At first glance Buena Vista County and Waterloo may seem too different to compare, but they bring similar challenges to the Iowa Sustainable Communities Project. One year into the five-year project, this ISU Extension effort received a federal review from the National Children, Youth and Families at Risk (CYFAR) Program. According to the reviewer, the project is making communities more stable by building family strengths.
This spring Mary Marczak, CYFAR liaison with the Center for 4-H and Community Youth Development at University of Minnesota, toured project sites in the Newell-Fonda and Alta school districts, Storm Lake and Waterloo. The project’s five sites in Buena Vista County are mainly rural, while Waterloo is urban. All have high poverty rates.
The project sites exemplify the changing demographics of Iowa, Marczak said. For example, Storm Lake is nearly 60 percent minority, including Latino, Sudanese and Lao populations.
“Waterloo on the other hand, has the largest African American population in the state, 14 percent,” she said.
The Iowa Sustainable Communities Project uses ISU Extension’s Strengthening Families Program 10-14. Marczak sees this as a strong point, because the project implements the evidence-based program consistently across the sites. “It did not matter who I talked to, everyone … voiced their approval of using a ‘proven’ program,” Marczak said.
The partnering organizations “are right on target” in terms of their ability to facilitate family education efforts in their communities, Marczak said. “Whether the partnership is formal or informal, all sectors of the community are involved in supporting the project. ... Directors of key organizations sit on project committees, elected officials are kept informed and are highly supportive, local businesses contribute family meals and door prizes, and school districts continue to be critical partners by offering space, human resources and time during the school day.”
The Iowa Sustainable Communities Project is one example of ISU Extension’s efforts to meet the needs of Iowans as the state gains new immigrant populations and becomes more urban. Currently, 41 percent of the Iowa’s residents live in urban areas.
“These opportunities complement the vision of CYFAR in terms of moving Extension resources into new communities,” Marczak said.