look what they’ve done

Leadership Johnson County graduates have undertaken myriad projects that benefit the community

by Jessica Dyer Campbell // photography submitted

Each year since 1995, between 25 and 35 adults from diverse backgrounds — retirees, attorneys, elected officials, educators, faith leaders — from all parts of Johnson County gather during the nine-month Leadership Johnson County Signature Program to work on community projects that will meet a need or fill a gap in the community. Along the way, they learn about leadership theory, civic engagement and Johnson County history so they can leave the program ready to make a difference in their communities.

The Signature Program is a leadership development program though Franklin College that seeks to grow the leadership abilities and civic engagement of Johnson County residents. In its 26-year history, 775 graduates have gone on to lead in their professions, serve in their local communities and volunteer with nonprofits that benefit Johnson County. The selective program costs $1,250, and scholarships are available.

“One of the most important aspects is that, a lot of times, people want to give back to their community, and they don’t always know how,” said Kate Taylor, marketing and special events coordinator for Leadership Johnson County. “They don’t know how their specific skill set can be best utilized.”

Graduates of the Signature Program have completed more than 100 community projects that tackle challenges related to food insecurity, mental health, domestic violence, public transit, housing insecurity, education and more.

Find out more about Leadership Johnson County: www.leadershipjohnsoncounty.org.

Blessing Boxes
For their community project in 2017, Larry Noonan’s team built, installed and stocked two micro-food pantries — Blessing Boxes — to help combat food insecurity. In the years since, volunteers and organizations around Johnson County have put up their own Blessing Boxes.

After their research into food insecurity led them to find gaps between operating hours of food pantries, free community meals and other programs, the team wanted to provide an option for people who needed food when food pantries or community meals were not available (late at night, for example).

To ensure the initial boxes would remain active and stocked after they launched, the team partnered with Grace United Methodist Church and KIC-IT in Franklin to maintain the boxes long term. As of July, there are 15 Blessing Boxes across the county in various locations, such as the Bargersville Fire Department Station 202 and the Edinburgh library.

“It’s pretty easy to participate. If you need something to eat … you just visit one of the BB and take what you need,” Noonan said. “Anyone can visit and add food to the box.”

Noonan’s team recommends donations be nonperishable foods and goods that can withstand a wide range of weather conditions, such as beef jerky, cereal, peanut butter, diapers, socks or toothpaste.

Find the map of Blessing Boxes online: http://www.feedjoco.org. Stay connected with the Blessing Boxes community: https://www.facebook.com/feedjoco.

Explore Johnson County Trails
A project team in the class of 2016 got the idea for their community project while sharing about their walking and running routes. By trying to find common ground, they found a common need, too. There was no central map to find information on Johnson County trails or walking paths.

“We were especially interested in sidewalk connections between trails and other public spaces,” said Amy Dalton, a project team member who worked to get the map up and running. “We all found it frustrating to get to ‘Where the Sidewalk Ends’ when out for a walk, especially with kids.”

The team compiled information for a comprehensive map of walking, hiking and running trails, and sidewalk connections in Johnson County. They partnered with Aspire Economic Development + Chamber Alliance, which hosts the mobile-friendly map on its website. Maps specific to Franklin and Greenwood are also available.

Dalton said the trail map fit Aspire’s “vision of promoting Johnson County’s public and outdoor spaces and how they help make Johnson County a great place to live, work, play and learn.”
Find the map online at www.aspirejohnsoncounty.com/explore-johnson-county-trails.

Journey Johnson County
What started as a slogan and tagline for a tourism awareness campaign has evolved into a resource for county residents and tourists alike.

In 2009, Don Cummings and his teammates started talking about community projects. They noted that longtime residents seemed not to know about all the great things the county had to offer. Johnson County, at that time, was one of a handful of Indiana counties without a tourism bureau, so the team set out to help people connect with Johnson County assets.

They got to work compiling a list of local interests. Each member followed their passions — microbreweries, restaurants, golf courses, historical sites — to add to the awareness campaign materials. The work culminated with a website to contain all their research and a panel discussion. But it didn’t stop there. The website continued to grow for the next several years until it was handed over to the Johnson County Convention, Visitor and Tourism Board in 2016.

Cummings emphasized the original campaign was to help residents get to know their home better — “have a look and you will be proud of our community,” he said — and it still holds true today.
The success of the project has been rewarding, Cummings said. “It’s gratifying to see it take off.”

Visit Festival Country Indiana: https://www.festivalcountryindiana.com.

Soup Bowl
“It takes literally hundreds of folks across the community to make each Habitat home a reality,” said Doug Grant, development coordinator for Habitat for Humanity of Johnson County. “That sense of community, of everyone coming together, is amazing.”

Soup Bowl is one of those community-building opportunities, and it’s also an annual fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity of Johnson County. It started as a 2006 LJC community project that sought to help grow awareness about the organization, which at that time was relatively new.

Habitat for Humanity board member Melissa Duke, who was also enrolled in the 2006 LJC class, brought the Soup Bowl idea to her project group. They launched the first event as partners to Habitat for Humanity. Grant said some original project team members have remained involved over the years.

He said that 15 years of Soup Bowl fundraisers have raised about $225,000 for the organization. Some 25 potters provide hand-crafted bowls that event-goers select and have filled with one (or more) of a variety of soups donated by local businesses.

With tickets starting at $25 each, Grant said Soup Bowl is an accessible way for community members to make an impact on their local community — from artists to local businesses to Habitat for Humanity itself.

Learn more about Soup Bowl: www.habitatjohnsoncounty.org.

Youth Leadership Academy

The LJC Youth Leadership Academy began in 2019, during the Signature Program’s 25th anniversary year, as a way to cultivate youth leaders. High school juniors and seniors from Johnson County and home-school equivalent youths can attend this five-month program that follows a similar curriculum to the LJC Signature Program. After successful completion of the $400 program, graduates earn one college credit at Franklin College.

“It was awesome to watch the students come together to learn from each other and bring their own perspectives based on their local communities,” said Amy Kelsay, Youth Leadership Academy coordinator.

The 36-member youth group completed a single community project in 2020: a colorful rock garden at Independence Park based on the book “Only One You” by Linda Kranz.

The students coordinated volunteers to paint 800 rocks for the garden. Each YLA member took a number of rocks and handed them off to other high schoolers, elementary students, 4-H’ers and others. The YLA students themselves all contributed painted rocks, meaning the garden contains rocks from all corners of Johnson County. And because it’s an outdoor public space, anyone is free to add their own rock, too.

“The students really liked that aspect,” Kelsay said. “That people could add to it in years to come.”

Learn more at Leadership Johnson County: www.leadershipjohnsoncounty.org/youth-leadership-academy.