IU, Washington County launch intensive university-community engagement initiative

SALEM, Ind. – The Indiana University Center for Rural Engagement and Washington County, Indiana celebrated the start of their next chapter of collaboration. IU students and faculty will partner with residents and leaders to achieve local goals focused on health, community resilience and quality of place through the award-winning Sustaining Hoosier Communities initiative.

More than 100 residents attended planning meetings in early 2020, led by the center’s Sustaining Hoosier Communities Director Jane Rogan, to map local assets and generate project ideas that leverage those assets. Identified from that process, this year’s projects will include strategic planning with the Washington County YMCA for capital expansion and new youth programs; increasing performing arts and tourism in partnership with the Washington County Chamber of Commerce and Washington County Theater; examining agritourism models in collaboration with Purdue Extension; and planning for a social services hub that addresses hunger, homelessness, and addictions.

A large quality of place initiative that connects the IU Arts and Humanities Council and Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design with representatives from the county’s many historic sites, including Beck’s Mill, the Depot Railroad Museum, and the Salem downtown corridor is already underway.

“Our assets are not just about trails, parks, lakes, and sidewalks, though those are used very much. We are the assets—our community,” said Justin Green, mayor of the City of Salem. “I look forward to seeing where these new ventures take us and the excitement that the IU students bring to us. It is a great partnership.”

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Our assets are not just about trails, parks, lakes, and sidewalks, though those are used very much. We are the assets—our community.

Justin Green, mayor of the City of Salem

The center’s Sustaining Hoosier Communities initiative harnesses more than a dozen IU Bloomington courses and the energy of hundreds of students to address projects identified by the partnering community. This initiative received international recognition as the 2019 Outstanding Program of the Year from the Educational Partnerships for Innovation in Communities-Network (EPIC-N).

“The Center for Rural Engagement is going to work on projects side by side with us. We as a community need to be prepared to roll up our sleeves and really get to work,” said Judy Johnson, executive director of the Washington County Community Foundation. “This is an opportunity to transform some our assets from ‘best kept secrets’ to venues that will attract and excite not only local residents, but residents from around the region and state.”  

With the center’s launch in 2018, Washington County established strategic effort with a focus on quality of place, including an ongoing rural arts series involving the Jacobs School of Music, IU Cinema, the Department of English, and other Arts and Humanities Council campus partners.

“We are deeply grateful to Washington County for partnering with Indiana University in this way and for the opportunity that Washington County is giving to IU students to expand their knowledge in connection with our communities, with residents serving as wise community experts and guides,” said Kerry Thomson, executive director of the IU Center for Rural Engagement.

Approximately 50 miles southeast of the Indiana University Bloomington campus, Washington County is home to 28,415 residents, vast natural resources including a portion of the state’s longest hiking trail--the Knobstone Trail--and many historic sites. The county’s economy is rooted in agriculture and the metal and lumber industry. Washington County will be the fourth county to partner with the center on the SHC initiative, following the collaborations of Lawrence, Orange, and Greene counties.

For more information about the center’s Sustaining Hoosier Communities program and past projects, visit shc.indiana.edu. Residents who are interested in working on the Washington County initiative can contact the Washington County Community Foundation at 812-883-7334 or director@wccf.biz.

Description of the video:


Sustaining Hoosier Communities Washington County Launch

Friday, September 4, 2020, 10-11 a.m.


Kerry Thomson, Executive Director, IU Center for Rural Engagement

Jane Rogan, Director, Sustaining Hoosier Communities, IU Center for Rural Engagement

Judy Johnson, Executive Director, Washington County Community Foundation

Justin Green, Mayor, City of Salem


An initiative of the Center for Rural Engagement, Sustaining Hoosier Communities is a year-long collaboration between IU Bloomington students, faculty and staff, and a community. Community-identified projects, such as the ones below, are paired with IU Bloomington courses to address opportunities and challenges and achieve community goals.


Washington County Projects:

Blending Recreation, Green-space, and Historical Sites

Designing Outdoor Recreation Programs

Designing YMCA Youth Programs

Exploring Agritourism Models

Help Hub and Homeless Shelter

Improving the County Through Arts, Wayfinding, Beautification and Policy

Increasing Performing Arts in Washington County

Planning for YMCA Capital Expansion

Preserving Beck’s Mill

Strategizing Campbellsburg Revitalization




Aerial view of Salem, Indiana. Text on screen says Washington County, Indiana, Population: 28,415, Home to

Beautiful natural landscapes

Close-knit communities

Historic roots

Rich agricultural and manufacturing industries


And a partnership with Indiana University

Building on two years of extensive collaboration, the IU Center for Rural Engagement and Washington County are connecting hundreds of IU students and their faculty with leaders and residents to complete more than a dozen local projects as part of the award-winning Sustaining Hoosier Communities initiative.


