Thrive extends reach

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March 12, 2011 - 12:00 AM

Its moniker is quite apt these days.
Thrive Allen County, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the health and well-being of residents throughout the county, is growing — thriving, if you will.
Next week, Thrive will move from its offices at 2 E. Jackson Ave. to the old Rockin’ B building at 12 W. Jackson.
That building, owned by Iolan Nich Lohman, is in the final stages of a complete remodel. The building was gutted from wall to wall. The old tavern’s interior was replaced with modern, spacious offices and a meeting room.
The move coincides with Thrive’s ever-growing reach to include a larger footprint in southeast Kansas.
As a subsidiary of Thrive Allen County, Thrive SEK was formed earlier this year to provide services to eight nearby counties — Neosho, Bourbon, Woodson, Crawford, Labette, Montgomery, Wilson and Cherokee.
What started out as an organization consisting solely of volunteers with zero staff, now has become a staff of three working on a $400,000 annual budget.
It’s an illustration of economic development at work, explained Executive Director David Toland.
Eighty percent of Thrive’s budget comes from grants from private organizations, most notably the REACH Healthcare Foundation and the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City. Those groups were formed in 2003 with the sale of Health Midwest — which leased Allen County Hospital — to Hospital Corporation of America a for-profit company.
Those foundations were assigned to use the proceeds to continue to provide services to areas affected by the Health Midwest sale. Allen County is the only county not a part of the Kansas City metro area receiving funding from the foundations.
“Allen County isn’t automatically assigned a portion of those dollars,” Toland said. “It’s up to us to continue to aggressively pursue those grants. If we don’t get them, somebody else will.”
Another 10 percent of Thrive’s budget comes from locally generated revenue, such as registration fees for the annual Allen County Meltdown and Charley Melvin run, as well as private gifts.
The remaining 10 percent comes from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Funding from KDHE, through its tobacco and nutrition program, also was used to form Thrive SEK.“And these are all new dollars that did not exist in Allen County,” Toland said.

THRIVE HAS called its existing office space home for the past three years, although work there had become cramped, Toland noted.
With barely enough space for desks in its current home, items such as banners, barricades and promotional materials had to be stored on the second floor of a nearby office building on the square.
A storage room in the rear of Thrive’s new building will make it substantially easier to prepare for activities.
“Now can we load and unload in the alley, and not have to carry items up and down stairs,” he said.
Thrive directors began considering relocating over the past year, because of the lack of space and because of uncertainty about their existing office, which is owned by the city.
The vote by Iola commissioners to extend Thrive’s lease last year nearly failed.
“And we weren’t sure what was going to happen with the new government coming in,” Toland said.
The existing three-member city commission is being replaced by an eight-member city council in April, after Thrive’s lease with the city would have expired.
“That got us to thinking we needed more permanence and stability,” Toland said.

THE ROCKIN’ B building was purchased by Toland, Lohman and Randy Weber in a joint effort. As the building sat vacant, and talk began of moving the Thrive offices, it became apparent that it would fit the agency’s needs.
Because Toland is Thrive’s executive director, and Weber is on Thrive’s Board of Directors, those two sold their shares of the building to Lohman, who is now the sole owner.
“We didn’t want there to be a conflict of interest, so we sold it for what we paid,” Toland said. “We didn’t make money and we didn’t lose money, aside from a lot of sweat equity.”
Lohman and Thrive agreed on a five-year lease. The organization’s rent is increasing from $400 a month to $900. Toland noted that Thrive is moving from a 500-square-foot building to a 2,000-square-foot facility.
“And $900 is well below market value for a building like that,” Toland said. “If he charged us the market rate, we couldn’t afford it.”
The new building will feature a conference room exactly twice as spacious as the meeting room in their old building. That meeting room is available free of charge to any organization “that wants to do something positive for the community,” Toland said.
The building’s original heart pine floors were restored, as was its original tin ceiling. Starburst windows on the front — previously covered by signs — were uncovered and restored. A small kitchenette was added to the rear of the building as well.
As another touch of flair, the building’s back wall features original brick and a restored window, “which looks pretty sharp,” Toland said.

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