“And more”: Apprenticeship benefits exceed expectations for employers, students

Client Watch


When Plastic Recycling Inc. signed on with the Modern Apprenticeship Program (MAP), it hoped to fill workforce gaps. When Cristina Llamas and Danny Bonilla signed up to be apprentices, they hoped to get some real-world workplace experience.

Just a few months into the program, everyone involved says they’re getting everything they hoped for, and more.

For Plastic Recycling, that “and more” is what might be the greatest benefit: The apprentices bring a special energy, new ideas and unique technology skills with them to work every day.

“These kids are just so mature,” said Plastic Recycling Chief Personnel Officer Chad Smith. “They just come in and get things done.” 

Designed to give young people hands-on career training, MAP collaborates with employers to place high school students in paid positions that give them skills, experience and, in most cases, certifications that will help them start a career when they graduate or continue for post-secondary attainment. MAP participants who do go on to more schooling often do so with a year of college credits in hand.

Each MAP experience is designed as a three-year commitment, with students working about 10 to 15 hours a week their junior year and up to 20 hours their

Cristina knew she was interested in business, but she didn’t have a good sense of what specific career area to pursue. Urged by a friend to check into apprenticeships, she read the job description for a human resources position at Plastic Recycling and felt that she could see herself in the role, and that a career in human resources could be meaningful.

Once at the Plastic Recycling’s facility, the Ben Davis High School student was won over by the welcoming staff. “I expected them to shoo me off, because I’m a young person,” she said. “But they were very accepting.”

Also eye-opening was how much the firm has included Cristina in everything the HR team does, which has been especially educational, she says. For example, she has been involved in many real-world HR scenarios such as sitting in on interviews for a new plant manager. Some of her favorite moments on the job come when she simply walks the floor of the facility and talks to other employees.

“We’re very diverse here, so you see people from all walks of like,” she said. “That really brings me joy.”

As an extrusion operator, Danny, a Pike High School student, is getting to do the kinds of hands-on work he loves. Like Cristina, he was impressed by how quickly other workers accepted him, and by how eager they are to teach him the ropes.

“They have so much knowledge, and they learn to pass it on to you,” he said.

Danny first learned about the MAP program through a postcard he received last year, and he saw it as a good opportunity to get a sense of what he might want to do with his future. “I just knew I wanted to do something hands-on,” he said. “Now I know this is what I want to be.”

Like Cristina, Danny attends school for a half day each weekday and works a half day at Plastic Recycling. Some of his peers were surprised to learn he would be dividing his day this way, and he says the days do feel pretty packed, but he enjoys what he’s doing and feels he’s learning something new every day.

As much as Danny and Cristina are getting out of their apprenticeships, they aren’t the only ones benefiting, says Plastic Recycling’s Smith. The firm sees it as a great experience as well, appreciating a couple more pairs of hands to help with the workload, but also the energy the high schoolers bring to the workplace.

Plus, Danny and Cristina each bring tangible skills to the organization. For example, as a digital native, Danny is a quick learner who has helped shop veterans learn about newer equipment, Chad says, and, as a Spanish speaker, Cristina has been able to serve as a translator between the company and some of its employees.

All of these plusses have left Plastic Recycling with such a good feeling about MAP that it plans to expand its participation, adding apprentices in both the front office and production roles.

“It’s a great program,” Chad says. “I feel like it’s a win-win.”

The Modern Apprenticeship Program was developed by EmployIndy and Ascend Indiana. Conexus Indiana partners with MAP to help prepare young talent for careers in advanced manufacturing and logistics. Learn more.

Women4Change CEO calls citizens to the voting booth

Client Watch

This article originally appeared in Indy Maven. To read it online, click here


By Rima Shahid  

Standing on the steps at the Indiana Statehouse after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, I saw what outrage looks like.  

I saw thousands of Hoosiers demanding the attention of elected officials. I saw people from every corner of the state holding up hand-lettered statements of dismay and disgust. I saw men and women who had never attended a political event standing alongside protest veterans. And I saw frustrated people who promised they would remember that day on election day.  

