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INDIANAPOLIS – Crews are just starting to lay the groundwork for the new 60,000 square foot facility on the east side, but the concept for The ROCK Center for Youth and Children has been one Pastor Jeffrey A. Johnson Senior has been preparing for years.

“It’s the Lord answering our prayer,” said Pastor Johnson, “I didn’t know how he was going to answer, i knew he would answer.”

Eastern Star Church received an $8.1 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. under its Enhancing Opportunity in Indianapolis initiative to improve the livelihoods of families facing challenges associated with poverty and financial insecurity.

They want to create a safe place for kids, in a neighborhood that Pastor Johnson says has been overlooked for years.

“There will be science, technology and education and arts and mathematics and all of that’s going to be going on,” Johnson explained, “As well as all of the sporting events that’ll take place.”

The center is phase two of the church’s ROCK initiative to bring affordable housing, financial stability, and quality education to Arlington Woods. Pastor Johnson grew up in this neighborhood, he understands the challenges that people deal with here.

“There hasn’t been new construction in this area in over 30 years,” he said.

As one of the most impoverished areas in Indianapolis, it’s development like the community center that Johnson says is critical. He says in the past, resources for this neighborhood have not come through and he’s thankful that’s no longer the case.

“It still needs a grocery store over here,” said Johnson, “We need healthy affordable food options for this community, and we need jobs created. It’s not just a food desert, it’s an economic desert, it’s an educational desert, it’s a job desert.”

The hope is that people see the work that’s being done and want to join in and bring new opportunities to Arlington Woods.

“People are seeing that these are human beings over here in this community like everywhere else and we need to come alongside and do the best we can,” said Johnson.

The goal is for The ROCK Center for Youth and Children to be complete by early 2022.