As an organization, Forward Wayne County was founded in the spring of 2019 as an umbrella initiative under the Wayne County Foundation. The founding goal of the organization was to take on projects or lead initiatives that contributed to community vitality, but fell outside the scope of what is considered traditional ‘foundation work’.
After laying much of the groundwork for an extended period of time, Forward Wayne County has scored two recent successes geared to help improve the community both in the short and long-term.
On January 28, 2021, the State of Indiana designated Wayne County, as part of the East Central Indiana Region, a 21st Century Talent Region. The statewide designation, which is awarded to Indiana communities, will focus on working collaboratively to attract, develop and connect talent. The efforts were spearheaded locally by Forward Wayne County’s Employability Coalition, which includes members from various local businesses, nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, and local government leaders.
‘(The) Employability Coalition has been working on this locally for some time now,’ said Forward Wayne County Program Director Acacia St. John. ‘Our work aligns directly to the regional goals of increased educational attainment, reducing poverty, and increasing population. We will continue this work and local stakeholders will also represent us on the regional coalitions and work groups that will form. The local coalition will be creating a career awareness campaign for key occupations in Wayne County, identified by local employers. We hope to see an increase in educational attainment in these key occupations.’
Currently, the state doesn’t offer funding as part of the designation, which could change in the future as more regions earn their designation. However, among the greatest perceived strengths of the designation is the ability to apply for larger grants and for the cooperation it has spurred amongst a variety of local stakeholders.
‘Funders like to see collaboration, so what can be granted regionally will funnel down to local streams. And we want that for our county,’ said St. John.
In addition to the designation, a second initiative was recently announced by Forward Wayne County – the Neighborhood Involvement and Community Engagement (NICE!) virtual series. Announced on February 1, 2021, the series is open to all cities, towns, neighborhoods, and community groups through the county.
Upon successful completion of the series (a 90-minute weekly sessions over six weeks), groups will have the opportunity to apply for funding to bring a community project to life. Suggested projects include such examples as a block party, the development of community spaces such as a small pocket park, community clean-ups, or even commissioning a new community mural.
‘Neighborhood development is one of the focus areas identified by our Steering Committee. We want Wayne County to be a place that resident want to live, work, play, and most importantly, stay,’ said St. John. ‘So our work focuses on community-led revitalization of spaces that enhance the lives of our residents. And that’s how NICE! developed. Groups can come together, learn together, and then bring a project to life. It will be exciting to see the end results around the county.’
To learn about 21st Century Talent Regions, please click here.