NORTH WEBSTER — Several representatives of Kosciusko County Community Foundation and two consultants of Parkview Foundation came to the North Webster Community Center Tuesday, July 23, to listen to long-time residents, business owners and local administrators.
They came away with an amicable earful of suggestions for the improvement of the town and its surrounding community.
In the fifth of 11 self-described “hometown chats” to be held throughout the county into the fall, the facilitators asked three questions to help determine how KCCF will distribute the $2.5 million of grants it gives away annually.
Present were KCCF CEO Suzie Light; Brenda Rigdon, development director; Cheryl Lacheta, administrative assistant; and independent consultants Mark and Cheri Becker, who were contracted by Parkview Foundation.
The questions and some of the answers during the 1 1/2-hour session were:
“What do you like most about living in North Webster or the community in general?”
Several attendees noted the friendliness of the townspeople and the attraction of Webster Lake. One noted its fortuitous location, within an hour of Fort Wayne and within moderate driving distance of Indianapolis and Chicago.
“It’s a good place to raise kids,” said Jon Roberts. “We have good schools and opportunities for the kids.” Mike Kissinger feted the “vocational element” of the local school system.
Bill Dixon said, “It is a place where you can get things done,” citing the civic work of the local Lions and Kiwanis clubs. “The people get together and do it, not just talk and whine about it.”
“I have found it is a generous community,” said Luann Kissinger. “If a need is mentioned it is not hard to get people on board to give their time, resources and help.”
“People here want to get involved,” said Mark Bettig, noting “they give and give until they can’t give anymore,” but they are limited to the resources of a small community.
“I feel safe here,” said Kelly Thompson, “and I don’t want to take that for granted.”
“What is missing?”
Several concerns were put on the table, including the need for more mental health services for children in low-income families, the shortage of housing and the need to maintain vigilance in protecting the environment.
Several attendees mentioned the need for communication and transportation to allow residents to be aware of and avail themselves of existing charitable programs.
Another repeated topic involved the lake community. “There are a lot of issues in this community because of the disparity between those who can afford to live on the lake and those in single housing,” said Betty Jo Roberts.
Bettig noted the impact on businesses because “there are two different communities: summer and offseason.”
While noting the challenges, no one blamed the seasonal lake residents. “There is only a small fraction of people with access to the lake and that causes resentment, but not because the lakers are bad,” said Thompson.
Concern was also expressed about the lack of programs for the community’s youth.
“If you could wave a wand and accomplish one big thing, what would it be?”
“Make the sewer system go around the whole lake,” said Bev Keane.
Helen Leinbach Frank wanted to improve senior housing and Lyn Crighton wished “the community center would be treated like the community treasure that it is.”
Lily Crighton, 15, offered a youthful perspective. “Make it easier for youth to communicate their ideas.”
She proposed addressing unsafe housing concerns by forming “a group of high school students with adult leaders to go to those houses, work with owners and make them livable” through the school system’s existing building trades program.”
A repeated theme involved connections between groups through a system of purposeful communication.
The Beckers noted the four major themes emerging from previous chats: workforce preparation, childcare, planning and visioning and housing.
The meeting ended with participants placing blue-dot stickers next to the items on the easel pads they felt were most important. The foundation will compile the ideas and publish them after all the chats are completed.