IndyBar: Bar Leaders Impact the Community Through Class XII Service Projects

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iba-bl.jpgClaire Emswiller, Emswiller Williams Noland & Clarke PC

For the past six months, members of the IndyBar Leader Series Class XII have been learning what it means to be a leader, both in their legal careers and in their respective communities and organizations. Through insight from top leaders in our community, a skills building retreat and group discussion, participants have been developing skills in communication, organization and motivating and inspiring others. In order for the participants to actively utilize the skills and knowledge that they are learning through the series, the 25-member class was asked to identify an unmet need and develop and execute community service projects aimed to assist those needs to benefit the Indianapolis community.

iba-fall14-bls.jpg Members of Class XII of the Bar Leader Series gather at the class retreat in September 2014, where initial planning of the community service projects began.

The class split up into five teams, each representing a common interest or perceived need in the community. Through an active exercise at the class retreat in September, the teams identified and formed around the topics of domestic violence, education, early childhood education/literacy, at-risk youth and mental health. Each of the teams conducted research to identify specific needs and challenges facing the communities within these topics in order to cultivate a concrete project that would directly address those needs in an active and sustainable way. The teams have spent significant time during the series planning these projects and will present their projects—including updates on the projects’ implementation—to both the class and IndyBar and community leaders at an end-of-series celebration on May 19. Bar members and guests are encouraged to attend to hear first-hand about the great work done by this year’s class. Here is a preview of what each group has been working on:

The Domestic Violence Team’s project is designed to teach dating violence prevention and to encourage high school students to become mentors and leaders in educating and preventing dating violence among their younger peers. The group learned from Reach for Youth that there are several gaps in dating violence education for Indianapolis Public School (IPS) students, for both high school and middle school-aged students. Their plan to address these gaps consists of teaming up with students at Northwest High School and the middle schools that feed into the high school. During elective classes, the team will use materials provided by Reach for Youth and the non-for-profit Break the Cycle and will conduct workshops about healthy relationships and self-respect in an effort to prevent and decrease dating violence. A big part of this workshop focuses on teaching these high school students how to turn around and teach the same lessons to seventh and eighth grade students.

By allowing the students creative license in sharing the information, the team’s goal is to create a more identifiable message to both the high school and the middle school students and to inspire future leadership and advocacy in each of the participants. In addition, by involving both junior and sophomore aged high school students, there will always be a group that has participated in the program the prior year and can promote and facilitate teaching the new group of high school students the next year, thus creating sustainability and a greater sense of ownership and pride.

The Education Team met with Principal Ashauna Short of John Marshall High School, an IPS school that has been identified as one of the most troubled schools in the metropolitan area. Most notably, the school only had 20 percent of its students graduate last year and even fewer enrolled in college or higher education. Principal Short focused the group towards what she identified as one of the biggest contributors of the problem— a lack of encouragement from friends, family and other adults to finish high school and pursue productive careers.

To address that need, the group has enlisted the assistance of 25 volunteers from the community to mentor a group of seniors who have been identified as having a reasonable chance to graduate if provided the right inspiration and support. Each volunteer will mentor one to two students over the course of the project. Volunteers consist of local professionals, educators, leaders and concerned adults who will meet with their assigned students monthly to motivate, encourage, answer questions, problem solve and show interest in each of the students and his/her success. Mentors will be given an overall topic of discussion to work with each month, such as application assistance, interviewing skills, financial aid education, and career choice selection, as well as an opportunity to connect with his or her individual students and provide a positive example and external influence to each one.

The At-Risk Youth Team sought out Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry, whose office educated the group on the alarming statistics associated with at-risk middle school-aged children, an age range that seemed to have great need but was historically underserved. In addition, Indianpolis Director of Public Safety Troy Riggs shared what he and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) have identified as six key areas of the city where he and IMPD have committed to focus their efforts for community and law enforcement engagement.

Teaming up with these efforts, the group selected the area at 34th and Illinois Street to be the site of their project, which was aimed toward middle-aged school children in the community and their families. During spring break, the group will provide lunches to children around the area who often only receive a nutritious lunches at school. The group has teamed up with several local businesses and not-for-profits to provide these lunches, including Gleaners, Marsh, Wal-Mart and Tabernacle Presbyterian Church. The group has also planned a “kick-off” Community Day on the first day of the program to create momentum for the project and to allow some constructive interaction with local law enforcement. Both IMPD and the Indianapolis Fire Department will have officers and staff on hand to speak to the group about safety and to engage with community members in a positive manner. Staff from the YMCA will also speak to the children about healthy living and nutrition—teaching them to identify healthy foods on their own and emphasizing exercise and wellbeing.

The Early Education/Literacy Team seeks to encourage and promote early literacy experiences and interactions between parent and child by providing tangible resources at accessible and convenient locations. Through the group’s research, they identified an issue of the lack of reading and language relationship between parents and children in lower socio-economic populations. They learned that this is a critical relationship both in the children’s intellectual development, but also in creating a sustainable bond between parent and child that can only be achieved through activities like a parent reading to their child.

To address this need, the group has developed a package of resources, which includes a book, educational material for parents about the importance of reading to their child, information about online libraries and maps to local libraries. A kick-off event will be held to celebrate parents and children reading together and provide an opportunity to distribute the resource packages they have put together. The event will include dinner, door prizes, a reading and a book for each child to take home. After the event, the group plans to distribute the packages to convenient community locations—libraries, schools, health care providers and community centers—so that they can be available to community members who may not have been able to attend the event.

The Mental Health Team, after several conversations with experts in the mental health field, determined that children’s mental health was an emerging and underserved area in need of greater attention. Specifically, the group noted a reluctance to label children and subject them to the perceived stigma associated with mental health related illnesses.

In response to this identified need, the group partnered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for people affected by mental illness. While NAMI has online and written resources for families and individuals dealing with mental illness, it did not have any significant materials specifically focused on children’s mental health issues. The group is working to solicit information from experts in the field to create a comprehensive resource of materials that will focus on recognizing mental health issues in children, providing strategies and tips for dealing with those issues, and connecting families with appropriate community resources. NAMI has agreed to host a website that will feature this material and allow it to be accessible to the public while also creating a sustainable resource that will exist well into the future.

If you would like more information about the Bar Leader Series or any of the community service projects, please contact Christine Hickey, Class XII Chair, at [email protected]. Information and the application for Class XIII will be available at in May 2015.•

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