One year after launching its Sustaining Hoosier Communities program, the Indiana University Center for Rural Engagement says it will continue partnering with Lawrence County beyond its pilot phase. The initiative involves connecting IU students and faculty with community partners on local public improvement projects. For the 2018-2019 academic year, the center says Sustaining Hoosier Communities will also turn its attention to Orange County.

Executive Director Bill Brown says the collaboration helps identify and address individual community needs based on detailed assessment. "I think the key consideration here is we want to work with the communities, not to or for. We want to be partners and we want to develop long-term relationships and trust and we know that will take lots of time, lots of listening," he said. "We want to know what our rural communities really are concerned about, what opportunities they see, what’s their vision and start with that."

During the months spent working with Lawrence County, some 15 projects were launched involving more than 550 IU students. The efforts included a survey on the perception of drug addiction and mental health issues, providing strategies to promote community wellness and creating proposals for the decommissioned Avoca Fish Hatchery.

As part of the ongoing partnership in Lawrence County, IU School of Social Work professor John Keesler, a resident of the county, will continue working with Bedford Mayor Shawna Girgis and Lawrence County Sheriff Mike Branham to combat addiction. Brown tells Inside INdiana Business he expects work in Orange County could involve "a wide range" of issues including tourism — such as capitalizing on the 2024 solar eclipse — parks and recreation and fighting addiction.

You can connect to more about the initiative by clicking here.

Indiana University Center for Rural Engagement Executive Director Bill Brown says the collaboration helps identify and address individual community needs based on detailed assessment.