By MICHAEL COPELAND
Special to The Star
The holiday season is a time of thanksgiving and reflection on our community’s progress and the many blessings we enjoy. As we look back upon another remarkable year, we are mindful of not only the achievements we celebrate, but the people who are at the heart of our success. It is truly our residents whose amazing spirit and love for Olathe are making our community shine brighter than ever before.
Olatheans understand that the best gifts of Christmas cannot be purchased or wrapped. They are the ones that matter most — our gifts of time, gratitude, generosity, compassion, joy, service and hope. In past columns, we have examined these gifts and how they help us find the true spirit of the holiday season.
This year, I am especially grateful for the gifts of peace and brotherhood that define our community and unify us in our mission to make Olathe a better place. Our success is the result of our residents working together to advocate for equality, protect our most vulnerable, and foster appreciation, good will and understanding among all citizens.
We are proud that Olathe is among the most vibrant and diverse cities in our region, a place where everyone has the opportunity to dream, learn, grow and reach their highest potential. By embracing our differences and promoting common values, we are enriching our lives and forging bonds of brotherhood that ensure a solid foundation for our future.
No one illustrates this better than volunteers serving on Olathe’s Human Relations Commission and Persons With Disabilities Advisory Board. Our Human Relations Commissioners work tirelessly to promote our rich diversity, break down barriers and foster a culture of peace and harmony among all segments of our community.
The Olathe Persons With Disabilities Advisory Board was recently honored for the second time with the Michael Lechner Advocacy Award. Presented annually by the Kansas Commission on Disability Concerns, the award honors excellence in advocacy on behalf of disabled citizens. Olathe is a regional and national leader in championing for persons with disabilities because of our Persons With Disabilities Advisory Board. Their passion for increasing awareness and appreciation for the special needs and contributions of our disabled is a shining example of the spirit of unity that sets Olathe apart.
You will find that spirit throughout our community, in the strong and visionary leadership of our City Council, and in the dedication of our city employees, who continue setting standards of excellence in public service. This is reflected once again in our annual DirectionFinder citizen survey, which revealed that our residents’ overall satisfaction level with city services remains very high — 91 percent, compared to a national average of 57 percent.
It’s that same spirit that has allowed us to make great progress on long-awaited city projects. These include our beautiful new community center at Stagecoach Park, which will offer amenities for Olatheans of all ages starting next summer. The past year also saw the completion of our Santa Fe streetscape improvements, which have not only beautified downtown, but have made it safer and more pedestrian friendly.
We look forward to the opening of a full-service Embassy Suites hotel and conference center at the southeast corner of Kansas 10 and Ridgeview in 2015. This project will meet the growing demand for a first-class conference facility in our community. It’s an exciting development among many great projects underway, with businesses investing close to $88 million in Olathe in 2013.
Earlier this year, we announced that Google has chosen to bring its ultra-high-speed, fiber-to-the-home network here. The opportunities for Olathe residents using this exciting technology will be endless.
The gifts of peace and brotherhood will touch more lives than ever this year through the Olathe Mayor’s Christmas Tree Fund, which supports 15 local charities. Our children and families who are hurting will have the peace that comes from knowing their neighbors truly care and are committed to helping them through difficult times. We are growing closer each day to reaching the fund’s record campaign goal of $110,000, and I am so grateful to our donors and hard-working Mayor’s Christmas Tree Fund Board for their support and leadership.
I know that I speak for all of us on the City Council in saying thank you for the privilege of serving you. We are striving to make Olathe even better and your city government as accessible, transparent and efficient as possible. I am excited about the great things 2014 has in store, and your involvement and support will continue to be vital to our success.
Thank you for sharing the gifts of peace and brotherhood, not only during the holiday season, but every day throughout the year. Your tremendous community spirit will keep us strong, focused on leading Olathe forward and building a legacy of peace and collaboration for tomorrow.
May you and your loved ones have a wonderful Christmas and a peaceful, happy new year!
Michael E. Copeland is mayor of Olathe.