Rural brainstorming conference is March 14

The Big Rural Brainstorm promises to be eventful, powerful and perhaps even a little life-changing for those who attend, says Marci Penner, director of the Kansas Sampler Foundation whose organization is hosting the second conference of its kind.

The March 14 event in Newton is limited to 200 participants, the same as the first conference in 2012.

“Even after the first one, people were asking for another,” Penner said. “We felt like we could do a lot more if people were there from every aspect of rural Kansas life. We are very action-oriented. At the end of the first one, people went across the stage and said what they were going to do when they got home. Many of them did what they said they would do. The conference is designed for volunteer-led communities to help themselves.”

The idea for the conference is to bring rural people together to brainstorm on ways they can improve the quality of lives and vibrancy of communities. Each person attending, Penner said, contributes to the collective brilliance.

In a release issued last week, Penner said, “It’s not on any one person to solve everything, but if we each add our own expertise and innovative ideas, then together we can move things along.”

Issues tackled during the first conference included housing shortages in smaller communities, the need for quality education, historic preservation, community foundations, business and health care.

“We talk about things in a nontraditional way,” Penner said. “It is all about sharing a new way to look at solutions. The volunteer-led communities don’t always have a program custom-designed for their sizes and needs. They get input from people beyond their size of town. The groups shape and reshape and form and reform throughout the day.”

Liz Sosa, a third-generation Kansan and a PowerUp Liaison from Garden City, said she enjoyed the dialogue and conversation with the first conference. There are no keynote speakers, which, she said, gives participants a chance to just talk.

“It is focused on dialogue and conversation as opposed to most conferences, where it is less about dialogue and more about presentation,” Sosa said. “The best thing about this is the networking. You meet people in similar situations.”

The conference will be from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. March 14 at the Meridian Event Center, 1420 E. Broadway Court in Newton. All age groups are invited to attend.

The deadline to register is March 7. Cost is $45 per person, which includes a noon meal.

For more information or to register, go to