From Bright Ideas Indiana. Read the full post here.
Jeff Sparks is a Fellow at the Sagamore Institute and a board member of the Southeast Neighborhood Development Corporation (SEND) where he serves as Chairman of the Twin Aire Ad Hoc Committee focusing on renewing that neighborhood of Indianapolis. The decision to do this type of work came during a time of transition for him, as he sought to discern his next steps after leaving the Heartland Film Festival.Jeff explained it this way: “When I was transitioning out of Heartland, I was wrestling over what is next. I thought originally I was going to get into the for-profit world, of development. In the beginning, I had several opportunities but they were all part time. So I decided to go off on a retreat to wrestle with what was to be the focus of this next part of my journey. I was originally going to do a one-day retreat. I looked at the calendar and chose a date and wouldn’t you know it the very next day in my morning reading was the story of Jonah in the belly of the whale. After reading it I couldn’t get it out of my head. I thought, ‘What is going on here?’ and then it hit me: not one day but three days. You really need to get away, into the belly of the whale. No, you need to totally get away from everything. So I emailed some friends who had places that would work and Don Palmer responded that I could use his cottage on Lake Lemon, just south of town.
I decided to take a bunch of books with me. I’m not much of a reader, but often spend most of my retreat time reading. Friday morning I get up and I pull my books out of my backpack and the one that stood out was Augustine’s Confessions. I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know about this, seems pretty heady, but I’ll read the intro and if it does something, maybe I’ll keep reading the book, and if I don’t get through it there are others I can read.’ So I pick it up and devour it over the next two days, which is very uncommon for me. The third day I found myself wrestling through what I had just read and the decisions ahead of me, leaving, like most retreats, without a significant revelation.
I come back facing making a decision in a few weeks, before the end of the year. As I wrestled with the decision, the retreat time swirling around in my head, it began to dawn on me that I’m not a for-profit guy, I’ve never been, except for one small stint early in my life, I’ve always been a non-profit guy, and I love community. That’s all I’ve ever really done all my life. I helped build community at the Indiana Children’s Christian Home in the 80’s – where we served young people struggling through life. Then with Heartland I helped bring together a community of filmmakers and a community of volunteers with significant results. But I had never developed community in a community.
In the past several years I have spent a lot of Sundays on the porch with friends, including Bill Taft who is the Executive Director of the Indianapolis LISC offices and arguably one of the leading minds in community development in the city. So we often found ourselves talking about how to make Indianapolis stronger. I was very taken and intrigued by his vision for strengthening a city by focusing on community development in the neighborhoods. And I thought, ‘I want to be him when I grow up.
I love what Bill has done with community.’ So I decided that’s what I was going to do and set about looking at how to do it in the Southeast neighborhoods where I lived. At the beginning my desire was to find a community that needed Christ’s healing, not to proselytize, but just bring healing to a hurting neighborhood.”
Jeff had found his vision for community. At the end of 2013, Jeff joined the SEND board and the housing committee—two months later becoming its chair. SEND had recently decided to focus on Twin Aire, a neighborhood just east of Fountain Square. Though he didn’t know much about the neighborhood, as he got to know the people he realized it was the community he was meant to serve. “They have a strong desire to make their neighborhood stronger,” he explained. Many of the residents have lived there since the 1950’s and 60’s, a heyday brought on by the opening of the Twin Aire Shopping Center. When other shopping centers began opening up, Twin Aire lost a lot of business—and along with it, the vibrancy of the neighborhood.