Five-year program set to end in 18 months, but there's more work to do in SW Iowa.
A county-wide meeting of Hometown Pride representatives convened on Tuesday at Waubonsie State Park to discuss the future of the 10-town program.
Hometown Pride, a 5-year program sponsored by the Fremont County Economic Development Corporation, is set to wrap up in November of 2018.
While extending the program might be debated, there is no arguing what Hometown Pride’s efforts have meant to Southwest Iowa.
Community volunteers came together from all of the 10 communities with the idea of creating strength through unity and also to take on the biggest issue facing this part of the state, that being population decline.
From the start, the positive energy has been off the charts. The bigger towns of Hamburg, Sidney and Tabor worked hard and showed commitment to getting things done. Smaller towns showed just as much enthusiasm.
Doug Friedli, community coach for Hometown Pride, said the smallest of towns, Bartlett for instance, with around 18 people total in the town, had 12 show up for a meeting.
Bartlett had been hit hard by the 2011 flood and volunteers did significant work clearing brush, dead trees other debris left by the flood.
“It looks much better than it did three years ago,” Friedli said.
In Percival, an improvement effort began with children going door-to-door seeking donations for playground equipment. Adults took up the effort and Friedli helped write a grant that yielded $20 thousand for the equipment.
Once the equipment arrived, Friedli said a call went out for volunteers to do the installation. That yielded 35 persons ready to help, both those who had been attending Hometown Pride meetings, and those who had not.
“It was amazing. We had a great day,” Friedli said.
Continued efforts in Percival included tree planting, thanks to donations by Doug Grimm of Grimm’s Gardens in Nebraska City. And Percival’s Hometown Pride has also installed a basketball court at the park.
To those who travel through Percival, the improvements might seem modest, but, by knowing the back story of the project, it’s easy to see why community members would disagree with such an assesment.
“For them, it’s a huge deal,” said Friedli.
In Hamburg, Hometown Pride’s effects are seen in the completion of the Heroes Park to honor veterans and the Freedom Rock in Hamburg City Park. Hamburg has also installed a welcome sign to the town and will now have a digital sign at the park that can be used to advertise community events.
“These volunteers from Hamburg have really done a remarkable job,” said Friedli.
The energy created by the improvements in Hamburg has not gone unnoticed.
United State’s Senator Joni Ernst plans to make a trip down to Southwest Iowa on July 8.
She will lead a motorcycle ride of 400-plus from Glenwood on I-29 down to Hamburg to see Freedom Rock.
“That’s a big deal to have a U.S. Senator coming to this corner of the state,” said Friedli.
Ernst’s ride to Hamburg just adds to the overall success of the program.
At the beginning of the program, Friedli said the community volunteers did not have experience writing grants. That situation has been rectified. While learning the grant writing ropes, the 10 communities have combined for $332,000.
“In small towns, that’s a big deal. It’s allowed them to accomplish a lot of projects,” Friedli said.
Hometown Pride has been about more than just money, however. It’s been about leadership.
Friedli said new leaders have emerged throughout Southwest Iowa and have found a way to get things done. Sticking together has been a big part of that. From the beginning, the communities took time to make sure they understood the needs and situations of all involved.
An eight-hour bus tour at the start of the Hometown Pride program gave each community a chance to do a show-and-tell and let everyone know about their unique histories and situations.
At this point, based on the knowledge that has been accumulated, the community volunteers could decide to separate from the Hometown Pride program and have confidence they can meet challenges on their own.
Still, there is strength in numbers. And there are reasons to stay together—three of them to be exact.
While looking into ways to stem population decline in the county, Hometown Pride identified three areas where improvements could make a big difference.
Improved housing, better access to broadband internet, and a focus on amenities, such as parks, trails and other recreation opportunities, could keep population numbers from falling and create a situation where new people may move into the area.
Meetings on the amenities issue will be June 26 and a meeting on housing is set for June 28. Both meetings will take place in Sidney.
Friedli said the housing discussions will involve individual talks about each of the 10 towns in Hometown Pride. The amenities meeting will underscore strengths and how Hometown Pride can improve on those.
“In Fremont County, there are a lot of beautiful places and a lot of things that can draw people to the area,” said Friedli. “Waubonsie State Park is a beautiful state park but you have to keep updating and adding to offerings.”
What would need to be done to continue Hometown Pride? Friedli said some funding would be needed to continue, but said that he has already been impressed by the commitment communities have shown. And the Fremont County Board of Supervisors, Friedli said, has also been generous.
All of those people, Friedli said, realize that addressing the falling population numbers is a very big deal. With fewer people, there are fewer tax payers and an increased burden for the ever increasing expenditures to serve the community.
Realizing that there is a problem is important and Hometown Pride has brought minds together to meet the challenges.
“That’s been interesting and rewarding to see how people have come to know their neighbors,” said Friedli. “It has been neighbors helping neighbors. That’s where the pride comes in.”