Local Conversations Impacting Southeast Kansas

Hello and welcome to the new and first ever Community Engagement Blog. I will use this blog once each month to clarify what a community engagement director does on a daily basis to search for opportunities to help those need. If you choose to follow my blog, I will talk about the communities where I am working, the partners with whom I am involved, and the actions we are taking. I am hopeful that you will enjoy learning more about our SEK-CAP engagement efforts and more about all the partners that we work with to leverage one another’s resources for the purpose of helping more people. I am excited about this opportunity and encourage you to follow me and to comment as you so desire.

At SEK-CAP, we are well aware of the impact of COVID-19 on our citizens since early 2020. Our research in the twelve counties we serve in Southeast Kansas shows that each county has been challenged, the most vulnerable have been Wilson, Neosho, Labette, Crawford, Linn, Montgomery, Bourbon, and Cherokee.

Common challenges in these counties have been with impacts on Health, Employment, Education, and Community Resources. Here are few details of each impact:



  • Individuals over age 60 with underlying conditions are in a high risk category.
  • Community health resources have been stretched as health care workers are focused on those with COVID-19 which results in a burden on the system.
  • There are increasing mental health issues as a result of COVID-19.



  • The impact on the economy due to the pandemic has resulted in sudden and unexpected unemployment.
  • Many of our citizens do not have the technology in their homes to work remotely, thus the are more likely to be unemployed.
  • Many of our citizens who work at a lower wage have been the ones who are working more closely to those with COVID-19.



  • Learning loss is occurring because schools have been closed, thus many of our citizens with less access to broadband internet and technology are most vulnerable
  • Caregivers are asked to be their children’s primary teachers, thus a severe hardship on many of our citizens who do not have the education and skill set to provide the learning environment that their children need.


Community Resources

  • Many of our citizens have been unable to participate in group activities such as senior centers.
  • Many of our citizens have not had the access that is needed for personal protective equipment, emergency supplies, cleaning supplies.

My contact information:

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For those of you who fear speaking in front of a crowd, this information may be helpful when your agency finds itself doing just that. First, on the lighter side, it is often said that if one attends a funeral, that person would prefer to be in the casket than giving the eulogy. Unbelievably, that statement comes closer to the truth that you might imagine as the fear of public speaking ranks toward the top of most everyone’s list of things they fear.

As your agency approaches upcoming meetings, I offer four basics today that will make a huge difference to your presentation(s):

  1. First, select a presenter who is the most comfortable in front of a group and one who has a real passion for communicating with others in that forum. Does it not come across loud and clear when you are in front of a presenter who would clearly prefer to be elsewhere?
  2. Second, please avoid using PowerPoint if you intend to fill each slide with text. The use of an image on each slide is far more effective as your audience will remember far more than they would have learned had you been reading text from a slide.
  3. When inviting people to a meeting, advertise in advance that you are seeking their REACTION to an idea, concept, or project. All of us are busy and dealing with what I call OPPORTUNITY COSTS which means that we have choices to make about where we spend our time. Do we choose to go attend a meeting or to go elsewhere?
  4. Organize your meeting in a manner that gets people out of their seats, for example:
    1. Pin flip chart pages to a wall with a topic on each page and ask participants to circulate around the room and post their comments.
    2. Ask participants to rate their feelings from 0 to 10 on each topic by placing their rating on a post-it note and placing if on a flip chart page on the wall.

If you incorporate these tips into your meeting facilitation opportunities, I am confident that you and your attendees will learn more and have a much more enjoyable experience.


My contact information:

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I am working with a regional economic development group in Southeast Kansas to create new opportunities for all our citizens. As documented in our SEK-CAP Regional Assessment, our entire region needs new opportunities as we have struggled for many years with issues related to health care, poverty, childcare, workforce development, transportation, and access to healthy foods, just to name a few.

