Founded nearly 170 years ago, Fulton, Missouri has a rich history, including Winston Churchill’s famous speech at Westminster College. Today, the city is in a period of change. Over the last five years, Fulton welcomed new leadership in its schools, non-profits, local government, and public housing institutions. This new collective leadership has come in with fresh eyes and ideas. While the day-to-day work at these institutions continues, Fulton is beginning to have conversations and dream about ways to modernize and collaborate to better support the changing community.
Following the withdrawal of the U.S. military from Afghanistan, over 120,000 Afghans were airlifted out of the country, with 76,000 making it to the United States. After over two decades in a war-torn country, the Afghan people who left suddenly faced a different type of traumatic experience – leaving, for many, the only home they never knew and fleeing into a drastically different culture. In response, communities across the U.S., including Fulton, began to help.
Fulton Rotarians proposed that the club lead the resettlement efforts in Callaway County, Missouri. More than 30 additional community members joined the Fulton Afghan Resettlement Committee, including representatives from educational institutions, faith groups, and other civic organizations. The committee worked with Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri to welcome five families into the community, including 10 adults, 30 children, and 2 babies. The community helped to secure housing for these families, including a fraternity at Westminster College that offered its annex to house the largest family of 14 people. Community members donated furnishings, food, clothing, and money to meet the needs of the family.
The community’s goal is to integrate these families into the Fulton community by enrolling children in schools, helping adults obtain jobs, enrolling families in English language classes, and providing transportation to appointments and shopping trips. Local businesses helped families obtain jobs and the area habitat for humanity is working on building the families permanent housing.
The innovation, dedication, and compassion Fulton residents showed not only helped the families that resettled in the community, but also inspired other towns and small cities in Missouri to act.
Community Recreation Center Plan
The City of Fulton’s interest in a recreation center dates to a 2000 Parks and Recreation Strategic Plan which cited the construction of an indoor recreation center and an indoor/outdoor pool. The plan considered the project a great improvement to the quality of life for residents and a potential attraction for new residents. Seven years later, the majority of respondents to a parks facility study supported a recreation and community center.
It came up again eight years later, in 2015, when another study of the community asking about facility projects saw an indoor recreation center at the top of the list. This time the study informed development of the Parks Facility and Programming Master Plan that laid out the next 10 years for park improvements.
In 2018, the Fulton community passed a half-cent sales tax to support this longtime community priority. The tax, intended to be the main funding source for this project, brought in $375,000 in 2016 and $493,105 in revenue in 2022.
Planning for the recreation center started in 2017 and Legends Rec-Plex opened in June 2021 with a two-week free period for the community. The facility includes a banquet hall, gymnasium, fieldhouse, elevated mezzanine, cardio and fitness center, padded activity room, game room, and a banquet room. The facility has proved to be a very popular amenity, with approximately 59,000 visitors in 2022.
Since opening, staff members have worked to identify different services that would benefit the community, including an after-school program for students. The facility has hosted events such as magic shows, youth tumbling competitions, father-daughter dances, and graduation parties.
The Local Lemon- Youth Entrepreneurship
The local businesses in Fulton are the backbone of the community’s economy, and the Brick District is a group of downtown business owners focused on promoting and preserving the historic downtown area. To support and foster future entrepreneurship in the community, the Callaway County Chamber of Commerce launched a new six-week program in 2022 called The Local Lemon, which targeted youth (ages 6-16) and taught them how to start, own, and operate their own lemonade stand.
The program focused on entrepreneurship topics such as goal setting, product choice, cost, location, marketing, funding, and customer service. All participants were required to complete coursework, including finalizing their business plan, operating their lemonade stand, and generating at least $50 in gross sales. The youth entrepreneurs learned from local business owners about different business types, the importance of goal setting, determining the break-even point for their business, and how much they needed to sell to make a profit. They also selected a location for their lemonade stand and learned about marketing their business. The participants sold 271 total cups of lemonade and made over $1,500 in gross sales. The participants received awards for most cups sold, highest gross sales, most creative stand, best customer service, and most entrepreneurial spirit. The program helped reduce summer learning loss by keeping students engaged in education and gave them the opportunity to consider entrepreneurship as a career choice.