St. Paul's Episcopal Church

Thriving Mill Township hopes to repurpose the previously closed St. Paul’s Episcopal Church into an office and a community center for its cause.

Thriving Families, Thriving Grant County was established to study and alleviate childhood poverty in the county. A new venture called Thriving Mill Township aims to do the same in a more scalable model and has plans for a new headquarters.

Thriving Executive Director Cathy Weatherspoon said the program came about because of the realization that tackling poverty in the entire county presented quite the daunting task. The plan is to now look at the issue in a smaller area as opposed to a divide and conquer approach.

“The mission is the same,” Weatherspoon said. “We’re there to alleviate poverty, but it’s more of a scalable model, whereby Thriving Families, Thriving Grant County entered into a movement where we want to alleviate poverty over the entire county, so that was very challenging with a small staff.”

Thriving Mill Township was announced in a press release through the Community Foundation of Grant County and was launched in part through a $150,000 grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. Leaders of the program said that 43 percent or 4,469 residents in Mill Township live in poverty or are classified as the working poor. Of those, 1,640 are children.

Initially the launch of Thriving Mill Township was meant to take place in October with an event to introduce the program at Mississinewa High School, but COVID-19 precautions caused a postponement in rolling out the initiative.

Now, though, the program is up and running and soon hopes to have a new home in the heart of Mill Township, which includes Gas City, Jonesboro and part of Marion.

Through a $10,000 grant from the Allstate Foundation and a partnership with the Grant County Rescue Mission, the program hopes to purchase and renovate the former St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Gas City.

The church would serve as the office for Thriving Mill Township and also be used as a community resource center.

The emergence of COVID-19 has caused additional problems for those facing poverty that need to be addressed, Weatherspoon said.

“The pandemic effects will drive us to identify and address the impact of all the social determinants of health,” Weatherspoon said. “Social and economic conditions in the lives of our community members living in poverty are more challenging now than they were before COVID-19 because people in poverty are disproportionately affected.”

In addition to the new home at the former St. Paul’s, the program has also started to plant its roots in Mill Township in other ways.

The first of these is through a partnership with Mississinewa Community Schools.

This partnership has let those with Thriving Mill Township set up a tutoring program at R.J. Baskett Middle School in Gas City. The program sees a full-time worker at the school with peer mentors that can help students with math work.

After the pandemic is under control and groups and businesses can begin to run smoothly again, Weatherspoon said she wants to get more people involved in Thriving Mill Township’s efforts.

“It is imperative that when working groups reconvene, there will be more hands on deck,” said Weatherspoon. “We will need more volunteers and partners engaged. Coming together in intentional ways to solve a complex problem such as the root causes of poverty will be alleviated to the degree to which all families can thrive.”

The program uses a collective impact model, a measurable effort by groups of people to solve a large issue. In this case the issue is poverty. The goal of collective impact would be to unite other programs as well as the one in Thriving Mill Township to make a difference.

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