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‘Tree of Life’ now graces the Theatre Galleria of Jewish Community Campus

After forming strong friendships during rehearsals, the KC SuperStar finalists gathered around grand prize winner Maurissa Cunningham after the singing competition. Pictured are (back row, from left) Rachel Hudson, Erika Kolseth, Sam Wise, Sophie Schulte, Miguel Reyes, Jacob Collier, Israeli-American musician Or Matias, emcee Phillipa Soo and Samuel Aubuchon; and (front row) Cunningham, Emma Mathieson and Alexa Morgan. Soo appeared in the original Broadway production of ‘Hamilton,’ and Matias is her music director.
After forming strong friendships during rehearsals, the KC SuperStar finalists gathered around grand prize winner Maurissa Cunningham after the singing competition. Pictured are (back row, from left) Rachel Hudson, Erika Kolseth, Sam Wise, Sophie Schulte, Miguel Reyes, Jacob Collier, Israeli-American musician Or Matias, emcee Phillipa Soo and Samuel Aubuchon; and (front row) Cunningham, Emma Mathieson and Alexa Morgan. Soo appeared in the original Broadway production of ‘Hamilton,’ and Matias is her music director. Courtesy of Jewish Community Center

Huge tree sculpture finds new life

With its move from Overland Park, the Teva pharmaceutical company wanted to find a suitable home for the massive three-dimensional Tree of Life sculpture it commissioned for the opening of its local building.

The piece, created by artist Tim Mispagel, weighs about 1,100 pounds. Its tallest limb reaches 13 feet in height.

Now the sculpture stands in the Theatre Galleria of the Jewish Community Campus, at 5801 W. 115th St. in Overland Park. Longtime community member Mike Levitan is credited for facilitating Teva’s donation to the Jewish Community Center.

Jewish Community Center member Larry Fry donated the services of Fry-Wagner Moving & Storage to transport and help install the Tree of LIfe in its new spot.

Complete streets plan drafted for Lenexa

The Lenexa City Council scheduled a Sept. 10 meeting to review a preliminary version of a plan to create streets that are safer and more welcoming to all kinds of travelers — whether they are on foot, in a car or bus, or on bicycle.

“The City of Lenexa has spent many years developing its off-road walking and bicycling system, planning for more dense and walkable development in the City Center area, and solidifying its position in the region as a community leader that attracts families, businesses, and visitors,” the draft Complete Streets Plan said. “However, the city’s roadway network, particularly in the western portion of the city, has been largely designed and implemented with a focus on automobile traffic and can be intimidating to those who wish to walk or bicycle, particularly those who are from the youngest and oldest age groups.”

The plan, posted at lenexa.com, includes recommendations for closing gaps in the sidewalk system, improving bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and adjusting city policies to encourage walking and cycling. It also provides an overview of emerging technology like automated vehicles.

Among other things, policy changes could address electric-assisted bicycles; allow motorized skateboards on local streets and in bicycle lanes — and on recreational paths with a 15 mph speed limit; increase the minimum sidewalk width on local streets from 4 feet to 5 feet, and require a path at the end of cul-de-sacs to link pedestrians and cyclists to schools, churches, parks and perhaps other destinations.

Many improvements could be incorporated gradually as roads are refurbished. Before the plan is finalized, residents can still provide feedback, even if unable to get to City Hall for the 7 p.m. meeting on Sept. 10. Go to lenexa.com and look for the news announcement about the draft plan.

County offers digital mental health course to schools

The Johnson County Mental Health Center is launching a new program to provide mental health education — in a digital form and free of charge — to public and private schools in the county.

The course, “Mental Wellness Basics,” introduces students to the experiences of others in an effort to increase awareness and empathy, reduce stigma and provide facts on mental health conditions. It was developed by EVERFI Inc., which says the course is geared to students in the eighth to 10th grades.

“While there is broad recognition that mental health is a critical issue for youth, educators and counselors need diverse strategies to empower as many students as possible with the skills to support themselves and their peers,” said Tim DeWeese, director of the mental health center.

In addition, the mental health center will become the fiscal agent for an existing EVERFI course on alcohol abuse prevention that’s used in high schools.

KC SuperStar picks top singer

Before a sold-out crowd at Johnson County Community College, recent Center High School graduate Maurissa Cunningham sang her way on Aug. 25 to a $10,000 scholarship in the 2019 KC SuperStar competition.

At the conclusion of the competition, Cunningham left for Wichita State University for her freshman year studying musical theatrer.

