Owning our change

Photo of Inclusive Dubuque Prescott community conversation

Seven months ago, I made a career change that not only affected my professional trajectory but also how I see and create change in my home community: I joined the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque’s staff.

For years, I worked in the corporate sector helping people save and invest for retirement. It was rewarding work, but because retirement for our customers was years away, we often never got to see our clients benefit.

That is one of the greatest contrasts that I see between my earlier career and my new one at the Community Foundation. It took only weeks on the job here before I started seeing how lives can be touched when we collaborate to address issues like poverty and equity. It has become clear to me that the work we do today not only has immediate impact but also lasting influence on our future, especially when our community takes ownership of it.

Change in action

Let me offer an example: After the Community Foundation established the Inclusive Dubuque initiative six years ago, research revealed that if we wanted to build a welcoming community and break down barriers to opportunity, we would need to address several sectors, such as housing, education and the arts. Community members joined working groups around these sectors, meeting monthly to identify ways to engage their neighbors and local leaders to create change.

In collaborating with other community members and organizations, our goal was to help our partners embrace and take ownership of this work. From there, they could sustain these efforts and implement solutions.

The education workgroup is a great illustration. The role of public schools is to prepare children for success as adults, and everyone involved in the work knew that if the district took a one-size-fits-all approach to educating children from many different backgrounds, some students would slip through the cracks.

School officials recognized this and set out to make a plan to better serve a diverse student body. To help in crafting the plan, the school district collaborated with Inclusive Dubuque’s education working group, seeing the benefit of gaining new perspectives from people working toward similar goals.

Together, the school district and the working group built on the notion that family background, culture and a student’s unique experiences ought to be taken into consideration when developing and implementing school policies and curricula.

We knew the hard work was paying off when the district incorporated language about equitable education opportunities into its new strategic plan. Inclusive Dubuque’s work had taken flight, and the sector group found a home for the work to continue within the school district. We at the Community Foundation knew it was time to implement our exit strategy and let the school district take ownership.

Applying what we’ve learned

At the Community Foundation, we’ve learned a lot from the Inclusive Dubuque process. For me personally, this early experience with the education group was a good primer for the subsequent work we’ve tackled with the foundation’s various initiatives, from increasing access to child care to helping lift people out of poverty through workforce training programs.

We know that our ability to convene many different community stakeholders around an issue is a key step toward achieving lasting solutions. We are taking this approach with new diversity and equity workshops and training opportunities for nonprofit leaders, manager- and director-level business leaders, and top executives from many of our region’s employers. A benefit of these workshops is sitting next to your peers, sharing solutions and strategies that strengthen diversity in the workplace.

There is strength in ideas, especially when they are the result of collaboration. And in acting on them — together, as a community — there is power to create change. I’ve seen it happen.

Paul Duster

Paul Duster is director of Community Initiatives for the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque.

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