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Community planning goals presented at town hall meeting

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Mattoon in Motion 03/08/18

Gisele Hamm, manager of MAPPING the Future of Your Community, Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs at Western Illinois University, speaks during the Mattoon in Motion town hall meeting Thursday at the Mattoon Area Family YMCA.

MATTOON -- Community development goals for Mattoon's future were presented Thursday evening during a town hall meeting that drew approximately 250 participants to the Mattoon Area Family YMCA.

These goals have been developed as part of the Mattoon in Motion community planning effort that was initiated by the Mattoon Chamber of Commerce and the Southeastern Illinois Community Foundation. These two organizations obtained assistance from the MAPPING community planning program offered by the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs at Western Illinois University.

A cross-section of more than 80 residents was recruited to take part in a series of planning sessions that started last fall. They subsequently narrowed down their ideas to six long-term goal areas -- workforce training, economic development, tourism promotion, youth development, parks and recreation upgrades, and housing improvements. Participants were divided into committees to focus on each goal area.

Committee representatives gave presentations during Thursday's meeting. For example, workforce committee member Ed Dowd said their group has surveyed businesses and industry about their workforce needs. Dowd, who is executive director of the Mattoon Chamber of Commerce, said the committee is now sharing the survey results with public school and higher education officials to help them develop training programs.

"We want to grow relationships between local education institutions and employers," Dowd said.

Some of the other goals that were presented included: establishing a youth council of high school underclassmen to provide youth-oriented input for community projects, promoting local businesses and events to the families of out-of-town ball teams that are taking part in Mattoon tournaments, and having a Peace Corps Fellows intern serve in Mattoon.

Economic development committee member Rex Barnes said they have applied to have a Peace Corps Fellows intern work on economic development projects in Mattoon. Barnes, who is a Mattoon firefighter, said the intern would be a master's degree student and would be assigned to Mattoon for 11 months.

"We hope that could be a precursor to a more permanent position to further economic development," Barnes said.

Thursday's town hall meeting also included live music, refreshments, prize drawings, and informational booths about each of the six goal areas. Committee members shared information about their planned projects and recruited volunteers from among those in attendance at the meeting.

For example, audience members were invited to help with ongoing efforts to develop a dog park in Mattoon. Park and recreation committee member Rick Hall, who is a member of the Mattoon City Council, pointed to a site layout at their booth for a possible location for the dog park. This location is on city owned land along South 12th Street, behind Williams Elementary School.

The housing improvements booth featured a chart of more than a dozen housing assistance programs that are available in Coles County. Committee member Clair Kaye said they developed this chart to provide a single document on which assistance applicants can see what programs meet their respective household sizes and income levels.

"There are so many programs. We really want to help guide people to them," said Kaye, who is a local businesswoman.

More information about Mattoon in Motion or volunteering with the goal area committees is available by calling the Chamber at 217-235-5661.


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