By Leah Sander
WARSAW — Planning for Kosciusko County’s future occurred at a special event on Tuesday night, June 7.
The Hoosier Enduring Legacy Program Community Forum Celebration was then at Grace College’s Westminster Hall in Winona Lake.
Kosciusko County is one of three counties or communities initially to be chosen as part of HELP, with the others being Jay County and Auburn. The Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs provided the county with a $1 million grant to implement HELP, meant to assist it and towns and cities within it on spending their American Rescue Plan Act funds from the federal government on projects to better their communities.
The county invited communities within it to join in participating in the program, with Milford, Etna Green, Mentone and Pierceton agreeing to take part.
Tuesday’s event was meant to give people a look at how the program works as well as allow them to brainstorm projects for the county and the four participating towns using ARPA money.
Representatives from OCRA, including its Executive Director Denny Spinner, and from Ball State University, Purdue University, Indiana University and Ivy Tech Community College were present to speak or help people with the brainstorming exercises. The four colleges are helping run the program in the state.
Also present was Amy Roe, who was hired earlier this year as the community coordinator for HELP in the county.
As explained during the event, those participating in HELP will implement projects using ARPA funds in four categories or so-called Pathways: Advancing E-Connectivity, Enhancing Quality of Place, Promoting Community Wellness and Strengthening Local Economies.
Representatives for the county and each of the four towns have been selected to serve on Pathway Committees, which will help narrow down what projects come to fruition.
Committee members include:
- Curt Barkey, county expert
- Stephen Boggs, Mentone
- Matt Brubaker, Pierceton
- Mark Grady, Milford
- Kathy Groninger, county
- Jason Hefner, Etna Green
- Jennifer Hefner, Etna Green
- Bill Holder, committee lead
- Phil Huffman, Milford
- Larry Krueger, Mentone
- Michael Pahl, county
- Scott Werstler, Pierceton
Enhancing Quality of Place
- Michelle Ball, Pierceton
- Crista Barker, Mentone
- Kelsea DeGaetano, Pierceton
- Greg Demopoulous, county
- Scott Greene, county
- Lauren Klusman, committee lead
- Suzie Light, county expert
- Ken Long, Milford
- Doreen Ruch, Milford
- Chris Treber, Mentone
- Thaine Tribalski, Etna Green
- Tracy Tribalski, Etna Green
Promoting Community Wellness
- Laura Baker, Etna Green
- Timothy Farley, Mentone
- Lisa Harman, county expert
- Steve Marquart, Milford
- Tera Robinson, county
- Lee Ann Rock, Mentone
- Sherry Searles, county
- Chris Stahly, Pierceton
- Jennifer Stewart, committee lead
- Georgia Tenney, Pierceton
- Kim Waggoner, Etna Green
- Karena Wilkinson, Milford
Strengthening Local Economies
- Tim Bradley, Mentone
- Todd Davis, county
- Angela Deak, Milford
- Allyn Decker, committee lead
- Cindy Dossat, Etna Green
- Scott Gingerich, Milford
- Brian Hartman, Pierceton
- Sue Mort, Pierceton
- Tony Peterson, county
- Elizabeth Tutorow, Etna Green
- Scott Werstler, county expert
- Aaron Zolman, Mentone
Along with the Pathway Committees, there’s also a HELP Core Advisory Team.
It includes the following people:
- Curt Barkey, Kosciusko Connect/REMC
- Patti Cook, Town of Etna Green
- Patricia Gall, Town of Milford
- Cary Groninger, Kosciusko County
- Rich Haddad, K21 Health Foundation
- Doug Hanes, 1st Source Bank
- Jessica Hartman, Kosciusko County Convention, Recreation and Visitors Commission
- Cori Humes, Kosciusko County Convention and Visitors Bureau
- Shelly Krueger, Town of Mentone
- Myra Mast, Town of Pierceton
- Marsha McSherry, Kosciusko County
- Sue Ann Mitchell, Kosciusko County
- Suzie Light, Kosciusko Economic Development Corp.
- Stephanie Overbey, Kosciusko County Community Foundation
- Rob Parker, Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce
- Michelle Puckett, Kosciusko County
- Alan Tio, Kosciusko Economic Development Corp.
- James Turnwald, Michiana Area Council of Governments
HELP is meant to be a yearlong program. The county and towns are currently gathering information from people about what projects they would like to see implemented in the county via several so-called Art Infused events.
Ones have already taken place in Pierceton and Mentone. There are ones scheduled for 1-3 p.m. Saturday, June 11, at Remembrance Park in Etna Green and 5:30-7:30 p.m. Friday, June 17, in the Milford Community Building parking lot.
People at Tuesday’s event shared what Pathways they would like to see projects enacted in by placing dots next to the four Pathway categories on boards. They also shared more specific ideas for projects after chatting at their tables.
Before they left, attendees could vote on the categories they’d like to see projects implemented in by putting stickers with the numbers 1-4 by the different pathways.
Promoting Community Wellness got the most 1 or priority votes.
Later on this year, the Pathway Committees will help narrow down what projects will be implemented based on the information gathered from citizens. The information will then ultimately go before town and county leaders in the fall for them to approve which projects get accomplished.
Cary Groninger reflected on Tuesday’s event afterward to InkFreeNews.
“It was a great turnout tonight,” he said. “I’m super excited what ideas are going to come out of this.”
As HELP is brand new, Spinner reflected to InkFreeNews on how it was working thus far.
“We’re learning along the way, but I think a lot of the concepts that we had believed would work are being borne out,” he said. “This is our first community forum, but I think it achieved kind of the goals that we wanted to.”
HELP is to hold similar community forums in Jay County and Auburn soon.
Though HELP is meant to be temporary since it deals with ARPA funds, Spinner said what OCRA learns from HELP will inform its future programming going forward.
He cited how OCRA previously had the Stellar Communities Program, which helped Indiana communities improve. That program’s been suspended since the COVID-19 pandemic started.
“What HELP will do is give us some very good processes and ideas of what the next version of Stellar might be like,” he said. “And also hearing these types of projects, we’re going to learn what is important in the communities and if we need to restructure some of our resources to meet the needs, then we have real data to look at.”