Community Solutions is a small but powerful community development consulting firm that impacts diverse communities such as neighborhoods, healthcare systems, homeless service providers, and foundations, to name a few.
Our influence in the community development arena lies not in bricks and mortar, but in people, programs, organizations, and systems. We understand that any community—be it residents within a neighborhood or healthcare providers within a region—can only succeed when its members have the tools, resources, strategies, and partnerships in place to allow them to be nimble, be bold, and be excellent.
Community Solutions combines the unique talents of individuals from a wide range of backgrounds: public health, urban planning, fund development, public policy, social work, and non-profit management to achieve results for the people we serve.
Our team members have come together with the common commitment to assist members of diverse communities—both physical places and thematic organizations—in learning how to improve themselves and their work through collaborative problem solving, grassroots involvement, and individual responsibility.
We delight in the dual-directional learning that occurs between our team and the communities with which we work.
Office Manager – Sadiya Ali
Sadiya Ali holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from IUPUI. Ali says, “I’ve seen all different sides of this city go through levels of development; I’ve seen neighborhoods go from being extremely vibrant to total disrepair. We have struggling communities here in Indianapolis, and being able to help them is my passion.”
At Community Solutions, Inc., she says, she’s found the place to do that. “There are so many organizations we work with,” Ali says, “and so many ways we can help. We help our clients streamline their work, figure out a plan, and make them more effective. Then we get to watch the good work spread.”
Project Assistant – Chipo Chavanduka, M.P.H
Chipo Chavanduka holds a Master of Public Health degree from Indiana University and Bachelor of Science degrees in Biology and Psychology from Eastern Michigan University. She is a trained epidemiologist and spent a semester in Stockholm, Sweden conducting an in-depth global analysis of healthcare systems.
Chavanduka chose public health because, “I always wanted to be involved in something that makes a difference.” At Community Solutions, Inc., she says “I can work at the intersection of health and policy; I can make a difference for lots of people.”
Chavanduka is currently working on a project focused on meeting the needs of individuals with HIV, and exploring their barriers to service and health. She likes that Community Solutions is a place where “collaboration is key; everyone contributes to different projects in different ways.
Senior Consultant – Cynthia Cunningham
In Cynthia Cunningham’s long career in public service, the concept of social justice has consistently played a central role. “I started as a neighborhood planner for the City of Indianapolis in 1989,” she says, “and pretty much everything I’ve done since then has been oriented around social change and social change initiatives.” In diverse roles working for the City of Indianapolis, The Polis Center, and the Indiana State Department of Health, has worked to measure the impact of services to populations which historically have been under-served.
Key to her efforts has been Cynthia’s understanding of the roles information systems and effective evaluation can play in shaping authentic social change. As an evaluator, she says, “I help organizations gain insight into the impacts their programs are having, and assist them in making adjustments that allow them to be more effective in what they do.” Cynthia has extensive experience in formative and summative evaluation models and techniques, and in using the resulting data to develop effective service interventions.
When she joined CSI in 2015, Cynthia knew she’d found a place where her talents and her values could work in concert. “Whether it’s the work CSI is doing to help programs trying to get health services to disparate populations, or assisting offender re-entry programs—pretty much everything CSI takes on has a social justice aspect to it,” Cynthia says, “and that’s what’s always motivated me most in my work.”
That work has led to her relationships with a vast and varied list of local and national organizations, including: the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Urban Institute, United Way of Central Indiana, Central Indiana Community Foundation, the Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center, and the Indianapolis-based Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), among others. “I’ve had a lot of opportunities to make connections locally and nationally,” Cynthia says, “and these connections help me provide the best service possible to my clients at CSI by creating collaborations and relationships that support social change and social justice over the long haul.”
