The "Our Community, Our Future" event Jan. 17 in the Makoy Center featured several organizations' "big ideas" for the year, as well as an award presentation for "Best Hometown" by Ohio Magazine.

The "Our Community, Our Future" event Jan. 17 in the Makoy Center featured several organizations' "big ideas" for the year, as well as an award presentation for "Best Hometown" by Ohio Magazine.

Perhaps the biggest announcement came from Destination Hilliard, the organization charged with promoting the city. Christy Clark, executive director, announced the city will have a new festival next summer called Solebrate. Tied in with the summer solstice, the regional event will feature cooking competitions and a variety of music on multiple stages. It will be family-friendly and ticketed, she said.

Clark explained that Solebrate is special because it will be the kick-off to summer.

"As soon as the temperature hits 50 degrees, we're ready to pack up our parkas and pull out our Bermudas," she said. "Yet many picnics, barbecues, festivals and fairs don't get started until after the Fourth of July."

After Hilliard Mayor Don Schonhardt spoke about turning Hilliard into a "lifelong community" (see accompanying story below), Norwich Township trustee Larry Earman said the township employs 97 people to provide fire and emergency medical service, maintain roads and the Wesley Chapel. Earman said, "Our biggest idea for 2012 is to not ask for a tax increase" despite cuts in state funding and not being on the ballot with a fire levy since 1998. In 2013, the township will mark its bicentennial, he said.

Steve Estepp, executive director of education and curriculum for the Hilliard City Schools, explained why the "iGeneration" is unlike any group of students to date. He cited statistics like the average teenager sends 3,417 text messages in a month, or seven times per hour. The number has tripled in the past year, he said.

"We are changing the way we do business in our schools because we have to if we're truly going to prepare the students for their futures," Estepp said.

Greg Cottrill of the Hilliard Youth and Family Commission announced that the organization's annual community summit will take place on March 20 at the Makoy. The summit's topic is prescription drug abuse and will feature Craig Krenzel and Ellie Merritt.

Cottrill also said the Hilliard branch of the YMCA has been open for eight years. Among its activities are teaching more than 1,000 children to swim each year, and care for over 400 kids in summer camp annually.

"I encourage you all to visit the YMCA and become involved," he said.

Libby Gierach, president/CEO of the Hilliard Area Chamber of Commerce, introduced new board chair Tom Baker and showed the organization's new logo. She said that last year's Hollyfest drew a record of more than 6,000 people. Gierach said the chamber will unveil a new website in the coming months and will have its next Taste of Hilliard on Aug. 15.

"Let's work together to get entrepreneurs to Hilliard, so that we can be the home to their business," Gierach said.

"This is so exciting. This is such a fun night. I love Hilliard. I'm so glad I'm living here with you all," said Kim Emch, executive director of SON (Serving Our Neighbors) Ministries.

Emch said her initiatives include a free legal clinic in and the "Hilliard Helps" event, both in February. She would like to establish a "compassion center" in Hilliard to give a hand-up to families in need.

Tim Shade, secretary of the Franklin County Agricultural Society, said the fairgrounds consists of 82 acres, 15 buildings and "one of the finest harness racing tracks in the world." He mentioned the variety of events that take place at the fairgrounds, including a Valentine's dance, motor cross and a "Frawg Stomp."

After the big ideas, Hilliard had the "Best Hometown" award presentation from Lute Harmon Jr., president of Great Lakes Publishing. He presented a framed cover of the magazine to Schonhardt and City Council President Brett Sciotto.

"We are blessed with the finest hometowns you'll find anywhere on earth," Harmon said. "So when our editors set out to find the best of the best, we figured it would be a daunting task. Guess what? It wasn't that hard at all. Hilliard quickly rose to the top of the list. Hilliard has it all. We told the world what you already know: When it comes to great places to work, live, and visit, Hilliard is the best."