Leading the way
Decatur group seeks feedback at community forum
By Bridgett Hernandez | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly
If someone offered you $10,000 to undertake a project that would have a lasting impact on your community, what project would you choose?
That is the question a group of volunteers in Decatur is trying to answer. They’ve been working to gather information about the community and collect feedback from the public in an effort to make an informed decision. Now, the group is inviting the public to learn about its findings and provide feedback at a community forum Feb. 15.
The City of Decatur was selected to participate in the Hometown Collaboration Initiative, a program geared toward communities of 25,000 or fewer people who want to develop a new generation of local leaders; promote the launch, survival and growth of small businesses and entrepreneurs; and/or enhance the natural and physical assets of their hometowns.
The program is a collaborative effort involving the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA), Ball State University’s Indiana Communities Institute and Purdue University’s Center for Regional Development.
Decatur is one of 12 communities participating in the HCI program along with Auburn, Corydon, Lebanon, Orange County, Perry County, Pulaski County, Rush County, Seymour, Spencer County and Vermillion County.
During the application process, the community commits itself to investing $5,000. The three-phase program culminates in a proposed improvement project. If the project is approved, OCRA matches the funds to implement the project.
Decatur is currently in the first of the initiative’s three phases, the foundation phase. This planning stage will conclude with the selection of one of three education tracks in the initiative’s process: economy, leadership or place making.
Before moving forward, the group wants to collect as much feedback from the community as possible. One tool the group used was a survey in which they asked people who live or work in Adams County for their input on the community’s quality-of-life features, the local economy and local leadership opportunities. More than 1,100 people responded to the survey, said Melissa Norby, Decatur’s director of Community Development.
“Our HCI team is invested in the process, and I think that has been proven by the volume of survey responses we received,” she said. “We want to continue to learn what our community cares about and how we can use that to create a greater Decatur.”
The final phase of the initiative is the “Capstone Phase,” during which the local team will implement a project with lasting local impacts.
The coordinating group for the initiative, including community leaders, representatives from the local high school and other volunteers, met Jan. 30 to prepare for the community forum. At the session, members talked about the logistics of how the meeting will work and signed up for responsibilities such as table facilitator and table recorder.
Greg Kitson, president of Mind’s Eye Graphics Inc., is a member of the Hometown Collaboration Initiative’s core team. He said the experience has been a reinvention of efforts that began in 2012 when then mayor John Schultz formed an advisory council of young professionals to tackle an issue facing the city of 9,500: keeping and attracting young people.
Kitson, who has been an entrepreneur in Decatur for 40 years, noticed something as his business has grown over the years.
“I increasingly saw that we were experiencing brain drain that happens to many small communities as our best and brightest went to college and never came home,” he said.
This category has included his own children who have successful careers but have chosen not to live in Decatur.
The Hometown Collaboration Initiative is about reaching into the community, identifying and developing additional and future leaders, Kitson said. At the community forum, the group will present on a few of their ideas including developing youth programs, developing sports facilities and giving young mothers a mechanism to get together with their peers and provide childcare so that they can become more involved in the community.
The Hometown Collaboration Initiative Community Forum will be held from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Feb. 15, at Riverside Center, 231 E. Monroe St., Decatur. If there happens to be bad weather that evening, the forum will instead be held Feb. 22 at the same time and place, Norby said.
The discussion will have three rounds: quality of life, the local economy and a new generation of leaders. The initiative’s team is expecting the community to show up and speak up, Norby said.
“This is the community’s chance to share what’s on their minds and what is important and not important,” she said. “We are looking forward to this community conversation and invite the Decatur community to attend.”
In order to accommodate those attending, she encourages anyone who is interested in attending the forum to register online at www.indianahci.org/communities/decatur.php#participate.