Cynthia Cunningham graduated from Indiana University in 1989 with a Bachelor of Science degree from the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. She is a member of the American Evaluation Association and has been an Adult Volunteer for Girl Scouts of Hoosier Capitol. Cynthia is a published author of several scholarly articles and is a well-regarded speaker on the use of information systems to improve outcomes for families, neighborhoods, and communities. She has previously served as a Board member of the Ball State College of Architecture and Planning: Indianapolis Center, a member of the Executive Committee of the Urban Institute National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, and a member of the American Planning Association and American Planning Association Speakers Bureau.
President & Founder – Lena Hackett, M.P.H.
A respected community leader and long-time public servant, Lena Hackett founded Community Solutions, Inc. in 2000. “I had spent the previous three years working for the late Congresswoman Julia Carson,” Lena says. “In that environment, I was challenged every day to gain expert knowledge on local, state, and national issues in order to serve constituents. I became addicted to the non-stop learning the job required—and, more importantly, the application of the knowledge I gained to help resolve real issues in the community.”
Founding a firm focused community development and program sustainability for grassroots, regional, and national organizations was the ideal outlet for Lena’s combination of knowledge, experience, and drive to be part of meaningful community change. Creating real change, Lena says, is about “authentic engagement. The work we do is not about ‘tasks.’ It’s about being authentically engaged with the issue we’re working on, the community we’re working with, and the result we want to see achieved.”
In fact, a laser-like focus on results is one of the hallmarks of Lena’s—and CSI’s—work. Under her leadership, staff, clients, and collaborators of CSI are constantly challenged to ask themselves: what’s changed as a result of this work? Is anyone better off? Authentically answering these questions often means working beyond the original scope of the project, connecting clients with other resources to deepen their work, or even telling a client when that CSI is not the right fit for them.
Authenticity is paramount to Lena because authentic relationships are the foundation of everything CSI does. “Relationships,” she says “keep us going. Being in relationship with bright, passionate committed people across a broad spectrum of professions is what keeps us going. It is only through our authentic relationships that we are able to have a small part in helping clients be successful in their communities.”
Helping those clients be successful means producing measurable improvements for customers and communities—and measurable results help keep the CSI team and its clients accountable to stakeholders, funders, and partners. In recent years, the firm has worked with such diverse clients as:
- Marion County Re-Entry Coalition, Indianapolis IN
- Annie E. Casey Foundation, Baltimore MD
- Marion County Community Corrections, Indianapolis IN
- Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana
- Brothers United, Indianapolis IN
- The Family Y of Greater Augusta, Augusta GA
- Rock Steady Boxing, Headquartered in Indianapolis IN
- Porter County Community Foundation, Indiana
Under Lena’s leadership, CSI continues to help these and other organizations and communities make connections and create plans that are visionary, obtainable, and sustainable.
Lena Hackett has a Nutrition and Dietetics degree from Purdue University and holds a graduate degree in Public Health Policy from the University of Michigan. She currently serves on the Indianapolis-Marion County Metropolitan Development Commission and is a member of the Board of Directors of Indianapolis-based nonprofit Dove House, where she is also a former Board Chair.
Consultant – Dalton Haney
Throughout his career in corrections and offender re-entry, Dalton Haney has approached his work with a mixture of passion and compassion. “With any job I’ve ever held,” he says, “I pour a lot of myself into it. Every job I’ve had is not just a job, it’s something I’m really passionate about. The opportunity to have a positive influence in the community means a lot to me.”
The passionate pursuit of those opportunities began at the Plainfield Reentry Educational Facility, the first corrections facility in the nation to be dedicated to preparing criminal offenders for re-entry into the community. For Haney, addressing the challenge of offender re-entry is common sense. “Ninety-eight percent of our prison population is going home at some point” Haney notes, “so we need to make sure they’re ready to reintegrate. So much changes while people are serving their terms, we need to prepare them.” Throughout his career in corrections, Haney learned to interact compassionately with men and women of all backgrounds. “I’ve worked with murderers, drug dealers–people with very complicated backgrounds” he says. For Haney, helping these offenders successfully transition to life in the community is a chance to have a positive influence on his city and state.
