Las Animas residents assembled at the Bent County Development Foundation on Thursday for the town's first community roundtable. Foundation Executive Director Sammie George spearheaded the gathering, which she described as a networking opportunity and an effort to stimulate community engagement between residents.

Community leaders, including Mayor Jim Collins, Chamber of Commerce President Tiana Garcia, and Santa Fe Trail BOCES representative Jennifer Nesselhuf, attended the meeting to notify residents of services they offer and projects they are cooking up.

George's director role at the Bent County Development Foundation has her bringing new business into Las Animas, supporting current businesses and raising residents' quality of life. She hopes Thursday's roundtable will stimulate ideas and discussion among residents about new businesses or services they want for Las Animas.

"You have the opportunity as business owners and community members to become members of this board and help direct me," said George. "But another part of that is just giving me feedback. As community members, let me know what your individual wants and needs are, what your business wants and needs are.

"Some of those needs might be from community cleanup activities to workshops that I could put on that would help with workforce development, or a Quickbooks workshop that would help you as a business owner to run your books more efficiently."

Several residents agreed that a local resource for carpenters, plumbers, painters and similar services would be useful, particularly for senior community members.

Collins discussed plans for a Community Action Center that would serve as an information hub of community plans and projects. He said that such a center could defeat a common problem he calls STP, or "same 10 people."

"As we look in this room, you're the same 10 people," said Collins. "We are together on every board at every place on every day, all doing the same thing.

"So what that Community Action Center does is it goes outside that same 10 people and recruits others to actually tell the story of what you're already doing. That's the biggest problem in this community from my standpoint, is that everyone in this room is doing a heck of a good job doing something people don't know."

Through a Community Action Center, youth and senior residents have a means to be active and to get involved with community projects, said Collins. Their work at the center would consist of informing visitors of resources, organizations and projects that can serve their needs. Collins said the center would be located in the old police department space at Las Animas City Hall.

"All the action center does is give those kids who are looking for something to do, and the seniors who are looking for something to do, something to do," Collins said. "And, amazingly, that grows a community, because people come in and they know everything that's happening in a community because it's being marketed."

George indicated that online marketing and creating an effective online presence are popular concerns in the community.

At one point, Collins said that he believes downtown would be seeing major improvements in the near future, possibly alluding to the marijuana business ordinance City Council is trying to pass.

Roundtable meetings will be scheduled on a quarterly basis, said George.

The next community roundtable is scheduled for April 4 at 6 p.m. at the Bent County Development Foundation.