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Iowa State University Extension

Horizons program launches citizen-leaders in Iowa communities

Elma Horizons project

Working with Iowa communities in the Horizons program is like parenting, says program coordinator and ISU Extension family resource management specialist Ruth Freeman. “If you do it right, you launch them.” And Horizons is doing it right, as 20 communities completed the 18-month community leadership program in June and 15 more begin the next round in September. The “launched” citizen-leaders already are making their communities better places to live and work.

In Morning Sun a Horizons task force is taking steps to retain a town grocery store. They’re exploring options for the current grocer, the feasibility of forming a local food co-op and benefits of buying locally in partnership with a school and a care center.

Elma residents believed if dependable, quality child care were available locally, parents could seek better paying jobs in the area. They formed Elma Early Childhood Center Inc., worked with the local school district, secured grant funding and built a child care center adjacent to the local school. Principal Rob Hughes said, “There is success in Elma because people have come together in collaboration.”

Grand Junction established an after-school tutoring program, and Keosauqua and Woodbine have set up youth mentoring programs.

These are only a few examples of how the Horizons program helps small communities experiencing a poverty rate over 10 percent build stronger leaders to address economic issues and find ways to implement change. ISU Extension directs the program with funding from the Northwest Area Foundation. Freeman has spent much of the past month meeting with eligible communities that are interested in participating in the program. Those that are serious must apply by Aug. 13.

“This is a commitment on the part of communities,” Freeman said. Those that are accepted must pull together a local steering committee and find volunteers willing to be trained to facilitate local study circles in October and November. A community with less than 1,500 people needs six trained facilitators and at least 30 people participating. That increases to 14 facilitators and 100 people as community population reaches 5,000. The program intensifies with additional leadership training in spring 2009.

In Horizons, local leaders become involved in decision-making and come together to take action against poverty, Freeman said. Communities gain training about leadership, community development, visioning and strategic planning. They learn to use their own resources to make a difference.

This article appeared in August 2008 -- From Jack Payne Newsletter