Emily Nelson is a native Hoosier and a proud Indy Eastsider. Currently, Emily is the manager of donor relations and grants at Early Learning Indiana, where she raises funds to ensure that all children in the city have access to the highest quality early care and education. She also serves as a board member for Westminster Neighborhood Services, and fosters cats for IACS. In her spare time, Emily can be found honing her gardening skills or trying to learn Spanish.
The 1828 Leadership Project, presented by Citizens Energy Group, is a civic leadership tract for Indy’s young leaders with the goal of fostering intentional relationships with a cross sector of Indianapolis’ thought leaders and decision makers. Emily is a part of 1828’s Class X– learn more about him below!
How do you spend your days? For example, you can tell us about your career, side hustle or exercise routine whatever you want to share here we’re ready to listen.
I spend my daytime hours at Early Learning Indiana where we work to increase quality, affordable child care for Hoosier families. Outside of that, I help manage a state representatives’ campaign finance reports and scholarship program, and I am a board member for Westminster Neighborhood Services. I am an avid runner and ran my first (and what will be my only!) full marathon last year. It’s important to me to be involved right where I live, so I am participating more in my Emerson Heights neighborhood organization, too. My COVID hobbies have included fostering IACS cats, knitting, both vegetable and native plant gardening, and reading.
Are you a native to Indianapolis? If not Indianapolis, where are you from from? What made you choose to move here?
I’m from a suburb just outside of the city, so Indy was accessible and we would go there a lot when I was growing up. I went to grad school in Indy and my husband and his business partner started their company, Circadian Coffee, here. As we started getting more involved in the city and met more people, we knew we wanted to stay.
You’re off the clock, there are no expectations. What are you doing?
I am reading, trying to learn Spanish on Duolingo, or hiking at Eagle Creek.
When thinking about the future of Indianapolis, what are you most looking forward to in the next 5 years and why?
It’s hard to think 5 years out in 2020, but I am hopeful that this year’s increased attention on racial injustice creates lasting change in our city. I hope we continue to see more commitment and financial investment in making our city more inclusive and just, and in supporting the people and organizations that have been fighting for racial justice.
Are there any local causes that you support? What are they and how might others learn more or get involved?
As mentioned, I am connected to Early Learning Indiana and serve on the board at Westminster Neighborhood Services. I also support/follow IACS and IndyHumane, Indy Reads, Exodus Refugee, MLK Center, Keep Indianapolis Beautiful and Shepherd Community Center. I receive a lot of their e-newsletters or I follow them on social media, which I find to be really helpful in keeping up-to-date with what they need, what they’re doing and how to get involved.
Do you have a favorite local place in town (restaurant, bar, park, etc.) that you love going to? Where is it and why should other people try it out?
I love the Garfield Park Conservatory. It makes me feel whole again in the dead of winter, and it is educational, too. I also love Tlaolli – it is a cozy and cheerful restaurant on Washington Street that has fresh, healthy Mexican dishes like tamales and tacos that are amazing.
Indianapolis is a sprawling county, what’s your favorite part about our city?
While Indy is definitely sprawling, it is still a small enough city to make a lot of connections with people. There have been countless times that I have met someone one place, and see them again in a completely different environment – like meeting someone at a friend’s house and then seeing them a week later at a work function. It is wild how often that happens!
If you were a superhero what would be your special trait? Why?
I would freeze time. I am always late to things, and my husband jokes that I need 13 hours of sleep every night – if I could just stop the clock and do what I need to do, I would be a lot better off!
You’re hosting your own music festival with three artists – Who’s performing?
I wish I could pick 50! I would pick artists I have not had the chance to see live, but who I have listened to on loop lately. Frank Ocean, King Princess and Billie Eilish.
If you had to listen to one song for the rest of your life, what would it be? Why?
I’ve been a Norah Jones fan since I was in elementary school and I think her albums stand the test of time. ‘Nightingale’ from her first album is one that I have loved for at least 15 years now, and it’s always been the song I sing in my head at night when I can’t sleep.
Mornings or evenings? And Why.
Mornings. The day is new and fresh and full of possibilities! But I don’t like waking up too early. See the “I need 13 hours of sleep a night” joke from earlier.
How do you define success?
Success to me is giving what I have to others – giving my time to listen to or make dinner for a friend, giving financial support to nonprofits, giving my skills to an organization that is trying to make a difference. I want to do my best, but I think stepping away from the expectation that everything I do needs to have an upward trajectory, and that everything I do has to be ‘productive’, helps me be more present to people and experiences around me.
What would you name the autobiography of your life? Feel free to give us context here. My friend Anna inspired me to keep a list of title ideas on my phone, because you never know when you’ll be asked this question. The title I cite the most is “From One Red Light to the Next: The Emily Nelson Story.” There’s no deep meaning here. It just is a fact that I am very often first in line for red lights, trains, and even the occasional drawbridge.
Learn more and connect with Emily on LinkedIn.