When two Marion County torchbearers carried the torch, they symbolized the work and impact that they have carried throughout the community.
Henry Leck founded the Indianapolis Children’s Choir 30 years ago, the same year he began teaching at Butler University. He has been watching the progress of the torch throughout Indiana before his time came to carry it through Butler University’s campus, where a choir sang as he passed by with the torch.
“It’s not been like the Olympic torch where every single person just runs it. I’ve seen it in fire engines and on tractors and on wheelchairs- all kinds of different modes of transport, and I think that’s given it a really unique way to express different kinds of life experiences that we have in Indiana,” Leck said. “I’m excited to see what really happens with it all.”
The relay ended at the Indiana Statehouse Oct. 15, and Leck conducted a group from the Indianapolis Children’s Choir as the torch made its final stop on the relay.
Leck started the choir because in 1986, people thought children’s choirs were something that kids had to do in order to become museums. He saw a children’s choir from Chicago, and from that point on he realized that kids can truly be artists and sing musically. He knew of some good school and church choirs in Indianapolis, but nothing drew kids from all sides and geographic regions of the city together.
“I thought it would be really cool if I could create a choir that could just draw all the kids in the Indianapolis region that wanted to sing together into one group, and that’s exactly what happened,” Leck said.
The first children’s choir had about 200 students, which eventually grew into 1,000. High school and preparatory programs were added, as well as early childhood experiences and regional choirs. Leck now estimates about 5,000 kids per year are reached through the programs.
When it started, Leck did everything from printing the calendar to ordering music. As the organization grew, he got volunteer parents and a few people were hired. Now, there are about 50 professionals working in various capacities.
“It’s been a surprise every minute practically (to see the organization grow). I had no idea that the program would get this large, I had no idea it would become so well-known artistically, both in the United States and around the world,” Leck said. “I had no idea that it would open up opportunities for me to take these kids everywhere in the world. We’ve sung on every continent but Antarctica, and we’ve sung in most of the major concert halls in the world … I thought when I started a children’s choir, basically we would do 3-4 concerts a year in Indianapolis.”
Leck said that even if there were 400 torchbearers chosen from Marion County, it would still be an honor for him and he is delighted to be a torchbearer.
Chrissy Vasquez has been the executive director of Back on My Feet-Indianapolis, a running and training program for the homeless, since 2013. She volunteered with the organization before becoming executive director, and was nominated by a volunteer within the organization to carry the torch. Vasquez decided to take her passion as a volunteer and her career skills to her new position
“ I knew how transformative running could be, so an organization that used running to give people confidence and self-esteem .. I really liked that it was a hand up to people and not a handout, and I really enjoyed the community aspect of it.”
In addition to running, Back on My Feet offers job skills training and financial literacy training so members are equipped to get back into housing and employment.
Vasquez said when she first started being involved with the organization, it was all about giving back and helping others realize they were worth a second chance. As her involvement continued, she realized that many of her good friends have come from Back on My Feet.
“I really consider a lot of these people my family here locally cause I don’t have any family here. Our members and our alumni of the program, I consider them family and then some of the other volunteers that I’ve met and other staff members have really become a community for me that I needed just as much as our members do,” Vasquez said.
Vasquez has lived in Indiana for 14 years, which is the longest she has ever lived in one place.
“I really consider Indiana my home, so it’s really an honor to represent the State of Indiana, but also what the torch means in terms of our program,” Vasquez said. “To me, Indiana’s been a state that I’ve just really felt welcome [in]. Everyone is very friendly … I just it’s really exciting that the state is doing so many things to represent and celebrate the bicentennial.”