Heart & Soul Communities awarded grants for innovation labs

Two Community Heart & Soul® communities, Bellevue and Monticello, are among 21 recipients of Rural Innovation grants from the Iowa Economic Development Authority. The Rural Innovation Grant Program supports creative, non-traditional ideas that focus on current issues and challenges faced by rural communities associated with the themes of community investment, growth and connection. 

“After doing the Community Heart & Soul process, community leaders have the data and language they need to write better grants. They can confidently discuss what people care about, what resources are available, and who will step forward to help,” said Jason Neises, community development coordinator for the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque. Neises coordinates the Foundation’s Heart & Soul initiative, partnering with residents of small towns in the seven-county Dubuque region, including Bellevue and Monticello, to establish programs that provide a framework for community-driven decision-making and development. The Heart & Soul process was developed by the Orton Family Foundation, and it is implemented in communities across the country by local facilitators like the Community Foundation.

Bellevue Community School District will use its $20,000 award to develop the Innovating Bellevue program, which will connect local entrepreneurs and business owners with Bellevue youth in a new innovation lab designed to foster creativity and collaboration. Located in a renovated historic building, the lab will become an incubator for new, locally owned businesses. There will also be opportunities for local business owners to create succession plans that involve youth becoming apprentices and taking over operations, especially in skilled trades like plumbing and electrical work that are essential for small towns to thrive.

Innovating Bellevue is an extension of the existing Bellevue BIG program and other STEM-based learning concepts currently deployed in the Bellevue Community Schools. “By establishing this program in a public building used by local entrepreneurs, we will be creating synergy between students and mentors,” said school district Superintendent Tom Meyer. “We need to create intentional connections between the creativity and enthusiasm of the students and the community knowledge and business savvy of our existing small business owners.”

Monticello received $20,000 for its own innovation lab, also located in a renovated historic building. “During our Community Heart & Soul process, we learned that our community values recreation, education and cultural opportunities,” said Sheila Tjaden, who volunteered with Monticello Community Heart & Soul. “I see the innovation lab project as an opportunity to bring all of these to downtown Monticello while at the same time repurposing a vacant downtown building.”

A total of $400,000 in grants were awarded in the inaugural round of the Rural Innovation and Rural Housing Assessment programs, which were developed in 2019 by the Governor’s Empower Rural Iowa Initiative. The initiative supports creative thinking, entrepreneurial spirit and everyday Iowans who are thinking outside the box to address the challenges that exist in their communities.

Click for more information on the Rural Innovation or Rural Housing Assessment programs, or email Liesl Seabert. A full list of the 2020 Rural Innovation and Rural Housing Assessment Grant recipients is available here.

To learn more about the Community Heart & Soul initiative and discuss implementing it in your community, contact Jason Neises at 563-588-2700 or jason@dbqfoundation.org.