At this point, I’ll stop the narrative style and list what I consider to be important developments:
- The use of volunteers from across the country to supplement staff. This is how we got Tom Orr and Tom Hanify. Hanify, now president of the state Firefighters Union, came from Brooklyn on his motorcycle with all his worldly possessions, parked on the sidewalk and said, “Here I am,” We rented a house near Woodruff Place for some of the volunteers.
- The Montessori type pre-school that Suellen (Jackson) Boner, with John’s help, opened at Centenary Christian Church. As far as I know, the outside ramp we had to build on the alley side of the education building to meet city code is still there.
- Rented the service station on the southeast corner of 10th and Beville to use as a clothing pantry.
- Had numerous visitors from other cities and states come to observe our methods and set-up. (Lugar referred a number of these.)
- Surviving numerous financial problems due to the ebb and flow of federal funds and the whims of the Council. I remember several of our “family” meetings with staff to discuss the latest crises and/or lay-off.
- Gave permission to the Lugar campaign for the senate to film a promo at the senior center, which was shown all over the state. John and NESCO weren’t overjoyed with my decision on that, but I believe it proved to be valuable to the Center.
- “Purchase of service” concept, meaning the city should “buy” the services from agencies – not run them. After Bill Hudnut became Mayor, some members of his administration came up with the idea that the City should take over all the federally funded centers, make the employees into city employees, and run things their way. It was an obvious power grab. I wrote to Bill, and as tactfully as I could, objected to this move on the basis that community centers are best operated on a community level, and that the city had no experience at this sort of thing.
A week or so later, as Bill was riding in an open car up 10th Street in NESCO’s annual parade, he shouted over at me standing on the corner and asked me to meet him in Brookside Park to discuss the letter. We talked for about 30 minutes, and he said he understood my point. Wiser heads prevailed in city hall (help from Bob Cross and others) and the idea was dropped.
- Decentralization of agencies
We were able to contract with the Legal Aid Society for an on-site attorney (office in one of the apartments on the second floor), Family Service Association for an on-site counselor and the Girl Scouts. LSO never came.
- Indiana University School of Social Service placed several interns at the center over the years (and still does).
Throughout all this, John Boner’s great skills, boundless enthusiasm, endless energy and brilliant mind made those formative years much easier to deal with, and after he became the director, these same attributes lead the center to levels few people would have thought possible. You know that story – and every good thing you have heard about John is true.
Since those early days, NESCO has continued to advocate for the residents of the near east side. From the beginning, one of the major efforts has been to improve the neighborhood by getting vacant buildings repaired or torn down. In 1974, NESCO initiated an intensive campaign of economic development and revitalization of businesses in the community.
One of the impediments to improving the quality of housing was that Health Department inspection records weren’t available to the public. In the July/August 1977 issue of the NESCO NEWS, it was reported that Mayor Hudnut “ordered the city administration to work on State Legislation to consolidate housing code enforcement under the city, and incorporate improvements to the system suggested by NESCO. At the same time, officials of the Health and Hospital Corporation have indicated a desire to work with NESCO on improving code enforcement. “Winning this victory showed that organized citizens can bring about change and force public officials to pay attention citizen’s concerns,” said President Jim Byrne.
In 1980 NESCO initiated the Near Eastside Federal Credit Union located on 10th Street at the west end of the Brookside building. The credit union is now called the Community Choice Federal Credit Union and is located in the restored Mazingo building at the corner of 10th Street and Rural Street.
NESCO continues the fight over abandoned and vacant properties, but we have tools we didn’t have in the past and we are optimistic that in late 2008 we will start to see things turn around.