Wanted: Volunteers to brainstorm, gather data and guide priorities for Brown County, collaborate on projects and learn how to become the community’s next generation of leaders.
That group of residents will receive extensive training from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, Ball State University’s Indiana Communities Institute and Purdue University’s Center for Regional Development — but only if Brown County is chosen for the Hometown Collaboration Initiative.
The HCI’s purpose is to establish and sustain “a representative group of local residents that is dedicated to advancing the long-term vitality of their communities.”
“This is not a predetermined project,” said Brown County Redevelopment Commission member Tina Bedey. “This is a process that walks you through a data-based approach that allows you to determine what the best projects are.”
The HCI application is due to the state by March 31, finalists will be announced April 6, site visits will happen April 11 and 12 and up to five communities will be announced as designees May 4.
Communities must pay $5,000 if they are selected, but they get about $400,000 worth of “free” facilitation from the state, said redevelopment commission member Tim Clark.
The HCI is for communities of less than 25,000 people. With their “community coach,” the volunteer leaders will learn to gather facts about their community, launch a survey, host a forum and communicate information to residents.
Their goal is to come to a consensus about which “building block” the community will focus on next: developing a new generation of leadership, growing small business and entrepreneurs, or “investing in place.” Then, the group will chose a specific project to undertake together.
The Office of Community and Rural Affairs gives the group some “seed money” for that project.
Fourteen Indiana communities have undertaken the HCI process. Examples of projects they have chosen include building a Bicentennial Park in Corydon, revitalizing downtown Lebanon, bolstering the economy in Orange County and building a website to market “quality of life” in Perry County.
Materials about applying for the HCI stress how important it is to involve all sectors of the community in the process of planning for its future.
“I think that will help a lot of the community’s concerns in the past, that programs were pre-picked or people really didn’t have their input or they didn’t see the information behind really why it made sense to do those projects,” Bedey said, alluding to Brown County and Nashville’s try for a Stellar Communities designation in 2014, which was marked by visible protests from some community members.
Among those residents’ problems with Nashville-Brown County’s Stellar application were that it contained projects they believed were unwise, inappropriate or under-researched, or all of the above.
When the group voiced their views during Nashville’s site visit that summer, state Stellar committee members encouraged the community to come together and talk about what people wanted.
“The whole basis of HCI is to run a very well defined methodology that allows you to focus on the right work, and have the right people focused on the right work,” Bedey said about the HCI.
Before Brown County’s application can be submitted, it needs to include the names of about 15 to 20 people who make up the coordinating team.
A small group met March 7 to collect some possible names of people who might want to serve, but anyone who wants to participate is encouraged to get involved, Bedey said.
Three information sessions will be offered March 21 and March 28 at the Brown County Community Foundation building.
Volunteering to be a part of the team, ideally, requires a long-term commitment. The HCI application stresses that this is “not intended to be a short-term project, but rather a process that brings a committed and diverse group of people together who want to make good things happen in their community over a longer-term period.”
The commitment could be 12 to 24 months initially, Bedey said. But then the hope is for those individuals to also be involved in whatever building block they choose to be the next step.
They’d like to have a list of people who would be willing to step in if team members decide they need to step back, Bedey said.
Redevelopment commission members said they’d especially like to see people get involved in this process who haven’t been very involved in shaping their community before.
“Finding young people really hasn’t been happening, and in order for Brown County to continue to be a success, we need to engage that age group,” RDC member Jim Schultz said. “This looks like an opportunity to do that.”
With the flurry of activity happening on the HCI application — Bedey said she was just handed the reins of the project at the end of February, and the application has to be in by March 31 — the community could opt to sit out this round and apply in the future, “but we’d lose a year, and the CRI results said we are ready as a community.”
More than 30 town and county leaders took the CRI — the Community Readiness Initiative — last fall to determine how much they knew about the true economic strengths and opportunities within their community, based on data and not so much on feelings.
The CRI showed that according to state and federally collected data, Brown County’s greatest economic opportunities were as a bedroom community — a place people live and spend their leisure time but commute from to work elsewhere — and in the recreation sector.
David Terrell, who told local leaders about the results of the CRI in December, encouraged Brown County to take the next step and apply for the Hometown Collaboration Initiative.
Terrell said it’s important to make sure the public understands and is on board with whatever changes might come to their community and has a hand in directing those changes.
“We’ve always said you’ve got to have that community buy-in and support to tell us what projects you’re going to support,” Clark said.
Three sessions have been organized to explain the Hometown Collaboration Initiative to local people who may want to get involved:
Session 1: 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesday, March 21
Session 2: 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 21
Session 3: 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 28
All will be in the Howard Hughes Community Room at the Brown County Community Foundation building, 209 N. Van Buren St.