Vibrant Communities Initiative

By Arvis Dawson & Suzie Weirick

2017 has been an outstanding year for the Vibrant Communities initiative.

As the co-chairs of this movement, we’re invigorated by how Elkhart County’s cities and towns are working together to create better places to live, work and play.

By placing quality-of-place priorities at the center of our conversations, we are encouraging decision-makers across the county to consider this central question: Does this make Elkhart County more vibrant?

The Little BIG Idea Grant, in only a few months after its launch in August, funded 11 fun, creative, quirky events and programs in every community. We’ve seen pumpkins race downhill in Middlebury and painted rocks hidden all over Goshen. In the next year, we’ll be enjoying a Lunar Lunch in Bristol, a countywide treasure hunt, and thought-provoking student works of art.

The videos depicting the events and projects that have already happened are inspiring beyond words. Perhaps you’ll want to apply for a grant in 2018?

Christmas at the Powerhouse was one of 11 projects or events to receive a Little BIG Idea Grant in 2017.

In downtown Elkhart, we’re excited to see the Elkhart Health, Fitness, Aquatics and Community Center rising on the banks of the St. Joseph and Elkhart rivers, the Stonewater at The Riverwalk apartment development along Elkhart Avenue, and the restoration of the historic Hotel Elkhart building into a hotel again.

Goshen is going strong, even amidst road construction projects that have challenged the people who live and work there. Downtown businesses are thriving, helped along by a burgeoning arts scene that is supported by the new Mayor’s Arts Council. Indeed, the arts are rising in prominence in all our cities and towns with the Elkhart County Arts Alliance.

The Nappanee and Wakarusa communities have come together in a collaboration that leaders say is unprecedented on a massive project to build a premier soccer complex and pave the way for improvements to the Boys & Girls Club, Family Christian Development Center and Elder Haus.

Did you know Middlebury loves its trails, parks and downtown? A new biking/walking trail opened over the summer, and parks from Krider World’s Fair Garden to Riverbend Park are alive every weekend with people enjoying fresh air, the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail and festivals. It’s hard to find a time when Middlebury isn’t bustling with activity.

We’re not just patting ourselves on the back. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce recognized the city of Goshen as its 2017 Community of the Year. In reality, the honor was a culmination of years of work that city leaders, business owners and residents of all walks of life have put into building a collaborative community that works together, resolves differences amicably, and enjoys the fruits of a great downtown, verdant parks and an engaging arts and cultural scene.

Goshen has plenty to speak for it, but we think the rest of Elkhart County’s cities and towns are pretty close to that standard too. There’s always 2018 for another Community of the Year Award here, right?

And that brings us to next year. The Vibrant Communities initiative will keep on working to position Elkhart County for long-term success and growth. Our steering committee brings together a diverse, brilliant and energetic team of leaders from all corners of this area.

We know how passionate our neighbors are about the place that they live. We know that fantastic ideas are waiting to come forward to join the ones that have already been launched.

Whether you’ve been part of this movement — attending our workshops on placemaking, place identity and branding, and arts and aesthetics, attending a Community Conversation, or giving us feedback — or you’re just awakening to the energy building around Elkhart County, we invite you to join us in 2018.

We want to know what your priorities are. You can help us by taking our survey.

With this knowledge, we’ll be able to put our heads together and work with all of you to supply the tools and resources that are needed to take our great county to even greater heights.

Arvis Dawson and Suzie Weirick are co-chairs of the Vibrant Communities Steering Committee. Mr. Dawson is a longtime civic leader in Elkhart and Ms. Weirick is an Elkhart County Commissioner.