This article is from the Summer 2007 edition of the Extension Connection newsletter.
The Horizons program, directed by Iowa State University Extension, is creating aspirations for community prosperity in rural Iowa towns. There is pride in the voices and accomplishment expressed in the words of the residents of the 23 communities as they tell of change beginning to permeate their towns.
Thanks to this ISU Extension-run leadership program, these communities are taking charge and building stronger leaders to address poverty, economic decline and the exodus of young adults from rural Iowa.
Believing in Bedford
“At the end of March we identified the need for community information pieces,” said Deann Hensley, co-leader of the community internal communication committee. “By May 19, we had completed the Believe in Bedford color brochures and had a business and services directory compiled, printed and being distributed.”
Hensley, a life-long Taylor County resident, was motivated to get involved last fall by a newspaper article. She was intrigued by Horizons’ potential to bring change to Bedford. She took it as an invitation to reconnect with the community.
“The people involved in Bedford Horizons are a breath of fresh air for the community. Coming from all sectors of the community, they are breathing hope into Bedford’s future,” Hensley said.
Empowering in Chariton
Chariton Chamber president Linda Baynes is excited by the new involvement in her community that the LeadershipPlenty® experience has sparked. This part of Horizons offers civic leadership training to those who might not consider themselves leaders, but have much to offer their communities.
“Of the 25 LeadershipPlenty® participants, eight were new faces to me — and I am a Lucas County native,” Baynes said. “It is a tremendous feeling being part of something that is empowering people to contribute to the community.”
Those contributions are evident in three freshly painted homes, an entrepreneurial conference for cottage businesses and a school mentoring program under development.
Caring in Woodbine
A youth/adult mentoring program also is being implemented in Woodbine as a result of Horizons study circles.
“The idea is to provide another caring adult in children’s lives – someone who will help with homework, talk to them or play games or help them with hobbies,” said Karen Ryerson, a six-year Woodbine resident.
The mentoring project gives a widening circle of Woodbine adults the opportunity to be involved in the community. “I believe that you have to be involved if you want the town to move forward,” she said. “This is a beautiful part of Iowa, a great place to raise children and we want it to be that way for all children.”
Communicating and cleaning up in Jones County
Three Jones County Horizons communities — Olin, Oxford Junction and Wyoming — are putting talk into action. Debris has been removed from the banks of Bear Creek traversing through Wyoming. Oxford Junction is marketing its Czech heritage and local businesses to the county and the Cedar Rapids area. Olin is transforming an unsightly lot into a Memory Park and has established a local newsletter.
“The monthly newsletter is a direct response to comments we heard during study circles,” said Elsa Hirl, O-Times newsletter editor. “We also have a billboard committee working on a digital community sign and information center bulletin board.”
Involving Iowa State University students
Ashlynn Hunter, ISU ’07 Construction Engineering, was eligible to take a one-credit Iowa State University Horizons course last winter because her hometown was participating in the program. She enrolled as a way to make the transition back into the community after graduation.
“The class was an eye-opener to the many levels of poverty in rural communities and to the many ideas that could solve those problems,” said Hunter, now a Chariton steel fabrication facility project manager.
Rockford native and ISU student Steve Moser said, “The Horizons experience helped me realize that small solutions, individual efforts, can improve conditions in a community when it comes to dealing with the huge issue of poverty.”
Horizons is funded by the Northwest Area Foundation. Learn more about Horizons.