Podcast: Porter County Career Center delivers on multiple ValpoNEXT initiatives

Jon Groth, taken by John J. Watkins by the NWI Times

ValpoNEXT Coordinator Kathy Sipple speaks with Jon Groth at the Porter County Career Center about its programs and successes. This organization is available to every junior and senior high school student in Porter County. It offers a myriad of programs intended to give students a taste of many job fields as well as introduce essential training techniques. The PCCTC is focused on industries and employment, and it gives students a way to demonstrate learned skills to potential employers. With a focus on real-world career readiness, the PCCTC knows that not every student is destined for a four-year university and offers a different approach to entering the workforce. Their website explains the 35+ programs available, as well as the different initiatives underway. Groth explains several ways the Career Center has gone greener in the past decade, and discusses a recent project to save the historic Valparaiso Grand Trunk Railroad Depot.

Transcript Notes

  • The ValpoNEXT initiative 2D is focused on student readiness.

The Porter County Career Center is available to every student in every Porter County high school. It offers 35 different programs, such as automotive technician work, health occupations pre-nursing, welding, machine trades, and more.

    • This program is tied to industry and employment.
        • There is a competency based certificate program that lists the skills they can perform.
      • There are awards for outstanding students, excellent students, work ethic, and honors programs.
    • Students learn how to write resumes, interview skills practice, and a LinkedIn profile.
    • The Porter County Career Center website has several videos that explain how this program helps prepare its students for the workforce.
    • The Career Center allows students to try out their potential field of work before leaving high school and either going to college, undergoing more training, or entering the workforce.
        • They are also connected and prepared to get further training in order to be prepared for specific jobs.
      • Students can avoid college debt and obtain solid employment opportunities through the Porter County Career Center.
    • After the education budget was cut, the program needed to find ways to save money. They began turning off lights and devices when not in use.
        • Now, they use LED lights instead of fluorescent which saved $10/year/fixture (as calculated by the students).
      • Lights now have motion detectors so that they are only on when people are present to use them.
  • Preserved the Valparaiso Grand Trunk Railroad Depot, built in 1912.
    • Moved the historic building to the Porter County Career Center campus in order to preserve it for future generations.

Getting Involved!

Podcast: Elizabeth Lynn on ValpoNEXT’s Start

Elizabeth Lynn

ValpoNEXT Coordinator Kathy Sipple speaks with Elizabeth Lynn, Founding Director at the Center for Civic Reflection at Valparaiso University and outgoing Director at VU’s Institute for Leadership and Service.

Lynn and Sipple discuss the initial issues that formed the foundation of the ValpoNEXT planning process. After hiring an outside organization and organizing a variety of methods to hear public opinions, the developed and in-depth set of recommendations for the city. This plan is to carry Valparaiso through the next several decades and help it become the most engaged city of its size. The nonprofit group ValpoNEXT was formed to connect and guide volunteers in the community to focus strengths towards these common goals. The necessity of the community board meetings is emphasized, as well as the need for volunteers (as well as details to get involved).

Elizabeth Lynn Background

Dr. Lynn teaches in the field of philanthropic leadership and service, conducts research on the role of the humanities in American civic life, served on the Valparaiso Board of Zoning Appeals, the governing board of Indiana Humanities, and the advisory board for the Lake Family Institute on Faith and Giving at Indiana University.

She holds a PhD in Religion and Literature from the University of Chicago and is the Co-editor with Adam Davis of The Civically Engaged Reader. Most recently she authored An Ongoing Experiment: State Councils, the Humanities, and the American Public (Kettering Foundation, 2013).