A fund-raiser for the Jewish Community Center, KC SuperStar seeks out the best high school singer in the Kansas City area. A four-judge panel selected the four top finishers, and the final choice was left to the audience.

Winning a $5,000 scholarship for second place was Sam Aubuchon, a 2019 graduate of Blue Springs High School. The audience chose Emma Mathieson, a senior at Shawnee Mission West High School, as the third place winner and recipient of a $2,500 scholarship. Alexa Morgan, a senior at Shawnee Mission South High School, won fourth place and a $1,000 scholarship.

The other finalists received $500 scholarships – Sam Wise, Leavenworth High School; Jacob Collier, Oak Park High School; Rachel Hudson, Belton High School graduate; Miguel Reyes, Turner High School; Sophia Schulte, Olathe North High School graduate, and Erika Kolseth, Blue Valley High School.

Climate Action Summit at JCCC

The public is invited to a free afternoon session of the Metro KC Climate Action Summit hosted on Sept. 14 by Johnson County Community College.

Full-day registrations are sold out, but the public session — scheduled from 2:15 to 5 p.m. at Yardley Hall — will feature keynote speaker Paul Hawken, U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids of Kansas, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and Mayor James Brainard of Carmel, Indiana.

Hawken is the founder of Project Drawdown, a nonprofit dedicated to researching when and how global warming can be reversed.

JCCC is at College Boulevard and Quivira Road.

Local KU student wins sports writing award

Braden Shaw, a University of Kansas junior from Shawnee, is one of five winners of the prestigious Jim Murray Memorial Foundation scholarship, a national award for excellence in sports writing at the college level.

Shaw, who was the summer 2019 editor-in-chief of the University Daily Kansan, was chosen for a column he submitted about Pete Mehringer, a KU wrestler and football player in the 1930s. As a wrestler, Mehringer was the first KU athlete to win an Olympic gold medal. He also played professional football and was a stunt actor in Hollywood.

Shaw will accept the award and a $5,000 scholarship on Oct. 26 in Los Angeles.

Shawnee bicycle survey

As part of its application to be designated a “Bicycle Friendly Community” by the League of American Bicyclists, Shawnee officials are asking anyone who has cycled in the city to complete an anonymous online survey. It will be available through Sept. 22 at cityofshawnee.org.

Gentlemen, start your cucumbers!

Again this year, Lenexa is challenging competitors to create cars out of fruits or vegetables and race them down a 16-foot track at the Lenexa Farmers Market, on the bottom floor of the parking garage at 17201 W. 87th St. Parkway.

The 2019 Farm-ula 500 Veggie Race will take place Sept. 14, with decoration judging at 10 a.m. and racing at 10:30 and continuing until the winners are chosen. There are divisions for for 12 and under and 13 through adulthood.

The entry fee is $5. Go to lenexa.com to register and learn all the rules. Here’s a big one: the axle has to pierce the produce — no resting the fruit or vegetable on a chassis. Supply packs, if desired, are available at the Lenexa Rec Center on the civic campus.

Trade food for fines in Shawnee

Shortly after a similar event seeking school supplies, the Shawnee Municipal Court will waive a portion of fees and fines for offenders who donate non-perishable food items.

The program runs Sept. 16-20, and the court will accept cereal, canned fruit, peanut butter, pasta, Tuna Helper and pork and beans. Bring a receipt, and the court will credit twice the amount paid for the food — up to $50 total. The rest of the fine must be paid at that time.

Those charged with DUI or seat belt violations are not eligible. More details are at cityofshawnee.org.

Diaper drive in Mission

Through Sept. 18, the city of Mission is collecting donations of diapers for happybottoms.org. Even single diapers or partial packages can be dropped at City Hall or the Sylvester Powell Jr. Community Center.

Meeting focuses on a better 75th Street

People who live or work in Shawnee, or even just drive through the city, have another opportunity this month to say how they’d like to make 75th Street more beautiful and functional for all kinds of travelers.

The city is working with the Mid-America Regional Council on a streetscape revitalization project called Re-imagine 75th Street, focusing on the segment between Switzer and Quivira roads. The next open house for the project is scheduled from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Sept. 17 at Shawanoe Elementary School, 11230 W. 75th St.

Besides beautification, the goals of the project include beautification, new transit amenities and better bicycle and pedestrian connections. Planners also want to accommodate future development opportunities.

The study will include both recommendations that can be part of next year’s 75th Street project, as well as guidance for longer-term decisions about the area.

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