Like a Lion: CHS grad launches inner-city program to build community leaders

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By Desiree Williams

During her time at Carmel High School, Maddy Pascascio volunteered at Shepherd Community Center in Indianapolis with a group called Student Venture. Pascascio, 23, credits that experience with igniting her passion for volunteering and giving back.

“It was like we couldn’t get enough of being with the kids and being with the families,” she said. “Their stories were really impactful, especially coming from Carmel. Growing up in such a great city, to see the struggles that they were facing was definitely eye-opening for me and really changed the way that I thought about the world.”

Pascascio collaborated with friends Sara Rogers, Maddie Luros and Rachel Milkie in 2012 to found Like a Lion, a program designed to help underserved youth in Indianapolis. Rogers still works in the program, but Luros no longer lives in Indiana.

The inspiration

Pascascio also volunteered at the BEACH, a smaller branch of Shepherd, where she met  Milkie in 2010. When it shut down, the women discussed starting their own program for those children. Milkie was 21 at the time and Pascascio was 17.

“It was really about those kids,” Milkie said. “We had really deep relationships with those kids and we both knew that we wanted to be in this field.”

After graduating from CHS in 2012, Pascascio started meeting with the students once a week at parks throughout the city for reading, writing and math with the other founders. They decided to continue those field trips each summer while Pascascio was home from college.

Pascascio attended Indiana University for one semester but said she was miserable being away from the children. She transferred to IUPUI to finish her education while she and Milkie developed a plan to offer after-school care and summer camp options for their students.

When choosing a name for the program, Pascascio and Milkie were inspired by one of their their favorite songs, “God’s Not Dead (Like a Lion).”

“I thought, ‘When else in my life am I going to have the capability to not take a paycheck with a job or to be able to have something on the side and not have real-life expenses?’” Pascascio said.

Jim Shinaver, Pascascio’s uncle and partner at the Carmel law firm Nelson & Frankenberger, is one of the many sponsors of Like A Lion. He said he was impressed that the women turned their passion into a career that makes a difference in the lives of disadvantaged youth.

“I think one of the most important things they do is not only their programs, but just as importantly, they’re teaching these kids that people care about them,” he said.

The goal

Like A Lion was incorporated in July 2014, just one month after the program found a home at Otterbein United Methodist Church. The nonprofit’s mission is to spread the gospel of Christ and offer spiritual, emotional and academic support to youth.

“Our vision is to create indigenous community leaders out of our kids,” Pascascio said. “We want to be empowering our kids that are in this community to love their community and to desire to give back to it as they grow up and have the resources and knowledge to.”

Like A Lion serves children in kindergarten through sixth grade on the east side of Indianapolis, specifically from the Brookside, Brightwood and Otterbein neighborhoods.

Deborah Murray’s two great-grandsons have been participating in the program for almost a year. She said the boys are learning respect and coming home full of energy and joy.

“This is really beautiful,” Murray said. “It seems like the kids want to strive to do good.”

The summer program runs from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Students receive breakfast and lunch and participate in STEM projects, interest clubs and social and emotional learning classes. There is a scheduled field trip every Thursday as well.

The after-school program runs from 4 to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Students work on homework, participate in Bible study and receive dinner every night.

Milkie said the organization has had a 100 percent retention rate for the last two years.

“We make it clear that we are here,” Pascascio said. “We will be here every day. Here you can be safe, known and loved.”

For more, visit likealionfamily.squarespace.com.

By the Numbers

  • 2 Full-time staff members
  • 1 Part-time staff member
  • 5 Weekly volunteers
  • 10 to 15 Monthly volunteers
  • 16 Children enrolled in the after-school program
  • 25 Children enrolled in summer camp

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