Thrive benefits Allen County

By EMERSON LYNN, JR.
Register Associate Editor

Thrive Allen County adds value to the community in two ways, David Toland told Iola Rotarians Thursday.
First, with tangible projects and getting grants for projects; second, by serving as a catalyst to encourage communities and community groups to solve problems and meet needs.
Toland has been executive director of the countywide organization since March of 2008. In those 15 months, the Thrive budget has grown from $50,000 to $250,000 annually. Almost all of the budget is financed through grants from non-profit organizations such as the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City and the REACH Healthcare Foundation of Kansas City, both of which were created by the sale of Health Midwest Hospitals to Hospital Corporation of America.
Thrive will also get a $50,000 grant from the Kansas Health Foundation provided it can raise $25,000 in matching funds, and $20,000 from the Kansas Department of Health and Education to help finance an upcoming Thrive effort to make bars and restaurants in the county smoke-free.
Among the successful projects Toland described to Rotarians was recruiting the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas in Pittsburg to establish a dentist in Iola to care for Medicaid and low-income uninsured patients in the region. Dr. Kelly Richardson was recruited and is now practicing in offices in The Family Physicians’ clinic on East Madison, which has just completed its first year of operation.
Dr. Richardson’s practice has grown steadily and she is now seeing patients from as far away as Emporia.
Thrive also helped Elsmore locate used playground equipment at Johnson County Community College, prepare a successful bid for it, then recruited the baseball team at Allen County Community College to free the equipment from its foundations. Elsmore farmers provided the trucks to bring the equipment to their community and then install it there. In addition, a twice-a-week bus service between Elsmore, Moran and Iola has been established to take youngsters to the Iola swimming pool during the summer.
In Moran, Thrive held community meetings in which residents identified local needs and organized themselves into action teams to get them accomplished.
“What we like to do is get projects under way and then get out of the way,” Toland explained.
Because improvement projects usually take money to accomplish, Thrive holds grant-writing classes in conjunction with KHF and the other well-financed non-profit organizations in the region.
This year the classes produced six requests for grants to REACH and HCF, three of which were successful — the greatest rate of success of the six counties HCF serves in Kansas. The successful grants were to Thrive for its smoke-free project; the Elm Creek Community Garden and SAFE BASE.
Here in Iola, Thrive has plans for use of land purchased under the FEMA program following the 2007 flood that it will present to city officials. It also hopes to persuade the city to create bike lanes on city streets to encourage more bike riding and to install electronic signals on city traffic signals which tell pedestrians and motorists alike how many seconds remain before a crossing signal turns red again. Such signals are installed now in downtown Lawrence. Studies show that older residents are 30 percent more likely to walk in downtown areas when the information is available.
The informative signals could be installed on all of Iola’s traffic lights for $12,000, Toland said.
Thrive has also played a role in encouraging home building.
“It is a very good sign that at least 45 houses will be built in Allen County this year, right in the middle of a recession when residential construction has been hard hit,” he said.
Thrive is also promoting the need for a Parks and Recreation Plan for future development and wants to see Iola make the square more attractive by planting trees and shrubs on the edges of the sidewalks and installing park benches to encourage walking and visiting.
“It’s a magnificent square; we need to make it more inviting,” Toland said.
Still in the works is creation of a high-tech playground center in Riverside Park that will entice children to leave their television sets and video games behind and enjoy the Kansas summer outside.
The equipment — far different from that found in today’s parks — will be intriguing to all and usable to the handicapped as well. Thrive has launched a drive to raise the $75,000 it will cost.
Karen Gilpin, a member of the Thrive board of directors, introduced Toland.