Group tries to put shine on Fairmont

FAIRMONT – Focus on Fairmont is a grassroots group of citizens dedicated to improving their community, plain and simple.

Formed in February 2012, the committee is loosely organized, its members organically shifting as residents come and go, depending on their interest in a specific project.

The first task Focus on Fairmont took on was developing a rental ordinance. Working collaboratively with the city, a rough draft has been written, and a meeting is scheduled for Oct. 11 for local landlords to give their feedback.

“We want to make sure all people have a safe and healthy place to live,” said Steve Hawkins.

The ordinance also aims to offer additional protection to landlords, for instance by notifying them if a crime is committed at one of their properties.

Husband and wife Steve and Heather Hawkins paired up to found Focus on Fairmont. The two decided sitting around complaining at their kitchen table wasn’t enough; they wanted to create change. And they found they weren’t the only ones.

“It’s amazing that we would get this much accomplished with no funding and no formality,” Heather Hawkins said. “… Nothing but great people.”

The members comprising Focus on Fairmont are a diverse group, of varying ages, interests and work backgrounds. About 20 people typically show up for the group’s meetings, at noon the last Thursday of the month at Southern Minnesota Educational Campus. The people who attended to assist with the formation of a rental ordinance were a different set than those working on the latest project: beautifying Blue Earth Avenue.

There are myriad ways this could be done, but they’re starting with hanging flower pots and banners from the light poles, which they hope to have up in the spring of 2014. For inspiration, they’ve looked to other small towns, including New Ulm and Delano.

“I think we’re stalled until we have funding,” Heather Hawkins told the group.

But by the end of their hour-long meeting, plans were in place for grant writing, business sponsorship and community fundraising to pay for the project, plus the group is hoping for a little help from the city, at least with the startup.

“It will be tough to get this pulled off by next spring,” said Steve Hawkins, which earned him a couple light-hearted boos for being a nay-sayer.

Its optimism is one thing Focus on Fairmont has going for it. The group’s wish list for quality-of-life improvements is long and somewhat idealistic, including changing Fairmont’s perception of itself.

“Reshape,” “recreate,” “rethink,” “reinvest” are a few of the key words thrown out at Thursday’s meeting, as they brainstormed ideas for reinvigorating the community with public presentations in the near future.

“I see Fairmont as a sleeping giant,” said new Fairmont resident John Hawthorne, describing the town’s potential to become a truly amazing place to live. “… The quality is here, the core of what we need is here.”

Anyone interested in joining Focus on Fairmont is welcome to attend the monthly meetings.

Donations for the group’s projects can be made to City of Fairmont-Focus on Fairmont. Donations can be dropped off at City Hall. The city has not contributed any dollars to the committee but is simply serving as the fiscal agent for financial contributions.