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Making an impact with justice in mind

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Perseverance paid off for a group that is teaching children there are better ways to resolve their disputes than by clenching their fist and throwing a punch.

The Peace Learning Center, a nonprofit focused on conflict resolution, is the 2015 recipient of the Indianapolis Bar Foundation Impact Fund Grant. Since 2011, the grant program has provided $35,000 to one nonprofit annually in the Indianapolis area. Past recipients include Reach for Youth Teen Court, Indiana Legal Services’ Military Assistance Project and the Joseph Maley Foundation.

Members of the bar foundation each year review 15 to 30 applications. Then they invite six to eight organizations to make presentations, showing how the grant money will be used. From there, the members discuss and debate until the pool of potential recipients is narrowed to two. Bar foundation fellows then make the final selection.

Twice before, the Peace Learning Center had made it to the final round and both times came in second. Each time, the bar foundation encouraged the group to try again. When the group put together a proposal that had a strong justice component, Tim Nation, executive director of the Peace Learning Center, said he was confident the third time would be the charm.

indybar-impactgrant-1-15col.jpg Indianapolis Bar Association volunteers take part in a training session at the Peace Learning Center. (Photo submitted)

Broyles Kight & Ricafort P.C. attorney Melanie Reichert, past chair of the impact grant committee, knows the grants are doing what they are designed to do when she watches a program go from concept to reality. She continues to be amazed as an idea is crafted into a proposal, presented to the bar foundation and then, with the grant, becomes an actual project that involves participants, professionals and volunteers.

A key criterion for the grant is it must be seed money either helping to launch a brand new endeavor or expand an existing initiative. The project must be sustainable so that after the funds are exhausted, the program will continue.

Just as importantly, the new or expanded program must include an opportunity for lawyers to volunteer. The bar foundation is looking for projects that are related to the law and raise public awareness of the legal profession, said Andrew L. Campbell, president of the Indianapolis Bar Foundation and partner at Faegre Baker Daniels LLP. As part of that, lawyers should be able to be actively involved.

“We want to show the community the good things that lawyers do,” he said. “It would be easy for us to raise money, give it to an organization, pat ourselves on the back and feel good about ourselves. That’s not sufficient in our minds. We want lawyers involved and making an impact in the community.”

With the Impact Grant, the Peace Learning Center will be expanding two school-based One Indy programs designed to show children how their bad behavior affects others and how they can iron out their differences with friends and family without fighting. The funds are helping the peer mediation and restorative justice initiatives be placed in more elementary schools in high-crime neighborhoods in Indianapolis.

The Peace Learning Center has held sessions for the Indy Bar attorneys to train them in peer mediation techniques and restorative justice.

Nation, who also is co-founder of the center, said the volunteers that accompany the grant help to bridge the two communities he sees in Indianapolis — the “utopian community” and the “war zone.”

Having the attorneys to interact with the schoolchildren allows both groups to see beyond their own worlds, he said. The lawyers can help make the war zone a better place while the youngsters get to see and talk to professionals other than their teachers. Students can learn more about what lawyers do and, perhaps through the interaction, shed some of their negative perceptions of the judicial system.

“It’ll be mutually beneficial,” Nation said.

As Reichert pointed out, the benefit ripples beyond the students and attorneys. The children who participate in one of the center’s programs and change their behavior will be less likely to cause trouble in their school and in their community.

Previously, the bar foundation offered smaller grant amounts to more programs but decided bundling the money and creating the Impact Grant would have a more significant effect, Campbell said. Since the change, the funds have been flowing to programs like the Peace Learning Center that are making a difference.

“I think one of the things we have been very pleased with is the quality of the nonprofits” that are applying and getting these grants, Campbell said.•

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