A Conversation with Tom Kilian

Earlier this month, Legacy Fund changed its name to Hamilton County Community Foundation to better reflect who the foundation serves, partners with and supports. In addition to the new name, the foundation has a new mission, vision and strategic direction. It’s the result of more than a year’s worth of intentional community conversations and research conducted by staff, the board of directors and a special task force. Learn more about the strategy from president, Tom Kilian, in his extended podcast interview on For Good.

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Welcome to For Good, Central Indiana Community Foundation’s podcast highlighting stories about passion, purpose, and progress in Central Indiana. At CICF, we believe in opportunity and equity. We believe that our communities and neighborhoods are stronger because of our diversity. And we believe that with innovation and boldness, central Indiana can be a place where everyone can reach their full potential, no matter their place, race, or identity.

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Earlier this year, the community foundation of Hamilton County changed its name to better reflect the people it serves. Legacy Fund, an affiliate of Central Indiana Community Foundation is now Hamilton County Community Foundation, but that’s not all they’re working on. I’m Kim Jacobs for this special episode of “For Good,” featuring Hamilton County Community Foundation’s president, Tom Kilian. In addition to rolling out a new name, the foundation is also launching a new strategic framework to lift up the communities opportunities and address its challenges. Tom, thanks for joining us.

TOM: Thank you for having me.

Hamilton County Community Foundation. Tell me about it.

TOM: We were founded in 1991 by a group of individuals in Hamilton County who saw the need to create a community foundation. About seven years after that we ended up forming a partnership with the Indianapolis Foundation, which ultimately created the Central Indiana Community Foundation. And since that time have been in a wonderful partnership, really focusing our efforts both on Marion in Hamilton County, to create a better opportunity, a better environment for those that live in our community.

What is a community foundation do exactly, what does it mean?

TOM: I think it means three things. I think it means that we’re there to help lead on certain initiatives in our communities, places where our citizens need our help. We’re there to work with donors and their philanthropic interest and what’s important to them. We’re also there to help grant dollars back out to the community to deserving non-profits who are helping improve our landscape. One of the things that we’ve been doing over the course of the last two years is understanding that many of our residents have a passion and desire to specifically fund their community. And so over the last couple of years we’ve been developing city funds, we have the Noblesville City Fund and Northern Hamilton County Fund. The Westfield City Fund and now recently just came online with the Carmel City Fund.

Every community is different. What sort of needs have you identified in Hamilton County?

TOM: For years, we looked and I say we, the Central Indiana Community Foundation, The Indianapolis Foundation, and the Hamilton County Community Foundation. We’re really centric when it came to strategic plans. What’s changed in recent times is we’ve understood the need to focus on both counties. So while we’ll continue to be under a shared mission statement, essentially creating opportunity for all of our citizens regardless of their place, race or identity, we’re also going to focus a strategic plan both in Hamilton County and Marion County. And for us up in Hamilton County, we’ve really identified three primary needs, mental health, family and youth empowerment and inclusive economic growth.

Let’s talk about those needs. Starting with maybe a look at the mental health initiatives. Say and Fisher’s Mayor Fadness is behind initiatives to help improve mental health in that community. He’s even put together that mental health task force.

TOM: Yes, certainly. Fisher is a best in class example. We need to understand how we can deliver that type of service throughout Hamilton County. We have school systems in Hamilton county that are reporting attempted suicide rates, well above 40 in one semester. This is something that is impacting our community at every level, so where do we answer. Right? That’s the question is how do you affect change that can actually work. And one of the things that we’re learning is that the training just isn’t there today. Whether it’s a certification or whether it’s some other type of training, whether it’s a school corporation or a city or a first responder to be able to have this type of training so that they can start effecting change when they see it. What we haven’t done is dug in at a deeper level to identify the specific areas where we’re going to be able to affect the greatest amount of change and one of the ways we believe that we’re going to be able to do that is through partnerships.

Whether it’s partnerships with the school corporation, partnerships with local government or partnerships with the Women’s Fund. One of the pieces that they brought into Hamilton County was the idea of how do we identify and how do we help change the landscape when it comes to mental health?

Let’s switch gears and talk about your work with Youth and Family Empowerment. What are you thinking?

TOM: This is one of those initiatives that really gets to the core of basic needs. How do we create an environment where every family, every child has the same opportunities as others throughout the county that every citizen of Hamilton County should have access to. The breaking point is different for every family. When you need that help, how you need that help and I think it’s got to be the role of the Hamilton County Community Foundation to be out there in the community talking about these services and bringing our non-profits together who are in those particular areas.

