Shepherd Community Center: Ending the Cycle of Generational Poverty

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Jeremy Height

For Jeremy Height, Shepherd Community Center is quite literally the “family business.” As a child, he recalls volunteering for special events and sitting in on meetings with his father, Executive Director Jay Height. Now, Jeremy serves as the Church Relations Director at Shepherd Community Center, as well as an Associate Pastor for Shepherd Community Church. Other staff members include Jeremy’s mother and two sisters. He explains that it was almost inevitable for his whole family to end up at Shepherd, saying, “My parents’ work and their ministry have never been separate from their family life.” Indeed, meaningful, familial relationships are at the heart of all the work that Shepherd does—and in the very center stands Christ.

Located on the near Eastside of Indianapolis, Shepherd was borne out of a single volunteer event in 1984. For Thanksgiving that year, a group of people served dinner out of a church basement. Afterward, they felt God calling them to take up a permanent presence in the neighborhood. Now, over 30 years later, Shepherd’s place in the community is well established and the services they provide are vital.

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Staff Reading Day

Shepherd boasts an academy, after-school programs, and mentoring programs for the children in the area. As an organization, they are committed to walking alongside children and families from ages zero to 25 or, as they say, from “cradle to career.” “A lot of what Shepherd does is pre-emptive with our programming and trying to help students not ever have to face the reality of homelessness,” Jeremy says. And when they see a need in the community for which they do not provide, Shepherd works closely with partner organizations like Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, Eskenazi Health, and Wheeler Mission to ensure their neighbors receive services. Jeremy says, “Part of the reason we’re so committed to collaborating is because we know we can’t do everything … We don’t have to try to recreate the wheel.”

Over the years, Shepherd’s services have evolved to match the changing needs of their neighbors and to break the cycle of generational poverty. In a video on Shepherd’s website, Executive Director Jay expresses the importance of addressing both the physical and spiritual needs of their community, saying: “To try to preach a message of hope to a kid who’s hungry will never work.” Therefore, their approach is multi-faceted. Jeremy stresses that Shepherd’s primary focus isn’t just socioeconomic. He says, “Poverty is about a lot more than just money, and our goal is to try to holistically help our neighbors, and we truly believe that the greatest spiritual poverty is not knowing Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.”

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Shepherd Recess

Shepherd’s staff see the fruits of their labor, but they also understand their limitations. “The hardest thing is that not everyone will be a success story. In order to be able to truly help someone, they have to want to be helped,” Jeremy says. “But our hope is two-fold: One, we do see the success stories, and while they may not be every one, we see true life, transformation, and family transformation through what we are blessed to do here. Secondly, being a Christ-focused organization, our calling is not to success, our calling is to be obedient to the leading of Christ. Sometimes it isn’t always the easiest thing to accept, but our hope is that being obedient to what we’re called to do as a ministry is the greatest good we can do.”

To find out about how you can volunteer for Shepherd, please visit their website.

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