Last updated: August 31, 2021
After outbidding the Outlaw motorcycle gang for a building on the near-east side of Indianapolis, Ind., in the early 1990s, the First Free Methodist Church began the slow and costly work of restoring the building with the dream of establishing a ministry for the neighborhood. What some planted, others watered, until finally in 2007, the Free Methodist Board of Directors received a $7,000 donation from the Wabash Conference and established the Love Your Neighbor (LYN) House. With this donation, the board hired its first employee Heidi Lyda in 2009.
Heidi graduated from Asbury Seminary in 2008 with a M.A. in World Missions and Evangelism.
“When I graduated, I knew I had a heart for community, racial reconciliation, and people living in poverty,” Heidi said.
Though her degree was in world missions, she felt called to stay in the United States. After seeing a post on the Asbury Seminary website for a summer internship in inner-city Indianapolis, she felt that it would be the perfect fit. After arriving, she realized just how much of a challenge she had taken upon herself. She lived upstairs in the house in a small apartment, so small that the kitchen was a refashioned tiny closet.
“When I started,” she explained, “the apartment was finished, we had carpet upstairs, no carpet downstairs, no operating ministries, $7000 a month budget, and no regular donors.”
Though the task was especially daunting, and, as Heidi maintains, she truly had no idea what she was doing, she quickly turned things around. She lived in the apartment in the house for three and a half years, firmly establishing her role in the community, which was especially receptive to her. This was crucial because “being a member of that community is essential to what we do. Ninety percent of my job happens just because I live in the community.”
As a result, Heidi was able to put the mission of LYN House, which is “to demonstrate Christ’s love through compassion, hospitality, and transformational care” into action. The house is meant to serve as a safe haven for the residents of the community, helping them to meet their educational, physical, and spiritual needs. Heidi has poured the last twelve years of her life into this endeavor, making LYN House what it is today.
LYN House offers a variety of ministries to meet the needs of their neighbors. Among these is the one-on-one tutoring program for children in the neighborhood. This program prepares children for their educational futures and, if possible, encourages them to pay it forward by becoming tutors themselves. During the summer and school breaks, LYN House offers what’s called the ‘express yourself’ camp, centered mostly around the arts. Because of COVID-19, they adapted their camps in 2020 and offered tutoring instead of art programming to their students. The majority of their students received little to no instruction once shelter-in-place had happened and those working at LYN House wanted to help close the learning gap as much as possible.
Normally, they had a large pool of regular volunteers who were matched with the students 1:1, but in order to limit the number of people and contacts, Heidi and Education Coordinator Jessica tutored most of the students over the summer. The summer adaptations served them well into the fall, once the students started back to school. In the past, the tutoring program was only two days a week and each student was matched with a volunteer. Now, they rotate 14 individual students throughout the entire week. Although this change was made due to COVID, it has allowed LYN House to establish a more rigorous tutoring program so students progress more quickly. As the school year progresses and COIVD restrictions ease, they hope to train volunteers to use the materials and curriculum that they developed over the last several months into an after-school tutoring program in the neighborhood public schools.
“Over the years we have volunteered in the classrooms and offered an afterschool STEAM program,” Heidi said. “Through volunteering we noticed that a large portion of their population was at least two grade levels behind academically. We felt that the best use of our time and partnership with the school was to help them offer tutoring to their lowest performing kindergarteners during the school day.”
Although some programs, such as the basketball program for 5-10 year olds were cancelled because of the pandemic and “express yourself camps” may take a different form in summer 2021, LYN House continues to offer the Summer Youth Employment program that began in 2019.
The Summer Youth Employment Program is in partnership with two area churches that trains 14 – 18 year olds in job readiness and financial literacy. Then each student works at his/her respective site for the summer. One of the first youth was JB, a junior at the time who had been with LYN House since his very first year. The Summer Youth Employment Program gave him the opportunity to work as a junior leader at the “express yourself” camp, offering him a paycheck and providing skills for the future. After that summer he continued to tutor at LYN House and also volunteered as a tutor after his session. In summer 2020, he got a job at Dollar General.
“One of my proudest moments was going into his work and watching him ring up customers and help a young woman in a wheelchair organize her purchases so she could get them home,” Heidi said. “His mom told me that he has had customers call his boss to compliment how great he is doing. It is exciting to see one of our students that we have known for more than ten years grow into a responsible, caring adult.”
Over the years LYN House has relied on volunteers to help with their various ministries.
“In a typical year we see over 1,500 hours of volunteer service,” she said. “This year we were able to make it work with less volunteers, and as restrictions lessen, we are back to increasing our volunteer base. Many of our volunteers have stayed with us for many years and as they move on to other things, we see them becoming donors.”
Much of LYN House’s budget comes from individual donors, as well as the Free Methodist and other supporting churches.
“We operate on a shoestring budget and even through COVID have been able to make ends meet,” she said. “Every year we see God provide in surprising ways and we are grateful for the volunteers and donors who make it possible for us to reach out and love our neighbor.”
Having lived in the neighborhood now for twelve years, Heidi cannot imagine being anywhere else. “Why would you not live on the near east side? It’s the coolest neighborhood in the city!”
Her faith has kept her strong through the hard times and given her immense joy in the good times. Through LYN House, she has truly embodied the radical hospitality and compassion of Christ, living alongside those she hopes to help and devoting her life to their physical and spiritual needs.
“I do this really out of my obedience to God and Christ,” she said. “I know that he has called me here to do this and to be here, and out of the love that I have felt from God and what he’s done for me, I feel like I have no choice but to do this.”
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