This is the story of a husband and wife who started their own nonprofit to create positive change in their neighborhood.
Ro and Earl Townsend are all about their community, and when they saw a need there, these social entrepreneurs didn't wait for someone else to fill it - they stepped up and addressed the issue themselves.
RoE's (Ro + Earl) primary goal is to illuminate the worth and value in individuals, and use resources and community partnerships to meet their identified needs. They help by feeding children who may go home to little or no food after school and by collecting clothes and coats for those who need them.
From hosting events that engage neighborhood families to teaching farm-to-table cooking classes, they are striving to bring their community together.
How long have you lived in Indy?
Ro: Though we both have backgrounds in other places (Jamaica for me and Alabama for Earl), we’ve both lived in Indy our whole lives.
Why have you focused on using your skills in the nonprofit sector?
Ro: We have a passion for empowering people and illuminating their gifts. Programs and events built around that are the most effective way to build and rebuild community. We have both been in positions where we needed assistance, and at some points were completely destitute, so we understand the needs firsthand. So instead of trying to control that group of people or throw money at their problems, we want to listen, teach, empower and offer other options. It may seem idealistic, but we want to be one of the conduits for actual, lasting change of mindsets and ideologies.
Earl: For me, I have a hard time putting my all into traditional jobs. Nonprofit work seems more genuine and brings more joy.
How did you find your current position?
Ro: In 2014-15, we had a corner store called the RoEdega in which we sold chips, candy, walking tacos, pop and the like. One evening, a small group of children aged maybe 6-11, came in with money they had pooled. It totaled a little under $2. They bought all of the Frooties, chips and Now ‘n Laters that they could afford and proceeded to leave. As they were exiting, one of them remarked, “Now we have dinner!” Upon hearing that, we immediately called them back into the store and loaded them up with walking tacos and a few other heartier items we had in the store. Once they left, I told Earl that we HAD to do something. Shortly thereafter, GRoE, Inc. was born.
Earl: When God gives your wife a vision, you do your best to support it. There’s nothing she could ever have a dream about that I wouldn’t support. Also, I’m just here so I don’t get fined.
What would you say to another young professional considering starting their own nonprofit?
Ro: Beware. The nonprofit sector is cutthroat and unnecessarily competitive for beginning and grassroots organizations. Even if you seek to avoid politics, don’t care about status or power, are operating out-of-pocket, and seeking to build relationships and rebuild the village, you will still be treated by many as though you’re after their funding or trying to be more popular than they are.
But keep pushing! Be an example of how things can look when we band together and how much more productive we can all be.
Earl: Yeah. Same. Keep pushing. Don’t quit. You may get discouraged, but in those times, push harder.
If you could learn a brand new skill, what would it be?
Earl: I’d work on cars. It’s so stereotypically manly, but it’s so necessary and always a good skill to have.
Ro: PLEASE start working on cars. Like, soon. We’re WAY overdue for an oil change.
Anyhoo, pottery. I’ve always wanted to spin and mold clay.
If you were an inanimate object, what would you be and why?
Earl: I’d be your violin.
Ro: Why would you be my violin? *honestly puzzled*
Earl: Have you ever paid attention to the amount of care that you put into playing the violin? To be used by you to make such beauty?
Ro: Wow. *girlishly shrugs* Well, I’m certain I’d be toe socks. They’re peculiar, sometimes creep people out, and aren’t common - just like me. I’m kind of obsessed with them already. I have like 20 or so pairs.
What do you hope to accomplish that you haven’t yet?
Ro: There are loads of things on my bucket list such as hang gliding and visiting Australia. There are also other things I’d like to accomplish, such as spreading GRoE and the Open Bite Night to other states.
Earl: More travel, more travel, more travel. I’d like to explore my ancestry and visit every place I have a background in.
Share a little-known treasure of Indianapolis with us.
Ro: The MLK/Clifton-Rader/Riverside neighborhood, OUR neighborhood, is definitely a little-known treasure. This faction of 46208 is full of artists, abandoned houses-turned-canvases, cooks, mechanics, youth ministers, adult ministers, beauticians, aestheticians, people who make hair and beauty products, photographers, gardeners, community leaders, activists, organizers and supporters, and so many more things other than negative statistics the media portrays. Come to think about it, it might be little known, but there’s nothing little about it.
Earl: La Chinita Poblana. What can I say? Tacos!
Ro: They do fancy, Asian-fusion tacos… mmmm.
Most important question: If, for some sad and terrible reason, you could only eat one dish for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Ro: What an awful question! Rude. Who came up with this?!
Earl: Whaaaat the what?!
Ro: I don’t know. Maybe burgers? Would I be allowed to change the toppings or would it be the same kind of burger forever?
Earl: That’s how I feel about tacos. Would I be able to change the protein or is a taco just a taco?
Ro: Sushi? Probably not filling enough to sustain me as my only meal forever. That’d be a whole lot of sushi.
Earl: Can I put oxtail in my taco?
Ro: Imma say salad so I can have the best chance at living.
Earl: Maybe if I could add some Americanized tacos with iceberg lettuce and chopped tomatoes, that might give me the veggie content that I needed. Either way, I think I’m sticking with tacos!
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