EAST CHICAGO | What started as a small group of close friends has blossomed into a team of about 35 young people from East Chicago who are trying to make a positive difference in their community.
Adriana Rivera and Denzel Smith, both 2012 East Chicago Central High School graduates, are two of the founding members of "The Circle," which they began their senior year.
The group seeks to inspire other young people to take a stand against violence and pursue education and an overall positive, successful lifestyle.
"I feel like the kids in E.C. don't even know about half the resources that are available to them and that's why they go down these wrong paths," Rivera said.
A Wells Scholar at Indiana University in Bloomington, Rivera hopes to return to the city to teach after graduation. However, she did not always feel that way.
"Until sophomore year, I planned to go to Harvard and never come back," she said.
But during her sophomore year, Rivera said a friend of hers was murdered in a gang-related, drive-by shooting in the city on his 18th birthday due to a case of mistaken identity.
"It really jarred my heart and I knew that this was where I was needed," Rivera said.
Some of the activities Rivera hopes to do with The Circle are to bring East Chicago middle school students on a field trip to Indiana University and start a mentoring program in the East Chicago School District.
Smith has already served young people in the city by working as an assistant last school year to longtime East Chicago Central High School music teacher Leon Kendrick.
"I see so much potential in East Chicago, but it takes a group," Smith said. "A small group or a large group, whatever the group may be, to just start a fire."
Smith sees The Circle as a catalyst for the change needed in the city.
"Our motto is 'success and achievement have no end', and when I think of a circle, you can't ever find a breaking point in a circle," he said.
Smith said The Circle plans to start a scholarship fund for East Chicago students.
Other goals of the group are to organize park cleanups, organize house repairs for residents and host college and career fairs for high school students, as well as health fairs for all ages.
The Circle held an awards ceremony Saturday to honor six community members, including Kendrick, who have made a positive impact.
Several members of The Circle attended a recent East Chicago City Council meeting to offer their services and seek assistance from the city.
"There is a desperate, desperate need in this city concerning our youth," Rivera told the Council.
The Circle hopes to encourage not only young people, but all citizens, to create a better world.
"I thank God for the people that were in my life that pushed me and opened doors for me, because without them, I don't know where I would be," Rivera said.
Those interested in more information can contact The Circle at firstname.lastname@example.org or can follow it on Facebook or Twitter.