Monday, September 29, 2008

Service to Community Award


The Workforce Solutions of West Central Texas Board has nominated the Knox County Visioning Team for a Texas Workforce Commission Service to Community Award. The award will not be announced until the State conference in early December; however, the Board would like to recognize the Knox County Visioning Team at our next meeting on Wednesday, October15. We will be presenting KCVT with an award and would like to invite team representatives to join us for lunch at 11:30 a.m., followed by the Board meeting at noon. I realize this is the same day as the TMCN meeting, which is in San Angelo, so I know that may be challenging.

Please let me know if you or other representatives will be able to attend to accept the award and if so, how many folks will be joining us for lunch. We appreciate the great work that you're doing in Knox County and look forward to hearing from you. Please feel free to contact me, if you have any questions.

Mary Ross,
Executive DirectorWorkforce Solutions of West Central Texas Board

Book Premier Party

Hey gang,

Everyone is invited to a book premier party, October 20th, 5:30 - 8:30 pm at the Circle Bar Ranch Lodge, downtown Truscott.

The Truscott ladies will prepare desserts for 200 servings. I suggested cakes and cobblers, their specialties etc. We talked about the hors devoures and pretty much both agreed it would be too much, but Eujanie wants to think about it some more. I'll talk to her again closer to the date, and order whatever they don't do.

We didn't talk the other day about plates, cups, napkins, serving pieces, centerpiece etc. or at least I don't remember it if we did. Any thoughts?

Marla, I am so glad you suggested this location! It was inspired! Even with having been there this summer, I was awed at how beautiful the place is now. The bedrooms and great room are partially furnished, there's still some touch-up work to be done and lots of clean up but both Eujanie and the contractor (who was there this morning when I got the grand tour) assure me it is not a problem and will be ready.

And, knowing Eujanie, ready is an will be perfect! She seemed genuinely happy that we asked, just worried about whether anyone will want to drive to Truscott. I assured her for a sneak peak at the Lodge before it goes public, and a chance to hear Wyman, congratulate Sylinda and get their book(s) signed before the holidays.....they'd probably walk! Of course, we might need to be a little cautious, and issue a warning, as there is no telling what the Visionaries like Pepper will be inspired to do when they see this!

So let's, "Come on over and see what they've done now! Join in for the first party at the Circle Bar Ranch Lodge, our just completed renovation of Truscott's historic rock church."

  • Isn't it exciting? All these firsts: Sylinda's first book publication with Badlands Design & Production, located right here in Benjamin, Texas.

  • Wyman's first self-published book, in partnership with Sylinda, and his first inspirational volume.

  • Jerry Bob and Eujanie, renovating another much loved landmark and opening the first official lodging in Truscott.

  • And, all these are new businesses in Knox County, with all of them reflecting our history, heritage, natural resources and talented folks! I'm glad the new book is inspirational....because this whole thing is INSPIRING!

I think there's another inspirational story here, too, in Marla, from Knox City, having the idea of a book signing party, but suggesting it be held in Truscott. And, her belief that our High School students need to attend and that their teachers will encourage, in fact bribe, them to do so, because they need to know the official State Photographer of Texas grew up and lives right here in Knox County ...proving you can aspire to be anything, even, oh my, an artist right here at home. Oh yeah, let's don't forget, she didn't just have a great idea, she's taking on the lions' share of the work to get it done. Now Marla, that's neighborly!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Ripple Effect~

Remember how your Mom always told you that everything you did influenced your little brother? Or the encouraging words about whenever you planted a seed, ….. Or dropping a small pebble in a pond leading to wider and wider circles of ripples in the water?

Well, it was true. Every time we work together on a project to benefit Knox County, good things happen. Sometimes, totally beyond what we were aiming or even would have hoped for.

Let’s look at some after affects of the Real Rural Tourism Symposium:

Our buddy, local mover and shaker over in Knox City, Steve Pepper finally took Marla Hawkins, Chamber President, seriously when she assured him going to Foard County first really was an ok plan and that he really didn’t have anything more important to do that Friday than drive a tour “bus” for us. Here are the ripples in chronological order, as best I can tell:
  1. Steve ended up being the guide for April, a Texas Historical Commission representative, who was so taken with our friendliness, enthusiasm, respect for our heritage and awesome activities that she went back to Austin and suggested that we could be teaching them the course they were putting together for Texas cities on Civic Tourism…and she has been bragging about Knox County statewide ever since. Our friends in Abilene this week told me we were the example ad nauseum at last weeks conference/workshop for the board members of the states 10 Heritage Trails. Hmm… good advertising?

