By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
MOUNT STERLING, Ill. -- Suzy Kassing says there's plenty to love about Brown County on Valentine's Day and every day.
Thursday marks the public launch of Action Brown County, the next step in building community health and economic wellbeing in the county.
"In a small town, a lot of times you look at what you don't have, but we've all made a decision to live here. We're tying into that and how to make it a better place over the long term," Kassing, who chairs the ABC board, said. "We see this being a long-term effort. What can we do for this whole county to make it as vital as we can, the place we envision it to be capitalizing on what we have already?"
What Kassing calls an exciting step forward builds on ongoing work by Brown County Action Teams targeting issues including youth, community betterment and social services and the Mount Sterling Uptown Initiative.
"Neither of those entities had formalized, sustainable structure. This is bringing them both together and putting them in a formalized structure to sustain and impact all of Brown County," ABC Board Secretary Jean Buckley said. "If you want to create a community that's a magnet community where people can work, play, live, grow old and get a great education, if you have a structure in place like this proactively working on all this stuff, it's bound to happen."
Organizers stress the focus is on Brown County not just Mount Sterling, the largest community and the county seat, but "for the first few years, the largest emphasis will be on uptown Mount Sterling," Buckley said.
Discussions about forming ABC as a tax-exempt nonprofit able to receive tax-deductible donations began in mid-2012, with the board meeting for the first time in December.
"Our challenge right now is just helping people understand how we're organized and what we're doing as a transition from the action teams and uptown initiative," Kassing said.
A launch party for ABC, slated for Thursday night in Mount Sterling, will provide more information for people of all ages.
Volunteers are needed to further the work of ABC and serve on five newly-formed committees:
º Design -- Working to improve the county's physical condition.
º Organization -- Building consensus within the community and guiding the organizational development of ABC.
º Promotion -- Marketing the county's unique characteristics and assets
º Economic Restructuring -- Working to diversify the economic base.
º Education -- Supporting school staff and students in achieving academic excellence.
The new committees will oversee existing efforts including the Back to School Fair, February Fling teacher appreciation dinner, facade grant program and tree program while developing new ideas and activities.
Getting more people involved "is really what this all hinges on. We'll be relying on the energy, skills and enthusiasm of people who really care about Brown County," Kassing said.
An Action Brown County launch party will be held 5-7 p.m. Thursday at the American Legion in Mount Sterling.
The event will offer entertaining activities and drawings for kids and adults while providing additional information about ABC.
"It's designed to be a fun, educational event with no strings attached," ABC Treasurer Jean Buckley said. "For those with an appetite to get involved, it's a great venue to put their names out there and get involved."
Prizes include a Kindle, a romantic getaway and gift cards.
The pre-K-12th grade classroom with the highest attendance will have a chance to win an iPad, and high school students in attendance will get one credit point for Ready for College, Ready for Work.
More information about the launch party is available by contacting Karla Metz at 773-3013 or firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about ABC is available from Board President Suzy Kassing at email@example.com.
Action Brown County builds on ongoing work by Brown County Action Teams and the Mount Sterling Uptown Initiative.
Along with behind-the-scenes planning work, more visible results for the two groups over the past couple of years include:
º Fifty trees planted so far along U.S. 24 as part of the tree program. More trees are planned along with donor recognition.
º A "Made in Mount Sterling" logo has been designed to help brand local wares.
º The first Mission in Action (MIA) volunteer clean-up event was held, with another planned for April 20.
º An activity guide was developed to help promote area events.
º A youth entrepreneurship program is being developed.
º A Brown County website, browncountyil.com, has been created with work under way on a Mount Sterling website.