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Monday, April 15, 2024

The Art of Neighboring

Early in 2013 when Jennifer Cooke stepped into the position of community mobilizer for Jacobsville Join In (JJI), she was given a laptop, cellphone, and a few weeks to talk to 50 people in the neighborhood to compile a community report.

By February, the Vincennes University and University of Evansville graduate gathered more than 1,000 collective statements from 68 people in the neighborhood.

“There was this overwhelming sense of hopelessness,” says Cooke, who grew up in Evansville. “Like they had been overlooked for far too long. They were a ‘seeing is believing’ crowd; they didn’t believe anything would ever change for this neighborhood.”

So Cooke made it her mission to change their minds and started a revitalization movement, which is gaining ground in Evansville’s largest neighborhood.

Covering 1.9 square miles just north of Downtown, Jacobsville is home to 7,000 Evansvillians. The neighborhood includes Kleymeyer and Garvin parks, totaling about 188 acres of land. Divisions of Deaconess and Vectren, Berry Plastics, and several other businesses call it home, providing roughly 8,000 jobs.

Residents’ engagement is important to Cooke and her team’s mission, she says. Working from the residents’ statements, JJI initiated work groups within the community to create a Quality of Life plan for the neighborhood in six key areas: housing, employment, youth and education, safety and cleanliness, infrastructure and parks, and business corridors. That plan and process would lead to a $600,000 Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Grant from the Department of Justice in 2013. 

“People can join one of the group sessions and work with all different types of people: residents, business owners, the school system, parks department. Just anyone who has a stake in the neighborhood,” says Cooke.

Jacobsville and its residents have had quite a few successes so far — some JJI has initiated, others grown organically from the residents and business owners in the neighborhood. There is still much to do, according to Cooke, but they aren’t slowing down anytime soon.

“People are paying attention to what’s being done,” says Cooke. “To me, it’s just amazing.”
For more information on Jacobsville Join In, call 812-746-8933 or visit jacobsvillejoinin.com.

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