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Martin Luther King Multi-Service Center, Diane Jackson

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Martin Luther King Multi-Service Center, Diane Jackson

Martin Luther King Multi-Service Center director Diane Jackson spreads out a brochure listing the dozens of programs the center puts on. Computer training, activities for seniors, GED classes, after-school care for kids, a food pantry, utility and rental assistance. As Jackson speaks, seniors are preparing for lunch and a job fair is getting ready to start. Teen Court will happen later today.

Founded in 1972 and now located at 40th and Illinois streets, the center serves thousands of families, most of whom are working poor or lower middle class and live in a diverse area stretching from the Mapleton-Fall Creek neighborhood all the way up to Broad Ripple.

But the center is about more than just helping with life’s emergencies and bare necessities. “We are all of these programs,” Jackson says. “But there is so much more that has to emanate from those programs. We need to be an instrument for change.”

The instrument for change here may be a saxophone, or sometimes a paint brush. Music and art fills the center, thanks to partnerships with the Indianapolis Arts Center, the American Pianists Association, Butler University, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and others. Young people get professional visual arts and music instruction, seniors enjoy recitals and a mentoring program helps teens train for and find arts-related careers. “The arts are a universal language,” Jackson says. “With so many arts programs being cut out of the schools, this is another way for parents to get these opportunities for their children.”

The center also teaches young people to be active and informed citizens of their community and their world. King”s Kids is an award-winning oratory team, a Germany-U.S. exchange program thrives. For World AIDS Day, students wrote and performed in a play that was taped and shared with their peers in South Africa.