A decade ago, a diverse group of citizens came together to chart a course toward a common future that reflected Muncie Indiana’s shared values and aspirations. Over 2,000 residents participated in facilitated conversations designed to answer the question, “What is needed for Muncie to be the best it can be in the coming years?” This initiated a time of collaboration between key stakeholders resulting in the Muncie Action Plan (MAP) report which created a compelling agenda for the future. Muncie continues to work toward becoming a community that respects diversity, manages resources effectively, and efficiently, and works together to provide an attractive, desirable place for individuals, families, and businesses. The three projects highlighted were launched under the MAP umbrella.
Web of Support
Residents consistently identified mentorship as a priority throughout a series of community conversations. Through a series of fortunate circumstances, community leaders became aware of the “Web of Support” framework.
This framework draws upon data and insights from multiple fields of study. Research shows that in order to grow into resilient, caring, and productive adults, children need to have at least five positive, caring adults, or “anchors.” Anchors may be family members, friends of the family, teachers, coaches, etc. These anchors ensure that youth have their tangible needs met and model intangible attributes, attitudes, and actions that are critical to youth development. Tangible and intangible “strings,” held by at least five anchors, weave a web of support to protect youth from harm and lead to thriving and resilience. Web strength also is impacted by each anchor’s own web of support and social norms, which can be positive or negative.
The initiative was launched in Muncie through two community open forums and two rounds of two-day workshops for 50 adult community leaders representing local youth-serving organizations and teachers and 50 Muncie Central high school students. Students were introduced to the idea of “webbing up” by seeking out anchors and identifying tangible and intangible needs. Adults learned how to both serve as an anchor and identify their own web of support.
Moving forward, Muncie is creating an “open innovation” space where Web of Support Ambassadors can come together to practice their napkin talk and continue to develop the cross-generational friendships sparked during the workshops.
The Whitely Neighborhood and Schools Within the Context of Communities
For more than a decade, faculty members from Ball State’s Teachers College have collaborated with the Whitely Neighborhood and the Whitely Community Council to develop a groundbreaking teacher preparation program called “Schools Within the Context of Community” (SCC). This multi-disciplinary, immersive program prepares socially-just, equity-focused teachers by providing them with unique opportunities to understand the complex contexts in which children are growing and learning.
Pre-service teachers are immersed in the Whitely community to learn from and with community members. The students complete a practicum in the neighborhood’s schools, assist with after school programs, and participate in guided discussions with multiple faculty members and Whitely residents, school administrators, service providers, local pastors, and community elders on issues such as race, language, socioeconomic status, privilege, and power.
Further, each student is “adopted” by a community mentor or mentor family who serves as his/her cultural ambassador. Students and mentors attend family gatherings, worship services, community meetings, and other events together. This provides valuable cultural and contextual insights for working with children and their families both in and out of the classroom.
SCC students also work with Whitely Community Council members to accomplish neighborhood priorities, such as a massive fundraising endeavor to sustain the local community center, grant writing for expanded after-school programs, and the restoration of a historic church in the neighborhood.
This award-winning approach emphasizes the intentional cultivation of collaborative relationships, elevates both contextual awareness and community cultural wealth, and offers an in-depth and direct understanding of social inequality.
In partnership with the Vectren Foundation, Greater Muncie Habitat for Humanity spearheaded the creation of the 8twelve Coalition in 2015 to drive neighborhood revitalization in portions of two specific neighborhoods which had been disproportionately impacted by changing economic and demographic factors, resulting in a 15% population decline since 2000.
Believing that the story of neighborhood decline can have a different ending, the 8twelve Coalition was formed to create and execute a quality of life plan for the area. Neighborhood residents drive all priorities and projects; non-profit organizations and local businesses provide structure and support.
Four action teams meet monthly and report progress to the steering committee in the following areas:
While much of the work in the neighborhoods is supported by non-profit organizations and local businesses, all priorities and projects are driven by the residents. Residents are connected, integrated, and empowered throughout the coalition’s work. In 2018 alone, residents embarked on 11 projects, including a comic book club, nature backpacks at the library, and pop-up porch parties.