Initiative aims to keep youth in Greenfield

GREENFIELD — Community stakeholders are including Greenfield students in developing programs and initiatives they hope will encourage them to make Greenfield their lifelong home.

Greenfield is one of five communities participating this year in the state’s My Community, My Vision program, a year-long effort aimed at helping students and city leaders develop a community plan that creates initiatives and programs that encourage youth to choose their rural hometowns over bigger cities.

When organizers surveyed about 150 Greenfield-Central High School students about their hobbies, career desires and whether those opportunities are currently available in the community, they learned roughly 80 percent have plans to leave Greenfield after graduating high school. Only 9 percent of the students surveyed said they plan to stay.

With those numbers in mind, city leaders say they want to launch programs and events that will help retain young talent. Getting youth involved in creating those programs might encourage them to stay, while also giving city officials a better idea of what young people and families are looking for in the cities and towns they call home.

City of Greenfield associate planner Jenna Wertman is helping to lead the effort, working alongside a group of local students and a Ball State University urban planning department student to launch community initiatives they hope will make Greenfield a place where young people want to live.

The group has brainstormed events and programs they believe will improve the city and encourage youth to become more involved citizens. Now, with the help of community stakeholders and leaders, they’re narrowing down their list of ideas as they prepare a final plan they’ll present next month in Indianapolis.

At first, the group wanted to focus on offering and establishing more opportunities for students to be creative through art, Wertman said. Survey results showed many students enjoy art and are considering it as a career.

Also, bringing more art to downtown is a goal included in city development plans, officials said.

As part of their project, the student group is hosting an art show at a downtown art gallery this month.

But the group also is considering other initiatives, including a student-led organization or mayor’s council that will enable young people to provide future input in city programs and efforts, and a downtown coffee shop where students can meet with local business owners and entrepreneurs to learn about job opportunities in their own backyards.

City planner Joanie Fitzwater said she’s already encouraged by the ideas the group has come up with, and she’s excited to see them implemented. Written plans for the city’s future development focus on attracting young professionals and families to make Greenfield their home, and she hopes the initiatives planned help the city meet that goal.

City leaders are reaching out to businesses and organizations to see if there are ways to start implementing some of the students’ ideas now, and they want to hear from community stakeholders about which initiatives they think are most important as the group puts together a final plan for its My Community, My Vision project before a presentation in April.

The group already is working with The Landing, a safe gathering space in downtown Greenfield geared toward at-risk teens, and its director, Linda Ostewig, to see if they can start programs there.

The space could be used to open a small coffee shop — students want a place downtown where they can hang out — or to create working space for student artists. There are already talks about a student-designed and created mural for the side of the building, she said.

The ultimate goal of the program, Wertman said, is to get students involved now so they want to continue to be involved in their hometown later.

“We have a lot of talent here,” she said. “We want to utilize it.”

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.