Extension News

Communities Create Atmosphere for Positive Action



This article is from the Spring 2007 edition of the Extension Connection newsletter.

Residents of 23 Iowa communities are circling around a program called Horizons. Each phase draws more residents into the Iowa State University Extension directed program. Northwest Area Foundation provides funding.

Eighty-five Iowa communities met eligibility requirements — population of 500 to 5,000 and a poverty rate of at least 10 percent. Communities that applied and were selected to participate have generated community support. They have begun the 18-month program and now are experiencing community changes.

In the cold of winter they formed community study circles, with each group meeting six times to define poverty, then identify community strengths and assets that could guide them toward a healthier, more prosperous future. Mayor Tom French joined an Alta study circle because he wanted to better understand the issues related to poverty in his community.

“I knew that I held some stereotypical views of the poor. I saw the Horizons study circles as a way to become more educated on the topic,” French said. “While it’s a community issue, poverty must be understood at a personal level. The contributions made by the high school students and the adults in my group made the discussions very interesting and have given me a better understanding of what it means to be poor.”

Mel Johnson, a Waukon resident since 1979, has watched his community go through an economic decline. But he’s not willing to sit back any more. He wants to get involved.

“Changes aren’t going to happen overnight, but if I can make a difference, I think I should try,” Johnson said. “I’m not a public speaker; never been a community leader, but I’m willing to learn and to give it a try. It’s going to be fun to make a difference.”

More than 100 people are involved in the seven Waukon study circles. Johnson and others openly discussed the issues holding their community back, and the community assets they have to move it forward. Representatives from each circle presented action steps at a community forum. As a whole, they decided on an action step to initiate.

Johnson is serious about getting some positive results out of Horizons, so serious that he signed up to be one of three community people to receive training and lead the next phase, LeadershipPlenty®. Twenty-two communities will train three facilitators and offer leadership training to at least 25 others this spring. These newly trained leaders will rally at least 15 percent of the community this summer for a community visioning process to create a community action plan.

Marilyn Gray, of Wyoming, Iowa, began recruiting Horizons’ support after reading pamphlets her husband brought home from a Jones County Extension Council meeting. In that literature she saw great hope for the community she has called home the last six years.

“This program is well designed for grassroots involvement and it has great backing with direction from Extension and funding from Northwest Area Foundation,” Gray said. “Many people in Wyoming have skills and talents, but haven’t discovered how to use them to benefit the community. Through Horizons, we’re involving people of all ages, and getting people thinking positively. I know we’re going to create great possibilities for Wyoming’s future.”

Horizons communities in Iowa

Allerton, Alta, Bedford, Chariton, Corydon, Ellsworth, Elma, Grand Junction, Greenfield, Humeston, Keosauqua, Lake City, Morning Sun, Olin, Oxford Junction, Rockford, Sac City, Scranton, Seymour, Wapello, Waukon, Woodbine and Wyoming

Foundation funds Horizons

The Northwest Area Foundation (NWAF) funds Horizons in the eight states that were served by the Great Northern Railway, founded by James J. Hill.

The NWAF was established in 1934 by Hill’s son, Louis W. Hill. In 1998, the foundation’s focus became long-term poverty reduction.

“With funding from the foundation, ISU Extension is providing Horizon communities with coaching, training and connections,” said Jean Burkhart, Northwest Area Foundation Horizons program leader. “Extension was a willing and able partner … and continues to work with the foundation to improve the program.”


Contacts :

Laura Sternweis, Extension Communications and Marketing, (515) 294-0775, lsternwe@iastate.edu