Community leaders and members met again Monday, July 17, at the Hastings High School to discuss how Hastings can become a more welcoming place.

This Community Conversation was a follow-up discussion of the data collected at the last meeting, as well as a platform to create new discussion on the issue.

One of the main takeaways of the data is that participants feel the community could improve on personal engagement and acceptance, Kelsey Waits, a member of the School Board, said.

"I want to stress that this isn't negative. It wasn't people saying that they felt like they were having problems, or that they weren't being accepted. These are just more ways that we can be working on these issues," Waits said. "These are just ways that we can improve on something that is already good and there are ways to make it better."

Working on an individual level is not a small feat and can cause big change in the community, according to Waits.

"There were a number comments regarding public transportation, homelessness, poverty issues and things like that - those are all things we can be working on as individual members of the community and the community as a whole. We can all have an impact on our community," Waits said.

The new questions presented Monday asked participants to reflect on the what aspects from the first conversation interested them and how they felt the community should act on those issues. Participants also were asked to record their concerns about any of the issues identified in the data.

"We are using a dialogue model, not a debate model," Bill Spinelli said after presenting the questions to the group. "We are here to listen to what other people have to say, and we are here to listen to what you have to say."

Mixing it up

Participants were encouraged to get up, move and meet new people to discuss the issues they were interested in.

Community leaders in the Diversity, Inclusion and Equity initiative wrapped up the session with positivity that the initiative has taken flight.

"There is a Muslim phrase that says 'A lot of different flowers make a bouquet.' That is what I think of when I am thinking about our community conversations. We all have a lot of different problems, and together we make a beautiful bouquet," Mayor Paul Hicks told the whole group. "Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, is the key to our success."

Hicks also announced that the initiative would be doing more with the YMCA Equity Innovation Center, the group that ran the Unconscious Bias training that met last month.

Derrick Jaeger, executive director at the Hastings YMCA, said that one thing the center would tackle is how newcomers feel when they move to town.

"We hear a lot of 'I just moved to town. It's hard to get in.' I would say that's probably not unlike other communities, but that is one that you hear wherever you go," Jaeger said.

With the Equity Labs through the center, the community would be able to better understand the perspectives of those who are new to town.

"What they would do is lead and learn new residents' perspectives on what that looks like. What is it like? What is it like to go places where people don't know who you are? Then, we will basically come back to the community in these conversations and talk about what these people are feeling and what we are seeing to really open up new perspectives," Jaeger said.

Engaged residents

The important part that will drive the initiative, Jaeger said, is community involvement.

"As the mayor said, we will be really driving Hastings through conversations. There is no cookie-cutter way of doing this. There is no right way, or 'this worked really well in this community so this is how it works.' At this point it's about community involvement and sharing what is important to us in Hastings."

Jaeger also confirmed that there will be a two-part community training session based on cultural differences that will be available this fall.

It was announced, too, that the city will participate in Welcome Week, a national event dedicated to creating welcoming spaces. Various events will happen around town starting Sept. 14.

Anyone interested in joining the planning committee for Hastings Welcome Week can email Lee Stoffel at

The results and discussion answers to the questions asked Monday, July 17, will be posted to the Diversity, Inclusion and Equity website: " target="_blank">