A Perfect Fit in Bates-Hendricks

vanest house

I first met Joanna Taft in the summer of 2000. My husband and I had just left jobs with the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, Syria, to move to Indianapolis for a new position at the Oaks Academy. We walked or took public transportation everywhere we needed to go in Damascus and assumed that we would live downtown and do the same thing in our new home. We had one day to find our first house in Indianapolis and Joanna graciously agreed to introduce us to the city. We spent a Saturday morning touring what was available in our (very low) price range downtown: beautiful old peeling Victorians with no walls, floors, plumbing, or wiring, much less a functional kitchen. My dear husband is wonderful at many things, but home repair is not one of them. It takes us awhile to change our lightbulbs. As we sat on Joanna’s couch while she mixed drinks in the kitchen, my husband turned to me and said, “I think we could do this.” I, who may have some excuse in that I was 6 months pregnant with our third child, burst into uncontrollable, shoulder­shaking, sobs. Joanna returned to find me blubbering. She gave me what I now consider to be a life changing gift when she said, “Maybe we should take you to Fountain Square.”

The first house we saw, a new SEND (Southeast Neighborhood Community Development Corporation) rehab in Bates­Hendricks, was perfect. It had walls, floors, even brand new plumbing. I was in love, but at that point I was easy to please. We never looked at another house and 13 years later we’ve never looked back. Because we had never bought anything that required a payment plan, we were afraid that our lack of business savvy would be a liability. SEND connected us with INHP (Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership) to help us through the home-buying process. It was great to work with someone who we felt like was really taking care of us and was making sure we got an even better deal than the best deal out there. Buying a house was actually a great experience. What most surprised me, however, was how much I would fall in love with my neighborhood.

Initially, I was terrified of living in downtown Indianapolis. I lived happily in the middle of one of the most volatile cities in the Middle East and I was, like most of the rest of the world who only sees American cities through the lens of Hollywood and old MTV videos, scared of “the city.” I spent the first few weeks locked inside my new house with my children, my cell­phone with 911 on speed dial always in my hand. And then I decided to meet my neighbors. I started just walking up and down my street, meeting grandmothers rocking on their porches and teenagers walking their dogs. I began attending my neighborhood association meetings, where I met so many inspiring people who were really eager to do their part to bring about positive change in the neighborhood and the city. I returned from every meeting more excited about what was happening in our little corner of Indianapolis. I got involved with my local CDC and got to know my state representatives and city council members and was amazed that I, just a mom on the Southeast side of Indianapolis, could have a voice in public policy.

When we met people who were looking for affordable housing downtown, we began to say, “Come live by us! It’s wonderful!” And they did. I am now part of a community that has overwhelmed me with its desire to care for everyone in the neighborhood, not just the people who are like them. Many times I look around a neighborhood meeting or around my living room and smile at the amazing diversity of the people in the room.

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This month, I began working at the City Gallery, whose mission is to “connect people to culture, community and place.” My home (and jewelry box) have filled over the years with work produced by artists who live and work here in the Harrison Center, and now I get to walk a meandering route to my new office every day, relishing the beauty being produced in my city. I am so thankful for that day 13 years ago when Joanna introduced me to Fountain Square, helping me find my place in the city, and can’t imagine anything more exciting than helping newcomers to Indianapolis find not only a great piece of art, but a neighborhood and true community.