The group that I am working with is called Project 17. In the next three months, we are scheduled to meet with Lieutenant Governor Toland and all elected State Senators and Representatives to seek their support for initiatives that target the needs that were detailed above. A reason to hope that Lt. Governor Toland and our elected officials will be supportive of a partnership with our group is that the State just released its annual Rural Opportunity Report, and its focus is on all the issues that affect our status.

Everything on the list of issues is extremely difficult to change; however, we have a strong and highly dedicated group with a lot of connections that is passionate about bringing new opportunities to our area.

My contact information:

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On my mind at this time is our need to re-establish the Elk/Chautauqua Coalition. Unfortunately, our long-time coalition host took a new position that required her to give up her role to our group. Out of respect for the importance of this group, I have unilaterally and unsolicited reached out to the regular attendees of the bi-monthly meeting to gauge their interest in continuing.

To date, my initial outreach effort was to two other SEK-CAP attendees to compare our thoughts about the current status of the situation. Following that conversation, I distributed a message to all other regular attendees with two initial options for consideration:

  • Is there another person in Elk/Chautauqua Counties who would be willing to assume the role as host?
  • If not, is there another person in other counties who would be willing to assume the role as host?

For anyone reading this blog, please contact me so that we can continue this effort to re-establish the coalition. Hard to think of major issues that are involved; however, it is noteworthy that the use of Zoom to host our meetings is challenged at times due to the weakness of the broadband in that area. Nonetheless, we move forward with our meetings on a bi-monthly basis and enjoy our time together as we share notes about what each agency is doing to help our citizens.

Finally, regarding the use of Zoom as the platform used to facilitate the meetings, the attendance is much higher than pre-pandemic times when we were required to travel to either Howard or Sedan for our in-person meetings. Of course, this is helpful as the time away from our office is far less and meetings can be more productive as it is far easier to exchange data during the meeting thanks to the use of the platform’s technology.

Again, please contact me if you have thoughts about our need to re-establish the Elk/Chautauqua Coalition Meeting. My contact information:


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Each county in Southeast Kansas hosts a monthly meeting of social service providers. Those meetings are called County Coalition Meetings. A few of the counties also attach a unique name to differentiate its meeting from all the others. For example, Cherokee names its meeting PACCC, Neosho names its meeting NCART.

Depending on the size and location of the county, attendance/participation varies. Because of their location and size, Elk/Chautauqua have combined for many years to host one meeting rather than one for each county individually. As a participant at their meeting, I am excited their relatively recent use of technology has made an impact on both attendance and participation. They have begun using Zoom which is an internet webinar tool that can be accessed at your own desk on your own computer, or, it can also be used on any device such as your smart phone. The Zoom service is free and is easy to set up a meeting by going to their website.

My mention of Zoom or any other internet webinar tool such as Skype is not intended to suggest that this use of technology is better than person to person conversations at the meetings – they are not! Conversations that are face to face capitalize on vocal variety and body language to communicate far better than over the internet.

If your group determines that the use of technology is a good idea, please consider the following pointers to improve your communication:

  • Ask attendees to use the mute button when they are not talking to the group as background noise can quickly ruin the conversation

  • It is best, I think, for each participant to use the video option so that their image shows up during the meeting. More difficult, I think, to communicate with one another when it is voice only

  • The meeting host must be very well prepared for the meeting and keenly aware of the rhythm and effectiveness of the conversation. One comment about meeting preparation for the host is that he/she must have total command of their visual aids by knowing where each page or PowerPoint slide is located so as to avoid lengthy pauses and otherwise lack of organization that distracts from the quality of the meeting

I would encourage each county to consider the use of technology to increase participation and effectiveness as we continuously strive to increase awareness about our services that are so desperately needed.  


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As Chairman of the Project 17 economic development group for all of Southeast Kansas, I am happy that our new partnership as of October 2020 with Kansas State Research and Extension (KSRE) will immediately benefit our group and those we serve. Shortly after the first of the year, KSRE and its county agents throughout Southeast Kansas will take the lead on providing education for our citizens who are asked to work from home, and/or, would like to enter the workforce by adding a new skill to their resume.

