Future opportunities in Kosciusko County and its towns may be determined by how involved their residents get in several upcoming community engagement events.

The Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA) provided for Indiana local units of governments to be able to apply for a Hoosier Enduring Legacy Program (HELP) grant, according to Amy Roe, Kosciusko County community coordinator. In fall 2021, HELP was released under new executive director Denny Spinner and Kosciusko County was encouraged to apply for it. The Michiana Area Council of Government (MACOG) was instrumental in helping Kosciusko County apply for the HELP.

“And what is really neat about Kosciusko County’s application, which many people may or may not know, is that Kosciusko County asked OCRA if they could invite friends along. When I say friends, they asked if they could ask the other local units of government - the towns in Kosciusko County - to be subapplicants with them. And that was very unique. Others had not done that,” Roe said.

All the communities were presented an opportunity to jump on board but four were willing to participate at this time - Mentone, Milford, Etna Green and Pierceton. By saying yes, the communities also agreed to earmark 30% of their American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.

“When all of us agreed to be a part of that, we also agreed to do a planning process - 52 weeks. So, in one year, we all have to participate in OCRA’s program to be able to get the grant part, which is that capstone project,” Roe said. “So the planning part of that comes in multiple stages.”

The first stage is the community engagement part, which is ongoing now. With the community engagement, Roe said, they were to come up with six different opportunities to engage the different sectors of the public.

“What we have looked for with our specific community engagement pieces - the six - we’ve got our art-infused events, which we count as one, even though they’re four because those are related to all of our communities. And those events that are community engagement are in partnership with the Indiana Arts Commission. And through those events, we are basically obtaining the same data that we would like,” she said, but using an art platform.

The art-infused event in Mentone was well attended, with a standing-room only, she said, while Pierceton’s was not as well attended, but Roe said that may be because of the beautiful weather that day.

The art-infused event for Etna Green will be 1 to 3 p.m. June 11 at Remembrance Park, 106 S. Walnut St. The event for Milford will be 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. June 17 at the Milford Community Building, 111 S. Main St., Milford. Both are free events for all ages.

“We will have four other opportunities in the middle of the events to be able to provide community engagement through a survey that we will be releasing in four different platforms,” Roe said, including the Times-Union, The Mail Journal and The Papers, Facebook and the county’s website.

The link to the survey is bit.ly/HELPSurvey. The deadline to complete the survey is 5 p.m. June 7.

Another upcoming event is the HELP community engagement session (from 5 to 6 p.m.) and the community forum celebration (6 to 8 p.m.) June 7 at Westminster Hall, Grace College, 105 9th St., Winona Lake. Guests were asked to RSVP by Monday, May 23 for one or both portions of the event.

“At that specific community forum, there will one hour prior to that that community members can just show up at Grace College and they can go to one of the vote centers ... and they will see a board that shows all of the areas of focus, and they will take a dot and choose their area of focus, and then they will have a 3-by-5 card of which they’ll write their area of focus that they feel like the project should be focused on, or if people want to show up for Mentone, Pierceton, Milford or Etna Green they can do that as well, but this is more of a county focus,” Roe explained.

People who attend can submit a project idea based on the area of focus that they would like the pathway committees to consider.

“The whole point of this is to gather data so that we can go to the next stage, which really is that data analysis. So not only will they be analysing the data received from the community members through the community engagement piece, but the Forward Kosciusko plan and all other previous plans that have been done, Home Town Chats. All of that information will be provided to our pathway committees who are led by these educational partners. They will facilitate,” Roe said.

Once all that work is complete, a list of projects that community members decided made sense for their community will be finished. There will be a list for Mentone, Pierceton, Milford, Etna Green and the county. Those project lists will go before each town’s council to be narrowed down before going to the core advisory team for review, final approval and funding. After that will be the project submission and grant writing, etc.

Projects could fall under four different pathways - advancing e-connectivity, quality of place, community wellness and strengthening local economies.

“There can be ideas that are submitted for the county. What we just ask - and on the survey it will say ‘where do you live?’ - so if you’re not (in those four towns) ... we have an understanding of putting those (ideas) more in county bucket of everything. So, the county members that are participating in those four areas of focus, they’ll have that information so they know what people have ideas for, what areas they’re that they’re looking at for those ideas,” Roe said.

There’s no guarantee that an idea will be move forward, but that doesn’t mean it’s still not going to be reviewed by the entire team and taken seriously. The committees aren’t going in with their specific projects chosen already, Roe said, but it’s the people who will provide ideas.

Each of the four 12-member pathway committees will analyse the projects and finalize the submissions. The committees were set up to include two members from each of the communities, two from the county, a county expert to help guide the conversation and a specific lead for each project that will work with educational facilities to schedule meetings. Roe said most of the town representatives were not elected officials but just “everyday citizens who agreed to be a part of something.”

Roe said, “Our hope is, through this, that those eight community members will be extra support for the town councils and clerk-treasurers who work so hard and tend to not have as much support as they should.”

Where the funding will all come from for the projects is the part Roe said they know the least about.

“We know the two major funding sources, but what OCRA has told me is to hold on because they’re looking at other potential partnerships for additional funding. So it’s the 30% of ARPA funds, that’s like 100% guaranteed. So that was the letter of intent when the county and the other partners agreed to be a part of this process. They had to agree to earmark 30% of their ARPA funds, so we know that for sure,” Roe said.

There’s also CDBG funds, which is the $1 million match that OCRA talked about earlier. Roe said that is a whole other grant process they have to go through starting in January 2023.

For more information or questions, contact Roe at aroe@kcgov.com.