A city on the comeback, a journey of hope and grit, a home: These are some of the ways that a panel of community members described Independence as part of a Global Entrepreneurship Week event.
The gathering, held earlier this week at BlendWell Community Cafe, aimed to exemplify and discuss social enterprise – which, ideally, maximizes social impact alongside profits.
“This is such a good story of social enterprise,” moderator Mark O’Renick, founder of Conquer for Good and cofounder Will & Grail, said of BlendWell. “It’s not pure capitalism or charity.”
Following in the trend of this positive change, the panel – comprised of Mayor Eileen Weir, Revive Church pastor Alex Gilpin, former City Manager Larry Blick, Community Services League community development manager Jennifer Manuleleua and Independence School District Director of Family Services Merideth Parrish – talked about how to improve the Fairmount neighborhood and western Independence overall.
First, the group reflected on Fairmount’s history and challenges. Manuleleua, who has lived in the area long-term, talked about the perception that Fairmount often attracts people who are “down on their luck.” Despite her love for the community, she acknowledged that she watched people move out of the neighborhood as soon as possible, citing the neighborhood’s lack of a grocery store and other basic services.
“They need to be able to stay, live and thrive within the community,” Manuleleua said. “This community deserves the same things everyone else does.”
Similarly, for Mayor Weir, Fairmount feels reminiscent of where she grew up, a small town in New York.
“My hometown has seen hard times and doesn’t always give a great impression,” Weir stated. “But I love it, and it’s my home. This is people’s home. This is where people put down roots. It’s very deep and meaningful.”
Members in the group emphasized listening as a way to build change. Gilpin recalled that when he first moved to Independence, he spent a year talking with community members and other pastors before opening his church. He stressed that a top-down approach will never be as effective. Weir expressed a similar sentiment, referencing how city officials rely on citizens’ thoughts and feedback to take action.
For Blick, listening to community members in Fairmount – who desired a community gathering space – led him to donate to the BlendWell Community Cafe project.
“For good things to happen in a neighborhood, there has to be belief and confidence,” Blick explained. “A bird has to fly off a telephone wire. Maybe this could be that bird.”
Like Blick, Gilpin says he has noticed a strong community investment and a push to get involved, creating what he describes as a “community development petri dish.” He encouraged event attendees to build connections and reach out.
O’Renick called the conversation around community development complex, pointing out that it also requires workforce development and educational development. Going forward, he sees a potential for more panels and discussions on these topics.