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IU South Bend graduate on “Herstoric” mission to build community

Alumni Community Engagement Mar 19, 2024

Charity Stowe poses for a portrait in front of a wall with framed scenic images of Indiana University South Bend Charity Stowe has seen many changes in her career path since graduating from Indiana University South Bend. In some ways, those changes can be seen as a metaphor for what she’s trying to accomplish with her business, Herstoric Development.

Stowe (BS ’13 MS ’18) is on a mission to help neighborhoods in South Bend evolve as times change.

“I did not plan to come back to South Bend. In my neighborhood in Indy, I saw a lot of my neighbors displaced because of rising prices. I tried to challenge some of the developers when they were wiping out the historic nature of the neighborhood and pricing out people who lived there,” she said.

Advocacy comes naturally to Stowe, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and women’s and gender studies and a master’s degree in public administration. She worked in the Indiana House of Representatives as an intern, legislative assistant and deputy director of legislative affairs. She then worked for RISE Indy – Raising Indianapolis Schools to Excellence – which aims to ensure all students can attend an excellent public school.

Her frustration about changes in her neighborhood led her to sell her house in Indianapolis and move back to South Bend “temporarily.”

“Once I was here, I knew I couldn’t go back. I found a house that needed a ton of work, so I’ve been restoring that while living in it,” Stowe said.

But her impact locally really took off when she launched her woman-run housing initiative in 2019. Stowe describes Herstoric Development as incremental developers. They restore properties in a smaller area where the owner cares about the neighborhood.

“I didn’t want to approach development the way I had observed in Indy – the way that is most prevalent in the industry. As a whole, I wanted the existing community to have a say in the direction of the neighborhood and be able to stay and benefit from improvements,” Stowe said. “I found a good role model with a woman who was doing what I wanted to do on the East Coast. The city of South Bend brought her in to do some consulting and I finally had a mentor who gave me practical steps to get where I wanted to go with this vision.”

She credits her time at IU South Bend with changing the way she perceives things in the community.

“The gender studies minor was super influential in opening up a new way of thinking about gender and racial equity differences. My criminal justice courses influenced my restorative justice perspectives on how we approach our communities. Those two together taught me to look at the bigger picture and see how things lead to inequity – especially for black and brown community members,” Stowe said.

Herstoric strives to ensure everyone has a voice in redevelopment efforts.

“Even people who have done a lot of leg work to improve a community are often left out of decisions regarding their neighborhood. We need to make sure that neighborhood revitalization includes their voices with a conscious effort to maintain their residency, encouraging more diverse and connected neighborhoods” she said.

Professor April Lidinsky said Stowe shares her experiences by speaking to students and encouraging them to get engaged.

“Charity is a dynamo as a speaker and I’m so proud that she put her liberal arts skills to work on behalf of affordable, accessible, justice-minded and beautiful housing,” Lidinsky said.

Stowe said the smaller IU South Bend campus influenced her sense of community.

“I honestly don’t think I would be where I am without my education at IUSB. I think the campus was an integral part of my success. I started at Bloomington, but it felt too big for me. At IUSB, I was able to get to know my professors and fostered those relationships which were pivotal moments for me,” she said.

To that end, Stowe’s company looks for a mixture of uses for buildings to help foster relationships. In both the commercial buildings they own, they’re working to incorporate multiple residential units on the second floor with commercial and social spaces on the first.

“We also want to work with existing buildings to save costs, reduce the impact on the environment, and you keep the charm that the neighborhood has,” she said.

The end goal is to do urban revitalization in a different way. Stowe said there needs to be a connection with the neighbors that they don’t want to wipe away.

“The city is in redevelopment mode. The goal for my company is to get ahead of that and maintain some control in the area for affordability. We also want to bring in businesses that will serve the neighborhood as well as helping the development of downtown,” Stowe said.

As they seek tenants for their buildings, Stowe said they will be mindful to see if they can be successful in the neighborhood, but also give back to the community with gathering spaces that feel accessible to the people who live there.

“There is a lot of potential in this community for other investors to come in. I can only do so much because I’m the developer, contractor and investor. We’re hoping that as we acquire more properties we’ll have a bigger impact,” she said.

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