On a personal note, this is an exciting piece to write and share with everyone. It was January 2018 when Ashley Virden and I wanted to do something special in the Dubarry neighborhood. She grew up in the neighborhood that was home to the school I lead. From that mutual passion, we launched Dubarry Determined motivated by the words of our 44th President Barack Obama, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” From there Dubarry Determined was born, but Dubarry Determined was the culmination of years of built of passion up inside of this future leader. Today culminates in a victory lap for Ashley Virden. She has been working towards this moment for some time. She understood what was needed because she saw what happened in her life, and the lives of her children when she stepped up became an advocate.
I saw Ashley’s commitment as a parent who wanted to be an advocate for her children who at the time of our meeting were in 1st and 3rd grade. She then saw the impact she had by merely being present in the school. This empowered her to encourage other parents to follow suit. She also challenged us at the school to make the school more welcoming for parents and helped launch our parent group PEAK (Parents and Educators Alongside Kids). She wanted to close the gap that existed between parents and the school.
The Mind Trust of Indianapolis announced that Ashley Virden would be leading a new parent advocacy nonprofit. They could not have selected a more qualified, deserving, or more passionate person about this work. This fellowship is tailored made for Ashley. I had a chance to talk with Ashley about being selected by the Mind Trust to lead this first of a kind organization for parents in Indianapolis.
David McGuire: How does it feel to be a Mind Trust Fellow?
Ashley Virden: It feels amazing to be selected as an Education Entrepreneur Fellow. Like the Mind Trust, I believe that every student in Indianapolis, no exceptions, deserve access to a high-quality, world-class education. I’m so thankful to be part of an organization that understands parent engagement is an important tool and for investing in me so that we can work together to bring parents (guardians) on this journey alongside us to complete this vision.
DM: Could you have imagined being in this position a year ago?
AV: No! A year ago I was serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA with the Martin Luther King Community Center building the capacity of the Great Families 2020 program and loving the grassroots work that I was doing in my own community and at my children’s school. While I was always on a search to increase my capacity to serve other families at Tindley Summit and the Far Eastside community, I never thought my work would lead me to an opportunity as great as this.
DM: What do you hope to gain at the end of your two-year fellowship?
AV: For almost three years, I’ve been working hard and doing a whole lot of research to gain the tools I needed to become a better leader and organizer. I have come a long way on my own and with the help of my community, but with this fellowship, I hope to gain even more. I also hope to gain a network of families ready to build the community by empowering them to advocate for their children’s education. I also hope to empower families enough to lift them up as we continue to climb higher, together.
DM: How will your fellowship impact the work you started doing on the far east side?
AV: The Far Eastside is my heart. I know that being a part of this fellowship will connect me to resources and tools to increase the impact I made on the far eastside thus far. It will also allow me the capacity to make the work I’m doing alongside many others, sustainable, in order to make a long-term change.
DM: What advice would you give an up and coming community leader looking to make an impact in their own community?
AV: My advice to other up and coming community leaders trying to make an impact is to build relationships with as many people as you can, whether they are doing the work or not, keep track of the connections that you have made and always reflect on what you have gained/learned by keeping a some sort of journal. In order to make a real impact, you can’t do it alone. It’s also important to remember that everyone in your community is stakeholder; they all have something to offer. It’s up to you to allow them the space to realize that and to help them connect with others so that they all can grow together.