Neighborhood Visionary: Terri Garcia

terri-230x300Education. Jobs. Affordable housing. These are just some of the things Southeast Community Services and Executive Director Terri Garcia bring to the Near Southeast side of Indianapolis. And for Terri it’s not just a job: it’s a labor of love.

“I truly enjoy bringing positive change to Indianapolis’s Near Southeast side. And positive change in this community starts with education. But even though educating people is the foundation of our success stories, we don’t force it on people. We give our residents the tools they need to get educated; they have to take it upon themselves to use them.”

A particularly inspiring success story at Southeast Community Services is that of Courtney Fur. As a child, Courtney came to Southeast Community Services to use the computer lab and hang out with her brother. But as she got older and started a family, she got interested in using the community center’s other resources, like the Center for Working Families (CWF), to help further her education, get a good job, and save money.

The Center for Working Families (CWF) at Southeast Community Services was created through their ongoing partnership with LISC. The program strives to teach area residents the importance of financial literacy and becoming self-sufficient.

CWF clients meet with a financial coach, an income support coach, and an employment coach to assess their situation and create a plan for the future. The Center for Working Families at Southeast Community Services is one of seven such centers that LISC has helped to create throughout Indianapolis.

Today, Courtney has a great job she loves in culinary arts, a high credit score, and is in the process of closing on a home. And while Southeast Community Services helped her accomplish all of this, it wouldn’t have happened if she didn’t work hard and stay dedicated to achieving her goals.

“We knew Courtney understood that what we provide people are hand-ups, not hand-outs. It wasn’t that she was willing to work with us—she wanted to. That’s why she’s succeeded, and that’s why we were so happy to work with her.”

One of the toughest challenges still facing the Near Southeast side of Indianapolis is a lack of good jobs. In order to add more sustainable, quality jobs, Southeast Community Services has partnered with Southeast Neighborhood Development (SEND) to create the Green Jobs Program.

The Green Jobs Program is designed to teach unemployed people marketable skills that can be used to find good jobs assisting various community improvement projects. Once people have been trained, it’s much easier for them to find employment with area contractors working on projects that benefit the community: home improvements, landscaping, new infrastructure projects, and more.

With all these Southeast Community Services helping residents, it’s easy to forget the real purpose of the center: to serve as a safe, positive place for people to gather, talk, and work on improving their community.

“At heart, we’re a community center. When folks walk in and see all that’s happening here, they say ‘wow, you’ve got all this going on’ and tend to spread the word to other residents, which increases community involvement. People are surprised how we’ve opened up our building to the community for all sorts of functions. They’re learning more and more about the unique opportunities we provide, and we’re very excited about that.”

For Terri Garcia and Southeast Community services, each day is a new chance to improve the community. To help a struggling family get back on their feet again. To teach young people about financial responsibility and finding gainful employment. To bring opportunity to people who wouldn’t have otherwise had it.

And it’s this work—a labor of love—that keeps Terri Garcia coming back.