Blog: Amplify

Creating a Welcoming Community

This post is part of the #CF100 Series of blog posts. The Council on Foundations is marking the 100th anniversary of the nation’s first community foundation, The Cleveland Foundation, by highlighting the roles of community foundations with this series.

See where it all began at our
Fall Conference for Community Foundations in Cleveland this October!

Columbus, Indiana is a town of 46,000 best known for being the worldwide headquarters of Cummins Inc. and according to the Smithsonian Magazine a “veritable museum of modern architecture”

Heritage Fund-The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County sought to get ahead of the rapidly expanding diversity in a traditionally homogeneous Midwestern community. The link between an economically successful community and the welcoming atmosphere of that community was well documented. By focusing the community on embracing diversity we would be creating the kind of community that people would want to live in, making recruiting and retention of employees an easier job for our business and industry base.

So in a somewhat unusual move for a community foundation, Heritage Fund launched a study in 2004 to gauge the town’s welcoming level. Using a data based approach the welcoming level for various minority groups (about 14% of the population) was quantified. The results were disappointing for a community that had long prided itself on being a friendly place to raise a family. It was clear that not all groups of people experienced being welcomed the same way. The study was repeated in 2010 and showed improvements in some areas but not all.

Both studies were presented to multiple community groups in an attempt to enlighten and educate the community about the diverse people coming to the community and how the community might help make those individuals and families feel at home more quickly.

It took many conversations at all levels of the community and slowly things began to change. Some new community groups were formed like young professionals and the Columbus Young Professionals and the Columbus Area Multi Ethnic Organization (CAMEO). Major institutions like schools and health care began to talk about welcoming schools and welcoming hospitals. The Mayor talked about the Welcoming Community as a community value. The CEO of Cummins pointed to the community’s efforts in welcoming community as a key reason in their decision to grow employment in Columbus.

Ten years after welcoming community launched, the community foundation is piloting the next phase, a staffed center to help connect individuals and organizations with the community. The center will use Community Navigators to help get people connected to the community more quickly and to connect the community to the wide ranging and quickly expanding diverse organizations.

Our community has embraced the idea of welcoming community. We know that we must continue to encourage, champion and incentivize the effort. The payoff for this work is a more tolerant, friendly, creative and vibrant community. Well worth the effort.

Tracy Souza is Pesident and CEO of the Heritage Fund-The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County.

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