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All it Takes Is One “Dotty” Idea


~by Michael Wilcox

Assistant Director and Program Leader for Community Development / Purdue Extension
Associate Director / North Central Regional Center for Rural Development (NCRCRD)


A few months ago, I was contemplating revolution. Today, I am in a more reflective state of mind. Perhaps it was our family vacation, offering a fleeting taste of normalcy while gathering with family and friends. Or, maybe it has been celebrating the return of some of my favorite community activities revolving around local food, arts and culture, and old-fashioned socializing.

Now, as the summer transitions (far too quickly!) to fall, my neighborhood is serving as a microcosm of the opportunities and challenges facing communities across Indiana.

Despite an ever-evolving public health crisis, we are trying to address a critical issue (food security) by investing the three “T’s” (time, treasure, and talent) into community activities that will generate financial resources by building and leveraging social/cultural capital in a fun and safe manner.

How? Chauncey Fest.

In 2020, a group of neighbors got together (outside, masks on) and discussed how social (physical) distancing had taken a toll on the fabric of our neighborhood. We also noted that the Greater Lafayette community was struggling with hunger and food insecurity. At the end of a driveway, we forged a goal of “Raising awareness about, and resources to combat, hunger and food insecurity in the Greater Lafayette area.” (NOTE: This was coupled with the shadow goal of “Experiencing firsthand how cool it would be to shut down our street to traffic and have all of the musicians on our street play music!”)

Community development is all about assets. In the context of strategic planning, we needed to identify the assets we had on hand and how we could invest them to help us achieve our goal. Volunteers? Check. Musicians? Check. Eccentric (or “Dotty!”) ideas? Check. (Every street party needs giant bubbles, a shaved ice bar, etc.). We also outlined specific organizing/implementation activities, identified leaders, adopted timelines, met frequently for updates, and unabashedly held each other accountable.

Strategic partners? Heck yeah! We had a direct connection to Food Finders Food Bank, Inc. so they became our philanthropic target. We reached out to Brokerage Brewing Company, explained our intentions, and they came to the rescue by sponsoring a real firetruck (theirs) loaded with locally made, microbrew. We worked with a local hog farmer to secure enough pork butt to feed the neighborhood. We leaned on neighbors and friends to crowdsource tables, chairs, tents, hand sanitizer, plastic wrap, outdoor lights, and enough public health knowledge to pull the event off as safely as possible during a pandemic.

In the end, fun was had by everyone and we raised $1,600 for Food Finders (it was eventually matched, dollar for dollar, by the employer of one of the lead organizers). We essentially confined ourselves to our front lawns (the bands played on select porches), took lots of other safety precautions, and never lost sight of our goal (well, both of them!).

Soon, we will repeat Chauncey Fest. Now, our goal is $5,000 for Food Finders. We are also collecting food for the food pantry in our neighborhood. The Boilermaker Special is coming! Boxes of chalk will be provided to all of the children so they can try their hand at guerrilla art. The music has expanded to five bands. There is branded merchandise for fundraising, designed by youth in the neighborhood. Family and friends are coming from all over the country. And, our public health precautions will still be in place.

So how does this translate to the bigger picture in Indiana?

Our communities need to come back together, safely and effectively, so they can achieve their goals and foster community vitality. One way Purdue Extension has contributed is through Indiana 4-H Youth Development activities that have been held throughout this summer. Another is helping communities garner the resources they need to be successful. Our Beginner’s Guide to Grant Writing Program is an excellent introduction! It takes high-quality leadership and facilitation to make things happen and sustain high-impact initiatives. Our Facilitative Leadership Program develops the skills, tools, and awareness to draw out ideas, encourage effective discussion, and guide groups to make inclusive decisions and actionable plans. And, our Navigating Difference program deepens the effectiveness and impact by developing the cultural awareness of groups who are interested in working more successfully with others.

Philanthropy and volunteerism are important and evolving. We are fortunate in Indiana to have a strong network of community foundations. Purdue Extension’s Community Development program will continue to work with communities across the state to build resilient, inclusive, and sustainable communities.

However, YOU are the key. Decide how you, and those around you, can make a difference in your community. If you need assistance, or just want to knock around a crazy idea, let us know.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this lament on the past eighteen months from our Chauncey Fest t-shirt. Now is the time to celebrate, mourn, re-connect and move forward.

the expansion of the heart
leaves trails of communal flotsam
remnants of the dizzy flourish of release
chauncey beloved gone so beautifully

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