Together, we are creating thriving

arts and culture


Health and wellness

Community resilience

Youth opportunities


When Hoosiers work together, we all shine.





Sustaining Hoosier Communities or SHC as we call it provides a unique opportunity for Indiana University to join together with the community forge relationships and understanding and ultimately get to work on community identified projects to build a strong and vibrant future for Hoosiers. SHC is part of an international consortium of such university and community partnerships known as the Epic Network and SHC is the largest rurally focused program and was honored as the Epic Network outstanding program of the year in 2019. We'll learn more about the SHC classes and the Washington County projects that they have adopted a little later in our program but first I'd like to invite the executive director for the Indiana University Center for Rural Engagement to share remarks about our partnership with the county. Kerry Thompson.



Thanks Jane. I just want to note what a wonderful video that was highlighting the beauty and the treasures of Washington County and I hope that you all feel as proud to live in Washington County as we are to work with you and my thanks to Jeni Waters for that beautiful visual story that she offered. And thank you to each of you for taking your time to open the beginning of our Sustaining Hoosier Communities partnership together. As Jane mentioned this is a very different Sustaining Hoosier Communities for us for many reasons but the best one that I can think of is that this year's partnership allows both the CRE and Washington County to build on relationships and programs which we've already come to treasure together and to envision a deeper partnership with those we know well as well as in developing new relationships with those that we are just meeting. The Center for Rural Engagement is not a new name here in Washington County. We've partnered together since CRE's launch in 2018. And during that time, hundreds of residents of all ages have been engaged in cinema screenings with the iu cinema, creative writing programs at the Salem public library, and musical collaborations with the Jacobs school of music, even an artist in residency as part of our arts and cultural programs, and local arts capacity building activities. From those successful initiatives a robust placemaking initiative has launched in collaboration with the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture and Design. We've collaborated on other projects too. A parks, recreation, and public lands inventory and opportunity map, a trail mapping project of the Knobstone trail which we we released this spring a very timely release as we all began to feel a bit cooped up at the beginning of the pandemic. We've had public health initiatives to address mental health and substance use disorder, and a food system study to increase local food access for residents. The community has deepened its conversations with the center about its goals and visions and the Sustaining Hoosier Communities is an ideal next step to expand our university's faculty and student engagement to achieve the community's goals. We're deeply grateful to Washington county for partnering with Indiana University in this way and the opportunity that Washington County is giving to IU students to expand their knowledge in connection with our communities with residents serving as wise community experts and guides. Though our entire world has changed in the midst of this pandemic, our energy and inspiration for this partnership has never waned. Indiana University is committed to Washington County and today we're taking a big new step into our future together. the CRE's work with SHC is led by director Jane Rogan. If you have not experienced her magnetic leadership yet, you're in for a treat as she helps build the pathway for this partnership. Jane?



Thanks so much, Kerry, I appreciate your comments. As you all likely know by now, Washington county applied for and was selected as this year's SHC partner. And in January and February, which of course is what we now call a pre-COVID time, the Center for Rural Engagement liaisons and I got to work meeting with over a hundred Washington County residents in meetings in Pekin, Campbellsburg and Salem. And we learned more about the county's rich assets, its people, places, traditions, employers, leaders, schools, you name it. Those community meetings just gave us so much great information. We then built on those community assets and residents devised well over 160 project ideas, all of which capitalized on something of value to the community. All of the community project ideas were carefully recorded along with the assets that they support and shared with our IU faculty, and our faculty selected projects which they believe could be easily adopted into courses that they are teaching this fall or will teach in the spring or summer. And I'm happy to announce that despite the pressures placed on faculty by COVID, they remain really excited to work remotely on SHC projects with their students. And faculty in the Media School, the Kelley School of Business, Public Health, the O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, and the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture and Design, have all agreed to take on projects with their students. I'm just going to go through a few of the projects that you saw on the welcome slide. I'm going to go through those with you now just to give you a little bit more information about those engagements to document the special context and sense of place of Washington County. Journalism students will capture the community perspective through interviews with residents about the affinities they have with particular assets across the county and public affairs students will investigate historical sites buildings and traditions and develop promotional materials about them. In our meetings with residents it was noted that there are spaces available within the community where services might be offered to reduce insecure housing and homelessness and students from public environmental affairs will research the issue and propose options for the community to consider. The YMCA, which was listed in the top five of all assets recorded in our community meetings will receive attention from graduate accounting students for their capital expansion plans, and public health students will assist in building programs for youth. Recreational spaces and historic buildings are key assets in the county, and public health students will design and develop recreation programs for implementation while design faculty and students have begun to develop plans for wayfinding signage, which will better direct visitors to historic and recreational assets and are also working on creating what we called a pocket park in Salem and faculty in the indiana studies program have begun humanities oriented research at Beck's Mill and are already developing a partnership at this remarkable historic site. And building on the terrific work that Kerry mentioned that we've already accomplished with the arts in Salem, students from public and environmental affairs will develop a model for sustaining arts traditions and cultural events across the county. Management consulting students will meet with residents and leaders in Campbellsburg to outline possibilities for revitalization of their downtown, and honoring the strong tradition of agriculture in Washington county, students in public and environmental affairs will delve into food systems, agritourism, and the farmer's market and make plans to strengthen these areas. And that's just what we have on the books for now. There will be more courses added in the winter, spring and summer sessions and we'll keep you updated about those additions through our website and via the community committee. The strain and stress that we have all undoubtedly felt due to COVID really kind of i think affected each of our communities in very similar ways but it has caused us to rethink our approach somewhat, and student travel to the county is simply not possible still. That notwithstanding, i want you all to rest assured that we have made and continue to make adjustments to ensure a strong partnership with Washington County. Without a team of Washington County residents who are ready to respond at the drop of a hat or at the ding of an incoming text message to support IU students and faculty, SHC would be a complete non-starter and I am so pleased to introduce our next speaker, who will talk at more length about where the rubber meets the road in this partnership. Judy Johnson was instrumental in pulling together a small team to write the initial SHC application and she now heads a vibrant and indispensable committee of residents from across Washington County to ensure that faculty and students are connected to the right people at the right time to keep their work on track. Executive director of the Washington County Community Foundation, Judy Johnson.



