It’s an opportunity to visit over dinner about something that’s important to you, is how FHSU professor Jane Talkington describes the civic dinners in Hays this Tuesday and the following Monday, Oct. 7.

“You can bring friends, or sit with strangers,” explains Talkington, but bring yourself and bring money to pay for dinner, she said.

Civic Dinners is a national event happening in 80 cities across the country during October, founded by an Atlanta native a couple of years ago who wanted to bring people together to talk about things that matter to them.

The idea has grown, and now people like Talkington, and her partner in the Hays event, Melissa Dixon, executive director of the Hays Convention & Visitors Bureau, are kicking it off locally for the first time.

“Their whole thought is we’ve lost the art of public conversation,” Talkington said. “It’s not trying to persuade or argue, but to just have civil conversation.”

There’s no specific formula for the dinners, whether potlucks in someone’s home or held at a restaurant where everyone buys their own meal.

The Tuesday event in Hays is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Gella’s Diner & Lb. Brewing Co., 117 E. 11th St.

The first Civic Dinner that Talkington experienced, while attending a conference in Phoenix, had the topic of bridging the racial divide.

As with that dinner, the topic for October - what makes a lovable city - is the same for all 80 communities. Diners will explore what they love about Hays, what they’d like to see more of, and ideas for how they can become more involved.

That’s an easy one for Talkington, who moved to Hays in June after joining the faculty of Fort Hays State University. She first visited Hays while interviewing for the job in February. She was headed to Gella’s for dinner and bumped into Hays Arts Council Executive Director Brenda Meder, who was locking up the Hays Arts Center across the street. Meder filled her in.

“I just immediately fell in love with Hays,” said Talkington. “When I showed up for my interview, I said ‘I love Hays.’”

On Tuesday, there will be several tables at Gella’s for the diners, each one with a host, and up to eight people per table. They can be friends or strangers, Talkington said.

To accept the invitation for Tuesday’s dinner, go to https://www.civicdinners.com/tlc-hays and click Attend a Dinner to sign up.

Additional table hosts are welcome, Talkington said.

Currently, the hosts for Tuesday’s tables are: Talkington; Chad Meitner, principal of Thomas More Prep-Marian; Jetta Smith, FHSU student leader; Donnette Noble, FHSU faculty; Dixon; and a kids’ table led by Talkington’s daughter.

Hosts volunteering so far for the second dinner at Gella’s Oct. 7 are Henry Schwaller IV, Hays mayor and member of the Hays City Commission; Talkington; and Smith.

“Anyone who wants to be a host can,” Talkington said. “There’s really no end to it, and it can take lots of different venues. Melissa and I are launching it here, but we don’t own it.”