School counselors from every public school in Elkhart County, representing all seven school corporations, pose for a group picture after a Comprehensive Counseling Collaborative of Elkhart County work session in July 2019. The CCCEC is a product of a collaborative grant application to the Lilly Foundation from seven county school corporations and supported by HEA.

By Brian Wiebe
President/CEO of HEA

I firmly believe that the most important thing HEA has done in its opening years is work on the “Overarching Goal” that was set by the founding board members in 2012: Create a collaborative culture within Elkhart County that engages each major sector toward the goals and measures laid out in HEA’s strategic plan. 

My view is that collaboration is at an all-time high in Elkhart County. While HEA deserves some credit, this is largely because we are just one of several organizations that have been encouraging and supporting countywide collaboration: Community Foundation of Elkhart County (CFEC), our local United Way, the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), and Economic Development Corporation of Elkhart County all support and enable collaboration among our 200,000+ people. At not quite 10 years old, we’re the new kids on the block, while our other partners in collaboration have been doing this for decades (and for over a century in the case of the United Way!). 

HEA’s particular focus has been on working together to build a new system of education and training that provides each person with a lifetime of well-being and meaningful work. This will take years, it will go faster if we work together, and there are encouraging signs that the collaborative mindset is taking hold. Consider this: 

  • Never before have all seven school systems worked together so closely, and the seven superintendents have been meeting together monthly for HEA’s board meetings ever since coming together in 2012.
  • Never before have industry leaders — who have also been at all of these monthly board meetings — had sustained conversations with education leaders in our county, and found ways that the business community can be engaged in the education process.
  • Never before had 70 manufacturing facilities opened their doors in the same week each October to invite every eighth grader into their plants to see what our #1 industry is like (this pandemic year, these tours were done virtually for safety).
  • Never before have so many organizational partners combined efforts to launch a common system of parenting support, such as has been developed with social service agencies, schools, businesses and churches starting Triple P – Positive Parenting Program

Collaboration is becoming the norm!

I want to give credit to the visionaries who have advocated for working together for most of their lives, and especially in the educational arena. Many deserve credit, but I’ll note one person in our community: Longtime County Commissioner Mike Yoder has been a key Elkhart County leader. Mike was one of the founding board members of HEA, and served as a commissioner for 16 years. He can feel good about many things that he has done, including being among the first to talk about countywide collaboration in education, first doing this 20 years before we actually formed the organization! He was then a big part of making it happen. 

One thing I want to stress: Relationships are the secret sauce behind successful collaboration. Through all these recent years, long-lasting relationships have been built here in Elkhart County. These relationships have eclipsed organizations and sectors. People are learning to work together, and beginning to see the benefits and outcomes of this collaboration. 

I am convinced that “more” is possible. There is plenty of room for businesses to step up in even stronger ways, and non-profit organizations, churches, and elected officials, too. In fact, reaching the vision that Elkhart County will be one of the best places on the planet to live, learn, work and play will require it.

Please consider this an invitation — and a nudge — to find a role that you can play in this important work!