AmeriCorps Parent Engagement

Westminster Neighborhood Services K-8 Program is fortunate to have a longstanding partnership with John Boner Neighborhood Centers, a non-profit organization also serving the Near Eastside of Indianapolis, and their Near East Educational AmeriCorps (NEEA) Program.  AmeriCorps is a federal program that engages adults in public service to meet critical needs of communities. The NEEA Program focuses specifically on the Near Eastside of Indianapolis and meeting educational needs of students and their families.  The NEEA Program is quite innovative in their approach to tackling educational needs on the Near Eastside of Indianapolis because of the 2-generational approach it uses to meet needs of residents.  To meet the critical educational needs of students, their parents must also have support.  This holistic approach is a perfect match for Westminster, because Westminster as an organization has held this philosophy since our inception over 35 years ago.

Westminster has been lucky to partner with the NEEA Program again during the 2016-2017 Afterschool Program Year with Diane Wade serving as Parent Empowerment AmeriCorps fellow.  Diane has been a wonderful addition to Westminster’s K-8 Programs by empowering parents to break through any barriers they may be facing to improve their quality of life.

Throughout her term of service with AmeriCorps, Diane has been able to make life-changing connections with parents.  For example, Diane meets one-on-one with parents of students in the K-8 Afterschool Program weekly to talk with them and assess current needs.  She has often helped parents find more affordable housing, assisted with food access by connecting parents to Westminster’s Pantry Program, and connected parents with other local resources such as car mechanics and even local government officials.  Because of this personal approach Diane has taken to get to know parents on a more intimate level than other staff has been able to do in the past, their lives have improved.

Westminster stands firm in our belief that when parents are supported, their children will, in turn, succeed.  Because of gains that Westminster has seen parents of students in our K-8 Program make, we have also seen our students become more successful and confident in not only their school work, but also in themselves.

Clothing Closet

Westminster Neighborhood Services decided to phase out the Clothing Closet in April of this year.  We know many clients rely on this service so the decision was not made lightly.  Clothing donations were abundant and sometimes overflowing, but also caused havoc bringing bugs into the Family and Adult Services Center.  This is not an issue we want in a building that also stores food or one that we want to have with the Marion County Health Department.  When the decision to end the Clothing Closet was made, a plan to still help clients with clothing was put into place.  Lindsey Welch, Westminster Family and Adult Services Director said, “Before clothing was phased out at WNS, I reached out to many community partners to see how our clients could still receive clothing for free.”  Within a couple of months, Linwood Christian Church came on board to offer a voucher to WNS clients allowing them to utilize their Rummage Room.  The Rummage Room has both clothing and household items available.  A partnership with Goodwill’s Collect and Connect program also began.  When dropping off donations to Goodwill, please mention that you would like them to be for Collect and Connect for Westminster.  For each 13-gallon trash bag (or its equivalent) donated, Westminster receives a $5 voucher that can be used to go shop for a specific client need or given directly to the client for them to purchase clothing.  This program can be accessed at any Goodwill in Indiana.

Afterschool Program 2016-2017

Westminster’s K-8 Afterschool Program wrapped up on June 8th this year.  Students had a great 2016-2017 school year! Westminster was fortunate to provide new opportunities to students enrolled in our Afterschool Program.  Our students love to garden, and we did plenty of that this school year!  Gardening is a great opportunity to learn about science and the environment, but also turned out to be a great leadership opportunity for our oldest students.  A few of our oldest students in the Afterschool Program had the responsibility of serving as “lead gardener” and assisted Westminster K-8 Staff in planning lessons and keeping the garden in order throughout the year.

Westminster K-8 Afterschool Program Staff were fortunate to attend Professional Development Training with Playworks Indiana, and are now quite skilled in incorporating social and emotional learning into recreational games and activities, something that is very important for development of life skills for our students.

Additionally, Westminster Afterschool Program is proud of our new partnership with Purdue Extension!  Purdue Extension provided cooking, nutrition, and wellness classes for students where they got to lean about healthy diets and how to cook some things on their own!  Many students in the Westminster Afterschool Program are lacking confidence in personal skill-sets, and the opportunity to practice a skill like cooking or baking, and succeeding, has been very beneficial.

It was a great 2016-2017 Afterschool Program year, and we look forward to resuming the program at the end of July!

WNS Welcomes New Board Member

Westminster is excited to announce Matt Carlstedt, Senior Vice President for Citimark, has joined the Board.  Matt is excited about the diversity of programs Westminster offers to meet the needs of those on the Near Eastside, from children to adults.  A neighbor of Matt’s pushed him to learn more about Westminster and get involved.  Matt has volunteered in the soup kitchen on Monday afternoons.  When Matt isn’t focused on the real estate investment world, you can find him enjoying time with his family or on the golf course.

Food Pantry Happenings

Before the Family and Adult Services Center opened in February 2015, the food pantry had been open one day per week.  Over the past two years we have grown tremendously!  In these years, WNS has doubled the amount of time both the food pantry and soup kitchen are open.  We have also increased pick-ups from different grocery stores and partners both on the Near Eastside and throughout Indianapolis.  These pick-ups, where stores donate unsold items to the pantry and soup kitchen, allow us to provide more fresh produce to our neighbors than ever before.  Some of these partners include Kroger, Aldi, Whole Foods, and Panera Bread.

