What makes a community stronger?

Is it recreational clubs for drama, sports or a niche hobby?

What about strong public and medical transportation?

Is affordable housing the key to community growth?

Economic stability?

Why not all of the above?

These are the ideas Las Animas residents explored at a community action meeting, led by Las Animas Mayor Jim Collins.

The purpose of the meeting, held Jan. 31 at City Hall, was to brainstorm ideas on 12 separate community action topics (economic stability, educational opportunity, quality affordable food and more) to identify what residents perceive Las Animas needs, as part of a bigger push to create a Community Action Center to be hosted at City Hall.

The Community Action Center is envisioned as a hub of information and resources. Center staff - or Icons, as Collins described - would help residents organize transportation, find contract labor for projects they need done, and generally provide solutions to unique problems residents may find themselves faced with as they go about their daily lives.

From Collins' perspective, the above themes are interconnected. Each facet of community life is intertwined with one another, and they all contribute to a community's strengths.

The challenge is pinpointing what to focus on and when.

Or, as Collins put it: identifying community needs and distinguishing them from community wants.

A piece of cardboard was placed atop the desk usually reserved for city council members. Partitions separated the board into segments, and each space was labeled with one of the 12 community action topics. Collins provided sticky notes and markers for residents to make notes.

One by one, Collins went through each community action category, directing residents to silently brainstorm ideas they think could contribute to the community.

The noted ideas weren't discussed at the meeting: That is to come later, after more brainstorming sessions, according to Collins.

Collins walked through the community action center's planned layout and the roles that action center Icons would serve there.

The center would consist of an intake room where residents would enter and be greeted by center Icons. It would have desks and phones and information available for curious passersby. Icons would take residents from the intake office to a sustainment, or follow-up, area, where they'd learn about what assistance the guest might need.

After an Icon determines what sort of service a guest needs, they would usher them into a presentation room. The presentation room will possess bulletin boards labeled with each of the 12 community action topics. Each bulletin will contain the lists of available services and options that are available under the given topics.

The Community Action Center is meant to be more than just an information hub, said Collins. It's a method of getting youth involved with the community and providing them with the knowledge to navigate it, and help others do so.

"I'm telling you, it's shocking when you have a kid that knows this information at the level that you're going to know it," said Collins to a couple youth in attendance. "It really is shocking, especially to an older person.

cburney@ljtdmail.com