  2. Steve got so excited, about the entertainment he found better than Branson, that he “converted” to the Visioning Committee’s way of thinking and went right to work to catch up. First, he renovated, remodeled, refined and re-defined an abandoned building on Main Street, downtown Knox City…now he’s making it available for all kinds of community and county-wide events. Go look at this fab place… rock front, red awning, rustic interior with real wood slab walls, generous public restrooms, glorious kitchen, comfy outdoor seating and all.

  3. Then Steve and Marla, looked around and said…We gotta get more of our young adults involved in Knox County’s future and the Young Gun program was born. Two gatherings already, every one of the identified “mover and shaker” young families that were invited came, one group met in Munday at Judge and Brenda Floyd’s home and the next enjoyed a steak dinner at the Chamber building in Knox City. The message…y’all are not the future…y’all are the NOW of Knox County. So, what do you want to do and how do you want us to help you?

  4. Their answer? Well actually they had lots of ‘em…but they got on the ball, too and October 25th these YOUNG GUNS are hosting the Great Pumpkin Shoot Out featuring one of the entertainment ideas they proposed over dinner…professional lawn mover and go-kart racing. That’s right! With the support of the City and Chamber they’ll offer all of us the excitement of gas fumes, crashes and blowouts on our own Knox County track, plus a Halloween Spook House, Concessions and a surprise…pumpkin shoot-out. Don’t miss it!

  5. Not to be getting behind the youngsters, Steve and Kay looked around again and said “Hey, those tourist people were right.” They said, “Gotta have a place to put folks up overnight.” Now, Kay’s driving Steve, his words not mine, to have their new B&B, the old 2 story next door, ready by Christmas!

  6. And, while Steve was looking for a way to get his rock on that Main Street building, a couple of strangers came in to shop @ Peppers. Of course, Kay struck up a friendly conversation, found out the gentleman was a stone mason…got that done…then that they might be interested in a new place to call home. So, spent the day this past weekend touring them around via…you guessed it, the Adventure Trail, developed for our Real Rural Tourism Symposium!
And speaking of our Adventure Trail, coming soon, very soon, you will be able to check out our cool new ad for TMCN, which will also morph into our Knox County is Adventure Country brochure and trail map…and serve as the logo for a partnership with the Knox County Historical Commission and their Adventure! Advertising!

These ripples just keep going around and around!

'The' Survey

Here it is… the famous survey you’ve heard your neighbors talking about, you saw Brittany out on the streets and in stores interviewing folks, asking them these questions. Now it’s your turn, just in case you didn’t get a chance yet to participate…. we really do want to know what you think. Print it out and mail to us at P O Box 77, Benjamin, Texas 79505, or copy and paste as an e-mail attachment and send to us at Read the notes under our Summer Intern story and Brittany’s picture to see what your neighbors are saying:

Knox County Visioning Committee’s
We Really Want to Know What You Think Survey

Why do you live in Knox County?

How long have you lived here?

If you could wave your magic wand and “fix” one thing in Knox County, what would it be?

What one thing are you most concerned about when you think about the future of Knox County? Your community?

Do you own a business, farm or ranch in Knox County?

Are you employed by a locally owned business?

What do you see as the greatest challenge local businesses face?

Did you grow up in this area?

If not, what brought you here?

Do you believe you live here now by choice or would you like to move if you could?

Are you aware of the Knox County Visioning Team?

How did you find out about the Team?

Have you been involved in working with the Team?

What other volunteer activities are you involved in?

Did you participate in the Job Fair, Youth Engagement Day or Rural Tourism Symposium hosted by the Visioning Team this year?

Did you think it was worthwhile?

What was most important/interesting?

Would you be interested in seeing a follow-up program to any of these? Which ones?

What would you change if the program was done again?

Have you read any of the newspaper articles or the column in the newspaper about what the Team is doing?

