Northern Indiana Community Foundation Unites Counties Around Rural Transportation Solutions
Summit reveals resources to help rural transportation providers better serve their communities.
By Corinne Becknell Lucas, Associate Director, Northern Indiana Community Foundation
Reaching out to the community and the people who offer services in our three counties has been an integral part of the Planning Grant process for our GIFT VII initiative—Lilly Endowment's latest fund matching campaign for Indiana community foundations.
The Northern Indiana Community Foundation (NICF) is unique as it unites Starke, Fulton, and Miami counties as fund affiliates. This partnership is a huge advantage as we work together to address issues that affect all three of our counties equally.
During our initial community assessment meetings, a couple of specific topics moved toward the top of our list of concerns: 1) adequate transportation to our rural areas, and 2) providing youth services and mentorship opportunities.
Although community data is still being gathered, we wanted to begin asking questions and sparking conversations about addressing the counties’ shortfalls in youth programming and transportation access.
Both Miami and Fulton counties are looking to create programs that address the lack of youth services. We brought together school administrators, YMCA directors, organizations launching youth programs, and several other youth service providers in order to learn about a successful program from Starke County. Irene Szakonyi, executive director of the Starke County Youth Club (SCYC), shared the history, lessons learned, and success stories of the SCYC with this group. Much of the two-hour conversation was devoted to questions for Irene, tapping into her vast knowledge of pitfalls to avoid and how best to handle staff, volunteers, and family dynamics. We feel much was learned at this summit, prompting those who attended to begin contemplating new and important questions about youth services.
Tackling the need for more extensive public transportation was mentioned as a community concern in all three counties. All our counties offer excellent demand-response public transportation, so why the public concern? To begin answering this question, we gathered all the transportation providers from all three counties together for a transportation summit. During this conversation, we wanted to better understand where gaps lay and what limitations prohibit these transportation providers from expanding their services.
During the summit, the community foundation learned what services are available to the public, hours of service limitations, and what resources would help transportation providers better serve the needs of their communities. As a result of this two-hour conversation with providers, schools, and economic development staff, we now have a vision for moving forward in GIFT VII. Perhaps most important, the community foundation built relationships between all three of our counties’ transportation agencies, witnessed the strengthening of already-established partnerships, as well as an exchange of concepts and common struggles.
These summits are shining examples of three counties, separate but similar, sharing ideas and learning from each other. We were honored to act as the catalyst for these summits and plan to make them annual events going forward.