Equity and Inclusion

Podcast: Equity and Inclusion with Jeff Lewis

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Jeff Lewis

ValpoNEXT Coordinator Kathy Sipple speaks with Jeff Lewis, a member of the Executive Board and leader of the monthly Equity and Inclusion Community meetings. Lewis discusses the Equity and Inclusion Community Action Committee in depth. Some of its initiatives include “engaging our citizens” and “embracing our diversity,” which has translated to pushes for affordable housing and publicizing social services in Valparaiso. Diverse community members are asked to attend meetings if interested in order to bring together a wide variety of voices on each topic.

The Equity and Inclusion group’s connections to Valparaiso’s Advisory Human Relations Council are explained in depth. Lewis then goes on to discuss Project Neighbors, of which he is the acting president. This organization has formed several spin-offs to provide housing for vulnerable individuals, childcare, healthcare, and a variety of other services. Finally, they “call out” several individuals who have been active in the Equity and Inclusion community action committee, discussing their roles in the community and how they bring their own skills to help ValpoNEXT (as an example of how every volunteer is a tool for good).

Links referenced: Human Relations Council

Transcript Notes:

  • Jeff Lewis is serving as both the Equity and Inclusion Community Action Committee leader and as the treasurer for the ValpoNEXT executive board.
  • ValpoNEXT Vision Plan
    • Nine different initiatives were identified with multiple sub-topics.
  • Equity and Inclusion
    • Continuing the great energy developed over the course of the ValpoNEXT planning stage.
    • Initiatives 1) Engaging our Citizens, and 3) Embracing our Diversity.
    • Civic engagement, affordable housing and shelter.
    • Identify social services available in Valparaiso.
    • Conversation regarding living wage law.
  • Making sure everyone in the community is equally represented and has a voice to promote their needs.
  • Follow Us
  • Extension of the Human Relations Council
    • Eyes and ears out in the community.
    • Encourage everyone to attend monthly HRC meetings.
    • Support the work of the HRC and work to lift up the voice of the community.
  • Diagram of how ValpoNEXT is supposed to work
  • Lewis is the president of Project Neighbors
    • Provides housing to marginalized members of the community.
  • Project Neighbors spin-off projects
    • Project Neighbors also started the Hilltop Neighborhood House, which is a successful daycare
    • Project Neighbors founded a Hilltop Clinic which has become the HealthLinc Community Health Center.
    • Project Neighbors started the radio station WVLP, where community members play their favorite music and discuss important issues in Valparaiso.
  • Valparaiso Advisory Human Relations Council
    • Recommends best practices to both the mayor and the City Council.
  • Positive people who attend meetings of this board.
    • Willow Walsh with VU’s Social Action Leadership Team (SALT) and the Commission for an Inclusive Valpo Community (CIVC).
    • Candace Shaw and the Civic Incubator initiative.
    • Email info@valponext.org.dream.website to get into contact with these people and many more volunteers!
  • Looking for more diverse perspectives on these topics.
    • Many people arguing for the same things; Lewis desires debate in order to work through a diverse cross section of opinions.

Getting Involved!


Podcast: ValpoNEXT- A Short History and Where We Are Headed with Thais Carter

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Thais Carter

ValpoNEXT Coordinator Kathy Sipple speaks with Thais Carter, Board Secretary and Community Action Committee Leader for Sense of Place. They discuss the timeline of how ValpoNEXT came to be, the reasons it was formed, and several essential members. The necessity for citizen engagement and volunteering is a forefront of the conversation as a whole, as well as ValpoNEXT’s dedication to communicating, convening, and celebrating. Sipple and Carter also discuss the current community boards and their main focuses, and give examples of the work that said boards are producing now.

Download a copy of the ValpoNEXT Vision Plan here.


  • 2013: City of Valparaiso launches ValpoNEXT Vision Planning process, working with PlanningNEXT as its consulting partner. Elizabeth Lynn and Matt Evans co-chair Citizen Steering Committee.
  • December 2014: Valparaiso’s City Council unanimously adopts ValpoNEXT’s Vision Plan.
  • January 2015: Evans and Lynn co-chair Implementation Task Force.
  • January 2016: Interim Oversight Committee to steward organizational start-up. City invites Garner Tullis to serve as Interim Coordinator.
  • January 2017: Organization launches with a new board.
  • November 2017: Kathy Sipple appointed Coordinator.

Community Action Committees

  • Economic Vitality
  • Equity and Inclusion
  • Nurturing Our Young People
  • Sense of Place

Transcript Notes:

“ValpoNEXT exists to convene, communicate, and celebrate the work that citizens, organizations, businesses, and city leaders are doing to help us live our shared values and dreams for our community.”