Transcript Notes

  • Elizabeth Lynn was the co-chair when ValpoNEXT was being planned. She is also the founding director at Valparaiso University’s Center for Civic Reflection, as well as the director at the Institute for Leadership and Service.
  • There is a decline in civic engagement in the United States as a whole, but members of the Valparaiso community were still healthily engaged.
  • The community hired an organization called Planning NEXT to craft a broad vision for Valparaiso’s future.
    • Organized summits, small group focus sessions, and other meetings to get advice and recommendations for Valparaiso citizens.
  • This created the nonprofit ValpoNEXT to form community boards in order to connect interested individuals within the city.
  • Recommendations in the plan focus on being a welcoming community, celebrating diversity, and encouraging interactions between people of widely different backgrounds within Valparaiso.
  • All Together Valpo (ATV) was a task force formed by the mayor based on ValpoNEXT’s vision plan. It was made up of three subcommittees working on different issues related to diversity and inclusion.
    • Hiring a more diverse workforce within the city (schools, public works, administration, etc.), affordable housing, how to become more welcoming and inclusive in general.
    • Welcoming Valpo committee was together till 2015 and put forward a report of recommendations that helped lead to Maggie Clifton’s hiring as the Director of Community Engagement.
  • Community board meetings allow citizens to meet one another, learn what community boards have been working on, and engaging new people in the overall process of ValpoNEXT.
  • ValpoNEXT helps connect people in and catalyze the civic energy that exists in Valpo.

The relationships built when people connect at community board meetings will run for a long, long time. This plan is a long-term community vision.

ValpoNEXT could use note takers, documenters, and more! Contact at info@valponext.org.dream.website

Getting Involved!

Podcast: Eric Zosso on Economic Vitality and ValpoNEXT

Eric Zosso of Zoseco Coworking

ValpoNEXT Coordinator Kathy Sipple speaks with Eric Zosso, ValpoNEXT President and leader of the Economic Vitality Community Action Committee. They discuss current plans by the Economic Vitality group to work with the City and install a fiber network. Zosso also brings up potential resources to tap-into in the future. He talks about the Valparaiso Creative Council, headed by Nicole Upton. Maggie Clifton’s role as the connection between ValpoNEXT and the City of Valparaiso is explained in further detail. Sipple and Zosso “call out” active members of the Economic Vitality community board for their valuable volunteering, and they discuss avenues for interested parties to get involved with ValpoNEXT activities.

Transcript Notes

  • Eric Zosso is the president of ValpoNEXT and also leads the Economic Vitality community board. He also owns a co-working space downtown called Zoseco Coworking.
  • First initiative, based on public desire, is to facilitate new downtown housing.
  • Want to manage fiber network development: the city is actively pursuing this avenue.
    • Possibly develop a meeting and conference center to encourage events that play a part in both tourism and in our business strengths.
    • Creating airport support services (future plans).
  • Promoting green practices with sustainable development in our future.
  • Nicole Upton serves as the President of the Board for the Valparaiso Creative Council, connected to initiatives originally outlined in the ValpoNEXT Vision Plan under Culture and Recreation.
  • Maggie Clifton is the director of Community Engagement for the City of Valparaiso.
    • The Human Relations Council established this position to promote a deliberate effort in the realm of community engagement.
    • As ValpoNEXT is not a city institution, Maggie Clifton can serve as a point person to connect passionate citizens with the City of Valparaiso.
  • Active participants
    • Spencer Skinner is a board member for ValpoNEXT who works in Chicago in the housing sector.
    • Isaac Carr is the CEO of CCSK Law in town. He is dedicated, structure, organized, and has been recently added to the board of ValpoNEXT.
    • Bill Herring works with SCORE to give no-cost business advice to local startups.
  • Always looking for new diverse members to attend meetings to contribute opinions, knowledge, and passion.
  • The Equity and Inclusion group is tackling affordable shelter and seeing how it relates to our city as a whole.
    • Hosted a summit in May to get all five groups together with members of the community.

Getting Involved!

Podcast: Nurturing Our Young People with Garner Tullis

Garner Tullis of Our Greater Good

ValpoNEXT Coordinator Kathy Sipple speaks with Garner Tullis, Nurturing Our Youth Community Action Committee Leader and Executive Director of Our Greater Good. Tullis explains his ties to ValpoNEXT from its initiation, as well as his current day-job and how it relates to the goals of the Nurturing our Youth initiative. He goes on to describe a study performed by the Social Impact Research Center investigating the social and socioeconomic statuses of Valparaiso residents and how these have changed over time.

Tullis highlights student readiness programs, the need for public engagement in the school system, and the free preschool program Ready, Set, Kindergarten. He goes on to describe the ways he personally is working with the youth of the Valparaiso Community School system, and how passionate adults can also get involved with Valparaiso’s future in its children.

