Volunteers transforming Indianapolis Old South Side neighborhood


While downtown and many of its adjacent areas like Mass Avenue and Fountain Square are enjoying an upswing, the Old Southside has struggled to get some attention and help from the city.

That's why some people are taking are taking things into their own hands and they're hoping to do it house-by-house.

Wednesday, a group of volunteers was back on East Caven Street caulking, painting, planting. They've spent the last three weeks building a new, two-story, three-bedroom home.

"I just think having houses here and bringing in families is going to make a difference," said Judith Essex.

Essex and the other volunteers have been working with the Fuller Center for Housing, an off-shoot of Habitat for Humanity.

Chuck Vogt, who heads the central Indiana chapter, said when several people from nearby Sacred Heart Catholic Church approached him, "we decided we should help them start, so this is the first house of probably 30-40 we can do in this neighborhood."

The house is being built for a family with four children that's never had a home of their own and it comes with an interest-free mortgage.

Vogt said the program is aimed at "people need that hand up instead of a handout. Most of the people (we work with) are living in poverty housing. And almost every one of them will have a payment that's half of what they're paying to live in poverty housing" when they move into a Fuller home. 

John Sauter, a volunteer, hopes the improvements go well beyond Caven Street.

"You get a new family in here and and a new home and people start thinking, 'Well, maybe I can do that, you know, maybe we can make a difference'," he said.

Sauter doesn't live in the neighborhood, but he's a member of Sacred Heart, which has been a central part of the area since 1875.

"It's not to say (this area) has been ignored, but it's been a little bit of an island, so it hasn't gotten what's happened at Fountain Square or Bates Hendricks," he said. "We've raised the level of noise a bit, saying we need some help here...and we're tying to do what we can to make that happen."

Essex moved to the Old Southside nearly four years ago from Zionsville.

"I just see so much potential, huge potential. We are on the back doorstep of downtown Indianapolis," she said. "From my backyard, I can see Lucas Oil Stadium. You can buy a house anywhere in this neighborhood and walk downtown. There's just so much potential and a lot of hope."

Jackie McIntyre, who's lived in the area since she was eight years old, agrees.

"I love it. I can walk to work if my car breaks down," she said. "Everybody knows everybody."

And she's encouraged by what she calls "good changes," including the two-story brick building across the street. "He's redoing it and I mean redoing it."

He is Tom Ward, owner of OmniSite, which manufactures cellular data collection equipment. Initially based in Greenwood, he decided to relocate to Morris Street.

"We wanted to be closer to development in Indianapolis. There's a lot of action with Angie's List, Cummins, Rolls Royce, Eli Lilly and others like ExactTarget," he said. 

So, Ward bought a 1912 building, which had become an eyesore and is renovating it. 

"We hope we can contribute to the revitalization of this area. As you can imagine, the prices are a little nicer here and we get a nice, big, free parking lot, so that meant a lot to us," he said. 

The transformation won't happen overnight, but Essex said that's okay, "people can see the changes" taking place. 

The Fuller house on Craven is expected to be done next week with the family moving in soon after.