Harris credits Rachelle Gardner, then a clinician working with adolescents at Fairbanks, and former Fairbanks President and CEO Helene Cross for pushing the idea of a recovery high school.
"It was great not just to have people like Helene and Rachelle and Mayor Peterson - who were doing this as part of their jobs - but volunteers from the community who were willing to step up and serve," Harris said.
There were four key players who worked on Hope Academy's charter application: Rachelle Gardner, a clinician who worked on Fairbanks' adolescent unit who originally proposed the idea for a recovery high school; Helene Cross, then Fairbanks' president and CEO who helped change the culture there to facilitate such an expansion; Merry Thoe, a social worker by trade who worked with youth but also was deeply involved in the Indianapolis community with her husband; and Dr. Zielke.
Helene M. CrossFirst Hope Academy President and CEO
When Helene Cross took over as president and CEO of Fairbanks in 2001, the organization was hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and had a facility that badly needed renovations.
There wasn't even any money in the bank designated as reserves.
That would sound daunting to the most optimistic.
And yet she doesn't remember feeling scared.
That included Rachelle Gardner, who in her first interview with Cross told her about her dream for a recovery high school.
Having lived in the Indianapolis area since the 1970s and working her way up through the health-care and nonprofit ranks, Cross also knew many people with resources.
One by one she went to friends at places like the Central Indiana Community Foundation, Lilly Endowment and United Way and explained what Fairbanks needed.
One good piece of advice she got early on was to simply "paint the lobby.
That would show everyone that change was afoot, however minor it may be.
From that metaphor to something real, a grant allowed for some urgent upgrades including group room chairs and carpet.
Renegotiating with insurance companies on reimbursement rates also helped shore up the bottom line.
And a significant first-year change was adopting a new mission statement that focused on recovery, not just treatment.
After 18 months and a little more financial security - along with an improved facility - Cross worked with the leadership group to begin determining how the focus on recovery could lead to the development of new programs.
Cross and Fairbanks board member Dr. Chris Stack recruited individuals for a subcommittee to determine the feasibility of starting a recovery high school.
"We were the only charter school application at the time to have unanimous support," said Cross, who credits a recovering high schooler's testimony for sealing the deal.
"He had more metal on than I thought a body could carry, but he showed so much confidence in explaining why we needed a charter school like Hope Academy."
The original business plan projected a loss up to a million dollars in the school's first five years until enrollment reached a projected 120 students.
"We exceeded that expectation!
said Cross, noting leadership furthermore decided to cap enrollment at 60 for academic and recovery purposes.
Though Cross retired as president and CEO of Fairbanks and Hope Academy in 2012, she still attends every graduation that she's able to.
And she still hears the same kind of feedback from students and parents every time: If not for Hope Academy, I never would've graduated.
I'd probably even be dead.
"That's pretty powerful," said Cross, who feels the same about Hope Academy now as she did when it opened 10 years ago.
Make a donation to Hope Academy in honor of Helene M. Cross
Helene Cross, Jackie Nytes and Mario Rodriguez will begin their board terms on April 4, 2016.
Helene Cross is the retired president and CEO of Fairbanks.Currently, she serves as a consultant, providing expertise in leadership and management development, executive coaching, and strategic and business planning.Cross served as executive vice president of Easter Seals Crossroads and in various administrative roles at St. Vincent and Wishard Hospital.She has been awarded the John T. Hazer Distinguished Alumni Award in Psychology from the IUPUI School of Science, the American College of Addiction Treatment Administrators Annual Achievement Award and the Richard M. Fairbanks Circle of Hope Award.
She holds a master's degree in management from Indiana Wesleyan University and a bachelor's degree in psychology from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI).
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