It’s time to make good on that promise.  

 I know, I know: It’s tempting to ignore midterm elections. They don’t get the same level of hype that elections get when the presidency is up for a vote, and it can seem like there aren’t any big races on the ballot. It’s easy to think this election isn’t that important.  

But it is, for a number of reasons.  

First of all, this is our opportunity to demonstrate that the outrage I saw on the Statehouse steps wasn’t just noise. We need to translate our immeasurable frustration into measurable votes, showing our elected leaders that we believe women in Indiana should have full reproductive rights. Furthermore, we should accept a challenge issued by Indiana Speaker Todd Huston after the General Assembly passed SB1, which banned abortions in Indiana. I’m paraphrasing, but the gist of his comment was that, if people aren’t happy with the law, they should vote. So, let’s do just that.  

Second, we need to make it clear that women are a force to be reckoned with on election days. We need to turn out in record numbers to let anyone who plans to run for office know that women’s votes can be deciding votes.  

Third, we need to show the world that young Hoosiers are as engaged in the civic process as they are in civic protest. In the 2020 election, only 29% of Hoosiers aged 18 to 24 voted. Imagine the changes they could drive if every young adult who voted two years ago made sure to visit the voting booth again and took along someone who didn’t vote back then.  

Finally, we need to acknowledge that these elections do matter. One of Indiana’s U.S. Senate seats is up for consideration, as are all of our U.S. House of Representatives seats. Plus, every Indiana House seat is up for election, as are half of the seats in the Indiana Senate. While those are “only” state-level offices, the decisions made in those chambers matter to Hoosier women. If previously unengaged Hoosiers cast ballots in unexpected numbers, we could send a strong message to the people who want our votes: Hoosier women have power and they’re willing to use it. 

Be sure you’re prepared by downloading our 2022 Voter Guide and learning the key questions to bring up to the candidates in your district. Then, check out your ballot and voting location at Indianavoters.in.gov

I saw a lot of passion on the Statehouse steps that day a few months ago. Now I want to see that passion put into action in the voting booth. After all, in a democracy, that’s where change begins.  


Rima Shahid is the CEO of Women4Change Indiana.


CILTI leader applauds 'biggest day ever' for land protection in Indiana

Client Watch


The following originally appeared in the Indianapolis Star. Click here to read it in the online edition. (Photo: Indianapolis Star)

By Cliff Chapman, Executive Director of the Central Indiana Land Trust

Indiana just experienced its biggest day ever for land conservation.

I’ll forgive readers if they didn’t know that. But I’ll also assure them that they and their fellow Hoosiers will benefit from that day ― literally ― forever.

On Sept. 6, the Next Level Conservation Trust Project Committee met and decided how to distribute more than $23 million of the $25 million the state of Indiana set aside for land conservation in the biannual budget passed last year. With the help of those funds, portions of the Indiana landscape will be protected in perpetuity by land trusts across the state.

To the state government’s credit, when it put out requests for proposals for these funds, it told land protection groups to “dream big.” And we did. The conservation community identified swaths of ancient forest, vibrant wetlands, unique geological formations, endangered species’ habitat and other important natural places, many that we thought we might never have the resources to purchase and protect. The requests totaled more than $30 million.

This doesn’t mean that organizations simply found ways to spend money. The Next Level Conservation Trust provides up to three-to-one matching grants, which means that every organization that requested funds also committed to raising money from donors.

The result is that in the near future more money than ever will be used to purchase significant parcels of Indiana’s natural areas and place them into protective care forever. Hoosiers will have opportunities to enjoy pristine natural areas, to experience Indiana’s native flora and fauna, and also to benefit from improved water and air quality well beyond those properties.

The funding was distributed from among divisions of the state’s Department of Natural Resources adding to parks, forests, fish and wildlife areas and nature preserves as well as county and local parks and multiple land trusts from across the state. This is a big deal because these latter properties will be open to the public but their ongoing care will not require tax dollars.

