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Andrea Leadford’s passion for systemic change was born in her long ago. It’s in her DNA—sprouted in life experiences and fertilized from a career focused on helping people have equal opportunities for success.

As SVdP’s new Changing Life Forever (CLF) director, Leadford says that her desire to bring about change began as a little girl growing up in Gary, Indiana.

“I experienced racism and not having the same resources as others,” she recalls. “But I was also inspired by living in a city with one of the first Black mayors in the U.S. And my parents instilled in me a pride in our race as well as a belief that education was important to future success.”

It was those lessons that Leadford carried with her as a teenage mom. She said finishing high school and starting college while facing the realities of being a single parent forced her into adulthood earlier than her peers. It also made her realize she wanted to provide for her own children—a daughter and a son—with as many opportunities and resources to succeed as possible.

That she says, is what systemic change is all about.

“Systemic change is about making sure the systems in our country and community are designed to provide equal opportunity for all,” she says. “When things change, but community and government systems don’t, then people are always behind.”

Career Focused on Systemic Change

Andrea has devoted her career to helping people find resources to live, survive and, eventually, thrive. In fact, this mission has been part of every job she’s held for the past 20 years. Starting at Community Action of Greater Indianapolis (CAGI), Andrea was a specialist with the organization’s energy assistance and family development programs.

During her time with CAGI, Andrea participated in a workshop offered by United Way of Central Indiana called Getting Ahead in a Just Gettin-By World—ironically, it’s the curriculum that’s the foundation of SVdP’s CLF program. Andrea immediately became passionate about the Getting Ahead curriculum and began hosting classes for CAGI’s clients.

Next, she worked for the John Boner Community Center, offering the same type of programming. Before long, St. Luke’s United Methodist Church recruited her to be the Director of Outreach Ministry. Once again, she started offering a Getting Ahead program, while also helping nurture and manage 17 community partnerships—all aimed at better serving the congregation and local community.

Where I’m Supposed to Be

Throughout the years, Andrea connected with Domoni Rouse, who helped launch SVdP’s CLF program locally. When Domoni was getting ready to retire, she contacted Andrea. She wanted her to take over the CLF efforts at SVdP.

She was hesitant at first. Andrea liked her work at St. Luke’s, and her husband had recently passed, losing his battle to cancer. Andrea was a newly single mom with a teenage son and didn’t want any more change in her life at the time. But SVdP proved to capture her heart.

Andrea was impressed with all that SVdP was doing and the impact the organization was having on the local community. She soon realized, she says, that “this is where I’m supposed to be.”

Even more, as she came to understand the breadth of the organization statewide, she realized there was a lot of potential to really impact systemic change. Her focus is three-fold:

  • Continued support to CLF participants after they graduate: “We want to provide our investigators with as much support as possible. This program provides continued support and mentorship to CLF participants after they graduate. It also provides a community of people who have been through similar experiences,” Andrea says. “We also want to educate CLF graduates about the importance of voting and community activism.”
  • Recruitment of additional CLF conferences: “Currently, about 10 conferences host CLF programs,” she says. “But with 55 conferences, there’s a lot of opportunity for growth.”
  • Expanded partnership support: “We want to help people in every way, so they have the best opportunities for food, education, housing, healthcare, mental wellness and relationships,” Andrea explains. “No one organization can do this alone, so that’s why partnerships are so important—they expand the services and capabilities that we can offer graduates.”

Building a CLF Volunteer Base

Andrea has another big initiative for CLF: forging a volunteer network around it. While there’s a solid set of facilitators, Andrea is seeking individuals who can serve as mentors or share knowledge or specific skill sets.

“I am looking for volunteers to share their knowledge and resources, so it may be teaching our graduates about managing money, or meal prepping, or organization and planning. Whatever skill you have that is part of leading a stable and manageable life. It may not even seem like a big deal to you, but that skill is often something that our graduates haven’t been taught.”

Despite all the change in Andrea’s life, we hope she quickly feels at home at CLF. We are confident that under her leadership, CLF will continue to impact lives for the better on an even bigger scale—while at the same time making positive changes to the systems in our community.