30th ‘working lunch’ Oct. 14 will look to the future

September 30, 2015 by

When people gathered at the Nazareth Motherhouse in January 2009 for the first meeting in what would be a seven-year process, no one quoted American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead. But they might have; the “working lunches” that make up the Community Needs Forum hosted by the Sisters of St. Joseph have proven the wisdom of Mead’s best-known quote:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Thoughtful, committed citizens of Concordia have taken part in 29 working lunches so far, and all are invited to the 30th gathering on Wednesday, Oct. 14, at the Nazareth Motherhouse.

And while they have not changed the world, they have brought changes — some significant, others less noticeable — to Concordia, said Sister Jean Rosemarynoski, who has been one of the driving forces behind the process since it began almost seven years ago.

Sister Jean said the process began with a simple goal: To identify needs in Concordia where Sisters of St. Joseph might be able to lend a hand. She and Sister Marcia Allen, president of the Concordia congregation and the other forum organizer, had no idea the first meeting in January 2009 would launch all the change that has come from it — or that it would be just the first of 29 meetings stretching over nearly seven years.

“We were short-sighted,” she said with a laugh. “We had no idea what we were starting.”

But start it they did, with much of the heavy-lifting done by the people who came to the “working lunches” and shared their concerns and expertise, offered their ideas and then volunteered their time.

The list of projects and events that have grown out of the meetings is impressive:

  • A community resource guide, published in September 2009 and updated once since then.
  • Expanded public bus service between Concordia and Salina, provided through OCCK Inc.
  • The Concordia Community Garden of Hope, which opened on the Motherhouse grounds in April 2010.
  • The 2011 Concordia Speaker Series, which featured monthly presentations on topics of community concern.
  • A volunteer fair held at the Motherhouse in September 2011, at which 15 local organizations and agencies took part.
  • Two evening workshops, in October 2012 and October 2014, with attorney John Mize providing information on what it means to be a member of a nonprofit board of directors.
  • The creation of Hands Across Our Community, an anti-poverty program for families in the Concordia area, which began in February 2013.

Then there’s the most visible and expansive project: The Concordia Year of Peace that began in September 2009 with a mayor’s proclamation and has been extended each year since.

The Year of Peace Committee has sponsored or co-sponsored for its own list of events and projects:

  • Columns written by individuals from across the community and published in the Blade-Empire (numbering 180 so far and all available at csjkansas.org/category/year-of-peace/)
  • Columns from the first year were also published as a book titled “A Year of Peace in Concordia, Kansas.”
  • Monthly radio commentary on KNCK, from people throughout the community.
  • A Year of Peace film series at Cloud County Community College in 2011.
  • Shirts, buttons and “support” posters available throughout Concordia, designed to raise awareness of the Year of Peace.
  • Several book studies in collaboration with the Frank Carlson Library.
  • A daylong workshop by Dr. Donna Beegle on generational poverty, held at the Motherhouse in March 2010.
  • Participation in the National Night Out beginning in August 2011 and continuing each year since then.
  • The public Civility Pledge, beginning in 2010 and continuing each year since. The resulting signatures, of Concordians who make a commitment to public civility, have been published each year as a full page in the Blade-Empire.
  • A “Peace Fair” in 2011 and a speaker in 2013, both in recognition of the International Day of Peace.
  • The Hunger Banquet last October, to raise awareness for Helping Hands emergency assistance program at Manna House of Prayer and the Cloud County Food Bank.
  • The anti-violence presentation by football All-American Don McPherson in September, with an afternoon talk to junior high and high school students from throughout the area and then an evening talk at Cook Theatre on the community college campus.

Not every topic raised during the working lunches has resulted in a new project or marked change, Sister Jean noted.

One group that included representatives from the Cloud County Health Center and the local Health Department studied the possibility of opening an “outreach clinic” for low-income residents or those without insurance. After extensive study, they decided such a project was not feasible.

Other concerns raised at various times over the past seven years have been the need for a local legal aid attorney, a mediation center, a homeless shelter and a “mentoring center” specifically for men.

And that brings the “working lunch” to its agenda for the 30th gathering next week, Sister Jean said.

“Where do we go from here?” she asked. “Twice in the past when we’ve asked whether these gatherings were useful, we’ve been asked to keep meeting — and we have.

“Now we want to see if these are still needed, and if there are still people interested in coming together to work on their concerns.”

Those who come to the lunch will be asked two questions:

Thinking in terms of a grassroots effort where the solution can come from the people (or members or residents) themselves…

What do you see as the greatest need for Concordia?

What do you see as the greatest need of your organization (or agency or neighborhood)?

Anyone who would like to answer the questions but is not able to attend the Oct. 14 lunch may send their responses to sisterjean@csjkansas.org.

The lunch will be from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Nazareth Motherhouse. Lunch will be provided without charge by the Sisters of St. Joseph, and those planning to come are asked to RSVP to 243-2149 or sisterjean@csjkansas.org. Parking is available in the new lot on the east side of the Motherhouse.

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