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Natural Awakenings Indianapolis

Uplifting Humanity: In Indy

Young volunteers helping build their community with ProAct

To help celebrate this season of giving and compassion, we asked local personality Richard Brendan to share with us examples of moral or spiritual elevation being attained by people and organizations that inspire hope and collaboration in our area.


Derrin Slack grew up in Indianapolis and was considered an at-risk kid. He experienced many of the challenges that today’s young people are going through. He also experienced the benefits of others reaching out to him with kindness and support. Along the way he had a bold vision and wanted to give back to the community. He called it ProAct whose mission is to engage youth in public service that educates, delights and inspires the youth and those they serve.

When I asked what they do, he replied “Community service.” Founded in 2010, ProAct is a champion of service learning. As a 501c3 nonprofit, they collaborate with community leaders and professional organizations to provide community outreach service projects for economically disadvantaged youth in Marion County and beyond. Slack shares, “Our youth are not the recipients of community service, they are the givers and creators of the projects that help build and support our community."

Working alongside Indianapolis professional groups, organizations and volunteers, students are exposed to diverse communities and experiences that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to. Slack and his team envision ProAct as an engaging and enriching organization through which youth build a foundation of integrity, humility and confidence. The youth will begin their journey with ProAct in elementary school and continue through high school, emerging as responsible, thoughtful and determined leaders that respond intelligently to social issues they encounter.

Its signature program is Project Me that encourages each participating youth to evolve through the course of many community service projects and to make a meaningful impact on social issues in Indianapolis. A fundamental tenet is that the involved youth are not the recipients of community service. They are the creators and performers of community service.

Youth involved are in the 10- to 18-year-old range and approximately 6,000 Indianapolis youth have been participating. (

The Gathering Together

I have had the honor of serving as a hospice chaplain for 14 years, witnessing firsthand just how caring my fellow “midwives to the mystery” are when companioning those who are facing their own mortality. The hospice movement has had tremendous growth in Central Indiana. Last year I had the joy of visiting The Gathering Together, in Plainfield, Indiana.

Not a hospital or a nursing home, The Gathering Together is a place where staff and volunteers offer comfort care in partnership with families and hospice providers. They become an important support during the patient’s stay and beyond.

The Gathering Together is a nonprofit charitable organization guided by a volunteer board of directors. They don’t receive reimbursements from insurance companies, hospices or public funding. Financial support comes exclusively from individuals that appreciate and understand the necessity of gathering together for hope and love.

I asked the Vice President of the Board Abigail Baker how this sacred space began. She shared, “Years ago the founder, Rita Fiorentino traveled from San Francisco with a vision that manifested itself in 2002 when she launched The Gathering Together in Plainfield.” When we met, they just had a patient die peacefully the night before. The patient’s family was with her and soft music was playing in the background. Baker stated, “It was a good death.”

When not at the bedside of their loved one, family members can gather in the cozy front parlor, find space for contemplation and prayer in quiet areas and gardens, or seek the relief of sleep in one of the beautiful guest rooms. Admission to The Gathering Together is based on need. Patients are of all ages and are usually under the care of a local hospice after the patient’s physician has determined that the remaining time of life is less than one month. Age, race, religious faith or gender are not considerations for admission. There is no charge to patients or their families.

Hospice nurse Justin Goforth is a dear friend and former co-worker of mine. He’s also very familiar with the organization. Regarding those that dedicate their lives to serving the dying, he shares, “It’s truly a calling, not just a job.” He adds, “The dying teach us so much about living. Observing the dying process is an opportunity to awaken from a deep spiritual sleep. Death is a reminder to set your heart on fire. To let it burn with a passionate reverence for life. And it’s the one thing we all have in common. We will all die.” (

Walk the Talk

I’ve included Walk the Talk (WTT) Speaker Series, not because Steve Ross (The Vogue) and I co-founded it, but for how it’s evolved. Inspired by the popular TED Talks, WTT has provided a platform for many in our community to both find their voice and inspire others to find theirs through their messages.

The concept is simple. Invite anyone in our community to audition, select six individuals that each give an 11-minute presentation on that specific topic and then add a live band, confetti, light show, balloon drop and takeaways from the presentations Each WTT has been held at The Vogue and our first event was on June 28, 2016, with topic of Gratitude. Since then, topics have included Love in Action, Compassion, Miracles, Positive Thinking, Life’s Purpose, Forgiveness and coming up on December 12, Mindfulness.

Ross, event organizer Jennifer Brinduse and I have witnessed hearts and minds inspired and we each have heard from attendees how a specific talk or even a story within a talk helped change their life or gave them the hope they needed to not give up. To be inspired and challenged and then take action is what Walk the Talk is all about. Through the amazing presentations, epic shifts are unfolding in the hearts of people and collectively, so we can can begin to raise consciousness in our community.

Ross states, “During these times of so much negativity in the world, I believe WTT shows people there is hope. There is so much that is good in the world. Walk the Talk adds to it and encourages people to be inspired to live a more positive life, to be a better person, and make good choices as they Walk the Talk through life.”

The original vision of taking WTT to other cities will begin on February 21, 2018, with the Creating Happiness presentation at the Buskirk- Chumley Theater, in Bloomington, Indiana. This will be a homecoming of sorts for Ross who graduated from Indiana University and was the owner of The Bluebird Nightclub for many years.

As for the future of WTT, Ross shares, “My vision is that the small ripple of positive attitude and well-being we are creating becomes a huge wave that washes over everyone, changing the world for the better. And, as in our catch phrase, ‘create an epic shift’ in how people think feel, and act towards others and themselves.” (

Richard Brendan is a speaker, coach and producer and hosts the Richard Brendan… Bringing Love to Life radio show at noon on Sundays on 88.7 FM WICR. He can be reached at [email protected].

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