BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – The Indiana University Center for Rural Engagement will serve communities navigating COVID-19 pandemic recovery through a new state initiative, Hoosier Enduring Legacy Program (HELP).
HELP, a program led by the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA), is designed for local units of government to optimize their Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, the $1.28 billion of federal funds delivered in 2021 and 2022 to Indiana communities from the American Rescue Plan Act.
“In my position as Secretary of Rural Development, I have seen many Indiana rural communities grow and develop with the help of OCRA’s programs,” Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch said. “HELP is the newest way for the state to partner with our already vibrant and successful communities, and further build them so they become stronger and more resilient.”
To help carry out the year-long program, OCRA is partnering with the Purdue Center for Regional Development, the Indiana University Center for Rural Engagement, the Ball State University Indiana Communities Institute and Ivy Tech Community College.
Communities selected to participate in HELP will collaborate with these higher education institutions on four key pathways, advancing e-connectivity, enhancing quality of place, promoting community wellness and strengthening local economies. These pathways will help communities to be more resilient to future economic downturns. The IU Center for Rural Engagement will lead the community wellness pathway.
“Indiana University is proud to support Indiana’s communities in achieving their health and wellness goals," said Joe Carley, director of strategic partnerships at the IU Center for Rural Engagement. “The COVID-19 pandemic has raised public awareness of community health issues, and we are fortunate to be able to call on top-ranked programs in public health, social work, nursing and medicine to support the HELP initiative. IU’s renowned O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs and our celebrated programs in the arts and humanities are also important resources to enhance quality of life initiatives across our state.”
Columbus-based nonprofit CivicLab along with the higher education institutions, will provide data training to support the implementation of a Strategic Investment Plan based on community feedback, community data and these four pathways.
Additional organizations assisting with OCRA’s new program include the Indiana Arts Commission, the Indiana State Department of Health, the Indiana Department of Transportation, and the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority.
“When I was mayor of my hometown of Huntingburg, I got to experience how OCRA and its partners can help transform a community,” said OCRA Executive Director Denny Spinner. “I am excited to now bring the spirit of Stellar into a new iteration that will support communities in best employing Fiscal Recovery Funds to create a legacy in these Hoosier towns and cities.”
Spinner said HELP melds the pillars of OCRA’s Stellar initiative into a program that will capitalize on the successes of previous efforts, while addressing the current environment of Hoosier communities. This new program supports communities directly by building capacity, creating a peer network system between communities participating in the program, developing a strategic investment plan and providing access to set-aside funding.
HELP will have three cohorts, with each cohort supporting up to four communities. As a result, the HELP program will have the capability to implement an increased number of broad projects over a wider area and in a shorter time-frame than previous programs like it.
The application for the first cohort opens on Sept. 6. Communities must apply before the Oct. 1 deadline. Communities are allowed to apply for multiple cohorts and a community’s status as a READI region will not impact HELP selections.
A live, informational webinar outlining HELP program details will be held at 3 p.m. ET on Aug. 18. For more information on the webinar and HELP, visit in.gov/ocra/HELP.
Kyla Cox Deckard, IU Center for Rural Engagement
(812) 855-4992 office (812) 219-9993 cell