The Knox County Chamber of Commerce is preparing to bounce back from the setbacks brought in 2020 by launching a new nonprofit arm of their organization, The Chamber Foundation.
The foundation initially came about at the beginning of 2020, just before the pandemic hit. Its goal was to open an avenue to apply for grants, specifically to help the Chamber with its missions of education and economic development, said Jamie Neal, Chamber president.
The goal of the foundation is to fill a niche the Chamber couldn’t, which would be to bolster local programs and nonprofit organizations through grant funding. Already, the Chamber has partnerships with Youth Leadership Knox County and the Downtown Vincennes Association, a group dedicating to helping Main Street thrive.
The key to the foundation, Neal explained, is the ability to apply for grants. People will be able to donate to this program, but primary funding will come from grant dollars.
“This has always been a goal for me to provide for our community where the Chamber couldn’t,” Neal said. “To help when we see a need that the Chamber can’t fulfill.”
The Chamber, Youth Leadership Knox County and the still relatively new Downtown Vincennes Association — an arm of the now shelved non-profit INVN — have many of the same interests and volunteers. The foundation was created so these nonprofits can operate underneath its umbrella, specifically its 501©3 designation, Neal said.
“The Chamber Foundation is not running those organizations,” Neal said. “They run their own ship.”
Director of the DVA, Ellen Harper, is excited to work with the Chamber to bring downtown businesses together once again and hold events that attract people to Main Street.
Harper is especially proud, she said, of the way downtown business owners worked together during the pandemic.
“When people ask about how our downtown did during the pandemic, I tell them we survived it on account that the businesses we have were proactive and innovative,” Harper said. “They were the ones who got creative and helped each other.”
The first big event the DVA will host this year is Spring On Main, and organizers are planning an even bigger event than years past. This year’s Spring on Main will be held from 6-10 p.m. on June 4 on Main Street and will, once again, feature live music, food trucks, a classic car show as well as beer and wine tastings. Downtown shop owners, too, will be open with special springtime sales.
The DVA, too, will also soon be offering May Day On Main discount cards in conjunction with local businesses. The cards feature scratch-off pieces — each with a different percentage off — and the names of all participating businesses on the back.
The cards can be used May 1-9 and already a dozen downtown businesses confirmed.
Other scheduled programs include a similar event for Small Business Saturday and Autumn On Main, Harper said.
“We want our Main Street to be a destination,” she said. “We want people to come here for our stores, restaurants, galleries, and the Riverwalk.”
But in addition to helping support the DVA, the Chamber, too, set its eyes on the rejuvenation of a long-dormant program, Youth Leadership Knox County, which was previously led both by the Chamber itself and Vincennes University.
Youth Leadership Knox County is a program that prepares young people to be leaders in their communities and will now be overseen by the Chamber Foundation’s own Leadership Knox County Committee.
This year’s first Youth Leadership Knox County conference was held recently at the Pantheon: A Business and Innovation Theater.
The event included 24 students from all four of the county’s school systems. They spent part of their day touring Ewing Printing, Mouzin Bros. Farms and The Pantheon itself and also heard from a panel of local leaders, including business owner and Chamber board member, as well as one of its most recent 5 Under 40 recipients, Kaitlyn Ashby; Good Samaritan Chief Operating Officer Adam Thacker; Children and Family Services Director of Prevention Mollie Ewing Hutchison; and Carson Thacker, owner of the local American Family Insurance agency.
A last-minute addition to the conference included a chat with Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch as well.
Neal is passionate about both of these initiatives and looks forward to the continued partnerships.
“I think they both are great programs that will promote business and (boost) initiatives that will help our community,” Neal said. “(Youth Leadership Knox County) develops leaders and DVA helps keep our Main Street thriving.”
Neal went on to say that her goal is to work with other initiatives that fit the mission of the Chamber Foundation.
For more information, contact the Chamber, located at 316 Main St., at 812-882-6440.