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CELP Graduates Making Local and National Impacts

Three graduates of the Community Economics and Leadership Program (CELP) recently utilized the education they received through the four-month program to develop and carry out exciting design projects! CELP graduate and Minister Alicia Baker from the Indy East Promise Zone was on the national stage when she participated in the judicial and political process by presenting testimony on September 26, 2018, in front of the Judicial Committee in Washington, D.C. View her testimony.

Two additional CELP graduates, Benjamin Easley, Project Manager for Outreach – Stormwater Infrastructure & Compliance, Department of Public Works – the City of Indianapolis and Carol Mullins, Executive Director, Crooked Creek Community Council Inc. are 2018 Thriving Neighborhood Challenge Grant finalists. Indianapolis Thrive is Indy’s plan for sustainability and resilience.


Benjamin’s project, titled Churchman Ave – Southeast Connection, elevates the southeast neighborhoods between the hubs of Fountain Square and Beech Grove by demonstrating the Churchman Avenue corridor as a strategic link to important neighborhood assets that address a range of needs.


The goal of the design project is to improve the perception between southeast neighbors and community assets offered by the Churchman Avenue corridor in Indianapolis. Churchman Avenue intersects many of the neighborhoods on the city’s southeast side between Fountain Square and the City of Beech Grove. Instead of feeling like a neglected middle-space, the team decided to turn it into a destination. The team’s goal is to activate this route with a series of six wayfinding signs at important intersections, both bringing a sense of unified identity to the Avenue and highlight the many available assets which address the needs of surrounding neighborhoods. Neighbor-focused programming with vibrant signage will point the way to a community that understands its many amenities and its potential for further development and community investment. The residents, neighborhood organizations and businesses adjacent to Churchman Avenue will benefit from increased:

1. Awareness of fresh food options, transportation alternatives, local businesses, recreation opportunities and many more community amenities
2. Personal pride in the desirability of their location
3. Attention from outside visitors and those looking to invest in the area

Carol’s project, Crooked Creek – Developing Economies Through Asset-Based Development, celebrates her neighborhood’s waterway and designates a conservation corridor for economic stabilization and community engagement. It also develops the Crooked Creek Conservation Corps to address needs related to workforce development, training, place-making, public safety and cultural economy.


Crooked Creek Indy received a grant from Keep Indianapolis Beautiful (KIB) and have planted over 300 trees along the Michigan Road Corridor, north of 86th Street. Crooked Creek Indy, St. Vincent’s and KIB will plant an additional 100 trees south of 86th Street. A Conservation Corps Steering committee will convene in December to finalize plans for the Spring of 2019. Carol and her team have cleared viewsheds to the creek, renovated a trail for use by seniors, and planted an additional 50-75 trees along the 78th and Michigan road corridor. Crooked Creek Indy is also working with neighborhood groups, environmental organizations on making the area bike and pedestrian friendly. The planning team has requested new sidewalks, updates to the Michigan Road Trail and new infrastructure to accommodate seniors and those with disabilities and mobility challenges. Crooked Creek Indy, neighbors and stakeholders will continue to plant spring-flowering daffodils along the Michigan Road Corridor and neighborhoods to create community identity and provide a sense of unity on landscaping. These changes in conservation and green space management will foster enhancements that drive economic vitality in the area.

The team will collaborate with local organizations to provide community meetings spaces, classes, and educational resources on landscaping, growing healthy food, planting of natives to mitigate stormwater and install techniques for rain gardens. Carols credits her renewed enthusiasm for community economic development to the CELP class. She noted that the class has helped her to identify and focus on user needs, gained brainstorming and collaborative tools to work with others and develop a plan of action including financial resource generation to make the plan succeed.

The Community Economics and Leadership Program is a four-month intensive leadership and capacity building program that enhances a leaders’ ability to understand the economics of their community and develop human-centered design skills to maximize their leadership strengths. The experience is an investment in mindset change that creates meaningful perspectives, build resilience and cultivate an improved understanding of the ongoing context to solve problems and make good decisions.


George Okantey is a Purdue Extension Community Development educator in Marion County. He can be reached at

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