Senior Shopping Day started in October 2016.  This is a day specifically for seniors ages 55 and older living in Marion County.  For those seniors also living within Westminster’s service boundaries, this gives them an additional pantry visit each month!  This day would not be possible without great partnerships with Oak Street Health and Gleaners Food Bank.  Oak Street Health provides both funds and volunteers to support this day.  In addition to these partners, Clif Bar has also increased their involvement at Westminster and started providing volunteers for Senior Day.  This is a huge help to Westminster.  Senior Shopping Day is growing quickly!

Donations!  Westminster is always in need of donations.  Food items most needed now include soup (ravioli, Spaghetti-Os, etc), peanut butter, jelly, pasta, pasta sauce, and canned meat.  Hygiene items most needed now include bar soap, dish soap, laundry detergent, toilet paper, razors, diapers (adult and baby), baby wipes, baby powder, toothpaste and toothbrushes.

If you would like to donate to the WNS Food Pantry or Soup Kitchen, please contact Lindsey Welch, Family and Adult Services Director, at 317-245-6282 or lindsey.welch@westmin.org.

Volunteer Spotlight: Park Tudor 4th Graders

Park Tudor fourth graders have been volunteering at Westminster for the past year.  Since they volunteer every other week during the school year, each student gets to come to Westminster several times.  The enthusiasm and joy these students bring to volunteering is unbelievable.  They have helped with many tasks and activities while volunteering, including building help bags for homeless neighbors, hygiene kits to go in the help bags, repackaging food, organizing the clothing closet, and taking individuals through the food pantry as guided shoppers.  “In a world dominated by social media, texting, and widening socioeconomic divides, it requires a concerted effort to teach our children how to truly express empathy.  Although it is wonderful to raise money for charitable causes, it cannot replace physically performing acts of kindness.  Engaging in dialogue with clients from Westminster teaches our children how to effectively communicate outside of the sanctuary we both consciously and unknowingly create.  As parents, it is so important that our children learn how to effectively communicate with those in need in a nonjudgmental way.  By far the most remarkable change in our daughter occurred after discovering the personal joy associated with helping those less fortunate,” said Carly and Eric, parents of a Park Tudor fourth grader.

Chris Holobek is one of the fourth grade teachers who brings these students to volunteer.  Chris asked the students to write down ideas of something they would like to do at Westminster.  Some of their responses are listed below:

  • “I wish we could help them get healthier and help with injuries.” – Mack
  • “I wish we could help the children with homework.” – Maria
  • “I want to help prepare the food, but go anonymously.” – Madeline
  • “I wish we could wash dishes.” – Paige

As you can see, these students are very motivated

to help the community however they can!  Mike and Leona, parents of one of the students, said, “It means a lot to us to have Hali volunteering at Westminster.  Service to others is a very important aspect of life and education.”  The Park Tudor fourth graders are a large aspect of the growing relationship between Westminster and the school.  The past year was a great experience for everyone, and we look forward to their continued involvement in the future!

Volunteer groups help fulfill the mission of Westminster

Westminster is so thankful for the groups who chose to volunteer with us throughout 2017! These groups helped us both start and finish projects that might otherwise take much longer to complete. They also provided assistance in the food pantry and soup kitchen. Volunteering is a great way for organizations to build teamwork while helping out a local nonprofit. Here are some of the groups Westminster had the pleasure of hosting this quarter. Check out photos of them in action on the left.

April was the first month after the clothing closet closed, so Westminster needed assistance reorganizing the pantry to make better use of the space.  Luckily, members of Kentwood Community Church’s youth group came from Michigan to help out!  Members of Harvest Bible Chapel Indy West spent their time deep-cleaning the Youth Service Center, which Westminster appreciated.  Volunteers from Liberty Mutual also came to Westminster’s food pantry and soup kitchen to assist clients.

In May, Westminster had help from many of our reoccurring monthly group.  Both Noble and Hollis Adams continued some behind-the-scenes work, repackaging food and separating donations.  Community Health Network volunteers provided some extra assistance both in the food pantry and helping unload food deliveries!  Oak Street Health continued their monthly support of Senior Shopping Day, providing volunteers in the pantry and soup kitchen as well as helping neighbors connect with resources for healthcare needs.  This month, Clif Bar also volunteered for Senior Pantry. The extra help was definitely needed as this day keeps growing!

June was a busy month!  With the start of summer break, many groups started volunteering at Westminster.  YouthWorks started coming daily to both the Family and Adult Services Center and Youth Services Center, helping clean, organize and prepare for food pantry.  A youth group from Houston, Texas came for a week as part of Week of Hope, working on many of the same tasks as YouthWorks.  TeenWorks got our garden beds and playgrounds ready for summer!  They rebuilt and painted new garden beds, planted and weeded and even mulched playgrounds.  The new beds look great and the students in Summer Program are excited about maintaining the plants and herbs in the garden!  Volunteers from Church Mutual, Beargrass Youth Group and Harvest Bible Chapel Indy West all helped serve our clients more efficiently in the soup kitchen and food pantry.  Hazel Dell Youth Group did more behind-the-scenes work and did some organization and repackaging of food in Westminster’s warehouse.

Westminster could not fulfill its mission of assisting and empowering at-risk children and families on Indianapolis’s Near Eastside without the support of volunteers. If you have a large group of people who want to volunteer, please contact Lauren Rollings, Westminster’s Volunteer Coordinator, at lauren.rollings@westmin.org or 317-632-9785.