“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
Happy National Volunteer Month! Volunteers have the power to change their communities by giving their time, skills, and passion to causes they care about. This month is all about recognizing the importance of volunteering and celebrating the selfless contributions of community volunteers. We couldn’t do what we do without our fantastic volunteers, and we can’t thank them enough for choosing to give their time to our kids and programs!
This month we’re highlighting four historical community members who dedicated their lives to volunteerism and giving back. Read more about them below!
William V. Wheeler, Founder of Wheeler Mission
William Wheeler was born in West Elkton, Ohio, in 1845. After the death of his mother, his family relocated to Richmond, Indiana. When William was 18 years old, he enlisted in the Ninth Indiana Calvery to fight in the Civil War.
After being honorably discharged from the military in 1866, William moved to Indianapolis and began working as a delivery driver and a salesman. Two years later, he experienced a religious conversion, leading William to join the Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church and become a preacher.
In 1893, William helped the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) start the Door of Hope, a ministry for unwed mothers. While volunteering his time, he suggested that they extend their services to men and children to form a broader ministry. The WCTU approved, and with William as a part-time superintendent, a rescue mission was started, which was one of the first charitable organizations in Indianapolis. Eventually, William left his job in 1895 to run the mission as a full-time superintendent. This allowed him to extend programming to include a Sunday school, sewing classes, a mothers’ club, and more. He also led a building campaign from 1901 to 1905 and raised enough money to build a shelter for men, women, and children in need. He focused on serving the whole family because he believed that if men in poverty could improve their lives, then the entire family would benefit.
Shortly after the death of his wife in 1907, William experienced reoccurring heart problems that left him confined to his bed. Despite being bedridden, he continued to run the mission until he died in 1908. A week after William’s death, the mission’s name was changed to Wheeler Mission Ministries.
Nellie Gilroy Gustafson, Civic Leader
Nellie Gilroy Gustafson was born in 1916 in Atlanta, Georgia. She met her husband, Howard Gustafson, in graduate school while working on her Master of Social Work. After they married, they committed to work that focused on community improvement, which led them to move to several cities before landing in Indianapolis in 1952.
While Howard worked as the Community Service Council executive director, Nellie began volunteering for the Girl Scouts of Central Indiana and the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) of Indianapolis Public School 80. She also volunteered with the League of Women Voters, United Way, the National Organization for Women, the National Association of Negro Women, and the American Civil Liberties Union. In addition, she served on the Community Council’s family violence task force and assisted in founding the Indianapolis Urban League.
Nellie later became the executive director of the Young Women’s Christian Association of Indianapolis (YWCA). She led the organization in its move to its Guion Road location, helped increase membership, facilitated building renovations, and expanded programming. Nellie received numerous awards for her civic achievements, including the Outstanding Civic Achievement Award from the Christian Theological Seminary and the Indiana Jefferson Award.
Amos Brown III, Broadcaster
Amos Brown III was born in 1950 in Chicago, Illinois. He attended Northwestern University and majored in broadcasting. Amos moved to Indianapolis to work as an advertising sales representative for radio station WTLC.
Amos launched Mornings with the Mayor in 1977 on WTLC, which featured conversations with Amos and the Indianapolis mayor as they discussed issues in the community. The show continued until 1993 and led to Amos becoming one of the best-known voices in the black community.
Immediately after the end of Mornings with the Mayor, Amos began The Noon Show, where he brought in city leaders to ask tough questions about challenges in the community and provide a platform for callers to interact with the leaders. He hosted several other shows on radio and TV centered around addressing community issues and interacting with community leaders. Amos also wrote a column, Just Tellin’ It, for the Indianapolis Recorder and hosted Afternoons with Amos on WTLC until his death in 2015.
In addition to his work in media, Amos also devoted his time to several organizations such as the Indiana Black Expo, the United Negro College Fund, the Mozel Sanders Foundation, Riley Hospital for Children, and the Indiana Education Roundtable.
In recognition of his years of service, he received numerous awards, including four CASPER awards from the United Way, the Crystal Award for Community Service for the National Association of Broadcasters, and a Sagamore of the Wabash from the governor of Indiana. After his death, Amos was awarded Indiana’s highest honor, the Sachem Award, and a downtown Indianapolis street was named in his honor, Amos Brown Memorial Way.
Sarah Wolf Goodman, Civic Leader
Born in Vienna, Austria, in 1886, Sarah Wolf was brought to the United States as an infant by her family. She attended St. Louis Teachers College and became a kindergarten teacher. She volunteered and helped organize 13 public school community centers in her spare team. She also helped start the St. Louis Municipal Outdoor Theater. Sarah married Jack Goodman in 1924 and moved to Indianapolis shortly after.
Once in Indianapolis, Sarah became involved with what would eventually become the Booth Tarkington Civic Theater. She became vice president in charge of arts for the Kirshbaum Center two years later, which is now known as the Jewish Community Center. Sarah also became the third president of the Women’s Committee of the Indiana State Symphony Society and a board member of the Symphony Society. She later founded the Aspen Scholarship Association and Ensemble Music Society.
In 1938, Sarah raised money to help rescue Jewish children in Austria from Nazi persecution. Her efforts inspired others to join the cause, which led to the rescue of 1,000 children. She also worked to garner support for Israeli immigrants and children during World War II.
Sarah became the first woman to serve as president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis in 1953. Her achievements were recognized by the Indianapolis Community Chest (United Way of Central Indiana) and B’nai B’rith.
In 1957, Sarah became the national chair of the Women’s Division of the United Jewish Appeal. She served as the national vice president and on the board of Hadassah for 18 years. She was also a member of the National Council of Jewish Women and was a member and trustee of the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation until her death.