The name of the new program is Remote Workplace Certification. The program will educate those who enroll about important skills such as how to separate personal distractions from work responsibilities while working remotely; to be aware of and adapt to the challenge of being a good teammate when working remotely; how to dress properly and adapt to the image you are portraying when participating in zoom calls; how to raise your awareness and adapt to proper use of communication skills when participating on zoom calls; and how to organize your time so that your work responsibilities are the highest priority.

This Remote Workplace Certification has been developed in direct response by the University to the new era in which we find ourselves. We are thankful that it is available and that it will be a nice benefit to all the citizens we serve. As enrollment information becomes available, I will make sure that it is widely distributed. In the meantime, do not hesitate to contact me with your questions.

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I learned last week of the retirement of LeeAnn Spencer who has served as the Executive Director for several years for the Labette Community Emergency Action Center (LCEAC). LeeAnn’s accomplishments at LCEAC were recognized a few years ago by SEK-CAP for her excellence in managing the agency and total passion for helping as many people as she could.

LeeAnn’s retirement reminds me of those special people throughout Southeast Kansas who are equally as dedicated to their agency’s mission and their passion for doing all they can every day to help others. My fear of listing specific names is that I will omit someone who deserves recognition, but we all know who they are. I think of the passionate leadership and commitment by our Coalition Officers, the community development group in Woodson County at Yates Center that calls itself RevitalizeYC, the BCBS Pathway Grant recipient communities, and all of the social service agencies whose staff works so hard to make a difference in the lives of everyone they encounter.

Thank you LeeAnn for your legacy as a “giver” to your community and to all of you who awake each morning with a burning passion to help others.

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As I write this blog on October 1, I am excited as I will be traveling to Yates Center tonight to participate in a monthly meeting with a volunteer group whose name is RevitalizeYC. As the name suggests, this group of volunteers is working extremely hard to address long-term issues that have confronted the community, just like all other Southeast Kansas communities and throughout the United States.

Of course, there are issues related to housing, decreasing population, childcare, access to health care, fewer store fronts in the town square, access to fresh fruits and vegetables and the list goes on. The magnitude of these issues is overwhelming, but to its credit, the RevitalizeYC group is working hard to mitigate as many of these issues as possible. Their commitment, passion, local knowledge, skills, teambuilding and vision for a better Yates Center in the future is opening doors and generating hope for a brighter future.

I am thankful for the opportunity to work with and to contribute to this extraordinary community planning initiative at Yates Center.   

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As a community engagement person, my search for an opportunity to make a difference led me to Yates Center located in Woodson County in the spring of 2018. I learned of a small group of citizens who shared a common interest of revitalizing the community to promote growth while still maintaining the distinctive small-town character. For any community, this type of ambition is overwhelming, especially without the resources of staff, budget and other elements of a prosperous community such as population growth, thriving economy, and community amenities that are important for people as they choose the location where they want to live, work and play.

In a short span of eighteen months, this remarkable group has organized itself to support destination events and to encourage community volunteers in a variety of functions.


Regarding destination events, four are on the schedule:

  • Historic Town Square Clean Up Day
  • Fall Festival Chili and Soup Feed
  • 40th Annual Yates Center Days
  • Toronto Days


Regarding the encouragement of community volunteers, a number of functions are available: 

  • Community Projects
  • Administrative
  • Communications
  • Fundraising and events
  • Finance
  • Research
  • Technology


SEK-CAP is delighted to be involved as a member of the Board of Directors for RevitalizeYC. The progress made and the excitement of interacting with a dedicated group of volunteers who are united to improve their community is priceless.


