Neighborhood Visionary: Diane Arnold

Diane-Arnold-compressed-231x300For Diane Arnold, executive director of Hawthorne Community Center, the Hawthorne neighborhood on Indianapolis’s Near Westside isn’t just where she works—it’s where she lives. It’s where her family lives. And it’s a community she’s been working to improve for more than 40 years.

Diane’s roots at the Hawthorne Community Center began with her mother accepting the position as executive director more than four decades ago. At the time, the Hawthorne Community Center was little more than an informal rec center, providing kids and families a safe place to play and congregate.

Since then, Hawthorne Community Center has taken tremendous strides in becoming a comprehensive support center for the Hawthorne neighborhood. The center was also the convening organization for the Near Westside quality-of-life plan that was created as part of the Great Indy Neighborhoods Initiatives (GINI), and has led efforts to implement the plan over the last five years. It hasn’t always been easy, especially with an increasingly diverse population.

“The Hawthorne community is one that’s evolving. When I moved here, the neighborhood was mostly blue-collar families with an Appalachian background. Now, we’re seeing a major influx of Hispanic people. It’s been a significant challenge for us to bridge the gap between these two populations, but we’ve made great progress. We’re proud to celebrate diversity.”

To bring these two ethnically diverse populations together, Diane and the Hawthorne Community Center have devised a number of programs designed to promote friendship, unity, and mutual support in the neighborhood. These include everything from cooking classes to neighborhood cleanup initiatives to senior outreach programs in which seniors play and interact with local kids.

One of Diane’s biggest challenges has been how to best help the children of the neighborhood. Since many are born into Spanish speaking households, she decided it was important they learn English so that they’re able to perform well at school.

“While some of our seniors aren’t always willing to change, kids are enthusiastic to try new things. Our early childhood program is one of the best programs we have. It focuses on educating kids, preparing them to be successful students, and helping them become open-minded adults.”

Educating the children of the community undoubtedly provides the Hawthorne neighborhood with a solid foundation for the future. And Diane believes the most critical component to creating a safe, progressive neighborhood boils down to one thing: community pride—especially among the youth.

“We’ve got young people in this neighborhood who grow up in very challenging environments. And many of these kids make it. And when they make it, they come back, and want to work for us. They want to give back. And that’s so important to me—that they take pride in this community.”

Diane proves that you don’t need to travel to an exotic location to be a successful missionary. She proves that with dedication, hard work, passion, and pride, you can do it right in your own neighborhood. And her significant accomplishments at theHawthorne Community Center continue to prove that, everyday.