Engage Columbus pilot program ends 3-year run

Engage Columbus, a three-year pilot program that was created to help people in Columbus connect with others, will close next week as officials begin to evaluate its success and impact.

Friday’s closing of the program, which was overseen by Heritage Fund – the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County, will result in an assessment of its strengths and weaknesses, said Lara Hodson, Engage Columbus program manager.

“We have helped over 3,000 people from Columbus, other parts of the USA and around the world connect with the community,” Hodson wrote in an email message to the community.

The idea of Engage Columbus came from two Heritage Fund Welcoming Community studies, one in 2004 and another in 2011.

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Hodson said people associated with the program will assess potential next steps in bringing back Engage Columbus with a similar mission, but with a broader set of outreach programs, services, partnerships and funding.

The operation has been housed at 431 Sixth St., a former carriage house next to the Heritage Fund building in downtown Columbus. The Engage Columbus staff consisted of Hodson and marketing manager Hailey Hennessy.

Programs offered by Engage Columbus include the Love Where You Live Challenge and monthly tours within the community. The final tour, which is already full, is today at the Bartholomew County Courthouse.

Engage Columbus found success in getting people connected in various ways, such as putting individuals in touch with nonprofit agencies or after-school programs in the community, said Tracy Souza, president and CEO of the Heritage Fund.

“A lot of people walked through the doors and found out about Columbus,” said Souza, who commended Hodson and Hennessy for their work. “They created a lot of enthusiasm in the community.”

What’s next

A survey will be distributed in the third quarter of this year, modeled off the two previous Heritage Fund Welcoming Communities studies, Souza said. Information gathered from that survey will help determine Engage Columbus’ future, with the findings expected to be shared in 2019, Souza said.

An advisory team, which will include Souza, will be involved in assessing the future of Engage Columbus, she said.

“We’ll take some time and figure that out,” Souza said.

However, Hodson said she is confident Engage Columbus’ work will continue as it continues having discussions with other organizations who might pick up some of its programs.

“The mission is alive and very well in the community,” Hodson said. “Although we are closing our doors, the work we’ve done will continue.”

While touching many lives, the organization received strong support from the community, Hodson said.

“We know there’s a need for it,” Hodson said. “It’s been a very powerful thing.”

Final Engage Columbus events

Engage Columbus will hold a public tour of the Bartholomew County Courthouse, alteady full, from 10 a.m. to noon today.

Engage Columbus will hold an International Tea event from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Red Room at the Bartholomew County Public Library Feb. 14.

Information: 812-375-0708.

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com