Jeffrey Johnson Sr.

Jeffrey Johnson Sr., senior pastor at Eastern Star Church, was on WTLC-AM “The Light” on April 5 to highlight the work the church has been doing in 46218 through its Rock Initiative. (Photo/Tyler Fenwick)

When Joseph Anderson was growing up in the 46218 area code in the 1970s and early ‘80s he didn’t remember having anything quite like Eastern Star Church’s Rock Initiative. Now there’s a small grocery store with healthy food options, housing expansion, financial literacy services and more.

Anderson, 60, moved out of the area in 1982 and now lives on North Dearborn Street about four miles southwest of Eastern Star. He heard about the Rock Initiative on the radio April 5 and decided to stop by Rock Fresh Market on East 30th Street, where WTLC-AM “The Light” set up to let guests highlight the work Eastern Star has done.

“I see quite a bit of change,” Anderson said. “Things are happening. … I see a barbershop, I see a financial institution, the fresh market right here. Things are building up.”

The Rock Initiative started about three years ago and moved into its current building — Sunstone at Arlington Woods — in August 2018. Along with the market and Financial Health Federal Credit Union, there’s The Indiana Institute for Behavioral Analysis, a faith-based therapy service for people with autism, as well as the Rock Community Hub with a barbershop, legal clinic and other services. 

“These are first-class things found in 46218,” said Jeffrey Johnson Sr., senior pastor at Eastern Star. “It makes the neighborhood feel good about where their home is.”

The building also has two floors of apartment units above those organizations — 25 units currently at 88% capacity — and the initiative has built and renovated 10 houses.

According to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, 38.2% of residents lived below the poverty level in 2017. The median household income was $23,771, down from $27,664 in 2011. Unemployment was at 17.3%, compared to 3.6% in Marion County in October 2018. Educational attainment was also down: 72% of those 65 and older graduated from high school (or equivalent), compared to just 40% of those 25 and older.

The Rock Initiative is just one service — as expansive as it may be — in a large area, but Nancy Rogers, executive director of ministries, said it’s helping revitalize an area that hasn’t had much reason recently to feel that way.

“I think this community feels a sense of hope and expectation because for a long time nothing new was going on,” Rogers said. “… I think the community is seeing us try to do things at an excellent level, and then slowly we’re bringing things on.”

Aside from offering more services through its initiative, Eastern Star helped form the Arlington Woods Neighborhood Association a little over a year ago, which Johnson said has given the community more capacity to get things done.

“When you have one person trying to get to the mayor or to the chief of police or to whoever’s making the decisions, it’s hard for one person,” he said. “But when you’ve got a community coming together to get that to be heard … that’s helping in that regard.”

 

Johnson hinted at an upcoming phase two of the Rock Initiative but didn’t give many details, although he did say it would involve “more of the same, but at a very, very high level.” Part of that, he said, includes building and renovating more houses.

Ashley Gurvitz, community development manager at Eastern Star, oversees the day-to-day operations of the Rock Initiative and said an expansion of services wouldn’t have to directly involve the church. For example, another church or organization could decide it’s going to dedicate itself to housing, so Eastern Star could share its knowledge and resources without stretching itself too thin to remain effective.

“If we can help model this, what can we do to expand that?” Gurvitz said. “But our expansion doesn’t have to be where it’s us doing it. It can be the collective community doing it.”

 

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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