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Indy program for at-risk teens expands

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Teens in a high-crime, high-poverty area of Indianapolis will have an outlet for after-school programs.

It’s all thanks to a $100,000 grant to help grow a program already helping elementary students on the near-east side. 

People of the Brookside neighborhood say they know its reputation has to get better for the next generation of kids. 

Brookside Community Play is a safe haven for kids to stay away from crime, poverty and trouble. 
Heaven Harris is only 14 but knows all too well. “You will be hearing gunshots near over here, and they’ll be like ‘Go to the store for me’ and I be scared.”

At first, Brookside Community Play took in just preteens. But, Andrew Neal, who is the the director of Brookside Community Play, said he saw a need for more. 

“It’s not a positive place to be in our neighborhood if you don’t have somewhere to go after school,” he said.

They started accepting teens to the program, but the problem was that there wasn’t space at the Brookside Community Church, 1035 N. Olney St., north of East 10th Street between North Rural Street and North Sherman Drive. 

So, they applied for a grant through Impact 100, a charitable organization of 100 women who all donate $1,000 to causes. In June, Impact 100 chose Brookside Community Play. The organization received $100,000.

With some of that money, they wanted to remodel a room just for the teens. That led to Thursday and the grand opening of a teen room. 

Right now, four teens are in the program, but Neal said it will expand by another 15 in 2019.

The room will be a place for them from 4-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday. They can play video games and hang out, and their families can eat a hot dinner. Neal said for some of these families, they don’t know where their next meal will come from.

“The biggest thing we can do is create a new generation of leaders in this neighborhood,” he said.

Neal said he hopes to push these kids to go to college, but added that more than that needs to happen. He said he wants to create a cycle of change with older kids inspiring the younger ones.

Brookside Community Play hires the teens in the program to mentor the younger kids. But, since the teens cannot technically get paid a salary because they’re too young, the organization creates 529 plans — a tax-advantaged saving mechanism for future education costs — for these teens and puts the money there. Neal said that money should grow and eventually be used on costs for college. 

Other portions of the $100,000 went to buying a bus to transport their kids from school to the church. The organization also hired more staff and will spend some of the money to pay the teens for mentorship.