By Pat Melgares – Kansas Profile
“Empowerment: The degree of autonomy and self-determination in people and in communities. This enables them to represent their interests in a responsible and self-determined way, acting on their own authority.”
That textbook description of empowerment helps explain why a long-standing community development program in Kansas has used that term to rebrand itself.
Jaime Menon and Jan Steen are co-coordinators of the newly named Kansas Community Empowerment program, which is being rebranded from the Kansas PRIDE program that it had been known for decades. The Kansas PRIDE program began in 1970 as a partnership with K-State Research and Extension, the Kansas Department of Economic Development, and state business leaders.
Menon and Steen also are K-State Research and Extension state specialists in community vitality. KDED has become the Kansas Department of Commerce. The Kansas Masons joined as a partner in 2016. Business leaders continue to be involved through the non-profit organization, Kansas PRIDE Inc., which raises funds for grants and awards.
Local communities enroll in the program annually. The communities identify what they would like to preserve, create, or improve for their future. Then, working with the resources of K-State Research and Extension and the Kansas Department of Commerce, community volunteers pull together to create their ideal community future.
“A foundational element is the community needs assessment conducted by the communities,” Menon said. Often this is in the form of an online survey.
“Then,” she said, “they have data to work with. We provide them many tools to choose from,” which might include the First Impressions program, assistance with grant-writing, or referrals to specific programs in housing or child care.
In order to ensure local coordination and awareness, communities must have a supporting resolution adopted by their local governments every three years.
In 1999, Kansas PRIDE developed a logo that it used for many years. By 2022, a number of participants were considering the need for a change.
“It started with a simple discussion about the colors on the signs, but it became a deeper discussion about the program itself,” Menon said. Participants identified a need to clarify roles.
The Board of Directors for Kansas PRIDE Inc. conducted a survey of communities and appointed a committee to make recommendations on this matter. “A lot of the same words showed up in the survey results,” Steen said. “Communities expressed a lot of appreciation for the program, and many said that they felt like it empowered them to take action at the local level.”
“The more I thought about it, the more I concluded that empowerment is exactly what happens,” Menon said. “(State level staff) can help connect them to resources, but it’s the (local community volunteers) who make it happen.”
In January 2023, the Kansas PRIDE Inc. board approved the committee’s recommendation that the program be renamed Kansas Community Empowerment. Kansas PRIDE Inc. will retain its name and its role in raising funds to support grants and awards.
This program’s results through the years are remarkable. Communities are asked to submit reports quarterly and these are compiled at the state level.
“In 2022, the communities reported that they were engaged in 1,157 projects and raised $922,547 in funding,” Steen said.
Communities reported 83,875 volunteer hours committed through the program, equivalent to $2.25 million worth of volunteer service for the state of Kansas in one year alone.
In 2023, there were more Kansas communities enrolled in the program than at any time since the 1990s. “Any community can use KCE (Kansas Community Empowerment),” Menon said. “It’s not cookie cutter. It adjusts to address varying community needs.”
“Kansas Community Empowerment is a program for communities of all sizes,” Steen said. Currently enrolled communities range from a neighborhood in the City of Wichita to the rural community of Vermillion, population 78 people. Now, that’s rural.
For more information, go to www.kansasprideprogram.k-state.edu.
Empowerment. It means taking responsibility for one’s own self and community. We commend Jaime Menon, Jan Steen and the hundreds of volunteers who are making a difference in communities across the state every day.
Thank goodness those communities are empowered.