Erin Jamison-Koenig, Communications Director
The Town of Advance is a small community in Boone County, just northwest of Indianapolis, with 503 residents. In recent years, Advance has become more than a town that takes care of its parks, run utilities, and keeps Main Street free of snow.
Advance municipal leaders and community members created programs to embrace and take care of their youngest and oldest residents. The practice was initiated by the town marshal as he aimed to bring more community policing strategies to be on the side of preventing more than policing.
It all started at the one bus stop in Advance. Brad Thomas, the town marshal, would spend his morning handing out Pop-Tarts to students as they got on the school bus. At the time, the goal was to create a relationship with the kids and establish himself as a resource for whatever they may need. Thomas was quickly dubbed the “Cop Tart” and became a well-known fixture in the community.
And then, nearly five years ago, Thomas was joined by a local pastor and other community members to create We All Matter (WAM), an after-school program for elementary through high school students.
WAM is available every Monday and Wednesday and is utilized by several dozen students weekly. Volunteers and program officials help with homework, provide one on one tutoring, serve a meal, and allow for plenty of free time for crafts, games, and fun activities.
WAM was initially housed in Advance’s Fire Station, but quickly expanded beyond the available space. WAM is now above Town Hall, directly across from the town bus stop. The operating costs are fueled by donations and grants secured through organizations such as the Community Foundation of Boone County and local churches and businesses.
WAM isn’t just a place for students to go after school – it’s a place for kids to feel welcome and safe. Chef Bob (a former attorney) cooks up delicious meals, from nachos and cheeseburgers to pancakes and sausages. Linda Randle, a former teacher, works directly with the school districts and teachers to monitor classroom performance and give individual attention where needed. The activity possibilities are endless, including seasonal art projects, musical instruments, computer games, and reading in the library nook.
On the other end of the lifespan, Dan Bewley is a volunteer police officer that regularly checks in on the elderly. Bewley’s official title is Community Resource Officer, and he provides services such as picking up medicine, grabbing a gallon of milk, helping someone after surgery, and even hanging curtains when needed.
Bewley regularly rides around town in his police car, pulling into driveways to knock on the door and have a conversation. Sometime its short; sometimes he’s there for a while. Almost everyone has his cell phone number and he’s willing to check on a parent or grandparent without hesitation.
Bewley believes that town services should be wholistic, considering not only providing the basic services, but also being there for residents in a time of need. Even if that need is to sit and chat a while.
The proactive nature of Advance’s programs has led to a drastic decline in emergency service runs – averaging about 80% less runs per month.
As Boone County experiences major economic development success, these quality of place programs will make Advance more attractive town to call home.