Have you looked at the Blog?

Any thoughts you’d like to share about either one of those?

Do you believe we have more jobs that need to be filled, or more people who need jobs in Knox County?

Would you be interested in any kind of job training or continuing education for either yourself or your employees? Another family member?

If you own or manage a business have you encountered any challenge in finding new, capable employees?

What would help you with that?

Would you be willing as a business owner to mentor or have as an intern a Knox County high school student? If the program was free to you? If you had to pay them as a part time employee?

Would you be willing to “coach” someone interested in participating in the Entrepreneurial Fair or starting their own business? Help them develop a business plan? A model/display of their business idea? Find and compile financial information? Put together and make a presentation about their idea?

Would you be interested in teaching a class on your particular skills?

Have you looked for a job in Knox County in the last 3 years?

What did you find was available?

What additional skills or education would you need to either find a better job or move into your “dream” job/career?

If you have children or grandchildren:

Do you want them to live in Knox County as adults?

Do they?

Why not?

What would have to change for your family to live here for another generation?

Have you or anyone you know bought or rented a house in Knox County in the last year?

Did you/they have trouble finding something?

Do you know anyone who doesn’t live here because they couldn’t find a house, or a house they liked, could afford?

Do you think we have enough available houses or good enough quality housing to attract people to live here?

If not, do you think we need more low income housing, middle class new houses, apartments, a mobile home park?

Do you think you will always live in Knox County?

What would cause you to leave?

What would it take to change your mind about leaving?

Do you buy groceries in Knox County? What about your other shopping, do you do that locally or where do you go?

How many businesses in Knox County would you guess you go into in a month?

Do you go to the Dr here or somewhere else? Where do you go to get your prescriptions filled?

How often do you or your family eat out? Where?

Name a business you think could succeed in Knox County that we don’t have now.

Do you get one of the local newspapers? Which one?

How do you find out about local events?

What radio station do you listen to?

Summer Intern Program

On the last day of summer break, in between volleyball practices, Brittany reflected on her summer intern experience:

Brittany Coop

On my first day of this internship, I wrote a short essay on what I thought The Knox County Visioning Committee and Ogallala Commons meant to me. My definition of these two organizations has been greatly influenced and expanded by my work here. My internship has not been very long, but already I have learned so much more about where I live. Even though I have been here almost all my life in this county of just over 4,000 people, I have never really gotten to know the residents of each town until now.

At the beginning of my internship, I interviewed Knox County Visioning Team members about where the Team has been and where they would like it go. Each one had a genuine interest in making Knox County beautiful and resourceful, and a place our children could come back home to. After meeting with several local leaders from different areas of the County, I learned that, among other objectives, they all had a common goal: to bring a sense of community between the different towns.

Whenever I got a chance, I worked on compiling and organizing a mailing list of the young families in Knox County. After completion, I learned that it was to be used by the County Judge, Travis Floyd, to invite some young families to his home for a get-together. There was eating, visiting, and a discussion of what was going on within the County, and how they could get involved with local events. I was pretty surprised and honored when Judge Floyd asked me to attend as well. One of the most interesting and fun things about the night was that the couples were encouraged to bring their families, and I got the chance to help another teenager watch some of the younger kids. Overall, it was a very fun and informative night.

Next, the annual Donald Johnson Memorial Watermelon Festival was upon us! This event is the perfect opportunity to get the word out on local organizations, and we did not want to miss it. After securing us a place to set up a display, work began on an exhibit that would clearly and simply tell people what The Visioning Team is, while still making it eye-catching to the many different people who walked by that hot Saturday afternoon. The main idea of the four posters I assembled was “Opening the Door to New Possibilities.” One told of the origins of the Knox County Visioning Team, another detailed the future and the other two utilized quotes from Board Members discussing the progress so far. I also made postcard-sized flyers detailing what the Team was, and how they could find out more about it. Many people stopped by to learn more about us, and they almost always expressed, “I’m so glad we have something like that!”

