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Friday, May 6, 2016

YES gets students' thoughts on city's present, future

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

DePauw senior Brendan Belz, left, contributes to the discussion at the recent Greencastle YES meeting at city hall, as junior John Scott listens.
GREENCASTLE -- Nearly a year and a half after Greencastle's Community Forward Summit, the hard work of the city's leaders and citizens continues.

The last 17 months have seen major activity from the Greencastle Sustainability Committee, meetings in each of Greencastle's wards and a number of other activities.

On Feb. 21, the attention turned to the group with perhaps the largest stake in the city's future -- its youth.

Twenty-one local students came together for the Greencastle Youth Engagement Summit (YES) at city hall to discuss the city, its infrastructure, businesses and a number of other issues. City Planner Shannon Norman, who, along with Mayor Sue Murray, facilitated event, was pleased with the outcome.

"The day, ultimately, went very well," Norman said. "With events like that, you can never really anticipate how they're going to go. You sort of just plan it as best you can and have some idea of what you'd like to talk about, and then the human element comes in."

The human element, in this case 18 DePauw students and three Greencastle High School representatives, came with a number of opinions about the city, services it provides and what they'd like to see in the future.

With such a large DePauw contingent, the sometimes contentious relationship between the city and the university was a big topic. A number of students seemed to be of the opinion that one party was not to blame.

"DePauw's campus, the way it's designed, is really cut off from downtown," said DPU student John Brickson.

Others agreed, saying it was obvious when one entered or left campus.

A "softening" of these edges was one idea that came out of the discussion. Some area that could be considered "common ground" was suggested as potentially helpful.

But the town-gown dynamic was a small part of the discussion.

Students discussed businesses they would like to see in town, what sorts of things might attract new businesses and what could be done to support existing entities in the city.

YES consisted of an introduction from Norman, with everyone together in one room, a pair of facilitated discussions in two groups and a final wrap-up session. Norman said she saw the young people opening up as the day progressed.

"For me, both sessions were different, simply because as people get more and more comfortable, they tend to open up more," Norman said. "In both sessions, some great ideas came out, but in the second sessions I felt like we were a lot more talkative. We used almost the whole time, and it was pretty successful."

The summit came on the heels of the city's online youth survey, which had 334 respondents from DePauw, GHS and Ivy Tech. The summit is an early step in a larger process. Norman sees some opportunities coming out of YES.

"As far as outcomes, (there were) two things. One, we know the students who were here are eager to continue on with the dialog," Norman said.

"The second thing that became very clear was that they want more interaction from their peers," she continued. "That's an opportunity for not only the city, but also for the students because they can spread the word and they can get folks in their representative organizations as well. So your marketing efforts triple, and that's a really good thing for any community initiative."

Much like the ward meetings that followed the Community Forward Summit, Norman and Murray are planning to take the outcomes of YES to the three campuses in the city.

"I wish there could have been more students there, but that just makes us want to work harder," Norman said. "I think the next step of this may be going out to the separate campuses -- DePauw, Ivy Tech, the high school -- and really sitting down with students in that environment and seeing what types of issues they can bring, given some time. And maybe there's a comfort level there."

This step could be especially important at Ivy Tech, as the summit attracted no students from the school.

"The reality of it is, each population of students is different. For more nontraditional students, it's different asking them to come on a Sunday," Norman said.

The encouraging thing, though, is the students are now engaged. Moving forward, Norman hopes to have some allies in trying to find what's next for the city.

"What I pulled from the youth summit is that there are some very specific areas that students are very interested in talking about, those being how to market the community, how to get business to come to Greencastle, how to support local businesses," Norman said. "Those are jumping off places that we are ready to explore now.

"Hopefully bringing those groups back together will be easier because of the peer-to-peer interaction, and we can really start to set some action steps into place next," she concluded.

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