All-America City Award Finalists Stewardship in Action: Muncie, Indiana
Photo by Omar Flores on Unsplash
Since 1949, the National Civic League has recognized and celebrated the best in American civic innovation with the prestigious All-America City Award. The 2020 All-America City Award Finalist communities focus specifically on enhancing health and well-being through civic engagement.
Stewardship is a core concept for The Commons community and our collaborators working to advance equitable wellbeing across the country. When applied to our collective work, the concept describes leaders—both people and organizations—who take responsibility for forming working relationships to drive transformative change in regions and communities. Stewards also have a vested interest in promoting an equity orientation in regard to purpose, power, and wealth:
"Stewards of well-being and justice are people and organizations who share responsibility for working across differences to expand the vital conditions all people and places need to thrive." —Thriving Together: A Springboard for Recovery and Resilience in Communities Across America, Introduction
All-America City Finalist communities exemplify how stewardship is best accomplished when folks work together across differences and sectors to expand the Vital Conditions that all people and places need to thrive. Learn more about the civic engagement practices that made the community of Muncie a 2020 finalist:
A decade ago, a diverse group of citizens came together to chart a course toward a common future--something that reflected Muncie Indiana’s shared values and aspirations. Over 2,000 residents participated in facilitated conversations designed to answer, “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 and resulted 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. Learn more here.
Steward Snapshot: Jane Ellery
Jane Ellery, a Ball State University professor and community leader from Muncie, Indiana, joined Commons Good podcast host Stacy Wegley for a conversation about stewardship, belonging, and connection. Check out the excerpts to learn more about Jane’s experiences—and click on the audio clip to hear directly from Jane.
An Indiana native, Jane moved to Muncie nearly 20 years ago. Ball State University, one of the community’s anchor institutions, became her academic home, as she began to implement her definition of well-being:
I was brought [into Ball State University] as the director of this program called Wellness Management. Now, I didn't even really know what wellness was at that point. So I came in—and what I learned across the next five years, but really for the last 17 years, has just been huge... The wellness management graduate program that I ran really focuses on the things that help us thrive--and brings us forward and presents our best selves to the world.
Through her role at the university, Jane launched a community engagement program, living the values of civic engagement and collaboration that define well-being in Muncie:
I ended up full time in this designing healthy communities work... I placed two of my students with colleagues in the Whitely neighborhood, which is a predominantly African American neighborhood. My students just started doing interviews with the folks there in town and helped turn their voice into a blueprint for how the community wanted to move forward.
It was amazingly successful. We weren't doing it for them. We were doing it with them, with the idea that they had to take over. I found this thing called “engagement” and I thought, wow, this is the best way for my students to learn. This is changing our community. This is really cool.
So for the next five years, when I still had graduate students, I placed them all over. We helped start some policies and procedures to renovate the Ross community center. We just did lots of fun things that most people don't even know that we were involved in because it was my students working behind the scenes.
The Muncie Action Plan (MAP) is a living document that captures the spirit of Jane’s engagement program and the ongoing commitment to center the voices and experiences of community members. Through innovative programs, like Madjax Makerforce and 8twelve Coalition, Muncie strives to create places that support the health and well-being of residents.
We're trying to weave this idea of supporting each other and being intentional in supporting each other across all our programs. The term that we've used is: involve all. How do we involve everyone and how do we elevate everyone to have the privilege where they're allowed to be part of what's going on? “Involve all” is something that has really stuck. We can't be the saviors. Nobody is going to come in and save anyone else.
For example, we're starting a garden in a community and in the kids’ area. It's a wonderful idea—and it's a learning experience for the after school program, but they also want to make it a community-wide gathering space. But, it's a lot of people that don't live in the community who are trying to force the people in the community to come be part of that. Until you find a champion in the community--until you find the people who want to do it—don't waste your energy. Make sure that it's what they want, not what you want them to have.
I think Muncie has had to be resilient for years. How do we help stop having to be resilient—and really have an environment where we can move forward.