A good beginning. That was the response to the first-ever building communities mixer Thursday afternoon at the Great Bend Events Center which brought local Hispanic business owners together with a host of service organizations.
“It’s about building connections and relationships,” said Great Bend Chamber of Commerce President Megan Barfield. She and Ward 3 Great Bend City Councilman Davis Jimenez brainstormed the idea for the event.
It sprung up organically and was pulled together quickly, and Barfield reached out to the organizations and Jimenez to the Hispanic business owners.
Representatives from participating entities welcomed attendees in the back meeting rooms at the Events Center.
Those present included the City of Great Bend, Great Bend Economic Development Inc., the Barton County Treasurer’s Office, Unified School District 428, Barton Community College, the Golden Belt Community Foundation, United Way of Central Kansas, University of Kansas Health System Great Bend Campus, Wheatland Electric, Barton County Young Professionals, Volunteers in Action of Central Kansas and the chamber.
“We want to make sure they know where to go to receive services to make their businesses successful,” Barfield said. “But, there is a bigger picture here.”
Ultimately, she said, it is about building bridges and tearing down barriers. “We want to get some two-way communications going.”
Part of this feeds back into the chamber’s Great Bend Better than Great initiative last year. One of the goals was to overcome cultural differences.
“As a new City Council member, I got the chance to see how the (city) departments work,” Jimenez said. “I thought that the rest of the city should have that opportunity.”
He approached other city officials and they were all on board. The idea grew from there and he contacted Barfield.
Although he wished there had been a larger turnout, he said still said it was a success. “At least two of the people attending stopped me and told me they were very appreciative and got a lot out of it.”
Now, they hope to continue and expand these events to broader swaths of the community, Jimenez said. “The next one will be open to anyone and everyone.”
They learned a lot, he said. They plan to spread the word more to garner a larger crowd and encourage residents to become more civically engaged, regardless of demographics.
“We’re all people with families and needs,” she said. “We can all learn from each other.”
Learning a lot
The event met with a positive response from both attendees and exhibitors alike.
Bandilio Hernandez was chatting with Barfield about the benefits of the chamber. Hernandez is the director of Hispanic engagement and recruitment at Barton Community College, and was offering information about BCC to visitors.
But, he also works with an agricultural tarp business and was surprised by what the GBCC offered.
“I have lived here all my life, but I had no idea,” he said. “I never knew what the chamber did.”
He switched to speaking Spanish and back to English as he conversed with a fellow Hispanic business owner. They agreed the chamber and gatherings like the one Thursday bring folks together and help legitimize the importance of Hispanic businesses.
And that is what the event was about in a nutshell, Barfield said.
“It’s about bringing awareness to the Hispanic community,” she said. “It’s about connections and networking.”
As she was packing up to leave, Golden Belt Community Foundation Director Kristi Tustin said she was also impressed. “We got a handful of good contacts. It is a good first step.”
The other vendors echoed these remarks as they left. The comments made Barfield’s day.