$33 million capital campaign will expand nonprofit’s reach in eight underserved neighborhoods
by Shari Finnell, editor/writer, Not-for-profit News
As the president of Center Leadership Development (CLD) for more than 20 years, Dennis Bland has regularly contemplated the systemic barriers that lead to troubling racial disparities in Indiana — including with income, health, housing, education, employment and financial security.
It’s a concern shared by many leaders throughout the state, especially in light of statistics that show the disparities have not diminished in many areas. In some cases, as with college-going rates, the disparities have significantly increased.
According to a recent report from the Indiana Higher Education Commission, the percentage of Indiana high school students attending college has declined from 65 percent in 2015 to 59 percent in 2019. While the decline is evident across all races, it is more significant for African American students. The report revealed a 13 percent decrease in the number of African American students attending college during the four-year period.
As part of CLD’s $33 million RISE campaign, the organization will expand its educational programming throughout Indianapolis, specifically among minority and low-income youth residing in the zip codes of 46222, 46208, 46226, 46218, 46235, 46201, 46219 and 46205. CLD will partner with The PATH School, Christamore House, Eastern Star Church, Mt. Carmel Church and Community Alliance of the Far Eastside to provide in-school and satellite programming for students in their own neighborhoods.
CLD, which targets five areas as part of its programming — character, education, leadership, service and career, plans to increase the number of students it impacts through its core programming from 4,000 students a year to 6,500 a year. Overall, CLD plans to provide services to 15,000 individuals annually.
“I think so much about disparities and inequities,” said Bland, who recently helped lead the nonprofit organization past the $30 million mark of its $33 million RISE fundraising campaign. Donors have included Lilly Endowment, the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust, and the NBA Foundation. “Education ultimately translates into empowerment and cultivation, particularly in the areas that help people mobilize, grow or thrive.”
Quality programming is central to success
Bland said CLD’s programming, which ranges from elementary school to college, has been effective because of its comprehensive scope, which includes free tutoring, counseling, remedial courses, career planning, college prep, and college application and scholarship assistance.
CLD also never assumes that a youth intuitively understands the value of an education, said Bland, who stresses the importance of identifying the issues that immobilize students. Through their programming, Bland and the rest of the CLD team help disadvantaged students and their families understand why students in more affluent communities value the power of education.
Where a student lives can inherently shape their perceptions, he pointed out. “If there’s a community where 90 percent of the students are passing standardized tests and I live in a community where 10 percent of people pass standardized tests, I will need you to give me some insights as to what they are doing right and why I’m not doing what they are doing.”
With deeper conversations with students, counselors can help them develop incentives and skills that align with the outcomes that they ultimately want, Bland added. They can help the students start caring about how they perform academically, he said.
“When young people come here, there’s going to be intentionality around giving them an education on education,” he said. “We’re not assuming that just because a student goes to school, they understand the importance of education.”
Bland said programs can be more effective by meeting constituents where they are — not where others think they should be. “It gives them an entirely different perspective. Ultimately, they begin to act differently because you created a program that meets them where they were,” he said.
Bland said programs also are designed to help participants and their families understand the challenges that are immobilizing them.
“It’s important to ask questions like, ‘What are those areas and issues that will keep you in poverty?’ ‘What are those things that keep you from climbing?’” Bland said. “It can help them begin to think differently, process differently, and act differently and then begin to pursue paths that may be different than the path they’re on. We help them switch to a path that’s going to help them thrive and succeed.”