Neighborhood Visionary: The Bowlings

bowlings-231x300If you ask the Bowlings, the key to healthy neighborhoods is family. And for them, “family” includes the whole neighborhood.

For Mike Bowling and his sons Josh (community programming coordinator at the Chase Near Eastside Legacy Center) and Joe (director, East Washington Partnership at the Englewood CDC), the best way to keep the neighborhood family strong is simple: open conversation. And at Englewood Christian Church where Mike serves as pastor, conversation is the focus of the ministry.

“About 15 years ago, we decided that on Sunday nights, we were going to put the chairs in a circle with our congregation and just talk,” Mike said. “And the conversation hasn’t stopped since. It guides and shapes who we are and what we do.”

The ongoing conversation has led Mike and his family to get involved with countless community initiatives, oftentimes in affiliation with their church’s community development corporation, the Englewood CDC. One of the most important—and ambitious—of these initiatives has been the Quality of Life Plan for Indianapolis’s Near Eastside.

“The Quality of Life Plan for Indianapolis’s Near Eastside is a great example of what happens when a community unites for change,” Joe said. “And the neighborhood couldn’t have executed it without significant help from so many amazing people. We’re not finished yet, but given the scope of the plan, we’re way ahead of schedule—and that’s due to the overwhelming support we’ve gotten along the way.”

The Quality of Life Plan for Indianapolis’s Near Eastside has helped garner $152 million in grant money that’s being reinvested in the community. In Englewood alone, $7 million is going to everything from renovated homes and green space development to daycare facilities. And a great deal of the support for and facilitation of the Near Eastside Quality of Life Plan has come from LISC.

“We love working with LISC,” Joe said. “They’ve provided us with opportunities and ideas we wouldn’t have been exposed to without their support. And the people at LISC don’t pigeonhole their motivations with statements like, ‘This is about housing, or this is about education.’ For LISC and for us, it’s all about strong neighborhoods. It’s about taking a comprehensive approach and doing whatever it takes to get to your goals.”

“There’s a certain power that comes from getting people to envision goals for their community in new and exciting ways,” Josh said. “And when people are willing to contribute, everyone wins. That’s exactly what’s been happening over the last five years with the Quality of Life Plan.”

Since arriving in Indianapolis more than 20 years ago, Mike and his sons have been involved with a wide variety of neighborhood development projects throughout the city. Some have been small, such as buying and improving a dilapidated home; others have been major, such as the renovation of the Commonwealth—a mixed-use apartment complex. But for the Bowling family, each and every project is equally important.

“We look out for each other and our neighbors, and I think that’s the way the world is supposed to work,” Mike said. “It’s not about what I can do, it’s about what we can do.”