Thank you Jane for those comments and I just want to start by thanking the center for Rural  Engagement for this partnership because it is going to be something that is, i think, will be transformative for our community and I truly believe that this is going to help us move on to the next level, so as  you've heard we've actually been working with the Center for Rural Engagement for over two years on different projects and i can tell you that every time i go to an event that's hosted by the CRE and the Sustaining Hoosiers Community team or I see a publication that they have created i can tell you I am never disappointed. They never fail to, they always lead up and always meet our expectations. They never disappoint, and everything they do is incredibly well done and that is why I am so eager and happy to start this journey with them. I've attended a lot of the events that they have put on in Orange and Lawrence counties and I've talked to the leaders in those communities about their experience with the CRE and based on all that information I'm confident that the next two years are going to be highly beneficial for our county. i want to explain and really stress that that IU and the CRE they're not going to do anything to us, and they are not going to do anything for us, they are going to do things with us. They are going to work on projects side by side with us. So we as a community need to be prepared to roll up our sleeves and really get to work. The next two years are going to fly by and I am confident and hopeful that when we get to the end of this journey and we have our celebration at the end, we are all going to look back with a lot of pride and excitement about everything that we've accomplished. We know we have many wonderful assets in our community, but i think sometimes we are just a little bit too humble to tell people about what we have to offer so this is an opportunity for us to transform some of our assets from the best kept secrets to venues that will attract and excite. Not only our local residents but residents and individuals in our region and really throughout the state. So i encourage anybody who wants to participate to do so. Project teams will be forming and there's always room for people who want to work on a team with common goals for the enrichment of our county. One of the best things about this partnership is the energy of the students and the energy that they will bring. Many of our student partners will be unfamiliar with rural living because they've only lived in a large city and a lot of our student partners won't even be very familiar with the United States so this is a wonderful opportunity for us to capture a fresh viewpoint and get new ideas. I know we are constantly looking at ourselves and trying to figure out how we can be better. Now we have a unique opportunity to really learn from others and see how someone from the outside views our community, and we also can capitalize on their fresh ideas and their fresh viewpoints, so I really think this is a win-win situation for Washington County for all of our residents and the IU students, and if we do this right and I'm confident and I know that we will do this right, everyone is going to walk away better because of what we have learned from each other, so we all know Washington County is a great place to live and we that's why we call Washington County home. Now we can focus on how we can let the rest of the world know that Washington County is a great place to live and raise a family. Right now the United States is going through a lot of turmoil for a lot of reasons, and I really think in the next few years rural living is going to be much more attractive to a lot of people, so this is an opportunity for us to get the message out. Washington County is a great place to live and raise a family, and you know basically there's two audiences. There are people who are our youth who graduated, went to college, moved away and haven't come back yet, and then there's everybody else so I don't know of any reason why we can't be attractive to both of those groups and I really think that this is an opportunity for us to evolve into a community that consistently attracts the best and the and the brightest because this is truly a great place to live. So I really hope that after this kickoff that you are as excited about the opportunities and the possibilities as we are. We are going to need a lot of people and all these individuals need to be willing to work together on a team to optimize the outcomes and work together towards a common goal. So before I sign off I want to thank the committee that has been working behind the scenes on this and has committed to working going forward to be connectors to people in our community. And that committee consists of Betty Bennett, Brad Gilbert, Jeff Sowder, Mayor Green, Karen Berry, Christie Perley, Lindsey Wade-Swift, Tammy Worley, and Tara Kritzer. So like i said they've already met several times and they will be critical on every step we take along this journey for the next two years so if you have any questions please feel free to call the Community Foundation and Lindsay and I will do the best to answer your question or to get an answer for you together. i know we are all going to accomplish great things. And now it's my honor to introduce our next speaker, someone that we all know and I want to thank him for his support thus far and a lot of projects that we have been working on behind the scenes and his commitment to making our community a better place. And it's my honor to introduce next, Mayor Green. Justin, you're on.