Haney’s work at the Plainfield facility led him to serve in many different capacities in the field of community corrections. Through it all, he has carried with him his core values of honesty, integrity, and teamwork—and it was these values that led him, ultimately, to Community Solutions, Inc. “I had worked with some of the CSI staff on and off for a few years,” he says. “They’re really good people. Everyone has a positive attitude; the staff is goal oriented and they make sure the work gets done.” The opportunity to work with founder Lena Hackett and this team was one he knew he couldn’t pass up. Plus, it’s a fresh opportunity to make a difference. “Marion County is my home,” Haney says. “I care about my community and I want to see things improve. I believe in taking care of your neighborhood, taking care of your community. I like to think that I can make a difference through the work that I do for CSI.”
Dalton Haney graduated from Indiana University-Bloomington in May of 2006 and began his career in December of 2006 as a Correctional Officer with the Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC). He held many different positions while working at the Plainfield Re-Entry Educational Facility (PREF), including Policy Coordinator, Public Information Officer, Safety Hazard Manager, and Executive Assistant. Dalton has worked with the Community Corrections Division of the Indiana Department of Corrections and served as a member of the IDOC’s Special Emergency Response Team (SERT). He served as Assistant Superintendent of the Indianapolis Re-Entry Educational Facility (IREF), before accepting the position of Chief Deputy Director of Marion County Community Corrections, where his responsibilities included work release and electronic monitoring’s intake division. His work at Community Solutions, Inc., will continue to focus on criminal justice, including the development of strategic plans and system-wide process improvements for corrections and re-entry programs.
Project Assistant – Erika Hargis
Erika Hargis is a graduate of the University of Indianapolis and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Applied Sociology from that same school. Applied Sociology, Hargis says, “moves beyond examining what we’re doing in certain fields to focus on why we’re doing what we’re doing. And you can’t really improve a system until you understand the why behind it.”
That desire to be part of meaningful change is what brought Hargis to Community Solutions, Inc. “Working here gives me an opportunity to help individuals and organizations adapting to changing realities, and discover new ways to be of service while I’m doing it.”
Erika Hargis holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in Psychology and in Criminal Justice from the University of Indianapolis, where she spent her entire college career on the Dean’s List and graduated summa cum laude. As an undergraduate, she served as Vice President and Treasurer for Alpha Phi Sigma, the national Criminal Justice Honors Society. Hargis is also a member of the National Society of Leadership and Success. She is currently pursuing a Master of Arts degree in Applied Sociology from the University of Indianapolis.
Director of Strategic Initiatives – Lisa Osterman, M.A.
In spite of her extensive expertise in community development, juvenile and adult criminal justice, and public health, Lisa Osterman rarely misses an opportunity to learn something new. “We get to meet and work with the most interesting people,” Lisa says of her role as Director of Strategic Initiatives at Community Solutions, Inc. “They turn to us for expert assistance, but the only way to really help them is to learn from them.” Lisa knows that sustaining an attitude of continuous learning requires respect, humility, patience, inclusion, and curiosity. “Some of these values are easier to exercise than others,” she says, “but I know they are all critical to the success of the work I do.”
Lisa joined CSI in 2006 after serving as Director of Planning and Measurement at the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Prior to that, she worked as a research and evaluation consultant on a number of projects in the youth development and education sectors. The opportunity to work with—and learn from—a variety of clients and stakeholders was one of the things that drew her to the firm. “I liked that CSI wasn’t pigeon-holed into one particular sector or type of community,” she says. “I knew getting to work with a variety of clients in a variety of sectors on a variety of projects would be very motivating for me.”
Her experience at CSI has not disappointed. “We work with all kinds of people in all kinds of settings who know so much, and we learn from them in order to understand them and help, “Lisa says. “We have principles, tools, and techniques that can be applied to great benefit in many settings, but we need to learn about our clients, their needs, and the context in which they work in order to identify the best way to serve them. So, it is a lot of listening, thinking, researching, discussing, and learning—which are all the things I value in my work.”
