Moving at the Speed of Trust: A Community Revitalization Partnership Approach in Indianapolis

November 29, 2023
by Claudia Bledsoe, AmeriCorps Project Manager at Rebuilding Together National

This October, Rebuilding Together hosted our annual affiliate conference, Summit, in Indianapolis, IN. Rebuilding Together affiliate leaders from across the country joined together for a weekend of education, connection and inspiration. A small group of Summit attendees had the opportunity to tour the historic Flanner House, a 125-year-old nonprofit that empowers families and individuals to move from instability to self-sufficiency. As the attendees learned about the work of Rebuilding Together Indianapolis in their community, it only made sense to learn about their partner, Flanner House, as well. Brandon Cosby, the Executive Director of Flanner House, explained to a group of 25 Rebuilding Together staff, board and AmeriCorps members that because of their history, longevity and local commitment, they are able to strategically serve the community where it is most needed. 

The folks from Flanner House showed classrooms where early childhood education takes place and the bookstore they created after the city moved its library over 40 blocks away. The store includes books as well as items made by artists of color in their neighborhood. Once outside, viewers saw the farm Flanner House created, which houses their F.E.E.D (Farming, Education, Employment and Distribution) program. The F.E.E.D program is designed to develop knowledge, skills and opportunities for youth ages 16 to 24 who have experienced a number of societal hurdles, including chronic unemployment, engagement in the legal system, learning disabilities, as well as the lack of a GED. They work to assist participants to become gainfully employed, adequately educated, economically stable and socially engaged within the growing sectors of the local food economy in Indianapolis. Flanner House offers a number of other programs and services to meet community needs, including childcare, summer programs and a grocery store.

In discussing how Flanner House began addressing a wider number of community needs, Brandon shared the concept of holonomy: considering the wholeness of each individual and family served and taking a broader approach to meeting needs. Disrupting systemic inequity requires addressing a multitude of needs at the same time. For example, addressing the educational needs of a child will have a limited impact if we do not also consider employment opportunities, food security and housing stability for their family. This thought process deepened the Flanner House's commitment to addressing housing needs in their community. 

Rebuilding Together Indianapolis began collaborating with Flanner House to provide housing support for the near Northwest community. That collaboration took time, as Rebuilding Together Indianapolis had to earn the trust of Flanner House. 

When describing their collaboration with Rebuilding Together Indianapolis, Brandon explained how their area of Indianapolis had a history of discriminatory housing practices, and residents generally did not trust outside organizations when it came to housing. He needed the Rebuilding Together Indianapolis board and staff to prove that their organization was not coming in as a savior or a quick in-and-out type of group but to show that they were committed to their community. 

Rebuilding Together Indianapolis stepped up to the plate. Countless times, Flanner House staff described Rebuilding Together Indianapolis staff as empathetic, culturally competent and respectful. This trust did not develop overnight. It took time: sitting in community board meetings, meeting with Flanner House, recognizing they are community leaders and respecting the care Flanner House has for their community. When Rebuilding Together Indianapolis first started work in the community, Flanner House staff would join initial meetings to make sure their neighbors were being treated with respect and follow up with neighbors to address any concerns. 

The relationship with Flanner House and Rebuilding Together Indianapolis was not forged overnight. However, as Rebuilding Together Indianapolis staff showed themselves to be invested and committed to doing stellar work, they earned the respect of the Flanner House community. This trust and respect was valued and amplified by Rebuilding Together Indianapolis’ current Executive Director, Kyle Hickman. Although he has been with the organization for only a little over a year, he has built on the well-established foundation and has personally earned the trust of leadership and staff of Flanner House. Now the two organizations often collaborate, meeting together often to discuss neighbor needs and how they can be of most use to their community. 

Shortly after completing the Flanner House community tour, Brandon spoke at the Summit opening reception at the Dallara IndyCar factory and echoed the same sentiment: Progress moves at the speed of trust, and trust is earned slowly and carefully. Repairing a home may take place over weeks or months, but the work of revitalizing communities requires a deeper investment of time and trust building. It was great to see this example during my time in Indianapolis, and I’m thankful to the Flanner House team for their time