By Marshall V. King

The day after the big announcement at the Nappanee Boys & Girls Club of the WaNee Vision 2020 campaign, one of the club members came in handed over the $5.12 he had emptied from his piggy bank.

Another club member who had been saving for a bike brought in the $30 or so she had been saving for a bike.

Their names will be on the donor wall alongside those who gave as much as $1 million to impact the lives of thousands of people in southern Elkhart County.

On April 16, a year to the day after starting the $5.75 million capital campaign, fundraising organizers of WaNee Vision 2020 could celebrate having reached the goal with $5.8 million. “This was WaNee for WaNee,” said Deary.

A feasibility study showed how a big-stakes game of dominoes could change Nappanee and Wakarusa. New soccer fields at Wellfield Park are now under construction. That will create space for a new Boys & Girls Club location where the current fields at Nappanee Elementary School. Family Christian Development Center and Elder Haus will move into renovated space in the current club building.

The public/private partnership was unprecedented. Mayor Phil Jenkins was co-chair of the capital campaign with Todd Cleveland of Patrick Industries. A committee of 13 people worked together to ask people in the community to contribute to one project, not four.

“We didn’t have to sell too much,” said Jenkins.

Nappanee and Wakarusa residents, organizations and businesses raised nearly $6 million in support of programs and initiatives supporting the Boys & Girls Club, Family Christian Development Center, Elder Haus and Wellfield Park soccer fields.

The co-chairs, along with Kevin Deary, executive director of Boys & Girls Club of Elkhart County, and Mark Mikel, FCDC executive director, met with donors and told the story of how a community can help infants at FCDC, young people at the Boys & Girls Club, families in need at FCDC, and provide meals for the elderly at Elder Haus. The community can come together at the new soccer fields. Those asking for money listened to what people want for their community, said Mikel.

Those raising the money were pleased to see the community support the continuity. “We’re changing the social support network from the very young to the older people among us,” said Jenkins. “I knew I lived in a great community, but this reinforced it.”

A total of 206 donors made pledges to the project. People were reaching out to their friends urging them to also give, said Cleveland.

The WaNee school board, Nappanee City Council and boards of the agencies all bought in. “We’re a very quiet community that likes to kind of privately go about our business and support the community and each other in a laid-back way,” he said.

The South Bend-Elkhart Regional Development Authority gave a $100,000 Regional Cities grant toward the project. The Community Foundation of Elkhart County matched community giving with a $520,000 grant.

Other communities are already asking how this Elkhart County community accomplished this partnership. It’s likely to become a model for other efforts, perhaps locally or in other places.

“The partnership was very unique. I’ve never seen this,” said Deary. “To me, that speaks vibrancy. True vibrancy.”

Cleveland said the bricks and mortar will be nice, but he’s most looking forward to seeing the faces of the people as they enter all the new spaces around the community. “It’s the impact of lives. That’s what inspired,” he said.

Marshall V. King is a Goshen-based free-lance writer. He wrote this on behalf of Vibrant Communities.


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