One act of kindness at a time — a paper heart, a cup of soup, cleaning up a yard — neighbors become closer. More than ever, neighborhoods are more important and can amplify the vibrancy of Elkhart County.

A Community Champions Roundtable on Thursday, October 29, brought together experts on building community with residents from throughout Elkhart County. On a Zoom video conference, they shared ideas about how to build stronger and more fun and resilient neighborhoods.

The program also served as an unofficial launch of Vibrant Neighborhoods, a countywide initiative which seeks to work with interested neighborhoods and connecting them to resources to organize and plan activities.

Bil Murray, who is leading the Vibrant Neighborhoods program, emphasized that there is quite a bit of flexibility in how neighborhoods define themselves. “There is no singular definition, no one-size-fits-all approach. … It’s places and people working to make things better.”


Sally Bawtinheimer of Elkhart said taking her family to a neighborhood event on her street a few years ago “changed her life.” Now she is working with her neighbors in the 1400-1500 block of Strong Avenue on social events and other activities to help everyone feel more welcomed and involved.

“Where you invest your love, you invest your life. When you have that, you can conquer anything,” said Bernice Radle, who spoke at the meeting about her experiences as a small-scale developer.

Radle worked in her hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., to rehabilitate small buildings in her neighborhood and breathe life back into her community.

“Our small businesses matter, they matter so hard,” she said. “These small buildings are where small businesses can thrive.”

Radle is part of a movement, the Incremental Development Alliance, that advocates for entrepreneurs and investment that helps bring capital and build wealth for a neighborhood’s residents rather than for large corporations or developers.

It’s all part of building sustainable efforts. Daniella Panetta, community building specialist for La Casa, said often neighbors unite around solving a problem, but participation declines after that problem is solved.

Ways to overcome that include starting new traditions, perhaps around events, building deeper connections through friendship, and envisioning a longer-term vision — all things that the Vibrant Neighborhoods is organizing to help create.

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