Lisa’s rich history of work in community development and organizational capacity-building and expertise in social research, system and program evaluation, performance measurement coaching, and strategic planning made her a natural fit for a firm with a “helping people help others culture” (as she describes it). “All the work we do centers around the idea that there are lots of people doing great work to improve their communities,” she says, “and they want a fresh perspective or different approaches to making their work even better. We help organizations, systems, and collaborations figure out how to strengthen their work, increase their impact, and expand their reach.”
Still, Lisa is quick to point out that clients are not the only ones to benefit from relationships with CSI. “People come to their work for diverse and interesting reasons, they have unique priorities, concerns, motivations, beliefs about what works, et cetera,” she says. “Gaining insight into clients’ perspectives on these things adds significant value to the work of someone who values continuous learning the way Lisa does. “Our job is to understand our clients and their partners and develop strategies that engage them on intellectual and emotional levels,” she says. We want them to be satisfied with the results that are achieved with our assistance, and also to feel good about the process – like they learned new things, stretched and grew as an individual, built their team. But the same goes for the CSI staff – we also learn, stretch, grow, and build our team through the work we do.”
Lisa Osterman holds a graduate degree in Applied Sociology with a concentration in Research and Evaluation from the University of Indianapolis and a B.A. in Religion, also from the University of Indianapolis. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Indianapolis and is a member of the American Evaluation Association, Indiana Evaluation Association, and Alpha Kappa Delta International Honor Society. Lisa is the author several scholarly journal articles.
Project Assistant – Lauren Tolley
Lauren Tolley studied Political Science at the University of Chicago. Political Science, she says, is “really about learning how people and systems function and improving those systems improves people’s lives”.
With a Political Science degree from The University of Chicago under her belt, Tolley then served two terms with AmeriCorps Public Allies. Serving with community agencies through the Public Allies program cemented Tolley’s desire to influence the systems that impact so many lives.
At Community Solutions, Tolley work is primarily focused on the Marion County Re-Entry Coalition. The goal is to “create more awareness of the difficulties that go along with re-entry, and encourage the community to recognize the humanity and value of people who have a criminal justice history.”
Lauren Tolley holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from The University of Chicago, where she graduated as a member of the Dean’s List in June, 2016.
Senior Consultant- Mitzi Wilson, J.D.
With degrees in Business Administration and Law, Mitzi Wilson knows she could have “gone corporate.” “But,” she says, “That’s just not how I was raised. It may sound cliché,” she concedes, “but my folks grew up in families needing public supports and they became public servants, to give back or pay it forward. It really shaped how I want to use my skills and talents—to serve a need or meet a gap in the community.”
The theme of improving quality of life for people and communities runs throughout Wilson’s career. In various roles at the Community Development Law Center, Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, Indiana Neighborhood Resource Center, or the Marion County Commission on Youth, Wilson has thrown her energies into public interests and public service. It was in these organizations, too, that Wilson came to see the true value of collaboration. “One person can plant a seed of change,” she says, “but for things to grow usually takes partners. No one program can meet everyone’s needs. We have to work together to make sure people are supported.”
That faith in collaboration is what ultimately drew Wilson to join Community Solutions, Inc. “I’ve known for a while in the back of my head that I wanted to get into consulting work,” she confesses. “I really have a passion for seeing things grow and develop in the community, and I understand that having the right collaborators can make that happen faster. The way Community Solutions can step in to that space—whether it’s a quicker project where you provide some coaching or a larger effort to enable systemic change—we support that growth at all levels. That’s why I wanted to come here.”
Mitzi Wilson holds a J.D. from the Chicago-Kent College of Law, where she received the Bar and Gavel Award for Outstanding Service to the law school, community and legal profession. She has a B.S. in Business Administration from Indiana University and has studied at the Sargent Shriver Center on Poverty Law, the Center for Courage and Renewal, and the Indiana Writers’ Center.