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Excel Center creates food initiative program

Choosing to finish an educational track once abandoned is a big step to changing one’s lot in life.

Removing the obstacles to making that happen is the goal of the Excel Center. Classwork can be fast- or slow-paced. And an early learning center on site will care for children while their parents once again pursue their education.

More could be done, though, and Hope Fenton saw a need within the facility to help students returning to education even more.

“Many of the students choose to eat convenience foods,” said Fenton, manager of office administration and a former English teacher at Shelbyville’s Excel Center, 117 N. Harrison Street. “They get food at the local Conoco (gas station), or whatever is easy and convenient for them at the time. I could see students weren’t getting the proper nutrition or some students were skipping meals, and other students were even coming to the staff and letting us know they were hungry and needed some food.”

So Fenton started talking to those in the community she believed could make a difference for non-traditional students needing a little assistance. In July of 2018, she met with the Healthy Eating Action Team at the Purdue Extension office about the issue.

“I presented to them the needs I had identified here,” said Fenton. “I pitched to them that this would be a good area to focus on because the students are taking that first step in improving their lives by signing up and coming back to school. This is a courageous decision in itself. They are showing us they are wanting to improve their lives. I thought this would be a good buy-in for community members to help us help these students that have taken this first step.”

The Ashford Place Health Campus, 2200 N. Riley Highway, stepped up first. Through one of its food drives, the assisted living facility and senior community donated approximately 10 boxes of non-perishable food items and made a monetary donation.

Next to help was local Allstate agent Kyle Henderson. His monetary donation pushed the food initiative account to $300, which Fenton will administer.

“This has been a year-long process of connecting with people and telling our story,” she said. “Finally, we’re getting those donations we’re hoping for.”

Fenton anticipates purchasing high nutritional foods at a lower cost, such as bananas and oatmeal, that will be available daily for students in need. Larger quantity donations will be secured and doled out on a need-by-need basis.

“With our programs, all students get assigned a life coach,” explained Fenton, a Waldron graduate who earned a degree in Elementary Education from Indiana University and spent three years teaching in China before returning to Shelby County. “A life coach is (a student’s) school counselor in a way and advocate to help them through their journey here at the Excel Center. That extends to so many areas of their life. The life coach listens to them, helps resolve issues and connects them with resources. They do a lot for the students. If a student is in need of food, they can talk to their life coach and they can prepare a food box or bag for them to take home.”

The food initiative program also will extend into the Young Learners Childcare Center at the Excel Center, where as many as 15-20 children are supervised a day while parents are in the classroom.

“We really try to remove barriers that keep them from graduating or from coming to school,” said Fenton. “Another part of this food initiative involves the small ones in our Young Learners Childcare Center ... they are just as important. We need to get them the nutritional food.”

Fenton has helped structure a deal with the Salvation Army, which serves lunch daily at its facility at 136 E. Washington Street – two blocks from the Excel Center.

“They have agreed to provide hot meals during their pantry hot meal hours,” said Fenton, who is still working out the logistics to get the food to the Excel Center.

“We need a wagon and two coolers to walk back and forth each day,” she said. “We will use a volunteer from our student council to go to the Salvation Army and pick up the hot meals and bring them here.”

If you would like to help with the Excel Center’s food initiative program, contact Fenton at 317-524-4430, email her at or visit the Excel Center to speak to her.

The Excel Center is tuition free and offers the opportunity to earn a Core 40 high school diploma, industry-recognized certifications and college credit.

Operated by Goodwill Education Initiatives, Inc., the Excel Center is a not-for-profit organization formed by Goodwill of Central & Southern Indiana.

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