ELKHART — Amanda Irons doesn’t get the jitters when in south central Elkhart.
Some view it as a dangerous place. Not her.
"Personally, I do think it’s a very misunderstood neighborhood,” she said.
I spoke to Amanda, a teacher for at-risk grade schoolers at an alternative school at the Roosevelt Center, for a package of stories on the neighborhood.
The area, the older section south of the downtown area, has been home to some of the most violent crimes in the city (though not all, by any means). The median household income there is nearly half Elkhart County’s overall rate. Education levels are lower.
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All the ingredients for disaffection, a place where you watch your back, right?
Not necessarily so, Irons says. As an outsider who doesn’t quite fit the average profile, a self-described ”white girl from Middlebury,“ Irons says the key thing in the neighborhood is respect. The Roosevelt Center is located off Indiana Avenue, within the south central area, and the alternative school there where she works helps kids from three public schools serving the zone.
"One thing I’ve learned very, very quickly in the neighborhood — it’s about relationships, it’s about respect,” she said. When walking the neighborhood, she makes a point to smile, wave and talk to people. She makes it a point to connect, and locals reciprocate.
Friends and family always ask her if she feels safe in the neighborhood. In fact, in some ways, she feels more welcome and at home there than she did growing up in her Middlebury neighborhood.
At the same time, the kids she works with are striving, trying. “The kids want better. They just don’t know how to do it. They want more for themselves than the violence and negativity,” she said.
She acknowledges there’s no easy way to address the issues facing the area, relatively low levels of home ownership, educational attainment and median household income. Several local grassroots groups aim to address the challenges of the south central area and she’s taking part.
Still, Irons doesn’t want the positive aspects of what’s happening in the south central area to be dismissed or overlooked. Crime and bad stuff always seem to make the headlines “when there really are so many incredible people here,” she said.