By Liz Shepherd
WINONA LAKE — Community initiatives such as childcare and wellness projects within small towns was the theme of the Kosciusko County Community Foundation’s annual celebration luncheon on Wednesday, Nov. 16.
The luncheon was held in-person this year at the Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center in Winona Lake.
In a keynote panel at the event, KCCF CEO Stephanie Overbey interviewed Sherry Searles, LaunchPad director; and Milford Clerk-Treasurer Tricia Gall.
LaunchPad, a child care and early learning coalition, was established in 2018 to address the shortage of child care seats within Kosciusko County. Searles said LaunchPad’s goal was to create 500 child care seats within five years; that goal has been surpassed.
“The community foundation, it has been instrumental in starting and supporting our work at LaunchPad,” said Searles.
Searles emphasized the importance of childcare availability in the community.
“Everyone benefits from affordable, high-quality childcare,” said Searles. “Businesses benefit when they can attract and retain talent. Working parents benefit when they have places they can afford that are high-quality. Most of all, the children benefit. Ninety percent of a child’s brain develops by the time they’re five years old. It’s so important to our children that we are providing these high-quality places for them.”
LaunchPad provides support to local businesses looking to establish childcare for their employees and also works with current childcare programs to support their efforts.
“It has been so important to the work we’ve been doing at LaunchPad,” said Searles about KCCF’s support with the program.
Gall was asked about Milford’s 2019 “Hometown Chat” event, hosted by KCCF, which brought in a large group of residents who were eager to share their ideas for what they’d like to see in town.
“The town of Milford showed up,” said Overbey. “You guys were rockstars in the county because that was a packed Hometown Chat.”
Needs discussed by Milford residents included housing, childcare and early learning, comprehensive planning, and workforce preparation.
“It allowed everyone to dream big,” said Gall about the Hometown Chats. “We started dreaming big then and we continued to dream big.”
Gall said the town created a housing steering committee and partnered with the Kosciusko Economic Development Corp. to put 51 new houses in Milford. The town is also working on creating a biking trail to connect the town to Waubee Lake Park.
“It can actually be life-changing,” said Gall about KCCF’s assistance with projects. “It has been life-changing for me and life-changing for our community.”
For the 2021-2022 fiscal year, $3.9 million in grants were awarded and nearly $702,000 in scholarships were awarded to 184 students. KCCF also recently embarked on a project to update the foundation’s strategic plan, mission, and vision. The foundation helped facilitate the completion of a county-wide comprehensive plan that helped small towns within Kosciusko County to assess their strengths and needs in order to plan and prioritize for their futures.
Donors gave $5.6 million and created 29 new funds. KCCF also continued supporting grant investments in priority areas including child care, workforce housing, job training and talent attraction and retention.
Retiring KCCF board members Dr. William Katip, Dana Krull, Sally Mahnken, and John Warren were also honored at the luncheon. Those leading the foundation in the coming year include Kevin Deardorff, president; Josh Gordon, vice-president; Jane Wear, secretary; Jefferson Hankins, treasurer; and Stephanie Overbey, CEO.