For example, the Central Indiana Land Trust is using its $3.1 million to help purchase and protect land just west of Greencastle in Putnam County. A 570-acre site known as Fern Station, this property has been on our wish list for more than a decade because it represents classic Indiana forestland and serves as home to a number of rare and endangered species. It sits virtually undisturbed now ― with only a single gravel road cutting through it ― but, unable to find a buyer, the landowner had been considering dividing the land into parcels for sale.

Without the help of state funds, we might never have been able to raise enough money to protect the property, which will represent the largest single land purchase in our history. And, because it sits near another protected property ― the Fern Cliff Nature Preserve ― it helps to increase the critical mass of protected land in that area.

With the funds from the Next Level Conservation Trust, similar transactions will take place across the state, bringing thousands of acres of land under protection. This is a critical step at a time when we lag well behind other states in terms of protected land and continue to lose thousands of acres to development every year.

We applaud Indiana’s leaders for making these funds available for investment in the future of Indiana’s natural places, and we thank the generous land preservation supporters across the state for providing the matching funds needed to make these purchases possible. Together, we are all working to preserve the best of Indiana’s natural legacy.

IU Health Momentum Indy brings top-notch crit racing to Indy

Client Watch

The following was originally published by Indianapolis Monthly. Click here to read it online.


By Emma Uber    

If there’s one thing Indianapolis knows how to do well, it’s host a race. Of course, the racing in question is usually done by cars. This month, the Racing Capital of the World will live up to its title by hosting a bike race of national significance.

USA Cycling named Indianapolis’s Mass Ave Crit the ninth stop of the American Criterium Cup, a new 10-race U.S. crit series. This is big news—if you’re one of the few noncyclists who are familiar with crits.

A criterium, or crit, is a multi-lap bike race on a closed course. The Mass Ave Crit and Indy Crit combine to create IU Health Momentum Indy, a two-day bicycle festival in downtown Indianapolis on August 27 and 28. The downtown location means cyclists will race through closed-off urban streets while zooming past festival activities, restaurants, bars, and apartment complexes. Momentum Indy founder Jennifer Cvar compares crits to IndyCar races on bikes due to the multi-lap, high-speed format that often leaves riders biking elbow-to-elbow.

Cvar knows the Mass Ave Crit’s new status as a stop on a national race series will attract more elite cyclists than ever, and she hopes the number of spectators will follow.

“The caliber of competition for the pro races will be through the roof,” Cvar says. “This really elevates the level of competition and the stature of the event. Just like hosting a major golf tournament or NCAA tournament, this criterium series is the equivalent for bike racing.”

The courses are designed with spectators in mind, Cvar says. The short length of each lap, .64 miles for the Mass Ave Crit and .71 miles for the Indy Crit, means cyclists will pass the crowd as frequently as every two minutes. The sharp angles of the turns, some even sharper than 90 degrees, add difficulty and drama by increasing the likelihood of accidents. Choosing locations such as Meridian Street, Mass Ave, and New York Street ensures spectators can enjoy Saturday night’s Mass Ave Crit while out at the bars or watch Sunday’s Indy Crit while brunching at local restaurants. Cvar even invites crowds to feel the rush of air from cyclists speeding past by standing directly against the barricades blocking off the course.

Damon Richards, executive director of Bike Indianapolis, says people underestimate the excitement of crits. When people think of bike races, they think of the Tour de France, where crowds stand around all day waiting for a single, brief glance of the cyclists. The short-lap format of crits means riders sprint past spectators again and again. The exhilaration, not to mention the free admission, leaves Richards confused why anyone wouldn’t attend Momentum Indy.

“This is a free event for spectators, and it’s as exciting as going to see the Indy 500,” Richards says. “Of course, the cyclists are not going as fast, but you’re a lot closer to them. People don’t generally think of bicycling as a spectator sport, but crits are designed for spectators to enjoy and have a good time. Basically, crits are a really fun way to see riders going really fast.”

