Formed in March 2015 as a chapter of Women for Kansas, Informed Women of Harvey County provided a way for area residents to learn about political issues from diverse and knowledgable sources.

Informed Women of Harvey County's steering committee includes Evelyn Adams, Virginia Benninghoff, Mary Collier, Sue Ice and Gini Johnson, who found its members wanted to delve into other topics.

"It was pretty much political issues when we started," Ice said. "We've branched out to other concerns."

The group chose their name to reflect its mission of presenting attendees with the opportunity to educate themselves on various issues.

"We're very concerned about disseminating information, because it seems like there are so many people who vote without knowing the issues, and many vote on one issue," Johnson said. "We feel they need to know all the issues to make an informed decision before they step into that voting booth."

Benninghoff noted she was surprised to learn from friends that they would vote a straight ticket or follow their husband's lead without looking into the candidates for themselves.

"What motivated me was I heard my friends say, 'I don't care about politics. I don't watch the news,'" Johnson said. "But they vote, so we'd better care, instead of voting the way we've always voted."

Though politics are a frequent topic of discussion, members from all political parties are welcome to participate in the meetings, the steering committee emphasized.

"People have come and thought it's all liberals, but it's not," Johnson said.

The topics for Informed Women of Harvey County meetings are decided by the interest level of attendees and the availability of speakers. Past presenters included representatives from the field of economics, health care, journalism and education.

"A lot of those things we learned about in high school we don't use, and therefore you forget," Collier said.

Attendees are encouraged to ask questions at Informed Women of Harvey County meetings.

"When we first started, I think women had the idea that they were going to sit and listen and be fed information, and we want them to be talking, them to be discussing," Johnson said.

"I've been very pleased with the engagement between audience and speakers and the level and intensity of questions," Adams added. "It's been very good to see, because everyone learns from each other through that whole process."

The steering committee hopes that attendees will not only inform themselves about issues, but share what they learn with friends and neighbors.

"They need to be registered and get out and vote and encourage their friends and family to get out and vote," Adams said.

The steering committee plans on hosting candidate forums during the election season in 2018.

"This year is going to be a very busy year," Adams said. "There will be lots of issues that legislators will be addressing."

The next Informed Women of Harvey County meeting will be at 7 p.m. on Jan. 18, 2018, at Trinity Heights United Methodist Church, 1200 Boyd in Newton. Jan Jones from SafeHope will be the speaker, talking about domestic violence.

"It was a topic all of us were interested in because we were not knowledgable about it," Benninghoff said.

Informed Women of Harvey County holds meetings at 7 p.m. on selected Thursdays at St. Matthew's Episcopal Church or Trinity Heights United Methodist Church. There is no fee to attend the meetings, which are open to both women and men.

For more information about Informed Women of Harvey County and its meetings and newsletters, visit