Columbia City Mayor stands behind table displaying small mailboxes

Mayor Ryan Daniels provides mailboxes to graduates.
Photo from City of Columbia City

Student in graduation cap and gown holds small mailbox.

Columbia City High School graduate receives mailbox.
Photo provided by City of Columbia City

November 2023 by Jeff Eads

Every community is wrestling with the same question “how do we attract and retain talent?”  Finding the solution to this problem is critical to the future of Indiana communities.   

While there can be many factors at play in this conversation the leaders of Columbia City have had a simple but creative approach as part of their overall strategy. “Let’s invite our own kids to come back home.” And that’s exactly what they have been doing since 2017.  

While fully appreciating that some students are going to head off to college, military, or some other adventure, local leaders let graduates know that they will always have a warm welcome home in the local community. To creatively make the point they provide a fitting physical symbol for the graduates to take with them, a mailbox.  

Mayor Ryan Daniel is a graduate of Columbia City High School. He left town to attend college and later returned home. He is now in his fourth term as mayor. Daniel wrote, “the program gives a small mailbox to each graduating senior from Columbia City High School on the day of their Graduation. In each mailbox are letters from community leaders (chamber director, county commissioner, school superintendent, hospital president, me, etc.) congratulating them on their accomplishment and encouraging them to see the world, then consider moving back to Columbia City/Whitley County when the time is right.” 

This intentional gesture of individual leaders writing letters to the students and providing a tangible token to remind them of home is a best practice. Other communities could replicate this and add their own unique touch. Maybe Elkhart County could give a toy RV with letters inside? Spencer County a Santa Claus? Marion County a toy racecar? What do you think? How could your community be intentional about inviting your graduates back home? When would you do it? What symbol or token would you use, if not a mailbox? 

If your community does something like this, email us and let us know. We’d love to share your story. 

Jeff Eads is the Director for Industry Engagement at Ball State University.