Hello and welcome to our 2021 Civic Update! This year, our Civic Update will be virtual, but we hope to host this as an in-person event in the future.
So, what can you expect out of this Civic Update? Well, we have broken down this Update into a few parts: our organization update, a Vision Plan update, and a look into the ~future~.
Our Organization's Update
Over the last 7 years, our organization has experienced much change. We gained many wonderful board members, had a few position changes between the president's, treasurer's, and secretary's seats, and we unfortunately saw a dwindling of our board size as some members moved on to other things. We decided to take on an employee in 2019, who since then has been coordinating and facilitating the week-to-week business of our organization, and helps us come up with ideas on how to better support and be active in our community.
Current ValpoNEXT Team
Read about our active board members and our current Business and Communications Coordinator:
Board President: Spencer Skinner
Spencer joined ValpoNext as a board member when the organization was founded in 2014. Spencer was initially one of the co-leaders of the Economic Vitality Community Action Committee, and was elected President in November 2019.
“ValpoNext has lent a voice to the community to shape it in ways that are important to individual citizens. The issues raised in the early days of our plan have shaped the Human Rights Ordinance, allowed engagement with citizens and their elected officials, and has organized smaller groups which have continued to raise issues to people who may not have otherwise felt comfortable speaking up in a larger forum.”
Fundraising Chair: Rich Schmidt
Rich served on the initial ValpoNEXT committee that gathered input from hundreds of community members in 2014. Since then he has served in a variety of ways: helping conduct meetings on Inclusion and Diversity, hosting conversations on race and affordable housing, and serving as the fundraising chair on the board.
"From the start, ValpoNEXT has worked to hear from as many people as possible, especially from those 'on the margins' whose voices are typically not the loudest in the room. We all tend to listen primarily to people who are like us and to tune out or miss other voices. So I appreciate that ValpoNEXT has sought out the hopes, dreams, and ideas of as many neighbors as possible and has created opportunities for neighbors to make new connections with each other."
Our Secretary: Isaac Carr
Isaac began as a member of the Economic Vitality Community Action Committee, and was honored to join ValpoNEXT as a board member in 2018.
“ValpoNext has been a bridge between the voice of the community and those elected to lead the City of Valparaiso. The people of Valparaiso made their wishes known through nine initiatives, which ValpaoNext was created to support community members in accomplishing those initiatives. Since that time, dozens of actionable items have positively impacted the community as a whole.”
Our Business and Communications Coordinator: Emily Whited
Emily has been an employee of ValpoNEXT since July of 2019, and has had an ever-changing position with us. She first came on as a Volunteer Coordinator, and her role shifted to becoming more about communications, marketing, and business development. She is the brains behind the marketing of our organization, and actively thinks of new ways to have our organization working with other organizations and groups in our community to expand on and support our Vision Plan.
"ValpoNEXT has expanded my professionalism, and has allowed me to have a deeper appreciation for our city. I love being able to help other organizations expand their reach and feel like I'm helping in some small way to support local organizations and businesses through the work I do here."
So, what in the world have we been doing?
Click on the audio link to listen to Emily speak on this topic. The audio is transcribed below-
“Hello! My name is Emily and I am the Business and Communications Coordinator here at ValpoNEXT. In my time with ValpoNEXT, we have really taken our organization to the next level and have been much more active with our community. We have built a platform on our Facebook page where we share opportunities for our community to be involved with, general information that might affect community members, and create some fun campaigns related to both Civic Engagement and Diversity and Inclusion.
During the election last year, we had a fantastic Facebook campaign where we shared so much information about the history of elections, political parties, and information voters should have nowadays in order to be effective and educated voters. Without bias, we encouraged all of-age citizens to vote for whomever they knew they wanted in office positions, in order to have the most accurate representation of leadership for the people that we can have. This voting campaign was very important to our organization, as we exist to be the on-ramp for civic engagement, and voting is the most civically engaged thing we as Americans can participate in.
Moving away from voting, this year, we’ve stepped up our game even more and have been really honing in on the Diversity and Inclusion Initiative in our Vision Plan by celebrating and supporting different communities within our larger community of Valparaiso. We have celebrated the many heritage months throughout the year by sharing resources and ways to support those groups of people that descend from the specific heritages we are celebrating. We most recently celebrated Hispanic History Month, which was a lot of fun for me to put together. The way I have been looking at these projects is that it is not our job to tell you the stories of these people and cultures we are celebrating, it is our job to share resources for you to learn their stories and for people in those communities to tell you their stories themselves. I have been really loving putting these together this year, and am excited to continue learning about and supporting these groups of people, their cultures, their pasts, and their futures.
Now, the last big project we have been doing both on Facebook and our email subscription base is our “Organization Collaborations.” We have been reaching out to many organizations and groups in the community that do meaningful and positive work, and do small collaborations with them, which spreads the word via Facebook and email about their group or organization. First and foremost, we do these collaborations to support the organizations’ growth, and spread the word on organizations that are both well known and not well known in our community, but still do equally great things. Secondly, we do these collaborations to connect our followers to opportunities in our community to be civically engaged. We share volunteer opportunities and other ways the community can support and get involved with the organizations we are working with. We also tie these collaborations to our own Vision Plan when we talk about them, as they all, in their own ways, are expanding on and supporting the many initiatives we outline in our original Vision Plan.
