“Words may inspire, but only action creates change.” This quote from Simon Sinek seemed fitting for our next ELEVATE finalist, Cheria Caldwell, nominated for her work as an exceptional young professional nonprofit employee. Cheria’s nomination submission was a carefully curated list of ACTION – items, initiatives, events and breakthroughs that she initiated to create measurable change on the Far Eastside of Indianapolis in her role as Director of Community Engagement at CAFÉ (Community Alliance of the Far Eastside).
We sat down with Cheria to learn a little more about how she has been so successful.
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up on the far eastside. It has always been my heart and passion to do work in the area where I was raised which is why I jumped at the opportunity to work for CAFE. My mom literally lives down the street to this day. I attended Ball State University and earned a degree in Urban Planning, which I’ve used in my role as community director of engagement. My focus is a little less on place and much more on people.
Q: We are curious about how CAFE serves individuals in our community. What can you tell us about the array of services you provide?
The CAFE campus houses multiple organizations on one site with a handful of programs running daily. We have GED classes, residents can meet with career and financial coaches or earn certifications various trades. We host monthly career fairs and a youth employment camp in the summer. We have a senior program to help get elderly residents who may be facing social isolation out, moving and interacting with one another. We are also a site for general community events and meetings. We try to be a convening space and it is working because we are busy every day.
Q: How can someone volunteer their time with CAFE?
A: It depends on what’s going on, but there is always work for volunteers. During the summertime we ask professionals to speak to our summer campers (age 15-18) about their job to help get them thinking about different lines of work. Our senior programs love visitors. We have regular community cleanups. And, this summer we are hoping to get an orchard space on-site. So, that’ll be a fun way to get your hands dirty.
“Cheria is a pleasure to work with and have on staff. She has a unique ability to work collaboratively across all levels. Working with residents, stakeholders, churches, partners, funders, and employers alike, she builds trust and respect with her genuine appreciation and love for the community and work that she is doing. She is independent, self-driven, and her adaptability to take on projects and be highly successful makes her a true asset to Indianapolis and the Far Eastside.”
Q: Your nominator had high praise for you as an employee of CAFE but also a resident of the community. How do you ensure that other residents have their voices heard in our local government?
A: Once I started at CAFE, I realized many residents didn’t feel like they could contact an elected official to voice concerns or to share a reality of what life was like in the neighborhood. Honestly, my method is simple. I just try to make myself approachable. I attend all the meetings I can. I talk to everyone equally. I document what is said and make sure our residents know what resources are available to them.
Q: There was a recent addition to the far eastside neighborhood – an awesome mural. Tell us about how that project came about.
A: The Far Eastside has never had a mural. We have lots of vacant buildings and walls, but no murals. Eli Lilly & Company and a handful of other corporate partners were assembling a group of intern volunteers last summer for an event called IndyFluence. I reached out on our Facebook page for a local artist and we met Demetrius Green who painted his first mural alongside these young volunteers who cleared a ton of debris, brush and trash – and helped with the painting. Now we have a colorful, exciting addition to the underpass on Pendleton Pike under I-465. It was a great collaboration.
Congrats to Cheria on her nomination!