News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

November 2, 2013

Our Green Valley looks to expand reach, broaden base

TERRE HAUTE — Our Green Valley Alliance is considering emulating a Cincinnati, Ohio-based organization that could allow the alliance to become an umbrella agency to more effectively coordinate about 60 nonprofit organizations.

An umbrella or hub organization would serve as a facilitator of common goals, aimed at improving the quality of life in the Wabash Valley.

The Green Umbrella has been established in the Cincinnati region for 13 years, but the organization was reinvented 21⁄2 years ago, with a larger board of directors and larger agenda.

“Our goal is to have our region, greater Cincinnati and northern Kentucky, seen nationally as one of the top 10 most sustainable communities in America by 2020,” said Brewster Rhoads, executive director of Green Umbrella, a regional alliance around Cincinnati, Ohio. “That means being a leader in renewable energy, in energy conservation, in waste deduction and management and in reducing our dependency on motor fuels, which is cars and trucks, by increasing our public transportation means.”

Rhoads spoke on Friday, the final day of the Our Green Valley Alliance sustainability conference on the campus of Indiana State University.

The nonprofit Green Umbrella includes 210 businesses, 110 non-profits, 23 governmental entities and eight educational institutions.

“We also want to be seen as a national leader in growing food locally and integrating that into every business and household,” Rhoads said. The goal is to have the region’s residents eat 10 percent more locally grown and/or produced food.

“That will allow us to create our own food economy,” he said. Also, the effort will help expand and retain green space such as parks, especially as a result of a watershed management program. That watershed is being done through a federally mandated separation of stormwater and sewer pipes throughout the Green Umbrella’s region.

For example, reopening creeks that had been placed into covered pipes, and digging “retention ponds and small lakes, that more naturally filter the water, creates the opportunity to totally revitalize economically depressed communities,” Rhoads said during a break at the conference.

“The idea that you could have a townhouse, newly constructed, with a small business district on a creek with green space and trees revitalizes, economically, an entire community,” he said.

The organization’s goal is to increase quality green space in the region by 8 percent, and to also increase participation in recreational and educational activities, events and venues to get people outdoors by 15 percent.

The organization also hopes to reduce the use of gasoline and diesel as motor fuels by 20 percent.

Rhoads said there are challenges, such as getting major financial sponsors for projects, staffing of the organization, and a tension between members who want policy changes and those who do not want to be viewed as political.

“We are the glass is half full organization, not the glass is half empty and cry about it,” Rhoads said. “It is a mindset shift that is optimistic and looking to the future that is upbeat and exciting. People are drawn to optimism and positive action.”

The organization established nine action teams to implement plans for improvements.

Lorri Heber, president of the three-year-old OGVA, said efforts to improve quality of life are need in Vigo County.

“We still, I believe, have a Toyota plant economic development strategy in our community where we think the panacea and the silver bullet is to go get a Toyota plant, and all of our problems will be solved,” she said. “That is an exaggeration, [economic development efforts are] more in-depth than that but are missing a huge component of quality of life.

“Everybody can put together an economic package. Everybody can put together tax abatements; everybody can run a sewer line; everybody can run a water line. We have the transportation infrastructure, and we have the geographic location that is desirable for goods and services, but what we really need is quality-of-life indicators,” Heber said.

To become a collective organization, Heber referred to a model developed at Stanford University, which identified five conditions for a collective success. First is having a common agenda. “It is really a vision,” Heber said. For Green Umbrella, it is being in the top 10 most sustainable communities in America by 2020, she said.

“Having a collective agenda requires that people buy into that; that there is some excitement and some positive notion and a buy-in that we all want to go there,” Heber said. “Each of our organizations can take us there in individual ways, but the big common vision needs to be established.”

Next, Heber said, a shared measurement system is needed, to show how a goal is achieved. Also, reinforcing activities are needed to achieve goals, such as outdoor programs or events. Communication is also important, “so we all know what each other are doing and we can support one another.” Examples include a website and a newsletter.

Another is having a backbone organization. “Really and truly that is what Green Umbrella is....which serves to coordinate action teams and disseminate information.”

Heber said The Year of the River is a good example of a collective impact model in Terre Haute. The model brought organizations together, shared a common goal of reconnecting people to the Wabash River and encouraged groups to undertake activities and efforts to reconnect people to the river, she said.

There is a Year of the River website, which includes a camera feed to watch the river and a newsletter to show events. There is also an effort to collect data, to show there has been an impact to the community.

Heber said OGVA started as an educational endeavor, but this year the group began considering becoming a hub for organizations. “We have been trying to figure out how it will work for our organization. We have to decide what we want to be and whether or not we can undertake this,” she said.

It would require extensive financial support and possibly require a paid staff.

One concept could be to undertake “A Year of the Valley” in 2015, as Sisters of Providence will celebrate its 175th year; it will be the 50th year of Vigo County Parks and Recreation Department; and Indiana State University will have its 150th anniversary.

“There are several different milestones going on in 2015, and it may present an opportunity for us to unveil more of a hub effort and get people to move in that direction,” Heber said.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.

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