  • Podcast is an opportunity for conversations with the community action committee leaders and members, citizens, organizations and other with ideas to share and help us toward our vision to have Valparaiso be the most civically engaged city of its size.
  • ValpoNEXT is focused on the conversation regarding who we wanted to be and how to get there.
  • Garner Tullis initially served as the interim coordinator in the beginning.

ValpoNEXT is focused on civic engagement and how we care for one another, and this is a national sentiment that we implement at the local level.

  • Executive committee (updated):
    • President: Eric Zosso
    • Secretary: Thais Carter
    • Treasurer: Jeff Lewis
    • Coordinator: Kathy Sipple
  • Board represents many niches within the Valparaiso community: want this organization to speak for everyone in Valpo.
  • This initiative is a volunteer-led initiative. ValpoNEXT, a 501(C)3 only has one part-time paid worker (Kathy Sipple); every other member is a volunteer citizen.
  • ValpoNEXT requires time, care, and resources from its citizens in order to function.
  • Communicate
    • Valpo is an amazing community, and ValpoNEXT wants to make sure everyone knows what options are available to help our community.
    • Become aware of all the ways our community members are stepping up.
  • Convene
    • Get all people invested in their projects the chance to get together and refine their work.
    • Bringing together the right people will amplify our ability to share our work and celebrate successes.
  • Celebrate
  • Community Action Committees: Public aspect of how ValpoNEXT functions
    • Encourage citizen presence at these meetings.
    • Check out our Facebook page to find the times and locations!
  • Current Community Action Committees
    • Economic Vitality
    • Equity and Inclusion
    • Nurturing Our Young People
    • Sense of Place
  • Land bank: Land banks are governmental entities or nonprofit corporations that are focused on the conversion of vacant, abandoned, and tax delinquent properties into productive use (Center for Community Progress)
    • ValpoNEXT will not create a land bank, but will provide information for passionate citizens so that they know how to achieve success.
  • Citizens who want to get involved but don’t know where to start can begin with ValpoNEXT.
    • Talk about what we want for our neighbors and for our families.

Getting Involved!


ValpoNEXT Appoints New Coordinator

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On Thursday, November 16th, the ValpoNEXT Board of Directors voted to approve Kathy Sipple as the organization’s new coordinator, replacing interim coordinator Garner Tullis. Sipple has been a Valparaiso resident since 2003 and has worked as a social media strategist and consultant since 2009. Besides her paid work, she has also been very involved in other aspects of building local community, including hosting a local, environmentally focused podcast called 219 GreenConnect and also last year founding CoThrive Timebank, a community service exchange, a project that received recognition from the Northwest Indiana Society of Innovators.

ValpoNEXT is a 501(c)(3) organization, established with support from the City of Valparaiso, and dedicated to helping the Valparaiso community realize its bold long term vision as put forth in the ValpoNEXT Vision Plan — a plan developed by hundreds of citizens and formally adopted by the City Council in 2014: Valparaiso aspires to be…the most civically engaged city of its size. The Valparaiso Community will be a place where people take care of one another and are highly involved in local community organizations and efforts. Active and progressive, with a strong sense of place and environmental ethic, it will honor authenticity and uniqueness in culture and business initiatives and seek the wellbeing of its people.

“We felt Kathy’s strong technology skills in combination with her community involvement in diverse sectors made her a great fit for this role,” said ValpoNEXT President, Julie Lauck. “Garner Tullis brought many strengths as well, and we are pleased that he will continue on as a board member for the Nurturing & Engaging Youth initiative.”

There are four other key areas addressed by the ValpoNEXT plan besides Nurturing & Engaging Youth. They are: Equity & Inclusion, Economic Vitality, Sense of Place and Culture & Recreation, each of which has its own Community Action Committee. Sipple will serve as liaison between the committees and the ValpoNEXT board of directors as well as the community at large.

“ValpoNEXT is constantly evolving,” states Lauck. “We looked at the myriad projects that came out of our initial Big Idea workshops and grouped the dozens of possible projects and ideas into these five impact areas. Though ValpoNEXT serves mainly to convene citizens, celebrate successes and communicate efforts and opportunities that ultimately will be completed by citizens, nonprofits and businesses.” Lauck also acknowledged that as various other community organizations were identified as being stakeholders for some of the initiatives they have found more permanent “homes” outside of ValpoNEXT.

“I am very excited to dig in and get started!” Sipple enthused. Be sure to follow ValpoNEXT on Facebook and give us feedback on our brand new ValpoNEXT website — what do you think? Sign up to receive email notifications for upcoming events at http://bit.ly/ValpoNEXTList. Note: regular board meetings will resume in January 2018 after a December holiday recess.

