South Indy benefits from fruits of UIndy faculty and student labors

The South Indy Quality of Life Plan (SoIndy) is a volunteer organization made up of community residents in eight neighborhoods, including University Heights surrounding the University of Indianapolis, working to bring better quality living to the area. Amie Wojtyna, assistant professor in public health and a University Heights resident, chairs the SoIndy Health and Wellness Action Team, which focuses largely on food insecurity.

“I got involved because I live in this community,” Wojtyna said. “Food insecurity is one of my areas of interest. Most of the SoIndy community is in a food desert.”

Wojtyna’s action team has been integral in bringing to life the community gardens at Bethany Lutheran Church. In addition to providing plots for neighbors to grow their own produce, much of the harvest from the gardens is donated to two local food pantries.

Sean Yeh ’18 (public health education and promotion), worked with SoIndy to help identify what kind of produce patrons of the food pantries were most interested in receiving. Yeh, who was a student of Wojtyna’s, collected input from 139 patrons of Servant’s Heart and Hunger, Inc. food pantries, as well as from Bethany Lutheran’s Learning Ministry. The top three vote-getters in Yeh’s survey were tomatoes, potatoes and strawberries. Participants also asked for cucumbers, onions, peppers, carrots, raspberries, greens, squash, eggplant and chiles.

Related: Free gardening classes begin March 12, 2019, at Bethany Community Garden

“This experience was really eye-opening for me,” Yeh said. “I was able to gain ‘real-life’ experience. Although I learned a lot in class, textbooks don’t teach you about the possible mistakes you could make or how to prepare for obstacles. There were many mistakes I made in this process and things I could have done better, but ultimately, I learned from them.”

Yeh points to some data collection difficulties that prevented the reporting of demographic information.

“Experiencing failure, especially when you are working for a good and real cause, really provides insight and experience that I will never forget,” Yeh said. “It will allow me to prepare and perform at a higher level the next time I do something like this.”

Other SoIndy action teams include Community Building, Connectivity, Education and Workforce Development, Housing, Madison Avenue Corridor, and Shelby Street Corridor.  

Both Wojtyna and Yeh encourage others to get involved in the SoIndy efforts. Several of Wojtyna’s students – both undergrad and graduate – have done projects with the organization, ranging from a one-time afternoon to a semester-long commitment.

“All in all, SoIndy is there to make Indianapolis a better place,” Yeh said. “There’s nothing more rewarding than knowing you helped make a positive change and actually witness it.”

Written by Amy Magan, communications manager for the Center for Aging & Community and the College of Health Sciences.