Nonprofit cares for Jasper’s heart

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Heart of Jasper board member Whittney Huff, left, waters plants while Eber Menjivar of Jasper power washes the sidewalk outside Jasper City Hall during the Love Your Community Cleanup hosted by Heart of Jasper on Monday.


f they waited a year or two, it could be too late.

COVID-19 has shaken up the retail world — and pulled customers away from local businesses that sink dollars back into their communities. In Jasper, a new nonprofit organization aims to create the best small town experience it can while bringing customers back to the city’s downtown.

Named Heart of Jasper, the recently launched outfit unifies a long list of groups based in Jasper and Dubois County. Members will focus their activities on and target economic development in arts, entertainment, restaurants, home living, as well as health and well-being.

Heart of Jasper committee member Caroline Gobert power washes the sidewalk during the Love Your Community Cleanup hosted by Heart of Jasper on the Courthouse Square in Jasper on Monday.

“Even though it’s a bad time now with COVID, now is when we really need to focus on getting our downtown to where we want it to be, where we envision it to be in the future.” said Maureen Braun, president of the Heart of Jasper board. “And so there’s no better time than now.”

Nancy Eckerle, executive director of the Jasper Chamber of Commerce, explained in a press release that Jasper has been part of the Main Street America program for more than 30 years. Heart of Jasper formed through that national organization.

The local group has four main committees — organization, economic vitality, design and promotion — whose work will include retaining and recruiting businesses to the city’s historic district and surrounding area, as well as revitalizing downtown.

“We have always had a strong downtown association and immense pride in the downtown area of Jasper,” Eckerle said in the release. “The establishment of Heart of Jasper will take us to a new level. Forming the various committees will provide volunteer opportunities for community members that will lead to action and involvement from many that want the downtown to be full of vitality for years ahead.”

Heart of Jasper will hire a part-time director whose responsibilities include managing the four main committees, developing relationships with groups like the Greater Downtown Jasper Business Association and Dubois Strong, and reporting to the Heart of Jasper board. That position has not been filled; resumes will be accepted through Sunday, Sept. 30.

The Dubois County Community Foundation is supporting Heart of Jasper with a $22,500 grant that will be split over three years to help with initial start-up costs for the organization. Additionally, the Bob and Josie Siebert Family Endowment — administered by the Community Foundation — will also back the new organization with a grant. Braun also detailed how the group’s board will fundraise through sponsorships.

Heart of Jasper will also organize community events. Monday evening, for example, board members and volunteers gathered downtown with power washers and gardening supplies to clean the Courthouse Square sidewalks, fluff up mulch in its planters and plant mums.

Bralynne Lopez, 7, of Jasper, right, and her siblings, Emerald, 5, and Ezra, 3, play in the spray of a leaky hose during the Love Your Community Cleanup hosted by Heart of Jasper on the Courthouse Square in Jasper on Monday.

The outfit’s reach is wide. Downtown revitalization is a priority, as is helping the local businesses that set up shop in the area.

“Retail in general, nationally, is struggling,” Braun explained. “And we need to promote local support and retail, and fill our spaces in our downtown now, before it becomes a big problem and the spaces are empty.”

She continued: “Now is the time we have to move forward to put our time and energy and money there. Or else, it will cost a lot more — and maybe never come back.”

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