MATTOON -- A cross-section of residents are scheduled to meet Thursday evening to kick off a Mattoon in Motion community planning effort.

The Mattoon Chamber of Commerce has been recruiting approximately 70 participants for this local effort that is part of the MAPPING program, offered through the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs at Western Illinois University. MAPPING, is a participant-driven planning process. This process involves local leaders and volunteers creating a long-range vision for their community's future and a plan of action for achieving it.

"What we are trying to do is get a mixture of the entire community, not just business people," said Mattoon Chamber Executive Director Ed Dowd. He added that this diversity will help ensure a variety of ideas are discussed.

Dowd said the chamber has signed up residents from many different professions, including agriculture, churches, education, healthcare, industry, and nonprofit groups. He said they also have signed up residents from a variety of demographic backgrounds, with ages ranging from high school students to retirees. Those interested in taking part can email MattoonInMotion@gmail.com.

Participants will attend a series of five sessions that will be held every Thursday evening through Nov. 16. The meetings will address the questions of "Where are we now, where do we want to be, how are we going to get there, how do we make it happen, and how do we make it happen and maintain momentum?"

Over the course of these sessions, participants will identify three to six high priority goals for the community. They also will develop an action plan for implementation, and break into groups to begin work on their goals and projects.

Dowd said after the conclusion of the MAPPING process, participants will organize a public meeting sometime in January to share their ideas and projects with the community and to invite local participation. Dowd added that he will place a priority on ensuring that these ideas and projects are put into action.

"We have to have succession group that will meet on a quarterly basis and who will make sure what ideas we come up with our implemented," Dowd said.

The 5:30-8:30 p.m. planning sessions are set for Thursday, Lake Land College Webb Hall 081; Oct. 26, Williams Elementary School cafeteria; Nov. 2, Webb Hall; Nov. 9, Mattoon Public Library basement conference room; and Nov. 16, Webb Hall.

Dowd said the Mattoon Area Community Foundation, which is part of the Southeastern Illinois Community Foundation, helped bring MAPPING to Mattoon. He said monetary donations from the community are paying for the program costs.

Joedy Hightower, president/CEO of the Southeastern foundation, reported that the Mattoon Foundation for Academic Excellence has been providing grants to teachers in the Mattoon school district since 1993. The education fund is managed as a component fund of the Mattoon Area Community Foundation.

Hightower reported that the community foundation recently engaged a group of school administrators, teachers and parents in a conversation around increasing the impact of these grant dollars. She said the group considered questions such as, “What will the school district look like in 10 years?” and “What are the biggest challenges to our schools today?”

"Kris Maleske, principal at Williams Elementary, pointed out to the group that, while the school system can do their best to provide solutions to these challenges, the discussion really needs to be part of a greater community vision – such as a 10 year plan that the community as a whole creates," Hightower reported. "It was at this point in the discussion that the group decided to investigate possible community development programs that could help engage the entire community."

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Rob Stroud is a reporter for the JG-TC, covering the city of Mattoon, Lake Land College, Cumberland County and areas including Oakland, Casey and Martinsville.

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