Elkhart finds its inspiration

Three-minute speeches made at the "Inspire Elkhart" luncheon brought up subjects that included The Crossing, housing effort and education alliance.

Posted on March 27, 2014 at 7:31 p.m.

ELKHART — Sometimes, it’s the little known facts that can inspire.

On Thursday, March 27, nearly 90 people got a dose of invigoration as well as insights into local happenings during the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce’s second “Inspire Elkhart” luncheon.

Eleven speakers were given the chance to offer some inspiration in three to five minutes. While nearly everyone surpassed the time frame, many of the commentaries proved uplifting and informative.

“We have a lot of good stuff going on in Elkhart,” said Charrise McCrorey, a business coach who was one of the 11 speakers and addressed the audience about two-thirds of the way through the program. “I’m shocked.”

The following is a sampling of highlights:

Steve Gruber, a key organizer of downtown Elkhart’s ArtWalk program, gave a fast-paced, sometimes humorous outlook on the importance of art.

Gruber pointed to the success of several local benefits that used artwork to raise money, including Elkhart General Hospital Foundation's recent auction of heart-shaped statues to purchase portable defibrillators.

The event generated about $720,000, Gruber said.

“Not bad for 53,000 people in a rustbelt city,” Gruber said. “I came from Raleigh. It’s ten times bigger and there are auctions that don’t make half of that. That’s Elkhart people coming together for their hospital, using art.”

Rob Staley, founder of The Crossing, an alternative school for high school students, spoke of the triumphs the organization has enjoyed.

The Crossing is an accredited private school created to support public schools that empowers struggling students through education, job training and faith-based mentoring, Staley said.

The organization has been around for more than ten years and has 15 schools spread across the state serving about 1,000 students, Staley said.

“We have a tremendous amount of talented kids that think way outside of the box,” Staley said.

Years ago, the group established a tree removal service which led to a lumber service that sells hardwood and firewood. The firewood is sold through an arrangement with Martin’s Super Markets. Another spinoff involves a business that assembles and sells pallets, Staley said.

“The key is these kids are considered dumb, they’re considered ornery and cantankerous,” Staley said. “Tomorrow, they’ll be on the county council, they’ll be the next mayor. They are the entrepreneurs of the future.”

Nicole Bauman, a representative of the Prairie Wolf Collective, a group that is involved in two housing projects in south central Elkhart, told of their endeavors. One involves apartments on Wolf Avenue and the other is a “permaculture household” on Prairie Street known as the Red Oak Community House.

The Prairie Street project is more of an experimental effort that would feature community space for meetings, workshops, concerts, prayer and potlucks, Bauman said.

The Prairie Street house needs roof work, insulation and new windows, she said.

“We’re starting with one abandoned house and one abandoned lot in one marginalized, yet resilient, neighborhood,” Bauman said. “We’re trying to create a model for affordable, sustainable housing, using reclaimed materials, heating with wood to reduce heating costs … and with a basis for shared labor, working with our neighbors.”

The group’s first major fundraising campaign resulted in a collection of tools, materials and more than $11,000. She said the group was overwhelmed by the support.

“What we realized is that what we’re doing is not some crazy out there experiment. People are actually hungry for this, ready for this, needing this sort of hope and this sort of alternative,” Bauman said. “It might still be a little bit crazy, but we think that it’s time for this sort of thing.”

Elkhart County Commissioner Mike Yoder spoke about the importance of persistence and how it helped prevail in establishing the Horizon Education Alliance, a collection of education, business and community leaders striving to develop a curriculum in area schools that will help provide a better equipped workforce.

Yoder called it a unique collaborative effort unseen in other parts of the United States.

The group struggled at times with some resistance but continues to move forward.

“The problem is that it took 20 years to get there,” Yoder said. “If it weren’t for the passionate and persistent leadership of folks, some of whom are in this room, and leaders in this community, this education initiative would have become just another report on a dusty shelf.”

He added, “Many in this room, like me, might say that it’s a miracle that this alliance has achieved its current momentum and success, but that’s exactly what persistent and passionate leaders produce in communities — miracles.”


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