Momentum Indy offers two ways for spectators to enjoy the races. The Mass Ave Crit, founded in 2008, and the Indy Crit, founded by Cvar in 2010, combined under the Momentum Indy festival name in 2021 to offer a weekend-long cycling attraction that accommodates all ages and cycling abilities. The Mass Ave Crit caters to a more adult audience, with the Women’s 3/4/Novice racing kicking off the afternoon at 3 p.m. and the Men’s Pro 1 race concluding at 8:30 p.m. While there are categories for a variety of cycling abilities, the Mass Ave Crit does not include any junior or kids’ races. Spectators can listen to music from the Red Bull DJ truck and mill around the bars lining the course.

The Indy Crit offers a family-friendly environment on Sunday, as does Saturday morning’s Honor Major Taylor Ride. The free community ride, open to anyone who brings their own bike and helmet, honors the memory of Marshall “Major” Taylor, a trailblazing Black Indianapolis cyclist once known as the “World’s Fastest Man.” The Mini Major Taylor Ride for families with small children follows. The age inclusivity continues throughout the day, with competitive crit racing categories for kids (ages 3–9), juniors (ages 9–18), and those above 40, 50, and 60 years old. The Indy Crit route surrounds University Park, where Momentum Indy offers a festival complete with food vendors, BMX stunt shows, bicycle obstacle courses, games, and more.

“If a family is looking for something free to do on a Sunday, they can come out and entertain their kids for three or four hours with bike obstacle courses and a lot of other fun, free activities,” Cvar says. “More people than ever are out biking, and whether you’re a serious cyclist who is suiting up in a kit or if you just like to take your kids for a bike ride around the neighborhood, biking just builds community.”

Damar Village's unofficial mayor 'brings joy everywhere'

Client Watch


The following originally appeared in the IndyStar on Dec. 22, 2021. To read it in the Star, click here

By  Holly V. Hays, Indianapolis Star

Since Damar Village opened on Indianapolis' southwest side this summer, one resident has become the neighborhood's "unofficial mayor."

Most nights around dusk, Robert Burcham walks through the complex, which serves Hoosiers with developmental and intellectual disabilities, checking to make sure everyone's wreaths are lit, ensuring the holiday spirit flows throughout the neighborhood.

It's just one of the roles he's assumed as the complex's unofficial mayor, a title Burcham is quick to laugh off. But this quasi-leadership position came naturally to Burcham, said Jim Dalton, Damar Services president and CEO, who said the 42-year-old has a knack for uniting those around him.

While the title doesn't come with official responsibilities, Burcham can often be found walking through the complex, making sure litter is picked up and checking in with his neighbors.

“He’s such a lovable guy," Dalton said. "We love the way that he uses his skills and influences people positively. He’s always in such a positive mood.

"He just brings joy everywhere."

Creating a community for Hoosiers with disabilities

Damar Village is one of the 54-year-old organization's latest efforts to expand services to Hoosiers with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Each unit includes four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and shared living space, and adjustments like grab bars and reinforced walls can be made to meet an individual's needs.

The 13-acre complex, adjacent to the agency's main campus on the city's southwest side, will eventually provide housing to 120 adults with disabilities. The current capacity is 51, Dalton said, and all existing units have already been spoken for.

Dalton said the organization hopes to break ground on the next phase of the project in 2022, which would create 100 additional opportunities for housing.

The goal is to create a space where residents can feel safe, valued and respected. They want to build a community for Hoosiers who may not have found that elsewhere.

“A lot of the people that we serve come from bad situations, bad places," Dalton said. "Even though they’re living in the community, they’re really ostracized in the community."

Burcham said, in his experience, the complex has succeeded in creating that feeling of community. One distinction he wanted to make for those otherwise unfamiliar with the complex is that it doesn't have a clinical, institutional feeling, where residents are isolated from each other.

“It’s not like that,” he said. “That’s what I like, is the freedom to be able to walk outside, interact with people, interact with the staff.”

'We all need to be more like Robert'

When he's not working — Burcham just celebrated his 25th work anniversary at Burger King — or strolling through his neighborhood, Burcham can sometimes be found in his apartment's spare bedroom, where he keeps his train sets.

It's a hobby his father had as a child, and one Burcham said he's come to love over time, too.