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Post It Notes


Have you ever left an important meeting and felt that the meeting went okay? If so, what if you were wrong? What if those in attendance were just being polite and unwilling to tell you how they truly felt? If these questions describe your management style, perhaps you should consider another alternative. Here is my suggestion:

  1. Begin with the commitment to always know exactly how your meeting attendees feel on important matters
  2. Invest in a pack of post-it notes
  3. Circulate a post-it (s) on all important matters to be discussed
  4. Ask attendees to rate each important matter from 0 to 10 with 0 being the lowest possible score and 10 being the highest possible score
  5. On each matter, add the total number of points given for each topic and divide that number by the number of attendees
  6. By doing so, you will have an average score on each important matter
  7. Circling back to my initial question about leaving an important meeting feeling that it was okay - by using post-its, what if the average score on a post-it was (5), how would you feel? Would you feel that 5 was okay? Would you not begin to dig deeper to learn more about why the average score was not higher?

Follow this community engagement tip and you will have greater results as you manage with more quantifiable data for your group’s preferences.


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Proclamation Govenor November 2019


I am making the assumption that no one would know that SEK-CAP is associated with economic development in a seventeen-county area in Southeast Kansas with a group named Project 17, right? Well, we are, and we also serve as a leader of that group as I am the Chairman of the Board.

The primary reason that SEK-CAP is involved makes sense as the clients we serve all have one thing in common and that is to improve their opportunities to a better future. A better future is always linked to the economy, thus the value in participating with Project 17 where actions can be taken to make a difference.

A bit more about Project 17:

The Project 17 service area encompasses seventeen counties (Allen, Anderson, Bourbon, Chautauqua, Cherokee, Coffey, Crawford, Elk, Franklin, Greenwood, Labette, Linn, Miami, Montgomery, Neosho, Wilson and Woodson Counties) and home to 268,138 people.

More than 300 people came together in a summit in 2013 to talk about greater opportunities and challenges facing the region.

The outcome of this 300-person summit resulted in the formation of Project 17 to focus on economic development, workforce development and education, leadership and health.

It was determined that success for the region would be improved if it would think locally but act regionally.

It was determined in the summit that the preferred approach to acting regionally would be to create a volunteer board and to hire an executive director.

Three Guiding Principles (below) were created to ensure that the executive director and volunteer board would keep steadfast to the intentions of the original summit:

  1. Alignment of all activities with an economic development initiative to improve regional economic prosperity
  2. To establish a network-based approach to insure the voices of everyday citizens from within the region are heard
  3. To create an organizational structure to ensure the network's work is coordinated


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Many of us are using Zoom to facilitate the meetings that we used to attend in person. Because of that, it seems to me that we need to follow best practices to elevate those meetings to a level where their quality is indicative of the professionalism that we all strive for. Here is a list for your consideration as you participate in your next zoom meeting:

  1. Be aware of your personal grooming if you are on video.
  2. Avoid eating while you are in the meeting.
  3. Be aware of the backdrop if you are using video. It is easy to create your own personalized backdrop by inserting an image that you feel is representative of who you are or what you do.
  4. When you speak for the first time, try to avoid asking “can you hear me”?
  5. Check the lighting in the location from where you are participating. Too dark or too light?
  6. If you are hosting the meeting, I prefer that the host call on those in attendance when it is their turn to speak rather than the awkwardness of having people talk over one another.
  7. Please use the chat box to share contact information or other data that is of importance. For example, we often hear those in attendance ask others to contact them at their phone number or email address making it far too difficult for people to record that information. Just place that information in the chat box so people can record it much easier.

If you will utilize these tips, your meetings will be far more successful!

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The need for assistance of all kinds has not been greater in most of our lifetimes. COVID-19 has affected each one of us in one way or another. Because of that, we at SEK-CAP are reaching out to our partners, clients and citizens-at-large to determine how best we can meet a few of the most urgent needs. A few of the things we have already done to understand the needs that are affecting us, and/or, are in the process of doing at this time:

  1. We have posted a survey on our website for individuals to fill out so that we can have a deeper understanding of their needs
  2. We are about to distribute a survey to our partners to have a deeper understanding of their needs. Partners include municipalities, school districts, and social service providers
  3. We have distributed an email message to all member agencies of the county coalitions to seek their feedback on urgent needs
  4. We have reached out to many food pantries in Southeast Kansas to see if their food supply is adequate

As we hear about urgent matters from the groups we have reached out to, we are responding on a timely basis and to as many needs as we can that fit within the mission of our agency, available resources, and adherence to funding guidelines.

