Three Indiana mayors are incorporating the same strategy into their overall efforts to promote youth, community and economic development.
The cities of Gary, Lebanon and Indianapolis are connected not only by I-65 but also by the common challenge of poverty. In Gary, 63 percent of children live below the poverty line; 44 percent of the students in Lebanon qualify for free or reduced-price school meals; and Indianapolis has a child poverty rate of 32 percent.
While the causes of poverty are many and complex, Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam says low-income children are much more likely to live in a single parent home and receive less attention from the parent(s) in their household. Presenting his data analysis at the Aspen Institute, Putnam concluded that “family and social bonds have been fraying” for low-income children.
“There is now a huge gap,” Putnam continued. “The average kid in a college-educated home is getting an hour a day more of time with their parents than the average [low-income] kid.”
In Gary, Lebanon and Indianapolis, mayors are filling that gap by recruiting volunteers to mentor at-risk children and youth.
Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson has launched the Gary Mentoring Trust in partnership with NIPSCO, the regional utility company where Gary native Eddie Melton serves as manager of corporate citizenship and employee involvement. NIPSCO provides employees with paid time off to mentor, and Melton confidently declared, “I think mentoring is going to be a key component for the turnaround, the renewal, the revival of the city of Gary.”
In Indianapolis, Mayor Greg Ballard is dealing with one of the city’s highest homicide rates in a decade. While exploring the possibility of hiring more police officers and launching a youth summer employment program, Ballard also is working with community organizations that can provide mentors for at-risk youth.