Long-standing Christian center brightens Indianapolis neighborhood

By Dale P. Crabtree

Edna Martin Christian Center (EMCC) has ministered in the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood on the Near Eastside of Indianapolis for 76 years. The community was stable and successful until the railroads relocated in the early 20th century. Other employers followed, unemployment grew, crime increased and the neighborhood began a steady decline.

Today, the area is 93 percent African-American, the median annual family income is less than $29,000, the poverty rate is almost 25 percent, unemployment is 3.35 times the national average, and 34 percent of homes are headed by single females.

The center began humbly in 1941, when Edna Barnes Martin started a Christian daycare in a one-room, $14-a-month apartment with no plumbing. Two sisters were her first clients. Today, the ministry serves thousands of individuals at two campuses with before- and after-school programs, a food pantry, a reference library, homework help, arts and crafts activities, music programs, leadership programs for young people, career and financial counseling, summer camp, senior citizen groups, and a variety of other offerings.

After Martin’s passing in 1974, the center was renamed in her honor, but the heart of the ministry now and from the beginning has always been the same: to promote family stability and to ameliorate environmental hardships for families. These two goals are mutually dependent: Neither can be first nor second, for one cannot be successfully accomplished without the other.

To accomplish those goals, EMCC has identified six priorities:

  • improve educational outcomes for children in the community;
  • expand economic and workforce opportunities;
  • improve health conditions for all individuals;
  • ensure that EMCC operates sustainably;
  • build collective capacity among partnering organizations; and
  • expand the pool of community leaders.

These priorities coincide happily with the name “Edna,” which means rejuvenation. That thought is echoed by EMCC Executive Director Tysha Hardy-Sellers: “Everything we touch needs to be reactivated.”

Sellers, a graduate of Bradley University, Peoria, Ill., and Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, came to EMCC in 2008 after working in journalism, education, government and marketing.

“There was always a connection — always some initiative that I was a part of that focused on this area. No matter what I was doing, I was always drawn back to the community,” Sellers says. “I grew up in this neighborhood; I still have family here. I appreciate the experiences I had here. I remember walking to the zoo [before it moved out of the neighborhood] and to a market where several merchants had come together and rented a vacant storefront. There had been a vibrancy here — there were small businesses and even entrepreneurs. People were sharing, giving.

“Over time, I saw a decline,” she continues. “And, even as a child, I would see rundown properties and vacant lots, and I dreamed of fixing them up and creating spaces for youth. It’s always been a dream of mine to give back. I want to ensure that the vibrancy returns.”

While EMCC offers programs for job seekers, parents and senior citizens, children still make up the lion’s share of EMCC’s constituency. The childcare that has operated continuously since 1941 is now a Family and Social Services Administration Level-3 Paths to Quality preschool. Older youth are provided instruction, support and the resources they need to be kindergarten-ready, academically strong and college-bound.

Faith-based youth programs focus on social, academic and civic achievement through homework help; science, technology, engineering and mathematics instruction; physical fitness; nutrition; community projects; substance-abuse prevention; and mentoring. A partnership with the Martin University NASA Science Engineering Mathematics Aerospace Academy laboratory in Indianapolis gives kids hands-on, real-life aerospace experience.

To continue helping youth for years to come, the six priorities listed above are part of “Thrive,” EMCC’s five-year strategic and operational plan. EMCC will kick off the Thrive capital campaign in October 2017 to allow for a sweeping expansion of services.

“Over the next five years,” Sellers says, “you can expect to see more kids in daycare, more community spaces that include gardens, more stable housing, and new community leaders emerging.” The future of Martindale-Brightwood is looking brighter.

Dale P. Crabtree is communications and marketing manager at EMCC. To learn more about the center and how you can help, visit the center’s website. EMCC is an American Baptist Home Mission Societies Neighborhood Action Program Christian center.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.