering camaraderie and mutual understanding, Evans says the event led New Beginnings to connect with Early Learning Indiana (ELI), a nonprofit organization that operates early learning centers, helps families find quality child care, partners with other providers to expand and improve their programs, and works to enhance greater access to early educational opportunities for Hoosier families. During the convening, ELI’s president and CEO Maureen Weber led a session focused on staff recruitment and retention. As Evans learned more about ELI, she found out about the organization’s Early Years Initiative, an Endowment-funded grant opportunity that is helping child care programs across Indiana enhance their offerings. New Beginnings applied for funding through the initiative and in 2023 received a $500,000 grant to expand facilities to better serve children and their parents. Also in 2023, New Beginnings laid the groundwork for additional collaborations to benefit parents in the Yes, I Can program. In January 2024, New Beginnings began offering information technology training in cooperation with Wayne Township Adult Education; a home ownership readiness program in partnership with the Central Indiana Realtors Association; and workforce training and job placement services in collaboration with EmployIndy and Dress for Success.

Enhancing Opportunity in Indianapolis initiative convening.

The ROCK Community Center hosts the Enhancing Opportunity in Indianapolis initiative convening.

Comprehensive support services

In 2021, La Plaza received a $1,033,700 EOI grant to create the Latino Opportunity Center (LOC). Housed at Fort Benjamin Harrison, the LOC provides a variety of services aimed at helping Latino residents and families throughout Indianapolis improve their lives and build economic self-sufficiency. For several years before launching the LOC, La Plaza had offered many services independent of each other, such as job readiness training, health services and youth programs. With the LOC, the organization now provides comprehensive, multi-faceted support to individuals and families. “What this initiative has allowed us to do is to provide one-on-one coaching, to really be able to help with income support, to help with financial literacy, and to help with education and (skill) certifications,” says Miriam Acevedo Davis, president and CEO of La Plaza.

LOC director Soren Chamorro Gonzalez (shown left center) is watching clients become a new community. “I see people working together,” she says. “I see them excited about learning new skills, about having access to different resources.”

According to Acevedo Davis, not only did the gathering at The ROCK put grantees in touch with one another and open doors to new collaborations, it also helped them strengthen existing partnerships. That includes La Plaza’s work with Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership (INHP).

“We’ve worked with the Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership for many years,” says Acevedo Davis. “But through this initiative we were able to strengthen that (relationship) from a programmatic perspective. It allowed us to go a little deeper to form stronger relationships and play to each other’s strengths.”

Through La Plaza’s work with INHP, clients can receive several types of support from INHP’s own EOI-funded program. The support includes housing stipends that help cover a portion of clients’ rent payments so they can stay focused on increasing their earning potential; special savings accounts to give clients a boost and help them overcome common cost barriers to homeownership, such as a down payment; and a program that offers La Plaza clients the opportunity to reserve some of their monthly rental payments toward a future down payment on a home.

The LOC is connecting clients with other local organizations that provide them with valuable supportive services. Volunteer tutors from literacy organization Indy Reads provide English classes. Indiana Construction Roundtable offers job skills training through its BY Construction program; and LISC Indianapolis helps residents improve quality of life in their neighborhoods. EOI grants are supporting efforts at Indiana Construction Roundtable, in partnership with the Central Indiana Community Foundation, and LISC Indianapolis.

Gonzalez meets monthly with business owners, educators, industry experts and individuals who provide job training and participate in LISC’s Bridges to Career Opportunities program. Like the LOC, the Bridges program is helping job seekers ramp up literacy and math skills and strengthen technical skills that are highly valued by employers. The monthly gatherings are important, Gonzalez says.

“We talk about what we’re doing, what kinds of challenges we are having. We also have training on things like how to improve the entry of data with the Salesforce software that LISC uses for its database.” At La Plaza’s LOC, collaboration with fellow EOI grantees and other partners is part of a community-building process. “In America
we talk about the Horatio Alger lift-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps story,” says Acevedo Davis, “and certainly that’s a great story. In (the Latino) community, it’s ‘How do we do that together?’ It’s the nuclear family, it’s being part of the larger community. When we bring together a cohort of some of our clients, they end up forming a little
community of their own and helping each other.”

Both Evans and Acevedo Davis credit the convening of EOI grantees with helping them enhance and expand their programs. “There were people there that are focused on housing, that focus on homelessness, that focus on job readiness,” says Evans. “I met with so many folks that were doing different work, that we were able to say, ‘Let’s reach out to this person or let’s reach out to that person.’ ”