In the final week of my internship, I surveyed local residents from all walks of life about what they feel the County is, what they love, and what they would like to change about it. My answers were not as common-goal oriented as they had been when I interviewed Team Members, but instead turned out to be as diverse as the people who live here. From talking with the people I met, I felt that I was able to get the word out on The Visioning Committee. After I collected all the surveys, I took the information and opinions I received and created a profile on the project. The most striking thing I learned from this was that nearly everyone I spoke to truly loved their hometowns and wanted to tell everyone they could what a wonderful place we live in!

I have had such a great time and learned so much in the month I have been here; that I wish the summer wasn’t over! I have at times stepped out of my comfort zone and met people from all over the community and learned that I had more in common with than I would have previously thought. I hope to continue working closely with all the organizations and people I have come in contact with, and watch our community flourish!

I hope Brittany truly did enjoy and learn from her time working with the KCVC and Ogallala Commons. We were surely blessed to have her! You’ll be seeing more of her innovative ideas in the next few months!

On the street interviews...

Brittany designed and constructed a multi poster sized display to help tell the story of KCVC and then interacted with hundreds of visitors who visited our “booth” at the Knox City Watermelon Festival, on the hottest day of the summer. She felt the heat again in August when she visited all of our communities surveying the citizen on the street to find out what they knew about their home county and the Visioning team and its work, and what they thought should be happening! We were prepared for folks to hurry by and not take time to talk to her…boy, were we surprised. Seems almost everybody was just waiting for someone to ask their opinion! People who really couldn’t take time to participate requested surveys to take home, and actually returned them! And, they asked for extra copies to take home to their family or friends to complete. Here’s Brittany’s review of what they said:

Interview Notes
Brittany Coop

  • Biggest difference in answers came from gap between lower and higher income:
    ~low income tended to be more negative when talking about overall satisfaction or opportunities within the county
    ~higher income tended to be more positive when talking about overall satisfaction or opportunities within the county; were only group to mention drug problem
    ~Those of higher income tended to believe we have more jobs that need to be filled, and were willing to pay a little more to keep their business local, while those of lower income tended to believe we didn’t have enough jobs and were looking for the lowest price.
  • Not as much difference between races as anticipated.
  • People under the age of twenty-five were more likely to indicate that they were here because “they had to be.” Also, most likely to put that they were leaving and nothing was going to make them stay. Of those who would like to stay, most put they would leave for a better job, while older people tended to put that nothing could make them leave.
  • The surveys indicated that many residents had been raised here and had lived here all their life.
  • Many people were most concerned with the County not being here in the future, or being a very changed version (some towns drying up, being controlled by people with no ties to County)
  • The things most often cited by residents as needing to be “fixed” included more jobs, more recreational activities (this was listed most by younger people), the lack of a variety of retail stores, and a lack of more places to eat.
  • Many said that for their family to live here for another generation, they would need more opportunities: more jobs and more housing.
  • Most thought we did not have enough quality, available housing; several people indicated that they knew someone who couldn’t live here because they couldn’t find a house.
  • Many people expressed that to get their “dream” job, they would need more education.
  • Jobs most often listed as being available when residents searched in the last three years included: school systems, hospital, and retail.
  • Most people were enthusiastic about job training for themselves or someone in their family.
  • Not many people volunteered to teach a class on their skills (but this most often seemed to be because the interviewee didn’t think they had any skills).
  • Many people said that the greatest challenge for local businesses was the competition from Wichita Falls, Abilene, and Lubbock.
  • Many people were aware of the programs and activities of the Visioning Team, but not the actual group itself. After telling them who has been behind the County’s progress, they were eager to know what was planned for the future.
    ~Of those who were already aware of the KCVT, many learned of it by attending a program, knowing someone on the committee, or through an event like the watermelon festival or parenting fair.
  • Not many people knew about the blog.
  • Most people received at least one of the two local papers, and looked to them for information about community events.
Along with the entire Jr and Sr classes at Benjamin High School, Brittany participated in our Ranch Country Communities Youth Engagement Day, with students from Knox City and Munday High Schools. Her report of the day follows:

