The Hamilton County Leadership Academy (HCLA) Class of 2023 recently met at the newly built Prairie Waters Event Center in Westfield, IN, which is the first integrated event center in the area. Our class was welcomed by Bruce Buchanan, fourth-generation owner of Flanner Buchanan Services. Bruce provided insights into the history of their business, which dates to the early 1900s. “HUGE” thanks was given to Riverview Health for sponsoring this class day. Dave Hyatt, chief operating officer at Riverview Health, spoke about some of the underlying issues revolving around the impact of COVID on patient recovery, therapy, and overall mental health, which leads to the need for Social Services.

In my current role as vice president of operations for Duke Energy, my sole purpose is not to just produce energy and deliver the product to our customers’ homes or businesses—it’s to power the lives of our customers and the vitality of our communities. With that being said, I focus on every aspect of our community, and social services is an area of my focus. I have lived in Hamilton County for three years and I have seen individuals and families in our communities lack the proper care they need to manage their everyday lives. The effects of COVID, stress, mental illness, unemployment, poverty, etc. can affect any one of us at any given time. The services that were discussed in our class are making a difference, but we must provide support as leaders in the community to ensure that there are programs in place to support struggling families. Our help is truly needed in social services.

Julie Plake with United Way of Central Indiana shared her view and data on the poverty levels in Hamilton County and surrounding areas. To be honest it was shocking to see the number of families that live in our area that are in this situation today. One of the most thriving communities in the country and 11.2% of individuals are living in poverty and 46% are one emergency away from being in poverty. Julie gave the class an exercise that sets a scenario around the expenses of someone living at the poverty level. We had to choose whether to have insurance for the family or not; eat 1, 2, or 3 meals per day; debate on whether you can save $20 or $50 weekly, and a few other scenarios. This was eye-opening to many in the class, but for me, I lived very close to this level during my childhood—parents choosing to pay for gas to get to work versus children eating 1 or 2 meals a day. My mother was sick most of my childhood and medical bills were unreal. I ask that when you see a person in your community in need of support, please put your good Samaritan hat on!

As the morning progressed, we heard from Nancy Chance with the Good Samaritan Network (GSN) of Hamilton County. Over the past 42 years, Nancy has served in many capacities, most recently as the Executive Director. GSN was formed in 1980 and currently has 68 agencies in Hamilton County and 42 food pantries. Nancy covered the many programs within the network, which are inclusive of therapy programs, mental health programs, housing, energy assistance, food pantries, and many other services. She stated that her largest need was funding for rent and utilities, as the cost of living is too high for lower-income families to live in Hamilton County.

From a leadership perspective, the mayor of Westfield, Andy Cook, shared his thoughts on how to support the communities in which we live. He is a huge advocate for our youth and was pivotal in creating a youth assistance program in Westfield. This program supports the youth, but overall, it helps the teachers, parents, and members of the community. I would encourage you all to continue providing support to programs that support our youth in any capacity.

I captured a great deal of information on how to successfully operate boards. Jodi Snell with Hedges provided excellent guidance to the group on leveraging the skills of board members and understanding the expectations of board members. Following processes and being intentional with goals and strategies, governance, strategic planning, program design, grant writing, fundraising, workshops, and training are essential to a successful/sustainable board. Some of the challenges that were noted were associated with trying to have a diverse board, engagement, strategic focus, recruitment, fundraising, and volunteerism. Jodi offered support to the group if anyone needed help with boards in their respective areas.

During the afternoon, several groups from non-profits provided insight into their services. The class members had previously noted their focus areas, which made it easy for the group to move to each of the non-profits based on priority level. We were able to discuss the support that each of the non-profits provided across the footprint of Hamilton County. It was evident that we have concerned community leaders who want to help people with mental illnesses, family support, health care, disability resources, children’s therapy, housing, senior care, youth & community development, and food insecurities. We had heartfelt conversations with each non-profit leader, listening to their story and their commitment to folks in our community.

As I close, please encourage others to reach out a helping hand in whatever capacity possible to help our community to overcome poverty, support mental illness, create affordable housing, support therapeutic needs for individuals and families, etc. This was a must needed class!