A community engaged

One of the beautiful things about community is that small efforts can become big efforts, as more and more people rally around the needs of their neighbors. And at the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque, we have a great vantage point—we get to witness what happens when the small seed of community bears fruit.

Our partnership with Convivium Urban Farmstead, which played out recently through a unique program called Food Scholars, is just one example of many. Late last year, Convivium’s owners and staff worked with residents from the neighborhood around the business to provide lessons about healthy eating. With a $2,500 grant from the Community Foundation, Convivium led elementary school-age students through a series of hands-on workshops on cooking techniques and the nutritional value of healthy foods.

That small seed—a cooking class in a Dubuque’s Washington neighborhood—was part of a broader effort to actively support a tight-knit, vibrant community with resources that improve residents’ well-being.

Responding to a need

We and the Convivium team knew from data and boots-on-the-ground experience that the neighborhood’s residents—particularly those of Marshallese descent—experience higher rates of diabetes and other nutrition-related illnesses than our region’s population as a whole. We also knew that lower-than-average household incomes were one barrier to healthy eating habits.

In other words, Food Scholars was a direct response to research and conversations with residents about their own needs. Its primary goal was to increase food security, promote family activities and encourage healthy living—and it achieved that. Families who engaged with the program indicated they wanted to continue to take part in cooking and nutrition classes.

We also believed the program could be something more. Our hope was for it to serve as a reminder to every resident in the neighborhood that they are included in and important to our greater region.

Focus—and connect

If we as a community are doing our job well, we will help strengthen each neighborhood by building safe, connected networks of people. We want each neighborhood to have individual strengths and be a place where people want to live, open a business, and send their kids to school.

That was our intent when we supported Convivium’s program, and it is the intent of our economic opportunity work as a whole, particularly our Project HOPE initiative, which is active in the Washington neighborhood and other local communities. When our community is connected, celebrated and invested in, the change is remarkable.

Convivium isn’t the only place where we’ve seen positive momentum in this area of our city. When we helped kick off a summer reading initiative for students in the neighborhood, we quickly handed the reins to local parents who have kept the initiative going. Nonprofits serving the neighborhood have reported a growing number of residents participating in programs that provide resources.

We also formed a partnership with two neighborhood residents—Laura Klavitter and Heidi Zull—to establish a network with other people who live in the neighborhood, one from each block. Laura and Heidi champion issues most important to residents, including tending to the community garden, cleaning up the park, and increasing safety. The Community Foundation serves as a support system to help residents connect with resources to improve their lives.

The neighborhood level and beyond

It has been exciting to watch the Washington neighborhood thrive—it is a reminder of what can happen when we value people and strong neighborhoods.

Our work doesn’t stop at the neighborhood’s borders. It doesn’t even stop at the Dubuque city limits. Communities throughout our region need access to resources that can help people thrive. Child care, brain health care, job training programs, academic support—these are just a few of the resources that Dubuque-area residents and community leaders themselves have told us are needed to improve people’s well-being.

With this knowledge, we begin making connections. We bring together organizations and agencies that can implement systemic changes that improve lives. We build strong relationships with donors who want to support our community’s greatest needs, and we help them see how their generosity can make a lasting difference.

This work of building connections—bridges, as we like to say—is crucial. From a single seed of a program, such as Food Scholars, grow many opportunities for change. But with the support of many, we can spread these seeds far and wide.

We welcome the support of individuals and organizations from all parts of our region to help us continue this work. Would you like to play a role? Email Faye Finnegan, director of donor relations, or call 563.588.2700.

Peter Supple

Peter Supple is economic opportunity coordinator for the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque.

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