The IndyEast Promise Zone Welcomes the New VISTAs

One important component to Promise Zones across the nation, and the Indy East Promise Zone is the 5 AmeriCorps VISTAs positions granted to the lead organization every year: a cohort of young professionals that offer a year of public service in exchange for invaluable career development as well as further building capacity for the Promise Zone and their partners. This June we saluted our 2019-2020 cohort, while welcoming our new one.

Here is a brief introduction to help you get to know the 2020-2021 IndyEast Promise Zone cohort:

Fiona Schicho (Research and Evaluation Coordinator)

I grew up in northern New Jersey and moved to Indianapolis five years ago for Butler University’s dance program. After finding my passion for social science and transitioning to an Anthropology major, I wrote an undergraduate thesis on the religious and cultural transitions of a growing Congolese refugee enclave in Indianapolis – this was comprised of a year’s worth of research and interviews. I also discovered my passion for medical anthropology and public health, leading me to an internship at Indiana CTSI. Here I worked with a team of public health professionals to create the foundation for a five-year project which aims to improve health outcomes as well as decrease health disparities in Indianapolis. In my current role, I hope to provide perspective and context for Promise Zone data and create opportunities for stakeholders to participate in research. I’m excited to be working on the Quality of Life Survey, the Five Year Promise Zone Report, and a member of the Health, Wellness, and Family Strengthening Community Action Team. In my free time, I love to spend time with my chihuahua (Bean) and do (Zoom) yoga. Ask me about the time I helped tranquilized a bear with a National Park ranger.

Danielle Massey (Economic Development Coordinator)

I’m originally from Sioux City, Iowa and I am well acquainted with the Midwest. I recently graduated from the University of Wisconsin (Madison) with my Master’s in Urban and Regional Planning. My undergraduate is in Economics and Business Administration from the University of Northern Iowa. I have worked with a regional chamber of commerce to collect and analyze data, a city parks and art department on fund development, a non-profit on affordable housing development, and was an instructor at UW-Madison for a first-year business course. I believe economic development should be done in an engaging and comprehensive manner and without neighborhood participation and buy-in, nothing can truly be done. The connections and relationships the IndyEast Promise Zone has made over the years to inform our economic development initiatives is inspiring. Our approach is also comprehensive; I work with small business and entrepreneurship, place-making, arts-based development, and infrastructure amenities. Additionally, I have been working with the Near Eastside Business Association which is a group of local businesses collaborating and sharing information led by Near East Area Renewal (NEAR). I also work closely with the BUY IndyEast Committee. Personally, I have a hairless cat named Cheech who is always vying for my attention (especially when working remotely). I love thrifting – my grandma was a career rummage sale woman and I learned patience from watching her spend hours in thrift stores for the hidden gems. Its my dream in life to own a small goat farm.

Isabel Schlebecker (Data Analyst)

I went to Arizona State University for my undergrad in Urban Planning, so I’ve been living in Tempe, AZ for the past 5 years; however, I’m a native Eastsider am excited to be back home. I’m passionate about social, economic, and environmental justice, and my academic and professional background is in Environmental Justice research, examining barriers to success for low-income, first-generation, and minority students, and running a certificate program for students interested in joining the Peace Corps. In my roles, I work most closely with the SAFE committee this year (though I’ll be putting together data from all of the IEPZ Committees). I’m also part of the Equity and Engagement Community Action Team. Through this experience I hope to have a better understanding of the non-profit side of community development and the network of organizations that are collectively making change in Indy. Personally, I’m hoping to develop an environmental justice index for the Promise Zone so we that as a community we can focus more specifically on environmental and social resilience. Outside of work I ride vintage motorcycles and I’m trying to visit every national park in the US on two wheels. I’m a dedicated home cook and recently mastered mole verde and mole negro from scratch. My next goal is mastering Oaxacan tamales.

Elizabeth Pence (Education and Workforce Strategist)

I’m the Education and Workforce Strategist VISTA at IndyEast Promise Zone. I’m originally from New York City but I claim Indianapolis as my second home city. I’m a graduate of Gettysburg College and Indiana University, holding a Master’s degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs. After three years working in Student Affairs at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, I decided to explore a new career path in non-profits focused on community development and empowerment. I will be coordinating both the WORK IndyEast and LEARN IndyEast committees, working with Near East Side educators and employers to set goals and develop actions to meet them. I hope to be a bridge to community partners to help strengthen their ties and promote a culture of collaboration that serves all neighbors of the Near East Side. In my spare time, I enjoy spending time in the woods, especially looking for wild mushrooms. I live with my partner, Abby, and our two cats, Mason and Peri, on the Far East Side of Indianapolis.

Joshua Blubaugh (Communications Coordinator)

I grew up in Texas (Houston and the Dallas-Fort Worth area) but have lived in Europe for the past four years. I recently graduated with my BA in Global Politics and International Relations from the University of London (prior I lived in Berlin, Germany learning German – ja, ich spreche ein bisschen Deutsch). I have a dynamic professional background with years in retail store management, sales, editorial styling, and waiting tables. More specifically to this role, I worked as Special Projects Assistant for 3 years at a HR SaaS company, focusing on their marketing and communications projects. I’ve done similar communication efforts during my volunteer term at an INGO in Quito, Ecuador. After working in industries that left me unsatisfied, I obtained my degree in the pursuit of wanting to improve the quality of life of others. After graduating it was important to me to find a position that I could grow professionally, narrow my focus more, but which also matched my professional values. The IndyEast Promise Zone was a perfect match. I’m currently participating in the National Coalition of Promise Zones and I’m also a member of the Sustainability Community Action Team. I hope to grow personally and professionally in my role, learn about the nonprofit world, and apply this knowledge towards my future professional or academic endeavor. Fun fact, I have no sense of smell and I’m obsessed with learning new words (my favorite word is pavonine). I also have a Great Dane named Heidi Mae. I’ve travelled to 25 states, 21 countries, and 3 continents. Goal is to see it all. Even Antarctica.