SEK-CAP is working hard to be your partner during this time of great need. We realize we cannot be all things to all people but we do want to make a difference as often as we can.


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Like each of you, I am finding ways to continue the business of helping our clients during this most unusual time. Because the core of my duties is related to interacting with community leaders throughout Southeast Kansas to find ways to collaborate so that scarce resources can be leveraged to serve as many clients as possible, I am thrilled that we have utilized modern technology to continue our work.

If you are curious about the modern technology that I and a million others are using each day throughout the United States, the most used tool in Southeast Kansas is an online video communications tool that is named ZOOM. There are other tools, of course, such as Skype but we seem to prefer Zoom. This tool allows us to sit at our desk, or smart phone, and not only visit with one another but also to see one another. There are various other features as well but the point of this blog is to let readers know that our inability to meet in person due to COVID-19, has not interfered with our ability and desire to continue taking care of business for our clients.

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SEK-CAP reached out to support 26 food pantries in Southeast Kansas during the month of May. In excess of $11,000 was spent to purchase food that had been requested by the pantries. Although this process was a very large undertaking for SEK-CAP, it was manageable thanks to the coordinated efforts of the purchasing department, transportation department and community engagement.

As an agency, we learned from our food pantry partners that our help is greatly appreciated. Our contribution was used to leverage other partner contributions that have in place for a long time in most cases. Local individual and corporate donations and special event campaigns to collect food have been the mainstay of local pantries for many years.

The most noticed story from the food pantry sites is the passion and total commitment by the local volunteers. At each stop, volunteers are working hard each week to collect and organize food shelves, prepare for the weekly distribution to local residents (usually on Wednesday), and start all over again as there is no finish line.

SEK-CAP is proud to be a partner with Southeast Kansas food pantries!

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Relying on newly acquired federal funding to respond to COVID-19 issues, SEK-CAP is moving quickly to use that funding within established guidelines to assist as many people as it possibly can. Initial high priorities have landed on food pantries and senior centers throughout our twelve-county service area in Southeast Kansas.

  1. Our first step in helping others has been to update master lists for both groups: food pantries and senior centers. We feel good about our updated lists; however, we are depending on anyone who reads this blog to help us out by providing names of pantries and centers with contact information to make sure that our lists continue to evolve.
  2. Our second step after a recent update of our master lists has been to solicit requests from food pantries for their needs.
  3. Our third step after receiving food requests from pantries has been to acquire and distribute the food to twelve locations.
  4. Our succeeding steps will be to analyze senior center needs along with ongoing food pantry needs so we can allocate resources to address their needs after we have staffed each request to ensure it falls within established guidelines.

We at SEK-CAP are totally committed to address as many needs as possible and anxious to work collaboratively with each of you to ensure that we are aware of your needs so that we can make a timely response.  

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A wonderful opportunity recently presented itself to work in Crawford and Cherokee Counties with a not-for-profit group whose name is Safe Families for Children. This group strives to provide safe families for children, in all situations, on a temporary basis. An example of their work would be a situation where the mother has to be admitted to a hospital and has no one to care for her children. In this case, the program would help to facilitate a relationship with another family or individual so that the children would have somewhere to go until the mother is discharged. 

As part of the growth phase of this program and to develop connections in our area, I am working with Tina Westbay who is the Family Coach Supervisor/Community Engagement individual. Although I am in the early stages of this opportunity, after visiting with Tina a couple of times, I/we envision some of the instances where I can be helpful:

  • Seek advice from as many people/groups as possible about recent successes with attracting volunteers to assist with their program as this is certainly the major need for Safe Families for Children
  • Facilitate conversations with existing groups whose mission aligns them with this cause; e.g. Ministerial Alliances, County Coalitions
  • Allocate my available resources toward this program in a manner that is most helpful

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