When the Summer of Wonder campers returned from a field trip to Conner Prairie last week, they had a big surprise waiting for them at The Salvation Army’s Ruth Lilly Women and Children’s Center. Thanks to a hard working team of volunteers from First Financial Bank, the large playroom, nicknamed the “gymnasium,” had been transformed into a completely new space.
“We rallied our team together to completely brighten the gymnasium,” explained Jen Mott, the market manager for First Financial’s Consumer Banking Team. “Our goal is to make the little kids who are in here smile and have a fun place to go and be kids. We have a program that we call Give First, where we encourage volunteerism among all of our associates with paid time to support organizations of their choice. We feel very strongly about The Salvation Army, a partner here and also looking forward to the Angel Tree program that we’ll work on in November and December.”
The gymnasium is the biggest indoor play space on The Salvation Army Block of Hope, a large campus in downtown Indianapolis that includes the Ruth Lilly Women and Children’s Center. Every day, children living at the shelter come here to play games, work on arts and crafts, attend Bible study, or just spend time with their friends. Though a flower mural had been painted on one wall years ago, the room needed a lot more color to brighten up an otherwise all-white space.
Kathy Broughton, an executive assistant with First Financial, helps to coordinate the Give First program in central Indiana. She and her team envisioned a space filled with bright colors, new games, and toys that would help children stay active on rainy days.
“These are all donations from our associates,” Kathy explained, pointing to a large pile of boxes and shopping bags brought in on renovation day. “We told them what we were doing and asked them to bring in balls, jump ropes, hula hoops, sidewalk chalk, board games… and as you can see, they were extremely generous.” First Financial purchased and assembled new shelving units to hold everything, as well as a full-size cornhole set and miniature traffic signs and cones for a new tricycle parking area.
In just a few hours time, the team of volunteers had painted the walls and columns blue, teal and lime green, adding white decal dots to the green wall for an extra touch. Matching paper lanterns had been hung from the ceiling and two games had been taped out on the floor: hopscotch and four square. Laminated posters with game rules now hang on the gymnasium wall, as well as inspirational sayings for the kids. “They make me tear up,” Kathy confesses, “so hopefully the kids will like that.”
Brad Fenton was among the volunteers helping out on renovation day. He manages two First Financial banking centers, including the downtown location on North Meridian Street. After a few hours of work, he was spattered with paint but grinning from ear to ear while watching the final touches being applied to the gymnasium.
“I love it,” Brad said, looking around the almost unrecognizable room. “I live downtown. I’m part of the downtown community, so being able to give back and help the community that I live in – and hopefully brighten some smiles on kids faces – will be worth it all.”
First Financial Bank also partners with The Salvation Army during the Christmas season, supporting the Angel Tree program and helping to ensure that thousands of central Indiana children wake up on Christmas morning with gifts under the tree. After getting involved last Christmas, management and staff at First Financial agreed that they wanted to find more ways to get involved and help out The Salvation Army.
“We took a tour of the facility maybe three or four months ago, several of us, and it really moved us,” remarked Steve Spicer, President of First Financial Bank in central Indiana. “We had already an alignment with the organization, but taking the tour really kind of brought it home for all of us, and we immediately came back to the office and ideas started percolating about things we could do to help. This is the culmination of that.”
Last year, the Ruth Lilly Women and Children’s Center helped 2,345 single women, mothers, and children find shelter and support in their hour of need. Many came to The Salvation Army to escape a dangerous domestic violence situation, usually arriving with little more than the clothes on their backs. Staff at the shelter work with the frightened, often traumatized children to reassure them that they are safe and loved. During the weeks or months that they live at the shelter, these children are offered the hope and confidence that their future is bright.
Major Beth Petrie, Divisional Secretary for The Salvation Army Indiana Division, understands the impact this renovation will have on children at the shelter. “The bright walls and the new addition to the color palette in this room certainly is quite a change, and these kids are really going to have something more stimulating than coming into a room with just blank or off-white walls,” she shared. “They’ll have fun games to play, creative ways to express themselves. That’s a really helpful thing when a kid comes, perhaps from a situation where nothing is familiar any more. The things that they have known or loved, they can’t access them anymore because they’ve had to flee because of safety reasons. Or children that are in homes where perhaps Mom can’t provide some of the things that other kids take for granted. They’ll be able to come in here and know that somebody planned for them, somebody thought about them, somebody went to a lot of work to create a fun and engaging space for them.”
Even after a mother has achieved the financial stability she needs to secure housing, her children are welcomed back every summer to participate in Summer of Wonder, a free day camp that helps to relieve the financial burden of summer child care for parents still rebuilding their lives. It also provides a space where children currently living at the shelter can mingle and bond with kids who used to be in their situation. They are living proof that there is light at the end of the tunnel and life after experiencing homelessness.
Thanks to First Financial Bank, these kids now have a colorful, welcoming space where they can feel safe and enjoy being a kid again. “We are really grateful to First Financial for their creativity, their service, their dedication, and their day of service,” said Major Beth after the last of the paint cans were sealed, the games were neatly stacked, and the ladders were stowed away for another day. “It was wonderful for us to see them working together for a common cause, making lives brighter for children in Indianapolis.”