In many efforts to alleviate societal issues and address the issue of poverty, many schools, businesses, nonprofits and faith-based institutions often engage in work that oftentimes overlaps without intentional collaboration that creates shared value.
This begs the question: Why is it so hard for organizations to connect and build sustainable relationships for and with vulnerable populations? Why do we continue to silo ourselves?
The unintended consequence of creating silos is that wider gaps are created in the lives of vulnerable populations especially Black and brown populations. Who is standing in the gaps to build the relational capacity for effective community engagement among schools, businesses and nonprofits to create a supportive ecosystem for vulnerable populations, especially our youth, to thrive?
Founded in 2010, ProAct Indy’s mission is “to stand in the gap for vulnerable populations while empowering youth to actively transform their communities.“
Leveraging social capital, we specialize in intentionally bringing together organizations in the city —helping groups cross social, racial, and economic boundaries. We arrange social justice training workshops and service projects, allowing businesses and community members to learn and serve alongside vulnerable youth.
ProAct began not to create another dot on the map of nonprofit organizations doing great work, but rather to intentionally create an efficient system to connect the dots already existing on the map to help sustain and amplify youth voice and action. We seek to redefine and set the standard of what community service is as we define community service as intentionally building and creating meaningful relationships.
Brief history and program model
Since inception, ProAct has evolved several times to meet the needs of our community in response to the demand of our programs and services. ProAct began in 2010 by engaging small groups of Indianapolis youth from apartment communities in community service every Saturday, supporting various nonprofits with consistent volunteer support. In 2014, we began to work with schools by offering an afterschool club with cohorts of youth who learn and serve together. This prompted the creation of a formal program curriculum teaching youth about the root causes of the social issues they address through service each month.
In 2015, we saw an opportunity to offer the same type of engagement to businesses who pay ProAct to plan, train and manage service days their employees participate in. Not only did we provide a benefit to the business community, but the profits we gained through our corporate programs supported our youth cohorts year after year, making our program free to youth and their families.
In 2017-2018, between youth and corporate programs, ProAct grew from engaging just over 2,000 people in service to over 10,000 people in one year’s time, serving 10 schools, 17 businesses, and 115 nonprofits. Such quick growth was not easy to manage operationally and we learned valuable lessons as we scaled up that prompted us to scale back our programs in 2019 to refine our innovative program model to be more sustainable and intentional.
That brings us to today.
We have taken what has worked well in the past and have created a completely integrated framework for community engagement connecting schools, corporations, and nonprofits through our Proactive Community Model.
This model is sustained over the course of many months, years and gives youth consistent, caring adults who mentor and teach them valuable 21st century skills, equips young professionals within partnering companies with personal development opportunities, provides companies with a complete community engagement solution for their employees, and gives nonprofit volunteer managers consistent support around meaningful volunteer engagement.
We humbly believe that our experience and our sensitivity to the needs of our youth and our community have brought us to a position where we can continue our impact in even more innovative ways than ever before. Working alongside our youth and community partners, ProAct has become an instrumental partner in tackling some of the city’s most critical problems.
Derrin Slack is a speaker, training facilitator, consultant, Founder of ProAct Indy and contributor for the Indianapolis Recorder. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org