Students, faculty and staff of Fort Hays State University, North Central Kansas Technical College and Hays Academy of Hair Design were welcomed to downtown Hays during the third annual Core2Campus on Thursday.

The event is co-hosted by Downtown Hays Development Corp., Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau, FHSU and Eagle Communications and is designed to introduce new college students and employees to all the downtown area has to offer.

“Everyone has worked really hard to get ready for this,” said Sara Bloom, DHDC executive director. “Everyone has had a hand in it, and it’s come together very nicely.”

According to Bloom, many students have not yet had the chance to really look into all that makes up the downtown area.

“We want to make sure they know they have options other than Walmart and Vine Street,” she said.

To kick off the evening, a large crowd of participants gathered at FHSU’s Quad before joining the university’s band and cheerleaders for a march into downtown.

Hays city commissioners joined the group on Ash Street to continue onward to 10th and Main, where welcome messages from Hays Mayor Eber Phelps, FHSU President Mirta M. Martin, NCK Tech President Eric Burks and Hays Academy of Hair Design Marketing Director Len Melvin awaited them.

“I hope you feel at home,” Martin said to the students. “Hays, America, is a family, and this is your home.”

Approximately 30 downtown businesses participated in the event, providing offers and information to participants.

“All of the businesses are rallying together to get downtown moving and going, and we’re succeeding,” said Wanda Billinger, sales associate at Kuhn’s Diamond Jewelers. “It’s important to let the kids know where the stores are and what we offer.”

Inside businesses, participants received raffle tickets to make them eligible to win prizes including two iPad minis, $500 cash, gift cards and more, according to Bloom.

“We have prizes from all over downtown,” she said.

Clarity — a local band — provided live music for the downtown visitors for the duration of the event.

Taco Shop offered a free meal to the first 500 students and faculty that arrived.

“We’re coming in new from different towns, and we don’t really know where everything is,” FHSU freshman Marina Arenivas said while standing in line for her meal. “Now, if we ever need something, we know we can come to these stores.”

Core2Campus benefits all participants, including the businesses who have stepped in to welcome potential customers, Bloom said.

“We just want to be sure to introduce the students to everything that is available to them,” she said. “It benefits businesses, too, because hopefully we’ll make such an impact on these students that they’re talking about our great downtown.”