MUNCIE – More than 130 people attended this year’s IDEA conference March 2 on the campus of Ball State University.

And during his opening remarks, Mitch Isaacs said they all had something in common.

“We all love Muncie,” Isaacs, Executive Director of Shafer Leadership Academy, said. “We all love our community.”

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.

The 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, and Woof Boom Radio. Program sponsors were Ball Brothers Foundation, HOPE, Inc., The Community Foundation of Muncie & Delaware County, and the Muncie Sanitary District.

This year’s theme was “Dress to the Nines” and participants were encouraged to do just that (awards were given at the end of the conference in several categories such as “most flashy”). They even walked a red carpet and chatted with a camera crew – students from Burris Laboratory School.

“I am sorry to say I only dressed to the fives,” an attendee joked as they picked up their event swag bag at the start of the event, which featured more than a dozen sessions on topics in four main areas – Getting Connected, Neighborhood Association Essentials, Inclusive Community Engagement, and Developing Community Infrastructure.

A session led by Wilisha Scaife was packed with conference participants. The session was titled “Nothing About Us Without Us: Elevating and Celebrating Community Cultural Wealth in Developing Educators and Leaders for the Future.”

As a way to do just that, leaders in the Whitely neighborhood shared their favorite books featuring children of color and their connection to one of the cultural wealth “capital” categories – Aspirational, Family & Social, Navigational, Linguistic, and Resistant – which focus on the rich assets embedded in communities of color.

Frank Scott, Whitely Neighborhood Council president, noted that Whitely “had so much cultural wealth before we even had a name for it.”

The day also included a State of the City presentation by Mayor Dan Ridenour; an update on the city’s plans for April’s solar eclipse from Michele Owen, and a review and highlights of various ARP projects, presented by Mo Orbin of Muncie Action Plan (MAP) and Heather Williams, Associate Director in Ball State’s Office of Community Engagement, the program manager for Building Better Neighborhoods, and MAP president. Both Williams and Orbin are also members of the IDEA planning committee.

Old West End Neighborhood Association’s Brad King received the Neighborhood Leader of the Year. The Neighborhood Project of the Year was awarded to Minnetrista Central Neighborhood Association’s ARP micro-grant project. And South Central and Whitely neighborhoods received awards for the most trash collected during clean-ups days, presented by the Muncie Sanitary District.

In a blazer covered in a print of blue watercolor-like flowers, Chuck Tuite (definitely dressed to the nines) was an IDEA first timer.

Tuite is the new president of the Robinwood Neighborhood Association.

“I wanted to see how all of the neighborhoods come together to learn new things at IDEA,” he said. “I also thought it would be a great opportunity to build relationships with other neighborhoods and the city government and potential partners.”

CenterPoint Scholars Announced

Muncie Central High School student Gracie Scholl, 17, was also attending IDEA for the first time.

“I have already learned so much,” Scholl said after attending the session “How to Run a Meeting.”

Scholl was one of several CenterPoint Scholars who attended the event, the first of several neighborhood-focused activities the 10 Scholars will participate in over the next 12 months. The Scholars were recognized during lunch.

Other CenterPoint Scholars are Alexis Dishman, Bernice Graham, Christah Brantley, Judah Smith, Marquiese, Napoleon Prince Jr., Rheaunna Jones, T’eLar Fasel, and William Thomas.

CenterPoint Scholars is designed to cultivate a cohort of dedicated resident leaders who are passionate about enhancing the quality of life in their neighborhoods. The program will follow a structured curriculum that encompasses listening, learning, implementing, and celebrating the progress made. By March 2025, the CenterPoint Scholars Program will have trained 10 neighborhood leaders, equipping them with essential skills for advocacy, resident engagement, and project management.

The program is possible with a grant from CenterPoint Energy, with additional sponsorship support from the City of Muncie and The Community Foundation of Muncie and Delaware County.

This collaborative initiative includes Muncie Action Plan (MAP), Shafer Leadership Academy, Ball State University’s Bowen Center for Public Affairs, 8twelve Coalition, and Ball State University’s Office of Community Engagement.

Christah Brantley, who works in human resources at a care facility, said her reasons for applying to become a CenterPoint Scholar and for attending the IDEA conference were the same.

“I want to become more involved in the community and have a part [to play] in what happens here,” she said. “So, I am out here thriving and learning things.”

That’s exactly what IDEA organizers hoped for when putting this conference together.

“We know that the entire day of the conference is crammed packed full of information, updates and how-to’s,” said Krista Flynn, Program Coordinator in the Office of Community Engagement at Ball State and a member of the IDEA planning team. “My hope is that each person goes away with at least one thing that they can take back to their neighborhood to either share with others, or put into practice and make a change.”

IDEA plans to celebrate its 10th year by throwing a party – a dance party – in 2025.