By: Erin Moore—
On a brisk Saturday morning in March, dozens and dozens of Muncie residents woke up early, streamed into Ball State’s Pittenger Student Center, and gave their entire day to attend keynote presentations and breakout sessions at the city’s first “Intentional Development and Education for Association Members” (IDEA) conference. The 130 participants represented diverse backgrounds, cultures, and every corner of Muncie, but they, along with conference sponsors Muncie Action Plan , Shafer Leadership Academy, Vectren Foundation, the City of Muncie, and Ball State’s Building Better Neighborhoods initiative, were united in their commitment to improving the quality-of-life in Muncie neighborhoods.
Mobilizing change at the neighborhood level is not a new concept. But as many rust belt cities have faced increases in poverty, crime, and drug use over the last few decades, neighborhood revitalization has increasingly taken center stage as a key strategy for economic and community development.
In 2013, the Ball Brothers Foundation granted funds to Ball State University for the development of the Building Better Neighborhoods initiative to support neighborhood development efforts in Muncie through the Muncie Action Plan and Delaware County’s VISION 2016 economic development plan. To date, 26 neighborhood associations have been established or strengthened through this collaboration. In addition to reinvigorating civic engagement among local residents, the initiative has facilitated uniquely rich immersive learning projects for hundreds of Ball State students. The Muncie neighborhoods website, www.muncieneighborhoods.org, showcases a variety of projects, resources, and neighborhood information.
“Change is most effective when it grows out of the vision and passion of a city’s residents,” said Heather Williams, program manager of the Building Better Neighborhoods initiative. “During the conference, the Student Center ballroom was a remarkable snapshot of the leadership, passion, diversity, and partnerships that have positioned our neighborhoods to be powerful agents in our community.”
Ball State Acting President Terry King, Mayor Dennis Tyler, and State Representative Sue Errington kicked off the day of sessions. “Having been here at the University for almost 10 years now, I think the partnership between the City and the University is the strongest it has ever been,” said King. “We recognize that our success as a university is closely tied to the prosperity and well-being of Muncie and Delaware County. Through Ball State’s Office of Community Engagement and scores of faculty and student projects, we will continue to pursue mutually-beneficial partnerships with the community.”
Conference sessions followed four unique tracks: Working with Government, Visioning and Development, Teamwork and Collaboration, and Association Development. Presenters included Ball State faculty, City of Muncie and Delaware County department heads, neighborhood association leadership, and a final keynote address by Eric Halvorson, former WISH-TV anchor. A mid-day resource fair featured more than a dozen local non-profits and service providers: Huffer Childcare Resource Network, ecoREHAB, Muncie Delaware Clean and Beautiful, Muncie BY5, PathStone Corporation, Edible Muncie, Bike Muncie. Logistical support was provided by Ball State’s Office of Community Engagement.
The conference ended with a $1,500 door prize awarded to members of the South Central neighborhood association. The money will be used for a special neighborhood project of their choosing.
“Through the IDEA conference, Muncie’s neighborhood associations have gained access to tools and resources to sustain effective, collaborative neighborhood networks and keep open the lines of communication between residents and city leadership,” said Aimee Fant, Muncie Action Plan coordinator.
Fant, Williams, and fellow organizers Mitch Isaacs, executive director of the Shafer Leadership Academy, and Krista Flynn, program coordinator in Ball State’s Office of Community Engagement, agreed that a key to the conference’s success was active and intentional collaboration among the conference sponsors. “So many great people and organizations were part of making the event a success,” said Isaacs. “Each sponsor contributed significant and unique resources, and of course, the neighborhood association members brought their passion and commitment for our community. We couldn’t be happier with the results!
Erin Moore is Communications Specialist, Government Relations and Community Engagement at Ball State University