Paid forward: Lawrence Township School Foundation seeks to increase alumni involvement


The 38year-old Lawrence Township Student Foundation is looking to refresh its alumni engagement going into the 2021-22 school year. The LTSF sees the 2021-22 school year as an opportunity to reengage their alumni in a new way and incorporate them in the happenings in the school district.

“We recognized a few years back that we didn’t do a great job embracing our alumni past graduation other than when their reunions would pop up,” LTSF board of directors President Barb Austin said. “But we want to reach out and make sure our alumni are always welcome back. We want to multiply their ability to engage and their opportunities to give back and help our current kids.”

The school buildings, which are being renovated this summer for the first time in decades, are an emblem of that reinvestment.

Twenty-nine years ago, Jay Oliver first showed up at Lawrence Central High School as a freshman marveling at the size of the place.

“I remember back then thinking Lawrence Central looks so big and being worried about being lost in the hallways,” Oliver said.

In the subsequent years, not only Lawrence Central but also Lawrence North High School has steadily grown, dwarfing the then-newly renovated front that Oliver saw in 1992. Oliver’s role has grown, too. He’s now a vice president of private banking at the Bank of Indianapolis and seeks more opportunities to give back to his alma mater.

“I felt I had an obligation not only for myself but for future students to give back to the Lawrence Township School Foundation,” Oliver said. “It’s a direct and unique way that Lawrence had given to me. I still want to give back to the community that did such a great job of educating me and giving me the opportunity to be where I’m at today.”

Founded in 1983 by former superintendent Percy Clark, the LTSF has been integral in helping fund programs and student opportunities in Lawrence Township. The LTSF has raised more than $7.5 million since its founding, impacting approximately 15,600 students annually in 21 different schools.

The LTSF operates a bridge fund that assists students who do not have the means to pay for a musical instrument or sports equipment by covering the costs. The organization also operates EdEx, which provides educators with supplies for their classrooms and lessons at no charge. It operates clothing and food pantries for students in need.

“Really, it’s paid forward for all of these students,” Oliver said. “If you’ve attended Lawrence Township schools since 1983, you were, probably at some point, a recipient of the Lawrence Township School Foundation.”

The tangible steps the LTSF will take to boost alumni involvement are still being determined. But the structure of how they aim to reconnect is taking place. One step is creating awareness that the program is still thriving and helping students. Another is to promote opportunities, like at the McKenzie Center, where alumni can engage, mentor and give back to current students in a meaningful way. They also want to continue to promote the opportunities for alumni to embrace their school pride in being a Wildcat or Bear, like at LC/LN football and basketball games.

“We have enough opportunities for our alumni to participate in or to continue to experience their high school. It may be years later, but it still has that same feel and those amazing traditions,” Austin said. “So, we are looking at the calendar to make sure that we are including alumni, or at least inviting alumni. Through the fall, we hope to launch our open-door, welcome-home sentiments for our alumni.

“There’s no magic wand that we can wave to make sure that our alumni are aware and excited. It’s going to be a lengthy process, but we look forward to reaching out and welcoming them back.”

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The McKenzie Center off 75th street is a venue where Lawrence students can gain real life skills in a classroom setting. Many Lawrence alumni have given back there with instruction and career opportunities.

The McKenzie Center, an example of alumni giving back

Supporting Lawrence Central and Lawrence North high schools, the McKenzie Center for Innovation and Technology, 7250 E 75th St., Indianapolis, offers students real-life work experience in various career fields, from nursing to cutting hair in a barber shop, that also count for school credit. It has seen several alumni come back to help students test out potential career opportunities.

The Ed Martin Automotive Group is a donor to the center and the automotive services section, where students who want to go into the automotive trade can begin to get training. Mark and Kathy Harrison, who own the dealerships, are Lawrence Central graduates.

“When our kids graduate, many of them have a path right to one of the Ed Martin Service locations as part of the program. They graduate and go right into a job,” Austin said. “That’s a beautiful thing to have that alumni involvement. It works for everyone, both the alumni who give back and the kids who get an opportunity.”