By Lesley Gordon
When I first applied for the Indianapolis Recorder scholarship for Opportunity Indianapolis, I was unsure if I was the intended audience. As someone who was born and raised in Indy, active in my community and a former city employee, I expected to hear refreshers of the same old information. While there were plenty of those, they were neatly tucked away in a program of fantastic speakers and resources that engaged a room full of the Indy melting pot. New arrivals and international transplants greeted me when I arrived. I typically know a face or two in these settings; it’s Indy, right? It’s the little big city. I was pleasantly surprised to see a room full of new faces. Network flex.
Opportunity Indianapolis (OI) is aptly named, as our city is uniquely positioned to welcome and foster new ideas and cultural trends, if you put the work in. OI helps you understand who has done the work, who needs the work and how you can step up to join the work. I sat in the gym where I attended Indy Parks Summer Day Camp, filled with hometown nostalgia, all while I listened to some of the challenges Indy is facing with food access. We have these amazing neighborhood identities that are rich with front porch stories, but we still need to figure out how to make sure quality food is available for everyone. We are the destination city for conventions and sporting events, by design and hard work, yet a third of our youth live in poverty and don’t have a consistent resource to healthy meals.
I am a leader when it comes to telling people why I love Indy. My social media is littered with all the reasons I will continue to live, work and play in Indy. OI emphasizes Indy’s strengths but also enlightens the group to look at some of our challenges from unique perspectives and to make connections on service opportunities. Indy’s lack of investment in the arts was an area that piqued my interest. Most are aware of the problems Indy is facing with education, crime and food access, but who is saying we have an art problem? After listening to the advocacy mission for the Arts Council, it’s easy to connect the dots and see that the lack of investment around art is impacting our communities negatively.
I highlighted that we have an education problem. Let me clarify. Our communities’ value and appreciation for education is a problem. After listening closely to Indianapolis Public Schools’ plans for the future and the 3-E (enroll, enlist, employ) approach to education, I know there is strong leadership in place, people looking at the issues and a conscious effort to work with the neighborhoods to address them. My child is young, but my husband and I thought very hard about our son’s education before we bought our house in the city. Indy has quality schools and teachers, but it has to be the mission of the entire city to make them available to everyone. It’s not just the problem of the impoverished neighborhood; it’s the entire city’s issue to lift up.
After participating in the Opportunity Indianapolis program, I feel ready to join our community leaders in doing my part to take Indy into the future. I encourage you to join OI and to find your place in giving back to our community, as well. OI did a great job of making sure new and old residents of the city have valuable contacts and perspective to bring fresh ideas to tackle these challenges. My goal is to lead by example in a city I love and take advantage of programs like Opportunity Indianapolis. I was feeling a little out of touch after having my first child and needed this program to help me realize I can still connect with my community. Thank you, Indianapolis Recorder, for the chance to make these connections and continue to increase my civic engagement.
Lesley Gordon was born and raised in Indianapolis. After attending Indiana University, Lesley and her husband planted roots in Indy and enjoy riding their bikes and eating their way around the city. Lesley is very active in her community through volunteering for various nonprofits and sitting on the Freewheelin’ Community Bikes and Indy Hub board of directors. Professionally, Lesley has spent the majority of her career in the public sector implementing public relations and marketing strategy solutions. Follow her Indy adventures on Instagram @supalesmalonegordon.