• Organizational Excellence
  • Health and Well-Being
  • Educational Success

Format: Study Tour

This study tour overlaps with Session E workshops. Participants are expected to return to the hotel at approximately 5:45 p.m., which may conflict with early evening activities. 

This study tour will demonstrate how neighbors and partners can authentically collaborate to achieve resident-defined goals for education, affordable housing, business and economic development, job creation, and health and wellness. Participants will learn how resident-led decision making and asset-based community development shapes and informs all of John Boner Neighborhood Centers’ efforts to redevelop Indianapolis’ Near Eastside neighborhood. 

Tour participants will learn how the neighborhood created its first quality of life plan, how the plan has become a living document that guides redevelopment activities, and how objectives in the plan are achieved. By touring these sites and hearing from those directly involved in redevelopment, participants will see how neighbors authentically collaborated with organizational leaders to create the first neighborhood school, offer hundreds of units of affordable housing, and develop abandoned legacy industrial sites that once contaminated the neighborhood.

John Boner Neighborhood Centers was founded in 1971 to serve residents of the Near Eastside of Indianapolis. The center believes that neighborhood-driven efforts are essential in developing a healthy, thriving, and vibrant community and provides numerous tools for change and growth for our residents and community partners. Through its work, John Boner Neighborhood Centers inspires hope and fosters change to improve the lives of those it serves. 

Tour Schedule:

  • Departure from the Hotel: Participants will learn about the demographics and history of the Near Eastside neighborhood
  • First Stop: John Boner Neighborhood Centers: Participants will tour the community center and learn how programs and services have been improved by using a two-generation approach
  • Drive to Second Stop: During this drive along one of the main streets in the district, participants will learn how neighbors have worked for more than a decade to create an arts district that will be built out over the next four years
  • Second Stop: Minnie Hartmann Center: Participants will tour this innovative multigenerational development where an abandoned school building was turned into affordable senior housing and a daycare; learn how neighbors planed for the redevelopment of abandoned land
  • Third Stop: Englewood Village Great Places 2020 Site: Participants will tour a unique housing development that features mixed-income tenants and learn why the neighborhood thinks this is an important model; learn about how neighbors worked to develop abandoned land into the home for two schools, expanding learning opportunities in the neighborhood; this stop features the only rooftop hockey deck in the city
  • Fourth Stop: Thomas Gregg Neighborhood School: Participants will learn how residents worked together to create the first neighborhood school in the neighborhood; now in its second year of operation as a neighborhood school, school leaders and administration will talk about the changes that have happened since the school came under neighborhood control and discuss how partnership opportunities between the school and the community center provide housing for school families supplemented with services
  • Fifth Stop: Boner Fitness & Learning Center: Participants will learn how partners leveraged the opportunity of the 2012 Super Bowl to create a one-of-a-kind building that features programs and services for children and youth and a full-service, membership-based fitness facility and how a unique partnership with a local university helps keep membership fees low 

Learning Objectives:

  • The role that neighbors can play in shaping redevelopment of neighborhoods and how strong neighborhood engagement strategies provide a clear process for decision making
  • How organizations can authentically collaborate to increase impact and accelerate achievement of neighborhood-defined goals
  • How programs and services can be created in ways that directly respond to resident needs

Tour Guide(s):

  • Melissa Benton, community development officer, John Boner Neighborhood Centers
  • James Taylor, CEO, John Boner Neighborhood Centers

Melissa Benton
Community Development Officer
John Boner Neighborhood Centers

Melissa Benton is the community development officer for the John Boner Neighborhood Centers. In this role she oversees and coordinates numerous community development initiatives in the neighborhood including implementation of the neighborhood’s Quality of Life Plan and the 10-year federal designation as a Promise Zone. Benton oversees the marketing, fundraising, and grant writing strategy for the center and is also responsible for oversight of large-scale capital developments and construction projects. In overseeing a staff of five, Benton and the Community Development team work to ensure that all programs and services are aligned with the community’s Quality of Life Plan.

James Taylor
Chief Executive Officer
John Boner Neighborhood Centers

In November 1998, James Taylor became the CEO of the John Boner Neighborhood Centers, which serves residents of the Near Eastside of Indianapolis. Taylor is a passionate advocate for social justice, urban renewal, and comprehensive community development. The center provides Near Eastside neighbors with tools, programs, and initiatives to improve themselves and the neighborhood they call home. Since 1998, the center’s budget has grown from $1.4 million to more than $10 million with a staff of 105 to deliver unique and innovative programs to the Near Eastside community. 

The center provides afterschool programs at five local public schools, homeless prevention services, the Center for Working Families, adult day services, and senior socialization and wellness programs. In addition, the center owns and manages 221 housing units for at-risk families, seniors, and those who are mobility impaired or homeless. In addition, the center oversees neighborhood engagement efforts through the Quality of Life Plan and the administration of the federal Promise Zone designation.

Taylor graduated from Ball State University with bachelor’s degrees in social work and psychology, and he received his master’s in social work with “highest distinction” from Indiana University.