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Comes A Time

~by Michael Wilcox

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

 

At the community level, when is the right time for a change?

The answer to this question depends on your circumstances and your point of view. Those who are content with how things are may find little motivation for change. In contrast, those who are not satisfied with current circumstances or believe that their community is not achieving its potential may feel that change is necessary and time is of the essence.

The former may be pegged as parochial and the latter a troublemaker.

Given this, I guess it is appropriate that my musical muse for this month’s column is currently caught up in a controversy. And, thankfully, my real muse just received some great news after quite a few years of advocating for change.

Back in 1978, the United States was in an upheaval musically. Disco was dancing the night away on one end of the spectrum, and punk was raging on the other. Then, out of nowhere, Neil Young delivers “Comes a Time.” Fiddles, acoustic guitar, and the angelic harmonies of Nicolette Larson. In the title track, Young laments:

“Comes a time when you’re driftin’
Comes a time when you settle down
Comes a light, feelings liftin’
Lift that baby right up off the ground

Oh, this old world keeps spinnin’ ’round
It’s a wonder, tall trees ain’t layin’ down
There comes a time

You and I, we were captured
We took our souls and we flew away
We were right, we were giving
That’s how we kept what we gave away”
Comes a Time lyrics © Silver Fiddle, Words & Music A Div Of Big Deal Music LLC

The music that accompanies the lyrics is soft, emotional, and light. The message, on the other hand, is quite heavy. In our local communities, we can find ourselves drifting, and other times, we are our best selves – reaching our collective potential. Meanwhile, the world keeps moving at a speed that can feel impossible to keep pace with no matter how hard you try.

Fayette County, Indiana, is such a place.

I have been working on and off in Fayette County since 2013. To say that it has been a rollercoaster is probably an understatement. That said, like all rollercoasters, the ride can be as unsettling as it is fun. Lucky for me, it has been chiefly the latter.

For me, the unsettling part of Fayette County’s story has primarily been told by secondary data. Long-term economic trends, health and wellness rankings, and the such. I have spent enough time there to see the evidence with my own eyes.

And yet, Fayette County surprises me every time. And this is why I keep going back (well, lunch with my friends and colleagues at Brian’s Bistro and More doesn’t hurt either!).

In the beginning, Bo Beaulieu and I were working with Fayette County as part of our Transforming Your Local Economy program through the Purdue Center for Regional Development and Purdue Extension. That work then grew regional in scope through the Stronger Economies Together program with the Eastern Indiana Regional Planning Commission.

During that time (2015), I said:

“When we look at a county or region, we look at what we have rather than what we don’t have. We focus on growth and the good things that are here. People talk about recreation, parks and green spaces. The last time I was here, I asked people to tell me where they go to recreate and have fun. They told me about Richmond, Indy or along I-70; they didn’t mention Fayette County.”

“You cannot move forward here without pride in the community. I have worked in communities without pride. I sense a pride in this community. I am excited today about the opportunities for growth because you have economic development here, business owners here, a lawyer, Extension, people running for office, the Foundation is here, a diverse group of people. We need each and every one of you.”

A few months later (again, 2015), after holding a Stronger Economies Together forum in Connersville, I elaborated further:

“I don’t know if it’s the election or the country coming out of Great Recession, I think that Fayette County feels the progression happening for them as well and it’s time for them to move forward, embrace change and enhance the quality of life. I’m always impressed coming off the interstate and coming down to Fayette County, how beautiful this county is and welcoming this country is but it doesn’t always come up in the statistics…You can sense the winds of change going on here from an economic and social standpoint.”

At that forum, the top four challenges listed by participants were fear of change and negativity, drugs, generational poverty, and lack of quality of life jobs with a living wage. The change that was coming was the advent of Women’s Voices (now Community Voices), Discover Connersville, and the dedication of countless people that believed in a better future for Connersville and Fayette County.

At the center of it all has been Becky Marvel. Becky is a Community Wellness Coordinator with Purdue Extension’s Health and Human Sciences program. Becky is as humble as she is strong. Becky is as empathetic as she is persistent. Becky is as passionate as she is dedicated. Perhaps that is the secret combination – humility, empathy, and passion coupled with strength, persistence, and dedication. The fuel for change! And this is what Neil was getting at when he sings of how you can give of yourself while maintaining your integrity and being inclusive. For Becky, there is no “I” in her work, only “we,” and there isn’t a “my” only “our.”

However, change for change’s sake is not beneficial nor sustainable. One needs a plan.

For Becky, this meant reaching out to her Purdue colleagues. She began with Enhancing the Value of Public Spaces: Creating Healthy Communities (EVPS:CHC). This program uses facilitators from across the Purdue Extension program areas to coach communities through the development of a high-quality action plan for their public spaces. This action plan can guide decisions and better position communities to take advantage of opportunities to promote healthy eating and active living. The process cultivated broad participation and resulted in many actionable strategies.

One of those strategies was to explore ways to reimagine Second Street Park. The park serves as a gateway to downtown Connersville and is on the well-known Whitewater Valley Railroad line. The neighborhood also has its challenges. In addition, the park itself had been neglected and was in significant disrepair.

Comes a Time.

The EVPS:CHC team put Becky in touch with Dr. Aaron Thompson and his Landscape Architecture students. The collaboration between the students and the community members was unique, two-way, and inspirational.

What started as a pilot program in 2017-8 was giving rise to a transformation in an area that long-needed it. The whole story is told in this Purdue Extension article and Fayette County Community Foundation overview. It is an amazing one.

However, progress wasn’t made.

Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t help. But, funding challenges and variable community support began to test the project’s feasibility.

Comes a Time.

Finally, in September 2021, a glimmer of hope – a rekindled flame. Through Becky’s efforts and the support of many partners, a Park Party provided the “light” that started “feelings liftin’!”

And, last week, we learned that all of the collective community efforts had finally “Lift(ed) that baby right up off the ground,” with the announcement that the fundraising efforts for the J. Long Memorial 2nd Street Park had finally exceeded the goal of $250,000.

Starting back to 2014 and walking through everything that has taken place up to this very moment makes last week’s news even more special. Of course, it didn’t have to be this hard, but we all knew it would never be that easy. Community development takes time and it takes a collective energy. And, as Becky Marvel has shown us, it takes humility, empathy, and passion coupled with strength, persistence, and dedication.

As you think about your community, when will its time come?

****************************************

If you would like to make a donation to help fund the J. Long Memorial 2nd Street Park, please send/make checks payable to:

Connersville Parks and Recreation
Friends of the J. Long Memorial 2nd Street Park
2900 North Park Road
Connersville, IN 47331

Or through this secure PayPal link.

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