Five communities recently became the first in our Region to take on a new program of self-assessment and planning called Hometown Pride, an initiative of the statewide nonprofit Keep Iowa Beautiful. The program is administered in East Central Iowa by ECICOG, which provides a “community coach” to guide participating towns in creating a vision for the future and making incremental changes to make the vision a reality.Hometown Pridehelps to address Pillar 5 of our regional development plan, Envision East Central Iowa, which is about creating more vibrant communities through connections and a sense of belonging.
Hometown Pride Community Coach Jessica Johnson helps communities to improve themselves through a five-year comprehensive commitment with the goal of creating a more vibrant, stable future. The program adapts to the individual and unique circumstances of each community, so local leaders are integral in planning and decision making. The five communities in ECICOG’s region who have chosen to take advantage of the Hometown Pride program are Hills, Springville, Walker, Center Point, and Shellsburg. “The volunteers are passionate about their communities,” Johnson said. “They are excited about the potential to move things forward and build on the great things they already have. It’s cool to see them offering up their resources and cooperation, and then taking action.”
Center Point City Administrator Joe Taylor is fired up about the potential for Hometown Pride to multiply the city’s efforts. “Due to the size of our staff, additional projects and initiatives can be more difficult to implement. Hometown Pride is a resource that we believe will bridge this gap,” Taylor said. “Hometown Pride will allow the community members and the city personnel to maximize improvement projects through the coordination of people and resources, and collaboration with existing programs/planning to maximize results.”
First, Johnson meets with a community leader, usually the city administrator or city clerk, who helps to find a team that represents the demographic range in the town. A kickoff meeting is held at a city building or other public venue, where Jessica and the city staff give an overview of the Hometown Pride process. The focus is on identifying strengths and opportunities that are unique to the town and then finding ways to amplify those qualities and features.
“We help to get them thinking about their unique opportunities that the community can focus on and start building on their successes,” she said. “It’s always a fun process when people get to share what they feel about their town. These communities have so many unique and cool things that make them special, and each one is has its own flavor.”
Next the committee holds a brainstorming session for projects that would build on the opportunities and strengths they’ve already identified. The group then works through an exercise to prioritize the projects and assess the time and effort they will require versus the potential impact to the community.
“To start, we’re looking to identify the wins we can have in the short term and build some momentum, while looking down the road at the larger projects that will be scheduled for the longer term,” Johnson said. “Then we start implementing.”
Each town has unique strengths that Hometown Pride seeks to feature and develop through its visioning and planning sessions. For example, Hills has a strong parks program with an outdoor music venue, a splash pad for the kids, and ambitious plans to leverage the town’s popularity as a destination among Iowa City’s cycling crowd. Walker has well-groomed parks and a historic train depot that serves as a charming landmark in the center of town, while Center Point boasts the impressive Anderson Family Community Center. Springville takes pride in robust youth sports programs and facilities -- and it has an economic development corporation. Shellsburg used an Iowa Economic Development Authority grant to repurpose a bank building into the new home of Cranky Hank’s Pizza Bank, the only pizza place
in town with a beer vault and a welcome addition to an active downtown.
For more information on the Hometown Pride Program, contact Community Development Specialist Jessica Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Hometown Pride section of the Keep Iowa Beautiful website.