Culture and Recreation

Thank You ABC Supporters

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The team that presented Valparaiso’s plans to the America’s Best Communities judging committee in Durham, NC included, left to right: Mayor Jon Costas; Clerk Treasurer, Sharon Swihart; Flint Lake Elementary Art Teacher, Jessica Corral; Principal of Planning NEXT, Jamie Greene; Planning Director, Tyler Kent.

The City of Valparaiso extends its gratitude to all of the people and organizations that supported the city in the America’s Best Community competition. “Based on the support of our community and the partnerships we’ve made, we are confident that Valparaiso IS America’s Best Community,” said Mayor Jon Costas. “We’re proud to have been selected in the top 15 for the nation and the momentum we’ve built will ensure that the Creative District becomes a reality, title or not,” he said.

Last week, Valparaiso’s ABC representatives traveled to Durham, North Carolina to present the city’s plan to a judging committee. While Valparaiso did not advance into the finals, the team returned home with a $25,000 award to continue implementing plans for a downtown arts district.

“We’d like to thank everyone who had a hand in getting Valparaiso to the top 15 and for all the energy, ideas, and inspiration,” said Tyler Kent, Valpo’s Planning Director whose department took the lead in directing the process in Valparaiso. He, along with Mayor Costas and Flint Lake Elementary Art Teacher Jessica Corral were among those who traveled to the North Carolina for the presentation.

Kent and the city extend special thanks to the Valpo ABC team, which includes Aimee Tomasek, Bill Oeding, David Lee, Eric Johnson, Jessica Corral, Laura Campbell, Lisa Kiger, Maria Luisa Garcia – Verdugo, Matt Evans, Patrick Lyp, Rex Richards, Mary Jane Thomas, and Tyler Kent. Special thanks also to the entire art community and all who participated in meetings about the Creative District. The city also wishes to thank Jimmy Craig and Joyce Wady from Adtran who co-sponsored the city; and both Domenico Fornaro and Lawrence Gaines, local managers from Frontier Communications, a sponsor of the ABC competition. Thanks also to Jamie Greene and Planning NEXT for assistance in creating the ValpoNEXT Vision Plan and plan for the Creative District.

The ABC competition is sponsored by Frontier Communications, CoBank, The Weather Channel, and Dish TV. Designed to motivate communities in revitalization efforts, the competition now continues with eight finalists on a quest to be named America’s Best Community and winner of a $3 million prize. For more information about the competition and Valparaiso’s journey, visit americasbestcommunities.com.

Pictured in Image: The team that presented Valparaiso’s plans to the America’s Best Communities judging committee in Durham, NC included, left to right: Mayor Jon Costas; Clerk Treasurer, Sharon Swihart; Flint Lake Elementary Art Teacher, Jessica Corral; Principal of Planning NEXT, Jamie Greene; Planning Director, Tyler Kent.

Sense of Place

ValpoNEXT at American Planning Association National Conference

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Tyler Kent, Valparaiso Planning Director, and Jamie Greene, AIA, FAICP, Principal at Planning Next, presented at the American Planning Association’s National Conference in Phoenix, Arizona on April 2-5, 2016. The session, titled Unintimidated: Small Towns, Big Results, highlights the award winning planning effort behind ValpoNEXT and One City, One Vision Strategic Plan (Anniston, Alabama). The work behind these plans certainly does not end when the document is printed.

The panelists discussed how small communities can tackle great odds to manage outstanding planning processes through strong leadership, a focus on quality of place, and innovative approaches to engagement that generate emotional attachment. The presentation described how the City of Valparaiso is confronted with obstacles and challenges, communities can go with the trends and accept the status quo or take action to inspire change. The choice to be proactive has led to outstanding planning processes, surpassing expectations and resulting in significant implementation and high returns on investment.

Tyler and Jamie spoke to several hundred fellow planners about the ValpoNEXT process which included a nurturing and strong leadership to facilitate a bold vision, emphasis on creating quality of place to attract investment, and public emotional attachment through innovative approaches to public engagement. The City persevered and built momentum throughout the process, challenging the perceived limits of what smaller communities can do to take charge of their futures.

Culture and Recreation

Creative District Planning Award Presented to City Council

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Earlier this year, the Creative District Plan was honored with a 2016 Hoosier Planning Award by the Indiana American Planning Association. These annual awards showcase the profession of planning and celebrate Indiana’s finest projects and people. The “Outstanding Plan” award was presented to the City of Valparaiso’s Planning Director, Tyler Kent. A video was created summarizing the materials and people that led to the selection of Valparaiso’s Creative District Plan.

Recently, Valparaiso’s Planning Department presented the Hoosier Planning Award to city council.