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Members of the mayor’s office visit Voices, a youth center in Indianapolis, during a day of events highlighting existing violence prevention measures.

IndyStar

On the wall at VOICES, a youth-serving nonprofit on Indianapolis’ southeast side, hangs a poem. 

Written by a former pupil and titled “If You Were to Walk in My Shoes,” it illustrates some of the things young people growing up in the city have been exposed to. Friends turning on each other. People trying to take advantage of your money. Pain. Death.

You’ll hear the police sirens all night (24/7).

You would see kids with dreams fall victim to the wrong place, wrong time.

You will have to make life choices that really matter.

People will look at you like you are wrong.

You will be told you won’t ever be anything. 

You will have to worry about dying every day you leave the house.

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Kids social distance for lunch at the Voices community outreach for youth, 1415 Shelby St, Indianapolis, Ind., Thursday Nov. 20, 2020.  (Photo: Michelle Pemberton/IndyStar)

Trey and Kia Wright have operated VOICES for a decade and have been offering day-reporting services for young men 17 and under who are involved in the criminal justice system for four years. VOICES connects with these young men using art therapy integration, education and community service opportunities to serve the organization’s four pillars: empowering young men who are healed, creative, educated and disciplined.

“It was grounded in giving them an outlet to be able to advocate for themselves, express some of the trauma that they have gone through,” Kia said, “and it’s just really grown from there.”

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With a staff of fewer than 15, VOICES serves nearly 400 youth each year through day reporting, after-school programming, tutoring and mentoring.

A few months ago, Davonte Hill became involved with the VOICES day-reporting program due to what he characterized as some “wrong actions” he’d taken that changed the course of his life. 

“I needed a program that could help me move towards better goals towards my life,” he said. 

Hill, 16, said he likes the camaraderie he’s found with the other young men in the program, but perhaps more than that, he appreciates the kindness of the personalities around him. The adults are there to keep you in line and make sure your schoolwork is being done, but they’re also there to give you opportunities and support. 

Already, Hill said he has two job interviews lined up and plans to start working toward his GED when he turns 17 early next year. 

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Davonte Hill is photographed at the Voices community outreach for youth, 1415 Shelby St, Indianapolis, Ind., Thursday Nov. 20, 2020. (Photo: Michelle Pemberton/IndyStar)

On a recent Wednesday, Hill and the other young men in his program finished their schoolwork and delivered meals to those experiencing homelessness near Downtown. 

Hill said one of his biggest takeaways from the program are personal accountability and integrity.

“You can be doing something for yourself and other people don’t have to see it, if you just do it for yourself,” he said. “I really needed to hear those words, because I was always doing stuff so other people could see me.”

While VOICES works to engage with hundreds of young men like Hill, their reach extends beyond the walls of their southeast side building. 

When the novel coronavirus pandemic began, Kia said they realized there was a gap in the services they’d been providing. For years they’d been telling school and juvenile court systems that youth can’t be expected to perform when they’re hungry, tired, depleted by instability. 

But outside of the program, these young men were facing these obstacles and more. The struggle to adapt to a virtual environment either due to lack of access or tech savvy. Their families’ struggles to meet basic needs like food and housing. 

They needed to look inward.

“We talked about it,” Kia said, “but we didn’t realize that we weren’t being more intentional about it.”

During the first COVID surge, Trey said VOICES provided around $10,000 in direct aid to neighbors and families trying to make rent, pay for utilities and keep food on the table. 

“We’re doing ourselves, we’re doing everybody a disservice if we’re not at least trying to help when we can,” Trey said. 

Sometimes the work can be heartbreaking. Since mid-October, Kia said three of the young men they’ve worked with have been lost to violence. With just over a month left in 2020, Indianapolis has already broken and set a new record for criminal homicides. 

These young men have experienced trauma and instability unlike anything Kia said she knew as a child their age. They deserve a space where they can process that trauma and grow.

“I think that’s what a lot of our kids are looking for, is just that love, that safety,” Kia said, “that affirmation of who they are.”

What is your organization’s mission?

To “enhance the lives of youth through an expression of self, community involvement, and providing options that will empower them to change their lives.”

How many people do you serve?

VOICES serves over 370 youth annually.

What is your No. 1 need?

As the COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted most volunteering opportunities, Kia said the best way to make an impact is through monetary donations to support programming, outreach and financial assistance for families of youth in programming and in the community.

How can people get involved?

Monetary donations can be made online via the VOICES website at voicescorp.org/donate. Kroger shoppers can also link their Shopper’s Card with VOICES via the grocer’s free Community Rewards program, which donates to participating organizations based on an individual’s spending, under the name Eclectic Soul VOICES Corp., Organization No. CH094. 

In addition to financial contributions, in-kind donations of hygiene and toiletry items, undershirts, socks, shoes, belts, gloves and other cold-weather gear are appreciated. Items can be dropped off at VOICES from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. To view the organization’s Amazon wish list, visit amzn.to/336qQhj.

Virtual tutors for all subjects are needed for students in after-school and day reporting programs and in-person tutors and volunteers are needed for a community learning pod launching in early December for virtual learners in grades K-4. 

Season for Sharing and the African American Legacy Fund

The shared mission of IndyStar’s Our Children initiative and annual Season for Sharing campaign is to harness the power of journalism to make a difference in the lives of Central Indiana youth. We invite you to join us by making a financial contribution. The Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust will match donations dollar-for-dollar up to $25,000. All charitable donations are tax deductible.  

With this year’s campaign, we’re focusing on the inequities that affect the quality of life of youth and young adults of color in Central Indiana. We’ll be partnering with the African American Legacy Fund of Indianapolis to provide grants to organizations that are working to dismantle systemic racism and create equitable opportunities for success.

Go to cicf.org/season-for-sharing-2020 to give online. If you prefer to send a check, please mail to: Central Indiana Community Foundation, Attn: Our Children, 615 N. Alabama St., Suite 300, Indianapolis, IN 46204. You also can donate by texting “SHARING” to 80888. 

About VOICES

Address: 1415 Shelby St., Indianapolis.

Phone: 317-496-1837

Website: voicescorp.org

You can reach IndyStar reporter Holly Hays at 317-444-6156 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @hollyvhays.

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