Love the Englewood Way
Englewood Community Church & Englewood Community Development Corporation: Bicentennial Green Legacy Community Award Winner
by Richard Clough
“Love your neighbor” is a core Christian belief. For some it means having good feelings about the people over the back fence or in the upstairs apartment. For Englewood Community Church, as stated in their mission statement, “love of neighbor takes the form of affordable housing, economic development and comprehensive community development.” The result is that one part of Indianapolis looks quite different than it did a few years ago.
Under the leadership of Pastor Mike Bowling, Englewood sought to make their Near Eastside neighborhood a more livable place. In the midst of unemployment, high crime and substandard housing, they sought to make a difference. A sign in the church office reads, “And the Word became flesh, and moved into the neighborhood.” To this end, the church formed the Englewood Community Development Corporation (ECDC) and called Joe Bowling, the pastor’s son, to be its director. They then set about transforming the area.
The results have been quite impressive. The ECDC took possession of a long vacant public school building and transformed it into the Commonwealth, a 32 unit mixed income apartment building complete with gym and rooftop sports arena. Tenants include people of varied backgrounds and economic status including both a college professor and people who previously lived on the street.
When a young woman moved into the Commonwealth, she stated that she had a dream of opening a restaurant. ECDC went to work with her, locating the needed resources and helping her through the many details necessary to start a business. The result was the Tloalli, a restaurant now selling Mexican food just south of the church on Washington St. This is just one of several area small businesses assisted by ECDC.
Among many other projects, ECDC has a homeowner repair program and lawn mowing service that not only provides service to neighbors but employment opportunities at the same time.
Work was recently begun to convert an old, unused 61,000 square foot warehouse into an urban “farm” which grows crops hydroponically inside the building. When completed, it will be year round source of organic produce using a high-tech system growing plants on a liquid solution rather than soil. Such a method uses 90% less water. The project accomplishes several goals. It brings food to a neighborhood where fresh produce is hard to find. It will provide employment for the neighborhood and it eliminates an eyesore from the area helping it become a more pleasant place to live. ECDC was a key player in developing this project.
A visitor to the corporation’s offices can’t help but notice the nearby presence of children – lots of them. They are attending Daystar childcare program which has boomed and now serves over 200 children with 30 employees. Parents can go to work in the knowledge that their children have a safe, healthy place for their children. This, too, is an ECDC project.
More than providing social services, the church seeks to bring people together. There are weekly meals open to the whole community. A community garden not only encourages locally grown produce but allows neighbors to get to know each other. And Sunday worship is a gathering place for many who live in the neighborhood.
True community may be a casualty of our age. People often know little about their neighbors. Neighbors often live in one place, work in another and go to yet another to shop, go to church and engage in recreation. Living in close proximity does not make a neighborhood. Englewood Community Church recognizes the importance of true community for transforming an area into a neighborhood where people really want to live.