Tom Lange does more than just work to support Washington Township students, he and his team are working each day to build a village.
During his time as Superintendent in Indianapolis Public Schools, former MSDWT superintendent, Dr. Eugene White, called upon Indianapolis Churches to “adopt” and support IPS Schools. Through their church, St. Luke Methodist, Tom, his wife Nancy, and their blended family of 5, began working with IPS School 20. Tom connected with the tutoring work he was doing at the school and when it closed one year later he and the other volunteers, cultivated by the call to action, looked to continue the work they were doing. Through Marsha Reynolds, MSDWT Director of Elementary Education at that time, St. Luke formed a partnership with Fox Hill to engage an average of 35 people/week to tutor children at the elementary school.
Like many of the tutors, Tom worked with a wide variety of students, yet his wife focused on two specific students from a low income family. Only focusing on two students allowed Nancy to establish a more in-depth relationship. The deepened connection had the Lange’s visiting the students in their home environment, where Tom received firsthand exposure to some of the barriers students in low income often experience. Tom recalls realizing there were 8 people (4 adults & 4 children) living in the small home with very little furniture. The neighborhood was extremely unsafe and kept the students inside a majority of the time when not at school.
The Lange’s decided that in addition to helping the students scholastically, they would like to give them different experiences too. The couple took the students to football camps, church camps, The Children’s Museum and other experiences many kids take for granted. While these experiences were nothing Tom or Nancy felt were extravagant they quickly realized they were opening up a whole new world for their friends. On one outing the students were scared to get on an escalator and they shared with Tom and Nancy that the anxiety came from never having seen an escalator before.
After having his eyes opened to how barriers were affecting low income families in Washington Township he felt he needed to do more. Tom wondered if leaders of community organizations saw the barriers as issues, or if they assumed the School Districts were handling them? In March of 2014 he began working with Dr. Woodson and Marsha Reynolds to figure out a way to combat these barriers more tactically.
At one back to school night, during a discussion on the topic of barriers, a parent quoted an Ethiopian Proverb, “When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion.” And from that Lion Catchers was born.
Two weeks after that meeting, Tom retired from Lilly and began to focus full time on organizing resources available through existing organizations to provide tutoring and assistance to children in 4 neighborhoods around 71st and Ditch Road, where there was a concentration of students from low income families. Tom worked to partner with groups like the Boys & Girls Club, YMCA, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Peace Learning Center and The Advancement Center known at that time as The Washington Township Schools Foundation.
Around this same time, the Crooked Creek Community Development Corporation (CDC) had fallen on hard times, and asked Tom and Lion Catchers to partner with them. The partnership made sense as Tom’s broader goal was not simply to provide tutoring and experiences to these students, but also to empower others in these neighborhoods to get involved and become leaders in their communities. The organization began coordinating parent led soccer programs and engaging North Central students to provide tutoring services to younger students.
Through the grants process, The Advancement Center helped Tom in his efforts to connect resources to students and families attending Fox Hill, Greenbriar and Willow Lake, as well as engage students at North Central as tutors. Since 2014 6 grants have supported Tom’s efforts totaling over $7,000. While this is a small part of the overall investment into the organization it represents one of the spider webs Tom has tapped into to improve our Washington Township community. Together these spider webs are working to catch a Lion.
Through Tom’s efforts and donors like you that web grows stronger every day. Thanks to their new facilities and available property, Willow Lake has had a partnership cultivated to offer all activities at the YMCA (except swimming) to students in the district on the Willow Lake Property, removing a barrier of access. Peace Learning Center is working with parents and teachers to teach the “Restorative Justice Program”, which teaches a way of dealing with consequences in a productive manner that builds community and rebuilds relationships. CDC is working on discounted preschool programs that will allow parents, who cannot afford expensive childcare, a means to prepare their children for kindergarten at Willow Lake. The tutoring program has also expanded and now includes 25 tutors at Fox Hill, 5 adults and 8 North Central student tutors at Greenbriar and 5 tutors at Willow Lake.
It is visionaries like Tom and donors like you who make it possible for us to support the effort of catching a lion in Washington Township Schools possible.