GREENFIELD — The Hancock County Community Foundation has received a substantial grant from Lilly Endowment, which it plans to use to engage community stakeholders in an “action plan” for the community’s future and open a “collaborative design space” for community use.

The foundation will receive $150,000 as part of the seventh phase of Lilly Endowment’s “Giving Indiana Funds for Tomorrow” initiative.

“It really opens the door for us to be able to do work in the field of community development,” said Mary Gibble, president and CEO of the community foundation.

Gibble said that with a growing population and more development coming to the area, it is the perfect time for Hancock County to focus on a community vision toward which organizations can work.

The foundation’s initiatives will focus on two main projects. The first will be launching a new physical venue called “The Nest: A Birthplace for Ideas.” It is intended as a flexible space that can be host to activities related to community development.

Gibble said she does not yet have a concrete timeline for when the venue will be open, but expects it to be sometime next year.

The second initiative will be the creation of a year-round program called “Civic Circle,” which will bring experts to the county to teach governance concepts to elected and appointed government officials.

Both will help the foundation create “a plan to build a stronger, more sustainable community,” Gibble said. The grant funds will not be used to focus on solving specific problems, she said, but on providing information and opportunities that will help the county in the long term.

As a first step, the foundation will offer local leaders the opportunity to participate in an intensive community development course offered by Ball State University’s Indiana Communities Institute.

“Experts with decades of community development experience will teach seven sessions over 2½ days, covering topics such as civic design, community engagement and local economies,” the foundation says in a news release. “Participants will include elected and appointed officials plus business and civic leaders. This will be the first of several courses to which the foundation will invite a diverse group of community members.

The foundation is one of 84 nonprofit organizations in Indiana receiving grants through this round of funding by Lilly Endowment. The program was created in 1990 “to help local communities in Indiana develop the philanthropic capacity to identify local needs and challenges,” according to a news release. It made a total of $125 million available beginning in 2018 for the seventh iteration of the project.

The foundation received an earlier grant of $75,000 in 2019 to begin engaging local stakeholders on issues relevant to community development and was invited to apply for a larger grant amount in March of this year.

Its proposal was focused on long-term plans for the community, like helping Hancock County avoid directionless “sprawl” development, Gibble said.

“Our initiative is designed to instead make Hancock County a beacon of community,” Gibble said. “Quality-of-life principles must be central to decisions about our county’s future. Second, we found that residents and employers are disengaged from local governance. We will create opportunities for everyone to share concerns and desires. We will provide venues for conversation and idea generation that will bring tangible benefits to our hometowns.”
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