Indiana Resilience Funding Hub helps rural communities secure over $1 million and counting in federal funding


Finding and securing federal grant money can be daunting for small rural communities with limited resources, but the Indiana Resilience Funding Hub (IRFH) is changing that. 

Since its inception in the spring of 2023, the IRFH—or the Hub—has helped small Hoosier communities secure $1,011,529 in grant funding. The Hub was created as a collaboration between IU's Center for Rural Engagement and the Environmental Resilience Institute (ERI). It set out to empower Hoosier rural communities, organizations, companies, and individuals to successfully apply for federal funding opportunities for climate, energy, and resilience projects. 

A 2022 survey by IU researchers revealed that approximately 80% of cities and towns in Indiana expressed a lack of resources to pursue federal grant funding focused on sustainability.

"Our goals for our first year were to assist five to eight rural partners and to engage at least 12 rural communities through resource sharing, planning, technical assistance, research, and consultation," said Bill Brown at the 2024 IU Rural Conference. He's the assistant director for strategy and engagement at the ERI. 

"And we exceeded those goals, especially on the second part, in terms of providing technical assistance to other communities that may not be full partners, that may not be ready for a grant. We've offered technical assistance to help them get lined up for that opportunity, and we're working with a number of communities right now," Brown said.

Our goals for our first year were to assist five to eight rural partners and to engage at least 12 rural communities through resource sharing, planning, technical assistance, research, and consultation. And we exceeded those goals.

Bill Brown, Environmental Resilience Institute

The IRFH is focused exclusively on assisting communities with fewer than 50,000 residents. Its staff help identify funding opportunities and provide direct grant-writing and technical assistance. Its website provides a wealth of resources, including government fact sheets, funding guides, map and census tools, local and state agency contacts, and hubs and portals for discovering available grants.

"We're here to help you find the money," Brown said.

Projects prioritized by the IRFH include energy efficiency, renewable energy, alternative transportation, electrification, climate mitigation, and climate adaptation.

The current federal funding climate is "a once-in-a-generation opportunity," according to the IRFH. That’s thanks to federal provisions in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the CHIPS and Science Act (CHIPS), and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). According to an analysis by the Brookings Institution, more than $464 billion—or 45 percent—of the combined appropriations in these three laws “present significant opportunities to rural America.”

One rural community that benefited from the IRFH's assistance is Holland, Indiana, a town of about 700 people. In the summer of 2023, local leaders contacted the IRFH through an existing relationship with the IU Center for Rural Engagement. The town sought to update its aging public roads and sidewalks, revitalize its downtown, and improve community safety and unity in its public spaces.

The IRFH discovered that Holland's needs qualified it for federal transportation safety funding under Safe Streets and Roads for All (SS4A), a US Department of Transportation grant program that distributes $1 billion annually to communities nationwide. 

Holland officials and the IRFH worked together to prepare and submit a strong grant application. It was approved in December 2023, and the town received $146,960 to fund a comprehensive safety action plan.

"Our 'rural town,' Holland, many times seems to be passed over by larger communities with more resources pulling on staff grant writers to focus on their projects," said Lee Bilderback, member of the Dubois County Community Foundation and the Holland Events Committee.

Without the guidance of the IRFH, Holland may have been overlooked once again, he said.

"I recommend rural communities to partner with the IRFH to reach their goals in improving and maintaining a rural life aspect we enjoy as Hoosiers," Bilderback said.

I recommend rural communities to partner with the IRFH to reach their goals in improving and maintaining a rural life aspect we enjoy as Hoosiers.

Lee Bilderback, Dubois County Community Foundation and Holland Events Committee

Through the same grant program, the City of Rushville received a $787,000 grant to create a comprehensive safety plan to address safety concerns along a 45-mile stretch of State Road 3 that spans Rush, Henry, and Decatur counties.

Another small Hoosier community that's received transformative assistance is Gentryville, a town in Spencer County with a population of about 250 people. Their police department was struggling with an aging fleet of police vehicles, and they approached the IRFH for help.

"Luckily, it coincided with the [Energy Efficiency Community Block Grant] that was being administered through the Indiana Office of Energy Development," said Cate Racek during the 2024 IU Rural Conference. Racek is a grant consultant who works with the IRFH.

"And so we put together this narrative, their story, of, 'Here's our town. Here's our aging infrastructure. Here's what we would like to be able to do to serve our constituents,'" Racek said.

The collaboration was a success. Gentryville was awarded $76,969 in grant funding to purchase an all-electric Ford Lightning truck, a police light bar, and a 240-volt charger. 

"I can never say thank you enough," said Gentryville Town Marshal Alfred Braunecker. "Without the help of IU, IRFH, and community members, we wouldn't have been able to secure this vehicle," he said.

Braunecker added that he highly encourages other small communities to reach out to the IRFH to find grant opportunities.

"I hope they can impact their community as much as it has ours."

Local government and community leaders interested in assistance from the IRFH can start the conversation by submitting an interest form. For more information about the Hub and to access funding tools, webinars, and resources, visit its page on the Environmental Resilience Institute website. A free webinar on federal funding opportunities for coal and energy communities will be held on June 7.

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.