The ideas were all over the place Monday evening from the 75 people brainstorming at the Rose Garden Banquet Hall on ways to improve Hays and Ellis County.
More services for senior citizens, said a small group at one of the round tables.
Others at several tables mentioned they’d like to see efforts to alleviate isolation and loneliness among residents.
Then there was the notion of safe homes for transients and the homeless, as well as for victims of domestic violence.
Others mentioned affordable housing, better wages for skilled labor, and regional transportation, such as trains.
Many said they want to acknowledge and celebrate the community’s diverse cultures and see more government and civic education, along with careers for young professionals, housing codes for rental properties, and activities for middle schoolers and high schoolers.
Then there was the idea of new business incubator services, downtown entertainment, street dances, downtown movies, more festivals, diverse festivals, services for the disabled, neighborhood community centers, day care options, improving volunteerism, and outside stakeholders participating in county strategic planning.
The 6 p.m. event, which started with a free supper of sloppy joes and baked beans, was billed as a Strategic Doing meeting, organized and hosted by the Heartland Community Foundation, 1200 Main.
The Hays event was one of three, with another in Plainville on Thursday evening, and a third that remains to be scheduled in WaKeeney for Trego County, all three counties served by the nonprofit Heartland Community Foundation.
It was the second such round of Strategic Doing meetings, the first round being held a couple of years ago. The next Strategic Doing will follow up on Monday’s brainstorming ideas and is set for Oct. 8. Heartland executive director Sandy Jacobs said everyone in the community is invited and encouraged to attend for another free supper and meeting.
The programs are funded through $200,000 in annual grants from the Dane G. Hansen Foundation, Logan.
Jacobs said at the beginning of the hour-long exercise Monday that Strategic Doing, a nationally recognized process to quickly collaborate and accomplish projects, is a pathway to results by linking and leveraging resources.
Hansen Foundation made the grant after Heartland committed to host the meetings to bring together people interested in working together for community sustainability.
“The benefits of Strategic Doing are simple,” Jacobs said. “It creates hope. Strategic Doing aims high. We make change, it’s action oriented, there’s ownership and there’s alignment and collaboration around work that needs to happen in your communities.”
Participants Monday evening included high school students, city staff, county commissioners, law enforcement, medical personnel, Fort Hays State University faculty, real estate agents, directors of nonprofits, entrepreneurs, business owners, public utilities, the religious community, Thomas-More Prep-Marian High School administration, state agency and economic development personnel, and people just interested in improvement.
“Dare to dream big,” directed Jacobs at the start of the exercise, before folks clustered into small groups of six or eight people to brainstorm ideas.
Founded in 2007, the Heartland Foundation in 2018 awarded 108 grants to organizations totaling more than $420,000 in the three counties it serves. The grants fund everything from children and youth programs, to arts and culture, health and human services, students and education, community development and spirituality.
In coming years, said Nikki Pfannenstiel, vice chair of the Heartland board of directors and grant committee co-chair, preference will be given to competing grant applications that have been through the Strategic Doing process.
“It’s so easy to get lost in the enormity of some of the things, the ideas we come up with,” Pfannenstiel said. “But the whole notion of strategic doing is making progress on those things, little bits and little bits at a time. We hope you don’t give up on the ideas that you have, because every little step that you take is a big step towards the end of the project that you want to achieve.”
Strategic Doing facilitator Betty Johnson, a Smith Center native now living in Lawrence, facilitated the brainstorming and will compile the ideas for the next meeting.
“A lot of us have thoughts and ideas on what our communities could or should be,” Johnson said. “Strategic Doing allows us to come together and make those things happen. ... We don’t want to throw away or ignore the assets we have in our communities.”
Heartland’s latest grant cycle opens Sunday and runs through Nov. 15, with $50,000 available to award, Pfannenstiel said.
“If you have grant ideas we want to encourage you to apply,” she said. “Those are good for nonprofit organizations for projects that meet community needs, or if your organization is not a nonprofit but you’re meeting an essential need for your community, you have an opportunity to apply for those grants.”
Running a project idea through the Strategic Doing process can unearth collaborative solutions not previously imagined, she indicated.
“Until you bring everybody together in a room and you have a conversation about what that means and what that stands for, you do not know how many people have thoughts that align with yours,” Pfannenstiel said. “You don’t know what else is being done in the community sometimes, and this is a great way for us to collaborate and talk about what we can do to make this the type of community where we want to be, where we want to live and where we want to raise our families.”