Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Tara Vance, Norton County Community Foundation
Nov. 11, 2020
By Ron Wilson, director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at Kansas State University.
Bingo! That’s a fun game that many people love to play. Today we’ll meet a creative community foundation that used bingo and other projects to support its community during the pandemic.
Tara Vance is executive director of the Norton County Community Foundation. A Stockton native and Fort Hays State grad, she became director of the Norton Chamber of Commerce. In 2012, she was asked to serve as part-time director of the community foundation as well.
The more she learned about the importance of local philanthropy, the more committed she became to the community foundation. “I’ve developed a passion for it,” she said.
Scott Sproul, director of the Northwest Kansas Economic Innovation Center Inc., was Norton County economic development director at the time. “He was a great mentor to me,” Tara said. “We saw that the private donor world would be essential (for our community) if tax dollars aren’t there someday.”
Today, Tara is the full-time director of the Norton County Community Foundation which has grown to $2 million in assets. The Dane G. Hansen Foundation in Logan has been strong partner of Norton and other community foundations in northwest Kansas.
One major asset is the Heaton Building in downtown Norton. This historic, remodeled building is owned by the community foundation and houses 16 different tenants.
Another key foundation project is called Secure Sebelius Lake. This lake provides water recreation opportunities but was at risk from drawdown. The community foundation raised funds to match the state’s spending to compensate irrigators for maintaining a certain water level in the lake. “This arrangement has been good for the community, good for the irrigators, and good for the state,” Tara said.
The Norton County Community Foundation annually offers various scholarships and grants for local projects.
Then the pandemic hit. Shutdown orders occurred. Tara looked for a positive community activity and found a business in another county that was doing a bingo game. She decided to adapt the idea for Norton County. “One of our donors sent in $10,000 and said, ‘Do something good with it,’” Tara said.
With help from a graphic designer at Nex-Tech, the rural broadband company, they developed an online game called NorCoBingo to support Norton County businesses. “Nex-Tech is an amazing community partner,” Tara said. They designed a bingo card with various activities that could be done in the county.
These included a range of things from “Plant Flowers or Vegetables” and “Buy a Gift Card from a Business closed to the Public” to “Take a Selfie in Front of Your Favorite Building” and “Make Cards for Nursing Home Residents.”
Other options included “Drive Around Town and Wave at 3 People,” “Perform a Random Act of Kindness,” “Use an Online Service at Norton Public Library,” and “Send a Card or Note to an Essential Worker.”
Outdoor activities in the county were another option, such as “Go Fishing at Prairie Dog State Park” and “Go Explore Lenora Lake,” which is near the rural community of Lenora, population 250 people. Now, that’s rural.
People were encouraged to fill out the bingo cards and turn them in, complete with pictures of them doing the activities. A daily drawing was held among those who submitted completed bingo cards. Three winners each day got gift certificates of $100 in chamber bucks. This project got people involved in doing good deeds as well as enjoying elements of the community.
In the end, more than 135 bingo submissions were received and more than $9,000 was spent at 26 businesses in Norton. When Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas made a statewide request for examples of positive responses to the pandemic, the Norton County Community Foundation was awarded another $10,000.
For more information on the foundation, see www.nortonccf.org.
When a former Commerce Deputy Secretary was told of the varied activities in which the Norton County Community Foundation was involved, she was surprised. “But you’re making a difference,” she said.So where, across the state of Kansas, could I find a community foundation which is doing exceptionally creative things for its community? I look at Norton County and I say, “Bingo!”
Audio and text files of Kansas Profiles are available at http://www.kansasprofile.com. For more information about the Huck Boyd Institute, interested persons can visit http://www.huckboydinstitute.org.
The mission of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development is to enhance rural development by helping rural people help themselves. The Kansas Profile radio series and columns are produced with assistance from the K-State Research and Extension Department of Communications News Media Services unit. A photo of Ron Wilson is available at http://www.ksre.ksu.edu/news/sty/RonWilson.htm. Audio and text files of Kansas Profiles are available at http://www.kansasprofile.com. For more information about the Huck Boyd Institute, interested persons can visit http://www.huckboydinstitute.org.