This past week, the Vibrant Communities Action Agenda for Elkhart County, Indiana received the Outstanding Outreach and Communication Award from the Indiana Chapter of the American Planning Association. The process was facilitated in 2016 by planning NEXT and led by the co-sponsors, the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Community Foundation of Elkhart County. The process included dozens of engagement activities where more than 1,200 residents shared just over 7,000 unique ideas and comments. The award was presented by the American Planning Association, Indiana Chapter during its Spring Workshop held on the campus of Ball State University in Muncie.
The award was accepted on behalf of the Vibrant Communities movement by Diana Lawson, Executive Director of the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Shannon Oakes, Senior Program Officer Vibrant Community and Quality of Life, Community Foundation of Elkhart County, and Suzie Weirick, Vibrant Communities Implementation Steering Committee Co-Chair.
Following the award ceremony, Kyle May, Senior Planner with planning NEXT, presented on behalf of the Vibrant Communities alongside Mike Huber, Director of Destination Development with the Convention & Visitors Bureau and Crystal Welsh, Director of Development Services, City of Elkhart. The session provided background on the preparation and execution of the engagement process along with recent lessons from implementation.
The legacy of the Vibrant Communities process in Elkhart County is a strongly-bound network of civic partners who feel a shared obligation to implement the plan they helped create. This infrastructure was created through the robust outreach and engagement campaign where participants – in record numbers and from all walks of life – were encouraged to think deeply and creatively about the future of their community.
Two years after the launch of Vibrant Communities, the communities of Elkhart County are already implementing their Action Agendas and enjoying the results of the community-led process. In response to one action item, the Little Big Idea Grant was launched, proving grants of up to $1,000 to people in the community with a creative idea for bringing people together in a fun way. Eleven grants have already been awarded. In Elkhart, Nappanee and Wakarusa, new community fitness and athletics facilities are being built. Goshen has founded a new Mayor’s Arts Council and was recognized as the Indiana Chamber of Commerce’s 2017 Community of the Year, and, in Middlebury, a new biking and walking trail opened.
Vibrant Communities has also inspired other communities in Indiana that are ready to launch similar initiatives of their own. Implementation of the Action Agenda is ongoing and is being tracked continuously at www.vibrantelkhartcounty.org.