“How many of you are at an IDEA conference for the first time?” Heather Williams asked the audience of more than 100 at the start of the eighth IDEA Conference on March 4.

Dozens of people in the L.A. Pittenger Student Center ballroom at Ball State University raised their hands.

Williams beamed.

As the Associate Director in Ball State’s Office of Community Engagement, the program manager for Building Better Neighborhoods, the Muncie Action Plan (MAP) vice president, AND one of the organizers of the event, Williams was thrilled to see so many new faces in the crowd.

One of those first-timers was Carisa Aguilar.

 “I am at a place in my life now where I really want to give back to my community,” she said. “This was a good place to start.”

The Intentional Development and Education for Association (IDEA) conference brings together citizens and leaders representing Muncie’s neighborhoods to develop and strengthen community-building skills. IDEA presenters provide leadership training, share best practices for engaging residents, and connect neighborhoods with community resources.

This year’s “Aces for the Eighth” event was hosted by Building Better Neighborhoods, Muncie Action Plan and Shafer Leadership Academy. Contributing sponsors included the Ball State Office of Community Engagement, City of Muncie, Woof Boom Radio, Ball Brothers Foundation, HOPE, Inc., and Pink Leaf.

Another conference newbie, Melodie Meier, is an activities coordinator at the Recovery Café and had an information table at the event. Meier also managed to attend some of the sessions.

“It has been really interesting so far,” she said midway through the event. “It’s nice to see everyone here mingling with others in the community and getting information they can take back to their organizations and neighborhoods.”

Sessions were divided into three poker-themed areas: Chip and a Chair (Strategic Engagement), All In (Community Initiatives), Family Pot (Community Engagement), and Up the Ante (Immersive Learning).

Darbi Strahle was one of the “All In” presenters. She and Jena Ashby, both from the 8twelve Coalition on Muncie’s southside, shared information about guiding and encouraging resident-driven advocacy.

“IDEA is a great space for folks from different community organizations to come together as one community – learning how to make connections [and] thinking about how to work better together,” she said.

Yvonne Thompson, Executive Director of the Muncie Human Rights Commission and panelist in a session about critical thinking, said during her opening remarks that “it’s awesome to see people who want Muncie to be better.”

The next step, she noted, is figuring out exactly what you are going to do to make Muncie better.

Courtney Marsh, president of the neighborhood association on the south side of Muncie, has some big plans already.

“I have so many ideas to take back to our neighborhoods,” she said as she flipped through pages of notes on her table during lunch. “I am always looking for new ways to engage people, and I got some really good tips today.”

The event also included a State of the City video presentation from Mayor Dan Ridenour, and update on the Muncie Action Plan’s Strategic Investment Plan, and a Candidate Meet and Greet featuring more than 20 candidates running for local offices.

Awards were also given to leaders, projects and, well, trash collectors.

The 2022 Spring and Fall Neighborhood Clean Up award winners were Whitely Community Council, first place for cleaning up 42,260 pounds of trash, and Industry Neighborhood, second place for cleaning up 23,200 pounds of trash.

A video “Thank You” to Mary Dollison – co-founder of Motivate Our Minds – was shown before she received her “Queen of Hearts” award for Neighborhood Leader of the Year. And the Neighborhood Project of the Year Award was given to the Country Village Creekwood Neighborhood Association for its playground project.

Mitch Isaacs, the Executive Director of the Shafer Leadership Academy, a founding partner of the IDEA Conference, perhaps best summed up this event before the first session even began.

 “We’ve gathered people who care about their community, care about where they live and are walking in spirit and unison to improve where they live, and to improve their community, and to use their hands and their feet and their voices to make the world a little better place,” he said during his welcome as MC for the event.