All of the Veteran’s Banners are now placed on poles due to the quick work of the City of Emporia Public Works department.  Since the public announcement of the Veteran’s Banner Program, Emporia Main Street has been inundated with questions about creating the concept, implementation, hang ups along the way and future plans.  Because a lot of requests from information come to us from out-of-state or other distant regions, the e-newsletter is the perfect format to talk about the project in a little more detail and include the newest updates.  We have approximately 4,000 people within our e-mail database, and our ability to replicate the e-news through social media makes this format the quickest and easiest way for us to communicate with masses.  The following is a little more information about the Veteran’s Banner Project:
 
1. The Concept – The concept for the banner project initially came from Ron Slaymaker, a staple (fixture) in the Emporia community from his time as an Emporia State University Basketball Coach, and as an owner of a downtown business (Poehler Mercantile Antiques).  A little over a year ago “Coach Slay” took a photo of banners highlighting active duty personnel in another city to various organizations in the city, one of which was Main Street.  This summer, Dr. Kevin Coulsen, a business professor at Emporia State University, sent an e-mail out to several groups containing digital photos of a similar project that focused on active duty personnel from various branches of the armed forces.  When none of the other organizations that were approached expressed interest in the project, Main Street decided to take it on.When we talk about creating volunteer opportunities and community buy in, we understand that community members approach people that have a history of getting things done.  When we can successfully partner with community members for the public good, more community members are drawn to Main Street.  We can’t do everything, but we do like to try and implement projects that meet our community mission and vision.
2. The Tweak – As the founding city of Veteran’s Day, we wanted to “tweak” the concept from the beginning to create a more Veteran oriented slant by including both active duty and retired military personnel.  Personalizing concepts that you R & D (ripoff and duplicate) is an important part of the process because activities that aren’t adjusted for the local culture seem inauthentic.
3.  The Process – Within Emporia Main Street, we have work plans where various staff members “take lead” depending on our own skill sets, passions and the workload at the time.  In this instance, Becky Smith, the Events Coordinator for Emporia Main Street “took lead”.  The rest of the staff worked with Becky to develop paperwork and talk through the process so we could establish a quality program from scratch in a limited amount of time.  The amount of records that needed creation for each honored veteran was substantial, and we needed to plan for interaction with family members and veterans that accommodated for changes in information over time.  Without Becky’s leadership, this project simply would not have happened.
4.  The Design –  IM Design Group is the best graphic design firm we have ever worked with.  Hands down.  It’s not even close.  We knew that to create a successful project, we needed to work with a design firm that could create a static background, drop in images (of varying quality) and input unique data for each individual banner that had no room for error.  IM Design created a banner “shell” and we worked with them to submit data and images for the project, while requiring “proofs” for each completed banner for approval from banner sponsors.

5.  The Partnerships – Emporia Main Street works with the Freedom Fest Committee each year to raise funds for the All Veteran’s Memorial.  They were a natural partner from the beginning of the Veteran’s Banner project.  The City of Emporia was a critical partner (more on that later) because the banners needed public lamp posts and banner brackets for display.  Others were contacted, but sometimes a small group for a “first time” project works better because you need to make quick decisions to take advantage of opportunities that arise or mitigate threats.
6.  The Communication – Utilizing local media, social media, the Emporia Main Street E-News system and good old fashioned “word of mouth”, information about the Veteran’s Banner Project was released.  But, communication is a two way street.  We quickly learned that many people had limited access to technology we used for proofs and photo transfers, so staff had to quickly adapt to local sponsors to make the project work.  Collecting information and sending proofs to individuals was sometimes difficult.  Recognizing that we had limited room for text on each banner (we couldn’t redesign every banner to accommodate all text and other items each sponsor requested) meant that we had to adhere to a set of design guidelines.  But, by listening to people as they interacted with us about their veteran, we were able to produce a secondary piece that has been one of the coolest additions to this project.
7.  Adapting to Change –  When we started the Veteran’s Banner Project, we planned for forty sponsored banners, and we hoped for sixty.  We ended up with 104, and if we would have extended our deadline (we couldn’t because of production time tables) we probably would have ended up in the 160 range.  At the start of the project, we had about 55 different banner brackets capable of holding a banner of this type downtown.  So, we had to work with the city to quickly supplement existing banner spaces with new brackets.  The City of Emporia and the Public Works Department stepped up to the task and made banner placement possible.  When people wanted to add more information to their veteran’s information, Becky Smith volunteered to input all the veteran’s “bio” information into a booklet to record stories and make them readily available to individuals researching the people behind the banners.  We had to adapt quickly to the overwhelming response to the Veteran’s Banner Project, and our partners made sure that we could meet the demands of the public.
8.  Placement Communication – Obviously, most sponsors first question about their Veteran’s Banner was “where will they be placed”.  With 104 banners, we needed to work with the Public Works Department to place a few banners in certain locations, and then record the placement of the rest of the banners that were placed en masse.  We couldn’t communicate placement until all banners were hung, and once the banners were up, Becky Smith recorded the blocks where each banner was placed.  The placement locations will change from year to year, but we have a current map that shows the general location of all banners.  Within our communications efforts, Becky Smith created a biography booklet.  Because the Veteran’s Banner locations will change every year, the biographies were listed in alphabetical order by the veteran’s last name.  Lauren Woolard, the Special Projects Coordinator for Emporia Main Street spearheaded the effort to load forms on the www.emporiamainstreet.com website and create a social media album that contained all of the banner photos and biographies (a substantial task).

9.  Planning for the Future – We will have a limited number of banner spots available in the future, because we have limited pole spaces available.  Some people have already donated funds to the Emporia Community Foundation, where Emporia Main Street has a Public Improvement Fund housed (simply denote Main Street Banner Project in the memo field if you are interested in donating).  Each banner bracket will cost approximately $150, and the more brackets we have available, the more Veteran’s Banners we can display.  Banners will be displayed for about one month each year in conjunction with Veteran’s Day activities.  Once the banners have been displayed for three years, we will give the banners back to their sponsor, and ask if the sponsor would like to “re-up” for a new banner.  Kansas wind isn’t kind to banners, and the level of detail on each photo means that we must limit the time each banner is displayed.  We are sure that other changes will occur in the program, but we are excited about the amount of positive feedback the City of Emporia, and our awesome veteran’s have received through this project.  We are thankful for the local support this project has received, and we are honored to share the stories of our local heroes.

We are often asked “what’s next” immediately after a new event or activity.  The Shop Hop, Trilogy Open support, the How It’s Made Tour and Historic Playing Cards are new initiatives that have hit in just the past few months.  The Veteran’s Banner project has a lot more meaning to the community (and to staff personally), but the project is another example of finding ways to execute projects brought to Emporia Main Street from the community.  We hope all of you take some time to walk downtown and look at the banners, read the corresponding biographies and tell the world about the home of Veteran’s Day.  Emporia is a great community that is getting cooler by the minute due to your work, your advocacy and your support.  Actually, Emporia volunteerism is thought of so highly, a statewide organization recently wrote an article using Emporia as an example.  CLICK HERE for the article.

For more information about the project and other great downtown insights, check out this week’s Emporia Main Street E-newsletter!