Get a copy of the City Wide Vision Plan document we reference in this episode. << CLICK HERE>>

A link to the population and housing study mentioned in the episode is available as well. <<CLICK HERE>>

This community board meets monthly to address Initiative 2 in the document, which includes:

  • 2a: Invest in Community Schools
  • 2b: Evaluate School Governance
  • 2c: Create a Teacher Excellence Program
  • 2d: Create a Student Readiness Program
  • 2e: Prepare Student Master Plan
  • 2f: Encourage Public Engagement in Schools

Transcript Notes

  • Garner Tullis served as the Interim Coordinator of ValpoNEXT for around 1.5 years before Kathy Sipple was appointed to this role.
  • Tullis now heads the Nurturing our Young People Community Action Committee for ValpoNEXT.
    • Day job is working with children in schools and in school-readiness programs.
  • Action Committee educates people on the state of the union with regards to school demographics (which have undergone a dramatic shift in the last 15-20 years).
    • Paint a picture of our needs and where our strengths are.
  • Study commissioned to investigate affordable housing, social demographics, population demographics, etc.

The population of families that are economically distressed or that are living under the poverty line is growing faster than any other demographic population in Valparaiso. This growth outpaces this same growth in Porter County and every other county in the state of Indiana.

  • The number of low income individuals grew by 40{efe19b6e533915bb0f311f21b6334ede7e6be12ea8cb05defd5c5546279f1067}, from 3,600 people in 2007 to 5,150 in 2013.
  • This CommunityAction Committee has focused on creating a student readiness program based on changes in demographics.
    • There is an opportunity to use secondary education to prepare students for college and trade opportunities.
    • Education must prepare students in our city for adulthood based on the young people present.
  • Encouraging public engagement in our schools.
    • Volunteer alongside teachers and administrators as mentors and tutors.
    • Opportunity for people to spend one hour a week to form a significant and consistent adult relationship.
    • Ready, Set, Kindergarten: Free Pre-K school readiness program for all 4 year olds that meets at every elementary school for 2 hours once a week from September to May: designed so that students are familiar with teachers, school layout, schedules, and more.
  • What are the things that volunteers can participate in immediately, where is the greatest need, and where can we make an impact the fastest?
  • Garner Tullis meets with Cecily Powell and Valparaiso Community Schools students during the school day in order to get youth input.

Getting Involved!

Podcast: Valparaiso neighborhood survey- we want your input! With Thais Carter

Jesse-Pifer neighborhood members plant trees

ValpoNEXT Sense of Place Community Action Committee leader Thais Carter wants to learn what residents think is important about building community in neighborhoods. In this episode she speaks with ValpoNEXT coordinator, Kathy Sipple, about the new survey created by Carley Lemmon, Assistant Planner for the City of Valparaiso.

This survey is a tool to help capture the variety of neighborhood activities present in Valparaiso, as well as determine ways to measure this engagement. The Sense of Place initiative is tied to these actions, focusing on measures to name and brand neighborhoods as well as developing a “Love your Neighborhood” program. Carter then discusses a potential city-wide block party, and explains how this communication and connection between neighbors is an extension of civic engagement.

Valparaiso residents are invited to share their ideas using this link. << CLICK HERE >>

Transcript Notes

  • Valparaiso has strong neighborhood identities, especially in historic and older neighborhoods.
  • Creating a survey asking residents about the people and places that resonate in their neighborhoods and how they participate.
    • Learn about the different things each neighborhood is active in.
    • Create indicators to develop a neighborhood toolkit
  • Sense of Place Initiative
    • Naming and branding neighborhoods.
    • Developing a “Love your Neighborhood” program.
  • No matter where you live in the city, your neighborhood’s sense of place matters, too.
  • Survey was created by Carley Lemmon, a Ball State graduate who has returned to Valpo in order to give back to her home.
  • Trying to create a community-wide block party.
    • Jesse-Pifer/Memorial neighborhood is an example of a neighborhood that is already throwing block parties.
    • Create a template for a city-wide block party in partnership with the Park’s department.
    • Take place at 5 parks throughout the city at the same time with food, music, and activities.
    • Celebrate what it means to be a neighbor in Valparaiso.
    • Build strong connections as neighbors and fellow citizens.
  • Civic engagement
    • Voting, showing up to meetings, etc.
    • ALSO learning to know your neighbors.
  • ValpoNEXT Twitter

Getting Involved!

Podcast: Equity and Inclusion with Jeff Lewis

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

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!