More than 175 people from around the state gathered at the Meridian Event Center in Newton on March 14 to brainstorm innovative ideas for rural Kansas. The second Big Rural Brainstorm was organized by the Inman-based Kansas Sampler Foundation.
Attendees chose one of twenty topics at each of the five sessions. For thirty minutes groups of approximately ten people would throw out new ideas in an effort to create possible actions for that topic. Architects to community volunteers from Woodbine to Wichita filled the room with diverse voices. A third of the audience were PowerUps, 21-39 year olds who are rural by choice.
One of the sessions called "Ask the PowerUps" provided an opportunity for the audience to ask the younger ones about topics from volunteerism to marketing to that age group to finding out what PowerUps need to be happy living in a small town.
Topics that gained traction throughout the day included developing a trail of sunset viewing areas, a house concert circuit, a made-from-scratch food trail, and creating storybook and artistic themes along existing walking trails. A couple of towns plan to go home and work on their own version of the brainstorm. Others will start PowerUp groups.
Two bloggers from opposite ends of the agricultural spectrum, Katie Sawyer and Rosanna Bauman, will be sharing stories. Discussions were had about how to advance high speed internet in rural communities, how to find and retain health care workers, and how to share rural Kansas stories with state and national media.
The group brainstormed creative ideas for a miniature golf course in Burdett, a small Pawnee County town. The U.S. Rural Development regional director, Patty Clark, led a focus group asking how they could best help rural communities.
Facilitator and Foundation director Marci Penner said, "I think the greatest benefit of the day was the cumulative effect of enthusiasm and forward-thinking for rural Kansas. You couldn't help but feel the energy and the support. Each person had a voice. Outcomes will be noticed for quite awhile."