East Central Indiana Community Foundations Unite

Awarded $60,000 GIFT VIII Planning Grant to Transform Regional Workforce Development and Student Opportunities

East Central Indiana Community Foundations Unite

The East Central Indiana region of Grant County, Blackford County, and Jay County has received a $60,000 planning grant as part of the eighth phase of Lilly Endowment Inc.’s initiative, Giving Indiana Funds for Tomorrow (GIFT VIII). With the grant, the partnership between the Community Foundation of Grant County, the Blackford County Community Foundation, and The Portland Foundation will join forces to tackle critical workforce challenges and enhance opportunities for students in the region. The collaboration, driven by shared concerns over the aging workforce and economic disparities, aims to prepare 4,623 students in grades 7-12 for successful careers.

The regional partnership is one of 92 community foundations and affiliate funds in Indiana receiving planning grants through GIFT VIII. These grants are designed to help community foundations collaborate with local partners to engage broad and diverse stakeholders in their communities and deepen their understanding of their communities’ highest-priority challenges and opportunities. In 2024, the community foundation partnership will have the opportunity to request funding to implement strategic initiatives and activities developed during the planning period that address especially compelling needs in the East Central Region.

The joint planning initiative, facilitated by Project Leadership, seeks to bridge the gap between education and employment. By engaging with diverse stakeholders, including students, employers, and parents, the collaboration aims to understand and address the specific needs of the community.

These three Community Foundations in East Central Indiana share common challenges, extending beyond mere statistical data. These Community Foundations have been leaders in providing Project Leadership’s education and career services to students and families. This unique model began to take shape in Grant County in 2007. Two years ago, Project Leadership expanded to Blackford County. Over this upcoming year, Project Leadership will expand its services to Jay County.

The region faces unique struggles, highlighted by socioeconomic vulnerabilities, high rates of poverty, and disparities in educational attainment. The Community Foundations, in partnership with educational institutions like Indiana Wesleyan University, Taylor University, and Ivy Tech Community College are taking a proactive approach to address these issues and create a more resilient workforce.

The region also benefits from partnerships with Purdue PolyTechnic Institute and Vincennes University through the John Jay Center for Learning. Located in downtown Portland in Jay County, the John Jay Center for Learning works to provide lifelong employability through education by providing vocational training, career planning and certifications. The Community Foundations in Blackford, Grant and Jay County also have strong relationships with K-12 partners across the region, facilitating consistent conversations with school leadership several times a year.

Ball State University Center for Business and Economic Research lists Jay County among the top 20 rural counties anticipated to experience residency growth in a post-COVID environment and points to the county’s school corporation as a reason, citing: “We include only those counties with at least one school corporation scoring an “A” or “B” in the most recent school ranking because of the strong correlation between school quality and location decisions.” (2022)

Key initiatives include the development and scaling of a career and college readiness curriculum for middle and high school students, as well as the creation of an online micro-internship tool. The goal is to provide students with real-world experiences, connect them with local employers, and align their education with workforce needs.

The Community Foundations emphasize the importance of community engagement, seeking input from all stakeholders to ensure the success of the initiatives. The collaboration reflects a commitment to addressing regional challenges and providing a pathway for students to navigate their futures successfully.

“Three years ago, the Community Foundation of Grant County led an unprecedented community-wide effort to engage more than 300 people in small group conversations across a one-day period to better understand poverty,” said Dawn Brown, President/CEO of the Community Foundation of Grant County. “It was not elected or traditional community leaders who filled living rooms and coffee shops in these heartfelt conversations but rather those who are living, or have lived, poverty. Through ongoing work, we have become a local expert on a challenge that dominates our region — poverty.”

“What we’re proposing with micro-internships has been a dream of our economic development team for a long time,” said Elizabeth Witt, Executive Director of the Blackford County Community Foundation. “We need to do our best to prepare students for life beyond those high school walls. That is what we owe to our next generation. To give them the best opportunities to be successful in their lives. Through this planning grant, our Community Foundations will focus on activities or people who do not normally have a voice, among them, students as well as local employers.”

“Looking southward, the challenges to regional planning and policymaking are apparent in eastern Indiana,” says Doug Inman, Executive Director of The Portland Foundation as he reflects on our region’s challenges. “The lack of a single urban centerpiece exacerbates the challenges of successful regionalism. It’s no wonder people want to turn down the volume. When you look at it day in and day out, it becomes background noise. It is a reality that underscores the importance of our three Foundations’ unwavering commitment to leading and, on occasion, turning up the volume.”

Lilly Endowment created the GIFT initiative in 1990 to help local communities in Indiana develop the philanthropic capacity to identify local needs and challenges and work with other organizations to help their communities thrive.  Through GIFT VIII, Lilly Endowment has allocated up to $210 million to support Indiana’s community foundations in growing their financial resources and further strengthening their ability to address their community’s highest-priority challenges and opportunities.


About Lilly Endowment Inc.: Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private foundation created in 1937 by J.K. Lilly, Sr. and his sons Eli and J.K. Jr. through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Company. Although the gifts of stock remain a financial bedrock of the Endowment, it is a separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff and location. In keeping with the founders’ wishes, the Endowment supports the causes of community developmenteducation and religion. The Endowment funds significant programs throughout the United States, especially in the field of religion. However, it maintains a special commitment to its founders’ hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana.

About the Community Foundation of Grant County: The Community Foundation of Grant County is an advocate for local philanthropy and is dedicated to improving the lives of people in the Grant County area. An effective steward of the community’s charitable resources since 1984, the Foundation works with donors to establish charitable funds and supports nonprofit organizations through a variety of grantmaking efforts. The Community Foundation connects people, resources, and causes to promote sustainable impact for the betterment of Grant County. Currently the Community Foundation holds over 400 charitable funds that support a variety of charities and charitable causes in Grant County. For more information, please visit www.GiveToGrant.org or call 765-662-0065.

About the Blackford County Community Foundation: The Blackford County Community Foundation was established in 1997 to provide a county-wide resource for accepting, managing, and distributing funds for charitable purposes. Eighty percent of the community financial resources managed by the Foundation will provide funds for scholarships and grants forever. Foundation assets currently total nearly $12 million.

About The Portland Foundation: The Portland Foundation, founded in 1951, is the second-oldest Community Foundation in Indiana.  Its mission is to enhance the quality of life for the people of Jay County, Indiana, now and for generations to come, by building community endowment, effecting significant impact through grantmaking and providing leadership on key community issues.  It currently holds $47 million in assets in 445 funds and has awarded more than $20.2 million in grants and scholarships since 1951.

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