When Phyllis Usher relocated to Indianapolis in the early '80s to accept the position of deputy superintendent of Public Instruction at the Indiana Department of Education, her plans included ensuring Indiana schools were compliant with federal and local regulations. Her passion for education, paired with her hope to break the cycle of poverty for local families, has made her an asset to many organizations since her transition to Central Indiana.
Among her education-focused endeavors are serving on the board of Fairbanks Hospital and helping establish Hope Academy, a recovery high school. Usher was also part of a task force to make Indianapolis more of an international city, leading to the creation of The International School of Indiana.
Usher developed a passion for serving the Near Westside community after marrying her husband, who owned a neighborhood-focused funeral home. As she settled in, she saw the area decline as people moved away and poverty became more prevalent.
With her neighborhood’s well-being guiding her, Usher has served on committees focused on improving the Near Westside. This includes the redevelopment of Central State Hospital and the GM Stamping Plant. She also volunteers and supports the West Side Community Development Corporation, where she served as director for 13 months while leading a search for a permanent director.
Hawthorne Community Center, a neighborhood resource for working families that offers life-enhancing programs, has greatly benefited from Usher’s leadership. For the last three years, she has chaired its capital campaign, which received a $5 million sustainability grant from the Lilly Foundation, supporting $3.7 million in improvements and creating an endowment program.
In further support of her neighborhood, Usher serves as a member of the West Washington Street Business Association, George Washington Community School Council, Downtown Kiwanis and Kiwanis Foundation Board. She also works tirelessly as a board member of Hearts and Hands, a nonprofit that rehabs and sells homes on the Westside for lower than market value to individuals with limited income.
“Because there is a lot of intergenerational poverty in my neighborhood, I’m always looking for fail-safe ways to peddle hope,” said Usher. “With poverty all around me, it’s easy to get discouraged but I follow the words of Nathan Hale ‘I am only one, but I am one. I can’t do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.’”