I myself have been really enjoying expanding ValpoNEXT’s online presence, and our presence in the community as well.
Now, I do think that this organization has been expected to be a powerful catalyst for massive change in our community, but truthfully that expectation is just too high. With the changes our organization has gone through and the journey it has been on figuring out where it stands in the community, I think the more realistic expectation is for ValpoNEXT to do the following: 1. is to be the on-ramp for civic engagement like we have been, 2. is to assess and reward ways the community has been supporting our original Vision Plan, and 3. encourage members of the community to help each other make the Vision Plan’s Action Agenda a reality.
I am very excited to continue to grow our organization’s presence next year, and do even bigger and better things in our community, and I can’t wait to see where our organization will take us in the future.”
After the establishment of our organization in 2014, we had a great presence within the community, and a good connection to the city. We hosted community groups monthly that were centered around different agendas in the Vision Plan (Group Topics: Economic Vitality, Equity and Inclusion, Nurturing Our Young People, and Sense of Place); and we hosted a Civic Pitch Night in 2018 that allowed 5 people from the community to pitch their ideas that would make a small part of Valparaiso better. In this Pitch Night event, we crowned the winner with an in-kind donation to help them get that idea started, and connected community members in a networking-like mixer. In 2019 and 2020, we planned another Pitch Night event, but with the pandemic came the cancellation of the event, and the organization hard-pressed to know where to go from there.
Each year since 2014, we were given a monetary match by the city for the amount of money we were able to raise throughout the year, but that agreement was only in effect until the end of 2019. We are no longer financially supported in any way by the city, and rely fully on the donations of the community. We know many people have mixed feelings about where we should receive our funding from, but we are not here to debate the ins and outs of it, we are just here to be as transparent and matter-of-fact as possible.
All copyright credit goes to original photographer. We do not own this picture and no copyright infringement is intended.
Vision Plan Update
In the original ValpoNEXT Vision Plan, there is an "Implementation Matrix" that shows who in our community is responsible for moving each initiative forward in our city throughout the years; whether it be short-term, long-term, or somewhere in the middle (Pages 26-30 in our Vision Plan). Here, we will give a comprehensive update on that matrix, and connect each Initiative with the groups, organizations, and general implementations that came out of the discussions that created the entire Plan.
We encourage our community members to connect to the listed leaders and expand on what has been done or not done for each Action Agenda under each Initiative. Find the one you are most passionate about, and make some change! Volunteer your time, contact the city, donate to projects; anything you can to keep driving the wishes of the original Vision Plan. We have linked ways to connect to groups involved, departments in the local government, and ways to volunteer with organizations and groups that align with the Vision Plan's goals in their own ways.
Looking to the ~Future~
Civic Pitch Night Event!
Help us continue to help our community work toward advancing our Vision Plan initiatives by fostering ideas that our community members have!
There will be a handful of five minute presentations, Q&A time, and a little networking mixer that will offer resources and refreshments. We'll have local experts in attendance to link up with attendees, think through idea logistics, marketing, and city processes behind making the next big idea a reality.
This event does not yet have a set date or time, but we are aiming for mid to late April or early May.
Submissions to be one of the handful of presenters with a great idea will be accepted until the beginning of March, where we will review all ideas and will choose those that will advance to the Pitch Night event!
If you are interested in submitting an idea, please do so via the "Civic Pitch Night Submission" button below!
Civic Update Event
Each Fall/Winter we are hoping to host an in-person Civic Update Event, which would basically be an event version of this Update that you are reading!
We would invite community members to attend, speak on what kind of work they have been doing to advance the Vision Plan's expectations, and it would be a great networking event for those in the community that want and/or need it. We are hoping that by having a yearly Update event, we can keep our community more up-to-date and involved with all things Valpo.
These Update events might look like a small event with selected community members and information spread to the community after, or a larger event where anyone is welcome to attend. We are not sure what they will look like year-to-year, but if you have any ideas, we are more than happy to hear them! Let us know in the feedback section at the bottom of this Update.
Growing Our Organization
In order to have a successful organization, we must continue to grow with our community. In our recent past, we grew stagnant in our day-to-day business, and truthfully missed many opportunities to grow our organization. We feel that our organization is now growing in the right direction. ValpoNEXT exists to be the on-ramp for civic engagement, and we have taken on the role of identifying ways that our community can and does support the original ValpoNEXT Vision Plan.
On the ValpoNEXT side of things, our goals for the upcoming few years will be the following:
- Growing our Board of Directors. It is very important for the success of our organization. We aim to grow our board starting in January of 2022 when the holiday craziness slows down.
- Having community-involved meetings. Meetings and gatherings for and about the community that all are welcome to attend will connect our organization that much more to the people of our city, and will get those people more involved with us.
- Putting together a more involved voter program that helps register people to vote, teaches them the history and importance of voting, and shares resources that allows them to educate themselves on who they are voting for. Voting is one of the best ways to be civically engaged, and educated voting is incredibly important for accurate representation of government officials for the people.
