The walls inside a large gathering room at Fort Hays State University’s Robbins Center were completely covered with brightly colored sticky notes Monday evening. Each note represented an idea to help improve the quality of life in Ellis County.
Approximately 150 people of many different ages and professions gathered for Monday’s “strategic doing” brainstorming meeting hosted by Heartland Community Foundation. The meeting was required to qualify for future project funding from the Logan-based Dane G. Hansen Foundation.
“If we don’t come back together and take these ideas and move them forward, and people don’t take ownership, we’ve really messed up,” said Sandy Jacobs, executive director of Heartland Community Foundation, which serves Ellis, Rooks and Trego counties.
Jacobs said she hopes something concrete will come from the meetings, which will make Ellis County eligible for $1.2 million in project funding during the next four years.
Attendees were instructed to gather in small groups to identify the community’s strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. They then were given the sticky notes to write their personal ideas for projects or improvements they would like to see happen in the future.
Many themes — such as affordable housing, long-term water supply and additional retail development — were repeated throughout the evening. Attendees also discussed the need to keep young professionals in northwest Kansas, increase daycare offerings, build a convention center and promote regional partnerships.
Facilities needs for the Hays school district also were mentioned more than once, with many speaking in favor of a $78.5 million renovation and construction bond project that will be on the November election ballot.
Many in attendance also spoke in favor of additional recreational facilities, ball fields and possibly a youth center or safe space for teenagers to gather.
The youngest community representatives present at Monday’s event included a group of DECA students from Hays High School.
“I’ve never been to anything like this,” said Isabelle Braun, a junior. “It was really interesting. It really got my ideas about Hays out to people who can do something about it. I thought it was a good thing to get connected to the community.”
The crowd also included representatives from Hays, Ellis and Victoria, Ellis County and all three of Ellis County’s school districts. Many higher education and health-care professionals also weighed in, as well as parents and local non-profit agencies.
“To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. There are over 150 in this room tonight,” Jacobs said. “I didn’t set my sights on who would be here. I just knew we needed this community to come together.”
There will be more meetings, and ultimately, community members will be asked to identify a project to move forward with and how to proceed, said Betty Johnson, who facilitated the event.
Johnson now will take the hundreds of ideas generated by Ellis County residents and compile them into a database for further review at the next meeting. A second meeting has been scheduled for Nov. 20 at Rose Garden Banquet Hall.
“I guarantee several of these will go forward and become reality,” she said. “There’s no doubt.”