By Gabby Carlson | Echo
Taylor University sits neatly on a piece of land that once was just part of a small town called Upland. The town is still active and buzzing with nonprofits, town hall meetings and up-and-coming businesses. But none of this would be known if one never leaves campus.
Special Assistant to the President Ron Sutherland is also a town council member, the president of the Upland Area Greenways and an advocate for growth in the community.
"The number one problem of a town the size of Upland is, until the population starts to grow, there's a fixed set of resources available," Sutherland said.
Sutherland dreams of a town with several businesses that can benefit both the town and the university by a sort of trade.
"I think it was (Ivan Slain's, founder of Ivanhoe's,) grandfather, sold bread to Taylor University for 35 years," Sutherland said. "So, if there's a bakery in town, what if Taylor got some of its baked goods from there? What's good for Taylor, what's good for the town and can we partner together to make some things happen?"
This would provide an opportunity for economic growth for Taylor and Upland. But this doesn't come without risk. Sutherland understands that in order for someone to take that risk, they may need a partner to take some of it off themselves.
President Lowell Haines and Sutherland took a two-day road trip earlier this year to compare up-and-coming small towns to see what could work in Upland. They went to places such as Ada, Mich., Charlevoix, Mich. and Winona Lake, Ind. and met with mayors and town managers to ask how they created turnaround.
When they returned to Upland, they met with the town manager and council and proposed ideas of what they had learned to best benefit Upland in upcoming years.
"We look at the downtown district, and say, 'If we could help foster an environment that would add some retail, that would add some food options,'" Sutherland said. "In some ways, it's, 'can we paint the front door?'"
Businesses such as Ivanhoe's, The Bridge and Joe on the Go are places Upland residents take pride in. But these won't be able to thrive if business is lacking.
Senior Director of Parent and Community Relations Joyce Wood encourages students to be a voice in the local community. Whether that is being part of the local Lions Club, attending town council meetings or participating and volunteering in the local farmer's market, when the town thrives, Taylor does as well.
The Upland Area Greenways Association is committed to improving the quality of life in the Upland area through the creation and improvement of multi-use trail systems, according to their website. With Sutherland as president, they have several projects in the works and ideas in the making, providing volunteer opportunities for Taylor students.
According to Sutherland, there is a gap in the trail from Jonesboro, Ind. to Gaston, Ind. This trail would give students an opportunity to be active in not only Upland's community, but the surrounding communities as well. Taylor University assisted the town of Upland in applying for a $200,000 grant, and, if the town receives it, Upland will continue forward with the Greenway project.
When the project is complete, the trail will connect six colleges. This presents the opportunity for these schools to unite for annual rides or races. The colleges are Taylor, Indiana Wesleyan University, Ball State University, Ivy Tech, Indiana University East and Earlham College.
When it comes to community involvement, the possibilities are endless. Whether that's volunteering at an after-school program such as Lift, choosing to grab coffee at Joe on the Go, volunteering at a nonprofit like Helping Hand or choosing to buy groceries at the local DollarSmart, every contribution gives back.
"Upland becomes your home away from home, and I think it's really important to give back to a place (where) you are going to spend four years of your life," Wood said. "It's probably way different than where a lot of students grew up, but it's important to be an active part of the community and get to know people and programs."