When we think of family and youth empowerment at the core, it’s about making sure that we can create opportunity for the entire family. That a family has access to all of these services, like any other family in Hamilton County.

The third area of focus for you is inclusive economic growth.

TOM: I’m really excited that the Hamilton County Community Foundation viewed this as a core area that we’ve got to focus on. This really gets into the live work and play in Hamilton County and when we talk about the live component, right? If we’re talking about a community where every citizen has the same opportunity regardless of their place, race or identity, we start talking about things like affordable housing. We start talking about things like personal mobility. These two in and of themselves are game changers. We no longer have the desire to just be commuter neighborhoods. Our cities have spoken up and they said we want to be economic development hubs, but we all know that if you’re going to have economic growth in a community, that has to be at a multiple sector.

In other words, you have to have the ability to not only have corporate headquarters, you’ve got to have some manufacturing. You’ve got to be able to have service economy. So if we’re going to talk about economic growth in our communities, we have to be able to talk about housing and transportation. So for us at the Hamilton County Community Foundation, these are going to be two primary focuses under that live piece.

Are we talking about transportation?

TOM: I think it’s absolutely what we’re talking about here. At the end of the day, we want folks to be able to have access to a lot of the basic needs that they have. We want them to have access to their jobs and the ability to navigate their community as connected as we are as communities. We also understand the need to be able to have multiple options for our residents in Hamilton county, being eight distinct communities, there’s a lot of access points there. There’s a lot of things that we need to consider to be able to increase personal mobility throughout the county. What is our role in that? It is to dream big. It’s to collaborate. It’s to bring folks to the table again and again, if we’re not willing to talk about personal liability, then I think we’re denying that to our citizens of Hamilton County. So I do think it’s an incredibly important conversation and I’m not sure there’s one answer to solve any of this.

Doesn’t the Hamilton County Community Foundation do a lot in the way to promote education, whether it’s higher education, the trades or other specialized education?

TOM: Sure. I think when we start talking about education, one of the things we’ve missed the mark on, certainly in Central Indiana and I think throughout our state is this idea that everyone needs to go to a four year institution. One of the projects that we’re currently working on is a partnership with Ivy Tech and DWD.

 So really, you’re trying to invest in education as a means to enhance the economy?

TOM: Essentially, it’s creating a pipeline to workforce. We have multiple sector involvement. We have business owners who are engaged in this process. And obviously Ivy Tech from the educational perspective. Scholarships are a critical component for us to help educate our youth and retool our adults. But I think it’s incredibly important to recognize the need to create that pipeline to workforce that pipeline to success. Instead of talking about it through the lens of we’ve got to get the scholarships, but we also need to understand that the end goal is successful employment.

It’s good that you said that. Are you being trained for a job.

TOM: From our perspective, when we think about scholarships, when we think about our work initiative under inclusive economic growth, it is designed to focus on pipeline to work for us. And if we can scholarship kids and/or adults, whether it be in the Ivy Tech or IU, I find that to be a success.

Yours must be a very exciting, satisfying job.

TOM: It truly is. The most humbling piece of my job is the overwhelming response of Hamilton County residents to the needs of our entire county.

Do you have a special project that maybe your own legacy 20, 30 years from now?

TOM: As we talked about earlier, I’m really excited for this idea of tackling inclusive economic growth. This idea of connecting our community through this idea of living and working in playing to create a connected community. One where every citizen has the same opportunity regardless of their race place or identity is one that as a community foundation, we’re going to be taking very seriously.

Well, that sets the bar for you sir, for the next five years.

TOM: Most certainly does.

Maybe longer. Thank you so much for coming in to talk with us today. We’ve been enjoying our visit with Tom Kilian, the president of the Hamilton County Community Foundation.

TOM: Thank you. I appreciate your time.

To learn more about the foundation and its new initiatives, visit HamiltonCountyCommunityFoundation.org.

We are Central Indiana Community Foundation and you’ve been listening to For Good. If you liked what you heard today, we hope you’ll subscribe to For Good on your favorite podcast app. And while you’re there, don’t forget to leave us a review. Join us next month for more stories about passion, purpose, and progress in Central Indiana.

For Good is brought to you by Central Indiana Community Foundation in partnership with WFYI Public Media.

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