IU Center for Rural Engagement, Orange County celebrate impactful year and look ahead to future goals


FRENCH LICK, Ind. – One year, 450 students, and more than 30 local Orange County organizations yielded 28 projects that directly addressed community-identified needs across health, resilience, and quality of place emphasis areas during the IU Center for Rural Engagement’s Sustaining Hoosier Communities initiative.  

Sustaining Hoosier Communities (SHC) partners local community residents with Indiana University students, faculty and staff, focusing their collective effort on community-identified projects for more than a year. These transformative partnerships improve community quality of life.In the second year of the SHC initiative, the Center for Rural Engagement doubled its number of community projects.

“Our collaboration with Orange County has been incredibly fruitful for both the community and the university,” said Kerry Thomson, executive director of the IU Center for Rural Engagement. “The community’s enthusiasm paired with the center’s resources transform dreams and possibilities into real outcomes and inform a robust model for university rural engagement.”

During the 2018-19 SHC year, the center launched a rural nursing initiative with Southern Indiana Community Health Care in which School of Nursing students conducted home health visits for patients managing diabetes. Students completed more than 480 hours of home health visits in Orange County. The center plans to continue this program in 2019-20 and add services in partnership with the School of Social Work.

The Lost River Market and Deli worked with students in the IU Media School to develop a strategic membership growth plan with a focus on increasing local food consumption. The center will continue its work with Lost River Market and Deli as a key partner in a regional food system plan to expand a vibrant, sustainable local food system across the Indiana Uplands region.

“Working with the IU Center for Rural Engagement and students through Sustaining Hoosier Communities was amazing,” said Debbie Turner, manager of Lost River Market and Deli. “They listened to us, and they produced a practical and feasible plan that was way beyond any expectation I had.”

Bolstering the arts and quality of place, the center worked with Paoli’s Black Vulture Project on plans for a community arts center, artists’ residence, and an online arts network to engage residents in the arts and expand local economic opportunities. IU Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture and Design students created plans for accessible playground and park features that promote the community’s history in partnership with community stakeholders and leaders of the nonprofit HandUp OC.

In April, the center was recognized for its SHC programwith the Outstanding Program of the Year award from the international EPIC-Network. The award honors programs that demonstrate exceptional partnerships, mutually beneficial and supported, between higher education, community, government and business leaders. Award winners serve as exemplars of different aspects of program management and invest in their communities, students and colleagues across the network.

For full details about the SHC program and the 2018-19 projects with Orange County, visit https://shc.indiana.edu. The initiative will launch in Greene County this fall.

The IU Center for Rural Engagement improves the lives of Hoosiers through collaborative initiatives that discover and deploy scalable and flexible solutions to common challenges facing rural communities. Working in full-spectrum community innovation through research, community-engaged teaching and student service, the center builds vision, harnesses assets and cultivates sustainable leadership structures within the communities with which it engages to ensure long-term success.