Brittany Coop

The Youth Engagement Day was a program intended to show students in Knox County the opportunities that abound in our home communities. With a treasure hunting theme, the day really showed Knox City, Munday, and Benjamin students what opportunities could be found right here at home. Stacy Henry, Vice President of Crowell State Bank, presented “Show Me the Gold”, a workshop that asked us, "How many of you are ready to leave town? And never come back?" He shared that he too had been in that position, but found his dream job in his hometown. Tibb Burnett, cowboy poet, gave “Clues from the Past” which was a telling of the history of our region through poetry and the melodies of his harmonica. He instilled in us a sense of pride and amazement at the wonders of our county. Remelle instructed us to attach clues we had picked out to a bulletin board. We chose which was most important to us: excitement, closeness to family, career, etc. When the bulletin board was turned over, it revealed a map that showed us all the things we wanted could be found in Knox County. This was unexpected and got our attention. Barbera Rector, Amy Lorance, and Lorrie Coop were our group leaders and escorted us to the various workshops and lunch. Karina and Remelle led “Mining the Riches”, where we found out the abilities and gifts we possessed and matched us to a career path in Knox County. Area Health Education and Texas Workforce Commission partnered with the Visioning Committee to present this workshop. We learned that there were a lot more great careers here than we thought! Health proved to be a major career path of interest for many students, which was interesting to me after we realized how many health related jobs were in the area. Sylinda Meinzer, Jennifer Shaw, and Tammie Trainham presented “Creating Your Own Treasure”, where we learned about developing a career that is not necessarily on the map. The entrepreneurial spirit of these ladies was very contagious, and definitely made me want to open my own business! Fall 2008 Ranch Country Youth Entrepreneurship Fair was introduced by Darryl during “Leadership NOW”, a workshop where we learned about getting ahead through service activities. This was very important because most of us are college-bound, and leadership activities can definitely have an influence on a college application. An interview of a few students followed lunch, and it was revealed that we had learned a lot that day about what our County had to offer us for the future.

Ogallala Commons

The KCVC works hand in hand with the Ogallala Commons, a multi-state rural resource network, and is the center of the Real Ranch Country Community program. Brittany outlined the philosophy of our partnership this way:

Brittany Coop

Ogallala Commons is a nonprofit organization intended to help sustain our rural communities. It addresses the six common challenges that face us:

  • By assessing and prioritizing, we know where we are and where we hope to go.
  • By conserving natural resources, we are able to establish practices that conserve and regenerate our natural capital.
  • By growing leaders, we are able to turn responsibility over to the next generation.
  • By engaging youth, we encourage them to seek out a career here, rather than lose them to the impersonality of a large city.
  • By supporting entrepreneurs, we are able to establish goods and services here in our own community and eliminate the need to spend money on these in a larger town. This boosts our hometown economy and creates a new career path for our residents.
  • By harvesting wealth, we are encouraging lands and businesses to stay in the control of people with ties to our hometowns.

The six “fenceposts” represent common obstacles facing rural communities today.

The commonwealths are community assets that can be invested in to create new resources over long term time frame. There are twelve commonwealths of Ogallala Commons: sense of place, education, health, leisure and recreation, spirituality, history, renewable energy, foodshed, soil &mineral life, wildlife & the natural world, arts & culture, and the water cycle.
These factors are the top twelve things a person would look for when choosing where to live and build their future. For me, these are things I want more developed in my community so that when I return from college, my hometown is a place where all my needs can be met.
If our communities could pool our assets and come together, I feel like Knox County could meet these commonwealths and strive for even more for our residents.
From what I have seen of Ogallala Commons, the rural spirit is alive and well. If we can help our residents develop the skills they need to sustain our communities, Knox County will be a place youth will wish to return to year after year.


You probably noticed the reference of what Lorrie, and yes, she is also Brittany’s Mom, had to say about the Visioning Team. That’s because another of Brittany’s first assignments was interviewing Visioning Team members to get their perspective on who we are, what we are trying to do and why.