Well good morning and thank you. I want to echo some things that Jane has already said and Judy both said. I want to thank IU, the [Center for] Rural Engagement. This is an opportunity, and that word's going to be used a lot this morning, myself included. When i asked, you know, what does Washington County have to gain from this effort, I think there's several things to be said and mentioned. I've had the pleasure of serving on the city council for a number of years and then had the opportunity to run for mayor for the city of Salem and very successfully did and then the residents put me back in for another four years thankfully. And one of my talking points was we have a lot of opportunities here in Salem and a lot of opportunities coming our way in the near future and it's time to to reach out and grasp those opportunities and see what we can do with the best of those and where we go from there. And, you know a lot of opportunities coincide with dollar, and commitments from budgets and we have to look at as far as where our shortfalls can be sometimes and and how we get there and those opportunities whether they be hard projects such as infrastructure or just talking about the additional growth and population to additional housing. Even some of our quality of place initiatives that we've put down and are working on and seeing in our community and let alone Salem and Washington County but those opportunities are vast and this is a new opportunity to support local efforts with IU and the Sustaining Hoosier Communities and I think it's a great partnership as Judy said I think it's a great opportunity to see some some new expansion in those thoughts you know from health and wellness to brick and mortar, you know it's not really spelled out in one particular area it's it's widespread and so to get us there,I think our community can find new ways to learn and succeed and find assets that are needed and expand on all of that and I think it's a great platform with IU's history and the Center for Rural Engagement, what a place to start! But in in that as far as sustaining the title says it all. Sustaining Hoosier Communities is a way to help us see more than just today. you know one of my goals has been and will continue to be is how do we look at things long term, not today. What's five years, what's 10 years, what's 20 years and to get us out to that point. Those are better decisions that can be made and Sustaining Hoosier Communities it's right there in the title so this gives you know I think everybody involved a renewed appreciation for our assets. Not just trails, parks, and lakes, and sidewalks, because you know those are all used and used very much especially with the pandemic that's proven very much so, but beyond that. You know we have a lot of other assets and quite frankly us, we are the assets, our  community, and so I certainly appreciate IU's efforts and I know the Sustaining Hoosier Communities is a great fit for us. I look forward to seeing where this takes us these new ventures by chance  and the excitement that IU students bring to us. So as Jane said as Judy said, I think it's a great partnership. Two years will be interesting, be very quick, and i think we'll get a lot done so I appreciate your time, I appreciate all involved and especially today, this was well done. The Zoom was not obviously optimum and we would like to have been in person but hey this works, so thank you to all. I appreciate your time. I'll pass it back over to Jane.



Thanks so much Mayor Green and we too look forward to this continued partnership and everything that we can accomplish together in Washington County. I'm really excited to see the projects that we already have on the books and also the projects that will develop over time because I do think that together we can achieve really great things. For me the day cannot come soon enough when IU faculty, staff, and students, can return to Washington County to meet in person with their community clients, and grab an H&R donut on the square of course, but until that time all of us who are working together on this initiative in Washington County, that includes Judy and the Mayor and the community  committee, myself my center for Rural Engagement colleagues and our faculty, we are all available to you by phone and email and please don't hesitate to get in touch with us with questions and suggestions as we continue our work together and we look forward to hearing from you over the coming year. Many thanks to our presenters this morning, Kerry, Judy and Mayor Greene and special thanks to our  communications team Kyla Cox Deckard and Jeni Waters who i've been working with non-stop behind the scenes to pull off this presentation without a hiccup, but most of all I want to thank you for showing up today and supporting Washington County's Sustaining Hoosier Communities partnership. We need your support, we need your input, and we look forward to partnership together over the next year. Many thanks for joining us today and I hope you all continue to stay well. Thank you.



Photograph of mural in Salem, Indiana with words that say “A Brighter Future for All”


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.