Incubating Initiatives That Last

Opportunity Dubuque and Re-engage Dubuque

This story is part of our Transforming Together series, which highlights 20 key moments in our Foundation’s first 20 years. Read more stories in the series.

The day after he graduated from Hempstead High School, Justin Beck started a full-time job as a computer numerical control machinist at Decker Precision Machining in Peosta.

Just three months earlier, Justin’s post-graduation plans were less clear. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he says. “Judy Simon, Hempstead’s I-JAG education specialist, told me about a new advanced manufacturing program.”

That program was Opportunity Dubuque, which was created in 2012 by a coalition convened through the Community Foundation’s Project HOPE initiative. Opportunity Dubuque was founded to connect unemployed and under-employed youth with job training at Northeast Iowa Community College (NICC) and stable careers in high-demand fields.

The program was successful from the beginning. In its pilot year, nearly all 19 graduates, including many displaced adult workers, went on to full-time employment while the rest chose to continue their education. Today, Opportunity Dubuque has grown as a full-scale program at NICC that prepares people for jobs in fields like engineering and child care.

Opportunity Dubuque isn’t the only program to continue thriving today after initially starting as a Community Foundation-facilitated effort. Re-engage Dubuque, for example, was established at the same time as a sort of companion program to Opportunity Dubuque, focused on helping youth who dropped out of high school reconnect with their education.

It has supported people like Joseph Schwenker, who pursued a career in medical research just a few years after dropping out of high school.

“High school was never really a place where I felt like I belonged or felt welcome,” says Joseph.

Re-engage Dubuque helped Joseph change his path by connecting him with Re-engagement Coach Temwa Phiri, who developed a personalized plan to help Joseph complete his high school equivalency diploma and attend college.

“One dropout is too many,” says Shirley Horstman, director of student services for the Dubuque Community School District. “This program has helped accelerate our efforts in assisting dropouts by finding an educational option that works for them.”

Today, the school district facilitates Re-engage Dubuque after taking the reins from the Community Foundation several years ago. Since its founding, 900 local youth have reconnected with their education, and more than 700 of them have gone on to earn a high school or high school equivalency diploma.

“Both of these programs started because leaders recognized needs in our community, and the Community Foundation brought them together to find solutions,” says Mary Jo Jean-Francois, director of impact for the Foundation. “They continue to make an impact today thanks to the commitment of our strong organizations in Dubuque.”