The road ahead for Jasper and Newton counties will be paved with promise and maintained with perseverance. Our newest initiative, something we’re calling Driving Home, is a monumental effort in planning, engineering, and laying down that road ahead. Driving Home is a strategic plan born from the voices, efforts, and ideas of countless thousands of residents right here in the place we call home. It creates a singular narrative from the ideas, wishes, and hopes that we all share for Jasper and Newton Counties. More than that, it creates the framework and processes by which we can bring that narrative to life, together. 

As we officially launch the new Driving Home plan this spring, we’ll be doing something never before done here: working together–across all institutions, organizations, and people–to drive our community forward to something tangible. This plan floods the road ahead with sunlight and illuminates the future for us all. But, we’re all going to be tasked with constructing that path, pitching in and owning our part, together. For Jasper and Newton Counties, road construction begins now, as Spring begins to bloom.

A Fresh Start

And honestly, the timing of this start is just perfect. Many of us, recently vaccinated, are emerging from our year-long cocoon of distancing and isolation. Many are beginning the trek back to normal — whatever the heck that is. After what felt like a year-long winter, spring is in full swing, flowers are blooming, birds are chirping in the trees, and the world is blossoming with possibility. 

As much as Spring represents the path forward, here in the midwest, that first breath of Spring air always jolts the memory. Instantly flooded with nostalgia of springtime’s past, if you’re anything like me, this time of year can teleport you back to soccer practice in the rain, outdoor gym class, or riding bikes into town with friends. 

In this way, springtime is an ample metaphor for the work ahead of us here in Jasper and Newton Counties: moving forward and also building on rich history. That is the promise of our newest initiative: Driving Home. Driving Home is a simple idea with some powerful mechanics and awesome communities at its back. We’ll listen closely to the people in our hometowns, we’ll write the story they want the community to tell over the coming years, then we’ll build a plan to bring that story to life. 

We’ve heard you. We’ve written down the story you told us. Now, we’re bringing it to life, together. 

Building a Story

Sounds corny, right? Telling the story of your community? What does it even mean? But move past that initial hesitation and dig in a bit deeper. Our community is really just the collective set of our experiences. You can bucket them into work experiences, family experiences, cultural experiences, and more… but, at the end of the day, it’s about our interaction with the place we call home. Those interactions, simply put, are stories. 

So, when we set out to plan the future of our community, why do we start to think about it differently? Why does it all of a sudden become a collection of assets, services, and bits of infrastructure? Would you rather plan your community around the feeling of the Friday night football game, or the field you play it on? Would you rather plan your community around those weekend walks with your new baby through Potawatomi Park, or the physical walking trails themselves? If you answered “the game,” you’re seeing the power of story. It gives us a zoomed out vision, a shared narrative, around what we’re building together. 

Driving Home collects our shared story into five fictional people addressing four of the lenses through which we view community. You’ll meet Maggie, Sara, Trevor, Karley, and Luis. Each of them represent all of us in some way. Those stories will address each of the major components of community: culture, work, health, and family. With each story, we share two versions, something we call the prologue and epilogue. In the prologue each character interacts with the community as it stands today. In the epilogue, we bring together a year of listening, focus grouping, town halls, surveys, and interviews, to create a hypothetical story of their future. That’s the story that drives our plan.

With these stories in our back pocket, we know we have the most powerful piece out of the way. We have a vision that the community shares, told in a way that’s easy to both imagine and rally around. It’s pretty cool.

Next we move into action. Driving Home isn’t just a piece of Jasper Newton fan fiction, it’s a powerful plan to bring that shared vision into reality. The plan breaks down our story into major narrative arcs (that’s the culture, work, health, and family piece) and each of those into 15 prioritized storylines. These are the tangible, actionable parts of the plan that deconstruct the story into a list of important goals and some simple ways to measure progress.

Working Together

None of this works, though, if we don’t begin to rally around the story we created, internalize it, make it our own, and start to share it with friends and neighbors. Driving Home is a product of our communities; it is our collective imagining of the future. It’s our story. So, let’s all work together to bring it to life.

If it is only to be a collective vision, Driving Home doesn’t stand a chance. It’ll just be another well-intended campaign that never gets off the ground. We have to have vision paired with action. For starters, the Jasper Newton Foundation and both county economic development departments are combining forces and committing to the Driving Home plan. We’re devoting resources, processes, and funds in support of this story. 

But, it doesn’t stop there. Driving Home is crowdsourced in the truest sense of the word. It’s a tapestry of our individual hopes for the place we call home. It’s also an opportunity to bring those hopes to bear. The plan itself is a living document that will grow to annex new efforts, innovative ideas, and the best of what our people have to offer. We’ve already begun to collect exciting ideas submitted to be a part of the big vision. And, we encourage each of you to familiarize yourself with the plan, ask yourselves how to be additive, and come forward with ideas and actions to support it.

Preserving a Way of Life

Over the decades, the fabric of community has worn thin, loosened, and frayed. Modern living has broken some of our tightest bonds. Driving Home is our chance to tighten that knit, to tighten the weave on the fabric of our community. It’s our chance to share a narrative again, to own the culture of our towns. 

You see, Driving Home isn’t about reinventing our home. We aren’t going into this hoping to reimagine ourselves as the next Nashville or Austin. Driving Home is about finding the unique heartbeat of our community, that DNA that’s rooted deep in the soil, and exploring new ways to let it shine for decades to come. 

As we move forward this Spring, with this sizable endeavor, it’ll take the work of each of us to bring it to life. As that bit of fresh Spring air tickles the newly budding crops on it’s way into your nose, let it in. Let it teleport you back. Let it flood your heart with memories from childhood, from t-ball, from mowing lawns. Sit there with it for a moment and ask yourself about the next generation of rural folks, “how can I build the next set of memories, the ones that’ll flood their hearts some years down the line, right here in this soil?”

Now, let’s dig in.

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