Here are some quotes from other members she interviewed that first week:

  • Barbara Rector- Knox City, City Manager- “it is important to support the businesses we already have. It is extremely difficult to start a business right now, so we need to help the ones we have.”
  • Durwood Thigpen- Munday, Chamber of Commerce - “the Visioning Committee is about getting people to realize what resources we have in the county. The main purpose is to think about the county as a whole instead of as just towns. The Tourism Symposium opened people’s eyes to what we have in Knox County.” He said it even surprised him. “Youth Engagement Day planted the seed for Young People. The question was asked “How many of you want to leave and never come back?” “At the beginning of the day, 90% wanted to; at the end of the day the question was asked again and the number wanting to leave had been reduced about 30%.”
  • Lyndell Reeves-Banker- Munday- said he came to realize the redevelopment of this area would be more effective if the citizens worked as a county wide group. “The Visioning Committee is a long term commitment. We have to accomplish our initial goals then we will be able to clearly see what new goals need to be set.”
  • Dwayne Bearden- City manager- Munday- said that he Judge Floyd and Mark Reed attended a Texas Midwest Community Network program in Ranger on what small towns were doing to jump start their economic development and survive. On the way home he wondered, “what will we do with this new knowledge?” One of the programs that came from trying to answer this question is the sponsorship of job skill training classes. Dwayne chairs the committee that has successfully offered Certified Nursing Attendant, EMT and Welding Classes. The committee’s targets for the future include filling classes in heating & air conditioning repair, plumbing , electrician and small engine repair. “We don’t have enough craftsmen to meet the demand for their services, and this lets us create opportunities, one job at a time.”
  • Judge Travis Floyd- Knox County – summed up the attitude of the Visioning Committee - “We’ve drawn a line in the sand. No more losses, now we are going to grow !”

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Summer Intern Program

The first County wide event the Visioning Team hosted this year was our Job Fair. It was an exciting night, showcasing just how many opportunities there really are folks to live and work in Knox County. And, absolutely the most excited person there was a high school junior from Benjamin, who already knew she wanted to come back home and open her own store after college. She’d been waiting her entire life for everybody else to realize that she could! After visiting with this deceptively fragile looking ball of energy, optimism and opinions for a whole five minutes I, Remelle, found myself telling her about the Internship working with Ogallala Commons and the Knox County Visioning Committee coming up this summer. She immediately decided that was the summer job for her and convinced me almost as fast that she was THE person for the job. She was! Brittany is committed to the idea of small towns as settings for a BIG life and communicates that to everyone around her.

From her first day when she wrote the essays telling about herself and her impression of what OC and the KCVC were about, through days spent putting together, hauling around, and setting up booth displays in 107 degree heat or interviewing people in check-out lines with sticky-handed babies who couldn’t keep their hands out of that shiny blonde hair, she never lost her excitement or her commitment to the view that everyone, teens included, has a responsibility to do what they see needs doing in their hometown.

Here’s Brittany’s intro of herself and thoughts on her new job:

Brittany Coop
Knox County Visioning Team

My name is Brittany Coop. I am seventeen years old and a senior at Benjamin High School. I am active in 4-H and raise goats and sheep as a livestock project. I am captain of the UIL spelling team, play volleyball and golf, run cross country and track, and cheerlead.

As someone who is growing up in Knox County, I feel like there is a niche we, as young people, have to fill. We will travel at least 90 miles to shop, eat out, and visit the doctor. The obvious demand for these services proves that these businesses could thrive in Knox County. Every time we travel to Wichita Falls or Abilene to spend money that could be spent rejuvenating the economy here, I am reminded that we lack coffee shops, restaurants, clothing stores, tailors, etc. Who better to open these businesses than the future college graduates who sit in our high schools undecided on the future? Why not encourage us to seek out higher education and then return to our hometowns to enrich our communities?

Ask almost any high school student in Knox County if they want to come back home after graduation and not many will say yes. The reason for this is young people are under the impression that if they return after college, they must be failing at making a future for themselves. We have to show high school students that there is opportunity beyond the Metroplex. One of the most important things we can teach young people right now is that if you see something we need here, if there is a niche that needs to be filled, fill it!

Lorrie Coop, a Knox County Visioning Committee member, said the Committee would like to increase the sustainability of present businesses while bringing in new enterprises to further meet the needs of our residents. Lorrie said she felt the Visioning Team was making great strides through programs they have sponsored, including The Rural Tourism Symposium, the Job Fair, and the Youth Engagement Day. She also felt that we, as a community, need to be aware of our natural resources and what we already have to offer. The question now is, how best to promote these resources?

After college, I hope to return to Benjamin and open my own business. I chose to work with the Visioning Team this summer because I feel like rejuvenating our communities in Knox County is very important for the future of my family, my neighbors, and me.