Economic development is more than promoting traditional business activity. It includes developing community partners that can take action as a coalition that the individual partners would not be able to accomplish by themselves. The economic viability of a jurisdiction is enhanced by these efforts which build a spirit of unity and cooperation that can be leveraged well into the future. These joint actions build trust, which is the real essence of any economic transaction.
Case in point is the recent community effort to welcome three Afghan families containing 19 members into our community. The parents are real heroes, having supported the United States Special Forces as translators and logistics specialists over the last two decades. They had to flee their homeland last year as the Taliban swept into Kabul when US forces were leaving, hunting for men and women who had supported our military, often executing them on the spot. These men and women risked their lives every day for our country and paid the price by suffering numerous war injuries and ultimately losing their homes and all their possessions. A local foundation sponsored their relocation to Fort Scott.
Beginning with our school district and spreading to local businesses, charities and individuals, our community has gone out of their way to make them feel welcomed. People have raised money and donated household goods to furnish three rental homes purchased by a local foundation. Clothing, food items, gift cards and numerous acts of service, such as rides to stores and doctor’s appointments have all served to make their transition easier. A local business has agreed to hire all of them who want to work. These families have nothing but great things to say about our country and our community. They have expressed to me their sincere gratitude over the generosity of our people, most of whom they have never met.
The most recent act of community spirit took place when one of the Afghans got his Kansas driver’s license. Local churches stepped up, including one which closed several years ago, and raised 100% of the money to purchase a minivan to help provide transportation for the group and relieve the many Bourbon County citizens that had volunteered to drive them to needed destinations. A local car dealer generously agreed to sell the vehicle at substantial discount. Local insurance companies worked to get them the best rates. Currently, another vehicle purchase is in motion made possible through the donation of a Kansas City area charity, a local foundation, and the same local car dealer.
These outstanding efforts were coordinated and executed by men and women in their roles with the Fort Scott Area Community Foundation and Bourbon County REDI. These organizations were formed to create the kind of coalitions that have been put together over the past several months to support these new members of our community. If you see our Afghan neighbors around town, go out of your way to join this coalition and welcome them to our home. They would enjoy meeting you.