His current set-up includes at least two locomotives, including a scale model he says may be his favorite. Because the scale pieces are larger, they often include more detail, he said: "I get more joy out of (it)."


"I have cerebral palsy and scoliosis,” he said, “and it’s much harder for me to put a smaller train (on the track) than it is a bigger train.”

So, it's no coincidence that when volunteers set up the neighborhood light display, the piece placed nearest to Burcham's apartment, visible just outside his living room windows, was a train.

"There was a little strategy," in the placement of that particular piece, Dalton admitted.

When asked what he was most thankful for this holiday season, Burcham said he's excited for the first Christmas in his new apartment.

“I’m grateful for what I have," he said, "and where I’m living.”

There are some people you meet, Dalton said, that can offer you valuable lessons in life — if you're open to learning from them. Burcham, he said, is one of those people. He sets an example for others just by engaging with and appreciating the world around him. 

"We all need to be more like Robert,” Dalton said.

Learn more about Damar Services and Damar Village

To learn more about Damar Village, visit damar.org/damarvillage.To learn more about all the services Damar offers, visit damar.org.

You can reach IndyStar reporter Holly Hays at holly.hays@indystar.com. Follow her on Twitter: @hollyvhays.

Depicting an evolution

Inside JTPR

Sometimes marketing types talk about brands and identity like they’re talking about alchemy. Or top-secret missile codes. Or Col. Sanders’ seven herbs and spices.

We tend to think of it more plainly than that. A brand should simply be a reflection of an organization or product. And as that organization or product evolves, that brand and the way it is communicated – through a graphic identity, a tagline or whatever – should evolve, too.

That’s why you’re seeing a new logo for JTPR. We’ve evolved, and it’s time for the way we present ourselves to evolve, too.

Of course, we started out as Jen Thomas PR, a one-woman show that quite simply got the job done.

We grew into JTPR, a two-JT firm that offered solid, clear-cut skills and expertise.

And now we think of ourselves a little differently. We still offer those same services, but we put an increasing emphasis on the power of the well-chosen word, straightforward counsel and the right action at the right time. It’s what our clients say they expect from us … what we do best.

So now we describe ourselves like this: JTPR gets people talking about things worth talking about in order to move people to action. With expert counsel, the right words and hands-on execution, we help organizations reach the right audiences, say the right things and get the results they want.

This fits nicely with our business plan, which we sum up by saying, “Work with nice people, and have fun doing it.”

When we discussed this vision of our business with our friend (and designer extraordinaire) Lindsey Hadley, she brought back a new logo for JTPR that we think captures wonderfully who we aspire to be: It’s sturdy and solid, with a dash of color and whimsy. It gets the job done with a bit of flair and fun.

That might not be as impressive as alchemy, or as intriguing as missile codes, or as “spicy” as a secret chicken recipe. But it’s who we are. 


We are Doers

Inside JTPR

During our firm’s recent rebrand, we spent a lot of time pondering the right words to describe what we do best.

We settled on Advisors. Writers. Doers.

Since the core of our work involves writing, Writers was a no-brainer.

Advisors was pretty easy, too. At this stage of our careers, we’re confident in our recommendations and the advice we provide clients.

The last word, though, was harder. We ended up with Doers.

We hesitated about that at first, worried that it sounded too tactical, too elementary, too lightweight. “Doers” are often seen as the “lowest rung” on the ladder, and we didn’t want people to think of us as a “low-rung” organization.

On the other hand, one of the reasons we opened our shop is that we wanted to provide advice to our clients and then actually see it through to fruition. To DO the work. We like what we do, and we plan to stay small – just the two of us – so we are, by design, the doers.

Of course, we also believe that serves our clients well. When they choose us, they get veterans doing the work. We’re not cooking up big ideas and handing them off to junior staffers. We’re not promising expertise and delivering rookie execution. We’re following through. Putting our experience to work. Making sure the job gets done.

And when we do need help? We reach out to the best partners and subcontractors in the business – people who we know value good work as much as we do – and continue to be engaged so that the job is done right.

Yep: We’re doers. And we feel good about that.

John and Jen

© JTPR, INC. 2023