The Vibrant Communities initiative is ready to build on a tremendous first year with a focus in 2017 on putting into place the 77 programs, policies and strategies in the Action Agenda.

A steering committee composed of community leaders representing all corners of Elkhart County met on Wednesday, Feb. 22, to begin that work. The committee’s responsibility will be to oversee implementation of the Action Agenda, identifying the resources needed to make the proposals reality, and to encourage involvement, inclusivity and creativity in the process.

Arvis Dawson and Suzie Weirick have been selected co-chairs for this phase of the Vibrant Communities initiative.

“This is going to be an exciting year of action. Last year, hundreds of people shared fantastic ideas about their highest hopes for Elkhart County. We’re eager to take those ideas and build on what is already a fantastic place to work, raise a family and make a life,” said Dawson, a longtime resident of Elkhart County who has been school teacher, Elkhart City Council member and aide to former Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore.

Already, the Vibrant Communities initiative has sparked many positive outcomes throughout Elkhart County:

  • A $55 million aquatics center and community space is being built in downtown Elkhart.
  • The Quaker Trace bicycling and walking trail from Elkhart to Middlebury has made progress, with funds approved for land acquisition between Elkhart and Bristol.
  • Formation of arts councils in Elkhart and Goshen.
  • Increased collaboration between organizations and groups which have not worked together in the past.
  • Greater recognition from residents and businesses that quality of place is important.
  • Widespread participation in community brainstorming and planning sessions, allowing for more voices to be heard on projects and programs in Elkhart County.

Besides the Action Agenda, the steering committee will also oversee a micro-grant program to build community pride and spark creativity. Individuals and community groups are invited to dream up fun, innovative and public programs or events that show how much they love their city or neighborhood. The micro-grant program will start later this year, awarding grants of between $500 and $1,000. More details will be released later on how to apply for a grant.

“We live here because we love it here, and we appreciate beauty, so I’m really looking forward to what the talented residents of Elkhart County can create,” said Weirick, who is in her first term as an Elkhart County commissioner. “We’re on the cusp of a fantastic transformation here.”

The steering committee identified several major themes common to the 77 Action Agenda items — communications and community pride, placemaking, arts and culture, and trails and parks — to guide planning for the remainder of the year.

Nearly a thousand people participated in a series of community meetings and brainstorming sessions in Elkhart, Goshen, Nappanee and Middlebury to identify the aspects — arts and culture, green spaces, neighborhoods — that they most valued and wanted to see improved. The resulting Action Agenda calls for more connected and engaged communities, improved parks and trail networks, beautification to downtowns and neighborhoods and enhanced attractions, civic institutions and business opportunities.

The Vibrant Communities initiative is co-sponsored by the Community Foundation of Elkhart County and the Elkhart County Convention & Visitors Bureau. The two organizations are dedicated to quality-of-place projects which improve Elkhart County communities and economic interests.

Members of the steering committee are: Arvis Dawson, co-chair; Suzie Weirick, co-chair; Richard Aguirre; Carrie Lee Bland-Kendall; Mark Brinson; Laura Coyne; David Daugherty; Ronda DeCaire; Mark Dobson; Jose Elizalde; Steve Gruber; Lisa Guedea Carreno; Kyle Hannon; Sheri Howland; Mike Huber; Phil Jenkins; Diana Lawson; Levon Johnson; Gina Leichty; Terry Mark; Tara Morris; Shannon Oakes; Jeremy Stutsman; Jeff Taylor; James Turnwald; Crystal Welsh; Rick Zeeff.

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