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Forging a Link: Third Community Connect brings together people and service providers

Service providers and community members filled Riverland Community College’s gym Friday as part of the third annual Community Connect event.

Since its inception here in Austin, the event has been attended by nearly 1,200 people and more than 40 service agencies, who bring resources like flu shots, hygiene items and food to one location for a day.

This year, the group also moved it from the fall to January as it is a time when more people are in need of resources, said Mower County United Way Executive Director Molly Lanke.

The county is fortunate to have a large number of service organizations, she said.

“I think something that makes Austin and Mower County unique and it’s a great thing that we’re very resource rich,” Lanke said.

People go from table to table during Community Connect.

By having people and organizations come together at one event, it allows people to come to one place and learn about different services in the community.

For the Mower Council for the Handicapped, not having their potential clients traveling all over the city or county to learn about different services is a good thing, Melissa Huntley, who works with the organization, said.

“A lot of our clients are physically disabled so for them to be able to come here and get everything at once that saves them the headache of getting transportation to multiple places,” she said.

For Angeline Bartholmey, who attended the event, it was nice to learn more about the area organizations. She stopped at about five booths to learn more and said if they were not all at the event, she would have probably not looked into them.

“Some of them I didn’t even know about until I got here,” Bartholmey said.

Julia Johnson of Teachers on Call talks to visitors to her table Friday during the third annual Community Connect at Riverland Community College.

The event was also an opportunity for the service organizations to tell people about what they do.

Even for well known groups like the Salvation Army, people do not always know what services are offered.

“It really introduces people to a lot of the agencies downtown,” said Major Jeffrey Strickler.

Community Connect also offered the Salvation Army a chance to provide immediate assistance by giving away hygiene products.

In addition, Hormel Foods and Hy-Vee sponsored a meal for the event as well as a free bag of groceries for attendees.

One of the impacts this event has had is that it is developing a sense of community as people stay not just to talk to service providers, but also other residents, Lanke said.