Inform Muncie

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The Ball State Daily

Small Sparks ignite big change

In 2023, the 8twelve Coalition’s Small Sparks grant program funded 16 projects from residents (both youth and adults) that focused on community engagement, health and wellness, youth activities and more. Highlights from the 2023 grant recipients include new food storage solutions in front of the Common Market, new patio furniture at Rosebud Coffee House, fairy garden kits and care kits for kids in crisis. This is one of their stories of change:

Muncie native Casey Eichenlaub is a man of action. He sees a problem and figures out a way to fix it. If the problem involves power tools, even better.

In 2020, Eichenlaub secured a Small Sparks grant from the 8twelve Coalition to build fence posts for his Thomas Park Avondale neighbors. This year, he was awarded the grant to complete home repairs, mostly to water heaters and HVAC systems.

“Working and helping neighbors gives me so much life. Fixing homes is a way to give back to a community that has helped me from so much hardship,” Eichenlaub said. “Everyone needs help at some point, and people can change at any age; they just need a push in the right direction: “Who will you push?”

Eichenlaub’s focus on service developed when he needed that push. Struggles with addiction led him to the Muncie Mission’s Liberty Street Recovery Program, which is a year-long program that walks residents through 12 steps to healing and sobriety.

He graduated from the program in 2019 and began working as a project manager for ecoREHAB, a Muncie nonprofit focused on rehabilitating homes using sustainable practices.

Jason Haney, ecoREHAB executive director, said Eichenlaub’s journey to recovery inspired the organization to partner with Eastern Indiana Works and Ball State University to create a Skilled Trades Education Program (STEP) for at-risk, under or unemployed youth in Muncie. The free, 16-week program provides participants with an hourly wage, educational advancement, and experience in the trades of carpentry, electrical, HVAC, masonry and plumbing.

Eichenlaub said the success of STEP inspired him to apply for the Small Sparks grants. That’s how supporting others works, he added: “When someone gives you a hand, you want to give a hand to others.”

“Seeing how the program turned out and just the tiny impact it made on kids in the community, as well as it being implemented in a bigger scope in the ecoREHAB program, caused me to want to help do projects on my own,” he said.

Eichenlaub strives to make his neighbors feel safe. Many people, he added, are scared to call about repairs because they are worried it will cost too much, so they live with broken windows and other easy fixes.

"I want the houses to give comfort the same way it does to me and my kids,” said the father of three. “Unfortunately, I see a lot of easy repairs I’m quick to fix.”

Eichenlaub said he will continue to repair homes using the Small Sparks grant funds until the money runs out, but it won’t be his last neighborhood improvement grant.

The 8twelve Coalition calls out for Small Sparks grant applications on its Facebook page each June, or you can email to learn more about these awards, which are up to $500 each year. A committee of neighbors review the applications and select the winners, which can be of any age, and the Ball Brothers Foundation supports this annual program.

Inform Muncie articles are written by students in the School of Journalism and Strategic Communication in a classroom environment with a faculty adviser.

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