~by Paige Langenderfer
Maddison Miller says her position as Brown County Community Foundation chief executive officer is the dream job she did not see coming.
“I was happily employed at an incredible company when one of my friends sent me the job description,” Miller said. “As soon as I read it, I realized that it really was my dream job.”
The road that led Miller to Brown County was long and winding.
Miller’s dad was in the Air Force, which meant numerous moves and a lot of changes in her childhood. When she was in third grade her family settled in Lafayette, where her father’s family was from. It was there that she developed her life’s first true passion—classical music.
“My grandfather played violin in the Lafayette Symphony Orchestra for 50 years,” Miller said. “He encouraged me to try the violin. I fell in love with classical music and played the violin through college.”
She loved it so much that she started her freshman year at Ball State University as a music education major.
“It was an intense program. I was overloaded and ultimately decided that I didn’t think I would make a very good music teacher,” she said. “My minor was in political science, so I switched my major to that and never looked back.”
Reminiscing, Miller said she is not surprised that she ended up with a degree in political science.
“I think I gained an interest by hearing my parents talk about politics,” she said. “In high school I started watching the news and educating myself on political issues.”
Miller disagreed strongly with one political decision in particular.
“At that time our country was gearing up for the war in Iraq. I thought that was a very unwise decision,” Miller said. “I wasn’t able to vote, but I knew that what I said mattered because I was the future of this country.”
To voice her opinions she wrote letters to her congressmen and carried posters protesting the war through her high school hallways.
Protesting the war was just one of her political experiences.
After learning about Muslim culture and Islamic backlash from a guest speaker in her high school foreign language class, Miller decided to conduct an experiment. She and a friend dressed in Muslim attire and went to the mall for a day.
“We wanted to live a day in the life of a Muslim living in Lafayette, Indiana,” Miller said. “It was the most horrendous experience of my life. People were calling us names and refusing to serve us. Living a day in the life of someone else opened my eyes to the bigotry and hatred people experience on a daily basis. That experience was one of the reasons I ended up going into politics. It is why I wanted to learn how to make changes in government.”
In 2008, as a sophomore in college, Miller began her first internship as a Majority Caucus Intern for the Indiana State Senate.
“I had no idea how many people used the state legislature for (social services) help,” Miller said. “The people that work in the offices are on the front lines of helping people. That was my favorite part of the job—getting calls everyday from people that needed help and pointing them to services that could help them.”
Miller continued as an intern at the Indiana Statehouse until she graduated in 2011. She accepted her first full-time job as a legislative assistant for the Indiana Senate Majority Caucus.
“I loved it. It was like an internship on steroids,” she said. “As an assistant I got to actually meet people, not just talk to them on the phone. I got to meet with lobbyists and was in on meetings where decisions were made.”
While working full time, Miller earned her master’s degree in public affairs and non-profit management from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
“I had learned that there really is a partnership between the legislative branch and non-profits, and I wanted to capitalize on that partnership to make positive changes for communities,” Miller said.
From 2013 to 2016, Miller was a registered lobbyist with the Indiana Cable Telecommunications Association. Her role was to educate state legislators on telecommunications issues in relation to tax and regulatory policy.
In 2016, she took a job as an account executive with SAS, the largest privately owned software company in the world.
“I worked with non-profit agencies across the state to learn about the issues they were trying to address, and what data they needed to better solve the problem,” Miller said. “It really was incredible work. With the right data, you can learn so much more about the problems and initiate programs to help people.”
Miller was just two years into her work with SAS when her friend sent her the job description for the CEO of the Brown County Community Foundation.
“I was not job hunting at the time,” Miller said. “I read the job description and it said the right candidate needed skills to work with community leaders to make changes happen. It was about getting the right people at the table to help the community move in the right direction. I thought, ‘I have the skills to do that.’”
In addition to the job being a great fit, Miller said she was excited about the possibility of moving to Brown County.
“I have been coming to Brown County State Park to hike for years,” she said. “I love Brown County. And I had been looking for an opportunity to move to a place with natural beauty.”
Since taking the job in the fall of 2018, Miller said she has been amazed by the collaborative efforts of the community.
“It really is extraordinary how much we are able to accomplish in this community without a mayor or a town manager,” she said. “We do a lot with a little.”
Recently, the Foundation hosted a two-and-a-half day community development workshop led by Ball State University.
“It was basically a graduate-level course in community development,” Miller said. “We had all of the community leaders at the table learning about how we can better value each other and prioritize objectives that will meet the most needs in the community. We spent a lot of time talking about our goals and setting objectives to meet those goals.”
One topic that came up multiple times during the workshop was communication, Miller said.
“Getting information out to everyone in the community is really challenging,” Miller said. “We want to get more people’s input and incorporate that feedback. Basically, we want to take the mystery out of the decision making process.”
Other issues that community leaders are currently focused on include:
• Broadband development
• Affordable, high-quality child care
• Affordable and accessible housing
• Recreational opportunities for young people
• Environmental issues
• Affordability and accessibility to preschool
While the list seems large, Miller said she is certain the community will deliver.
“This community has incredible volunteers. They are eager to share their time, talent, and money to help the community. They truly care,” Miller said. “I did not come from a community like that. It has been the most heart-warming thing I have learned since taking this job.”
Miller said the charitable component of the Foundation was one of the most appealing aspects of the job.
“The Foundation gave over $1 million in grants and scholarship to the community last year,” she said. “We are working to make life a little bit better for everyone. We have the ability to meet the needs of the community. It really feels like we are making a difference.”
Recently, the Foundation has contributed to projects related to the library, the YMCA, Salt Creek Trail, Brown County Playhouse, and the Brown County Music Center.
“It is an exciting time to be in Brown County. There is an interesting buzz happening around the community,” Miller said. “New people are coming to town that want to invest in the community, but also respect the history.”
Visit the Brown County Community Foundation’s website at <browncountygives.org>.