The near northwest neighborhood in Indianapolis, Ind., can be rough. A high-crime area, it’s not unusual to hear gunshots as you pass through. But for Timothy Clark ’87 and his wife Sharon, it represents community, opportunity and aspiration.
Tim, a native of Syracuse, N.Y., who serves as a grant officer in charge of partner outreach at the nonprofit Simon Youth Foundation, and California native Sharon, head volleyball coach at Butler University, own several properties in Indianapolis, primarily used for rental income. Then an unusual lot on Udell Street came up for sale.
“Sharon came home one day and said, ‘Oh, by the way, honey, we have a firehouse,’” says Tim, a sociology major and education minor who was a member of four NCAA Division III lacrosse national championship teams during his time at Hobart. “I’m the builder, the maker — she’s the dreamer.”
Sharon’s initial dream for the firehouse was to use it for studio space; she repurposes furniture and found objects into usable art. But as they began cleaning out the space — which served as a working firehouse from 1897 to 1961 and later as a church, a community center and as storage for the detritus of the owner of a shoe repair shop, a weightlifting gym and a car repair shop — conversations with community members changed the Clarks’ vision for what the building could be.
“Neighbors came by to thank us for restoring the place, to share its history with us. That gave us courage to keep going,” explains Tim, noting that the building was broken into several times during the early days. Sharon shares that the couple “began to recognize the need for the residents, from seniors to youth,” and soon a vision for a community space came into focus. “That’s where Aspire House was born,” she says.
Four loft rental units on the second floor will help pay for a flexible, multipurpose, creative community space below, which will be used for programming such as neighborhood association meetings, weekend coding classes for kids and poetry slams, as well as a space for seniors to sew and a wellness center for urban women. What started as an idea for studio space has grown into a registered nonprofit, Aspire Higher Foundation, and an Aspire House brand with a focus on urban redevelopment, art and education. Through their foundation, the Clarks are transforming vacant buildings into viable residential and educational spaces and providing opportunities for community residents to improve their lives.
Aspire House is “about helping others, about encouraging others to do better,” says Tim. “At the youth level, it’s about how we can help them live a better life to achieve their dreams.” He credits his personal journey for putting him on this path. He lost his mother at age 7 and was raised by his sister, a single parent. Later, an introduction to lacrosse led him down a path of “unbelievable experiences and life-long friendships,” he says. “I know that I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for those who offered me opportunities and wouldn’t let me fail. My wife and I are here to help the next generation.”
While Sharon grows the dream of Aspire House, Tim continues to build. “He’s on the floor laying hardwood at night and then getting up and putting on a tie to go to work the next day,” Sharon says. “He believes in the goodness of people, no matter where they come from, and their ability to aspire to something higher. He learned that at Hobart. That’s the Statesman in him.”
To learn more about Aspire House, visit aspirehouseindy.com.