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Letter to the Editor, by John Brandon, President of Marion County Commision on Youth

Spend more money on crime prevention


This year’s proposed budget recently submitted to the City-County Council requests about $548 million for public safety, covering the mechanisms of our municipal government dedicated to maintaining order and dealing with the impacts of criminal behavior but only $2 million specifically on the prevention of crime. I don’t claim to be a budget analyst, but from my perspective as a youth development professional, this seems to be an example of confused priorities.

Certainly, we need to invest in increasing the number of law enforcement personnel, court staff, and critically important components of an effective public safety department. We need to have the best peopledoing these incredibly difficult and important jobs. But how long we can expect them to successfully hold back the tide if we are spending 250 times as much dealing with the aftermath of crime as we spend on preventing it?

Two percent of $548 million is roughly $11 million. What if we were able to invest that 2 percent in preventing crime now and into the future by providing the support, the opportunities, the relationships and the experiences that every young person in this community needs if they are to become fully developed, capable, productive, and contributing adults? I feel safe in saying that $11 million would pay for all of the following services for a full year:

• Allow Big Brothers Big Sisters to provide 400 mentors to boys and girls who want a friend and guide

• Let Boys and Girls Clubs of Indianapolis provide year round memberships to 500 teens so they could develop life and leadership skills

• Provide 10 community centers with the means to offer a full service afterschool program to neighborhood children

• Make a meaningful summer employment experience available to 250 teens which would teach them workplace skills and put money in their pockets for back to school expenses

• Support Art With A Heart and Arts for Learning Indiana to encourage youth to express themselves artistically and creatively

• Allow our faith communities to host lock-ins for youth at multiple sites across our city every month to show thousands of teens somebody cares and to support moral development

• Help sports leagues like the Douglas Little League and others teach youth about sportsmanship and team unity

• Assist Peace Learning Center in teaching conflict resolution skills, anger management, and self-management skills to a thousand elementary school aged children

This list could go on and on. Youth development is good business because it promotes a positive and prevents a negative at the same time.

It is no one sector’s responsibility to make this happen — positive youth development is the shared duty of all adults in this community to leave behind a better community than we ourselves received. If we are to carry on that legacy, we had better get to work.

For more information about positive youth development, visit

John Brandon

President, Marion County Commission on Youth Inc.

September 22, 2014

A Beautiful Message

6/3/2014 12:27:00 PM
A beautiful message: Mural reminds students of their ‘own awesome’
Some of the more than 550 students at Eastern Pulaski Elementary School hold up their self-portraits that were used in the
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Some of the more than 550 students at Eastern Pulaski Elementary School hold up their self-portraits that were used in the “You Are Beautiful” mural at the school. Photo by Steve Summers | Pharos-Tribune S

Misty Knisely, Pharos-Tribune Managing Editor

WINAMAC — “You are beautiful.”It’s three simple words that carry a powerful message. And it’s a message that will forever be written on the walls of Eastern Pulaski Elementary School in Winamac.

The fifteen 5-foot tall letters cover an entire wall of the cafeteria, with each letter bursting with colors and smiling faces. In fact, there are more than 550 faces featured in the “crowd mural,” as artist Holly Combs, of Indianapolis, calls it.

It’s a project she and her husband, Dave Combs, have spent countless hours working on through Arts for Learning, the Indiana affiliate of Young Audiences of Indiana based out of Indianapolis.

A professional teaching artist for the organization, Holly Combs spent a week with the students at the school in early January to talk about creating art and the art of being a better person.

“I taught the whole school about being kind,” she said.

Every person has a particular trait that makes them unique, she said, adding she encouraged the children to “own their awesome.”

The students — as well as the teachers — then had just over a month to complete their self-portraits. The portraits were then shipped to the Combs, who spent three days scanning the images. Dave Combs compiled the scans into the letters of the mural and then the whole thing was shipped off to be printed on PVC.

Paid for through a Pulaski County Community Foundation grant and PTA funding, the project came to fruition on Monday, the last day of school before summer break. Crews began hanging the mural at 7:30 a.m. and didn’t wrap up until minutes before the planned 2:45 p.m. unveiling.

Students filed into the cafeteria in the final moments of the school year for the big unveiling. Most who entered instantly began scanning the massive letters in hopes of finding their self-portrait, with small fingers putting high to show their friends when they finally found it.

On hand to watch was Matthew Hoffman, the man behind the You Are Beautifulmovement.

After graduating from Ball State University, Hoffman moved to Chicago.

“At first, the city was overwhelming,” he said. “But eventually I wanted to add my positive voice to the conversation.”

And thus “You Are Beautiful” was born.

It started in 2002 with a hundred stickers bearing Hoffman’s message: “You Are Beautiful.” A decade later, more than a half million stickers have been spread around the world and the message has found its way into murals and other public art installations.

And that same message was heard loud and clear at Eastern Pulaski Monday, as all 550-plus students and teachers shouted the words “you are beautiful” together during the unveiling ceremony as they gathered under the massive mural.

”There’s power when a group of people own a message,” Holly Combs told the crowd.

Each self-portrait contained a word the artist chose to describe themselves. The words ranged from colorful and hopeful to clever and loyal. One young artist took the liberty of using three words: “I am awesome.”

Choosing the words is part of the message: “It’s not about what you look like,” Holly Combs said. “It’s about what’s on the inside.”

Finding that inner beauty is a big part of the message.

“The fact the kids are getting this message at such an early age is great,” Hoffman said. “It might be sinking in right now or it might hit them later.”

Principal Jill Collins was thrilled at the opportunity this project gave her students.

“It just moved me — the message it sent our kids,” she said Monday after the last bus pulled away.

© 2014 Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc. Original Article Available Here.

June 17, 2014

Eastern Pulaski Elementary Mural Unveiling

A beautiful message: Mural reminds students of their ‘own awesome’ By Misty Knisely Managing editor WINAMAC — “You are beautiful.” It’s three simple words that carry a powerful message. And it’s a message that will...

June 3, 2014

Spotlight on “Inside Arts”


You may have heard of one of our most incredible programs, but do you know what goes on behind the scenes of “Inside Arts?” Read along as reporter Allison Stone, of Sky Blue Window, covers the work we are doing inside juvenile detention centers throughout the state. Full article available here.

Arts for Learning proposes that teaching classes like this takes a platform students are already interested in – video games and computers, technology – and turns it into a logical, problem-solving activity. Digital game design integrates art, music, movement, algebra, science, and language arts together for a practical application – creating a video game with characters, objectives, rules, and levels. By using open source software, students can return to the activity even after the workshop has ended. It is an avenue to both engage kids creatively and to help them develop a further literacy with technology and computers.


March 20, 2014