- Continued celebration of the diversity of our community and world through social media, email projects, and collaborations with local diversity-centered organizations. This is important to sustain our Embracing Our Diversity Initiative. We love our diverse community, and we want to celebrate it as best we can.
- Expanding on our website, email, and Facebook reach- whether that's through virtual events, creative posts, and/or more collaborations with the community. We live in an ever-changing digital world, and we need to constantly adapt to it!
- Fundraise more to be able to do more with the organization. Not being financially supported by the city means we need to do the heavy lifting! More funds leads to more growth!
- Re-assessing the original Vision Plan and adapting it to our new community standards (with the help of the community and the city!). As the community changes, so does the expectations behind the Vision Plan, so every few years, we need to reassess that Plan to fit it to what the community wants and needs.
Encouraging Vision Plan Growth in Our Community
On the Vision Plan side of things, there are some Initiative Action Agendas that were set up to be progressed in the short- and medium-term, but nothing has been done with them. Along with that, there are agendas that have had SOME progress, but not enough. We would like to encourage the community to start having more in-depth conversations and reasonable actions that get us moving toward accomplishing these Agendas that need a little more love.
We hope to see more progress on the following Action Agenda items in the near future:
- 3c: Coordinate Social Services
- 3e: Celebrate Diversity
- 5d: Promote Green Building Practices
- More inclusion of the East Porter County schools/areas
While there might be some progress in each of these Action Agenda items, we feel the community can do more to support these parts of our city/community. Do you agree? Disagree? Let us know!
If you are interested in helping us encourage more growth and exploration of the Initiatives in our Vision Plan, please let us know; we will try to make the right connection for you in the community! (You can fill out the contact form below)
All copyright credit goes to original photographer. We do not own this picture and no copyright infringement is intended.
A Word From Our President:
"Hello, my name is Spencer Skinner; President of ValpoNext.
I would like to thank you for taking the time today to review our 2021 Vision Plan Update, and hope you have found the presentation of material both informative and inspiring. We are proud to present how our community has risen to advance the vision created within our plan, and look forward to the continuing growth towards fulfilling the framework established when our friends and neighbors gathered to outline their vision for Valparaiso’s future.
The past year or so has brought some challenges for our organization to overcome, not unlike so many members of our community. The ValpoNext board has had several members leave the organization for a myriad of reasons since the start of 2020. It became difficult to meet our ambitious goals of previous years, and we found ourselves asking some real difficult questions. Is there a role for our organization to play within such an active community? Have we run out of ideas to develop ways to engage with our community? Should we wind the organization down, and just let the initiatives outlined in the Vision Plan occur organically without recognition or assistance?
We decided that, yes, our organization does have a role to play to continue to advance the Vision Plan, even though it may have needed to be scaled back until we had a chance to begin to grow again. We started small by looking to increase our online presence, and celebrating the progress on the Vision Plan being made by other community organizations. We were in the midst of planning our second Civic Pitch Night when everything shut down due to the pandemic. With the lack of available venues, we had to cancel the event, and search for another way to stay engaged with our community.
We decided to take the opportunity to use our website as a clearinghouse of information related to the pandemic. We established websites that centralized information being provided by both the state and county health departments, Valparaiso Community Schools and other sources to try and help our community’s residents and businesses. We tried to group the information in a way that mirrored the Vision Plan, and tried to make it easy to find, and updated as much as possible to remain current.
The information provided included information on the VCS free lunch program being offered over the summer of 2020, PPP loan information for our local businesses, and even links to local restaurants who began providing take out, delivery or on site pick up in order for residents to interact with our locally owned businesses.
We learned as a part of this effort we did have a strong foothold in our community as our website traffic increased month over month, and we decided to utilize this resource as a launching point for additional community engagement. We expanded on this theme by providing information to the community in order to further the discussion upon social justice that occurred later in 2020, and eventually evolved to utilize our platform to identify and partner with other community organizations to expand community engagement opportunity for residents.
The alliances we have made over the past year were merely the next step in our evolution to reengaging the community to advance the Vision Plan. We are looking forward in 2022 to continuing to grow our footprint within the community. We’re planning on reestablishing our Civic Pitch Night in the late spring, and expanding our board with people who are passionate about various initiatives of ValpoNext to once again work to deliver the promise that is outlined in our Vision Plan.
Valparaiso is a community full of engaged people who like to get involved to make our community a better place. It is our hope that through the partnerships we’ve made, and through future events and increased board interaction, we can continue to be the avenue for residents to share the vision of what our community aspires to be through collaboration and interaction with their interests.
Thank you again for taking the time to read our update for 2021, and we look forward to continuing our mission to make Valparaiso the most civically engaged community of its size."
Thank you, our wonderful community, for all the support you have shown us since we were founded in 2014, and the continued support you show us every day. We are grateful to exist in this wonderful community as an on-ramp for civic engagement, and as an ambassador for those in our community.
If you would like to connect with our board of directors, please contact us via the contact form below, and thank you in advance for your feedback!