Learning Between Neighbors

One morning in early September, representatives from the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque and its affiliate foundations waited at The Gathering Place in Manchester, Iowa, for their guests to arrive.

At 8 o’clock, the doors opened and dozens of people wearing red “Nebraska” T-shirts walked in, exchanged greetings, and began filling plates with breakfast. The guests had arrived.

The gathering between the Iowans and Nebraskans was two years in the making. It was organized as an opportunity for staff and board members from the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque and its affiliates to meet with their peers from the Nebraska Community Foundation and learn from one another about how to build stronger communities.

“It’s quite an honor that they would come here,” said Beverly Rahe, executive secretary for the Foundation for the Future of Delaware County, which hosted the peer learning day. “We’re all working hard to do what we can for our communities, and we can share success stories, ideas and best practices.”

The day consisted of activities and presentations for the entire group followed by small-group site visits to different rural communities where attendees could see firsthand how work in the Dubuque region is making a difference.

“Today is not only about learning — it’s also about developing and building relationships,” said Denise Garey, affiliated fund development coordinator for the Nebraska Community Foundation.

“We’re really just friends working together to build stronger communities,” added M.J. Smith, director of affiliate foundations for the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque.

Smith and Garey both shared how the foundations approach community-based philanthropy in rural areas, along with the challenges and successes they experience in building support for their work.

During breakout sessions, leaders from both foundations facilitated discussions on initiatives that have made a difference in their communities. These ranged from a storytelling partnership with a newspaper that has helped raise awareness about the Nebraska foundation’s work to the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque’s Regional Roundtable gatherings that have connected rural leaders around issues facing their communities.

From there, attendees traveled to sites in Monticello, Cascade, Dyersville and Manchester, as well as several locations in Clayton County, to learn how specific initiatives are improving lives in Greater Dubuque.

In Manchester, for instance, a group of attendees from Nebraska and Iowa led by the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque’s Peter Supple, economic development coordinator, and Board member Chris Corken visited West Delaware Schools. There, the group learned about how a grant from the Foundation for the Future of Delaware County is supporting the teaching of coping skills to help students work out frustrations, anxieties and other negative emotions so they can focus and be part of a welcoming learning environment.

Such efforts to improve brain health appealed to Pam Abbott, state board member for the Nebraska Community Foundation and vice chair of one of its affiliate funds.

“I have been involved in early childhood education efforts in our state, and I’ve seen how addressing brain health is one of our main needs,” Abbott said. “Our challenge is to find providers and develop a coordinated system to make sure resources are available, for children and adults.”

In Cascade and Monticello, attendees learned about the Community Heart & Soul® process, an approach to community planning and development created by the Orton Family Foundation and facilitated locally by the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque. The process has led both communities to take resident- and data-driven approaches to community challenges, such as transportation and downtown development.

For the Nebraska Community Foundation’s Lori Pankonin, hearing about how listening to residents’ needs, collecting data and bringing people together in collaboration to improve the community was inspiring.

“We are trying to bring young people back to our communities, and that’s exactly what is happening in places here like Cascade,” she said. “We had never been introduced to Heart & Soul, and it really sounds similar to what we try to do. We can definitely use what we’ve learned today.”

The guests from Nebraska weren’t the only ones who ended the day inspired and motivated. The Greater Dubuque attendees also gained new perspectives from both the Nebraskans and their peers from other local affiliate foundations.

“It was valuable to learn about how another foundation approaches many of the things we're thinking about, like building endowments and how to best tell the stories of our nonprofit partners,” said Emily Sadewasser, coordinator of the Clayton County Foundation for the Future, who helped teach attendees about the Clayton County Energy District. “It's wonderful that the foundations came together so we could all take home new ideas about how to build community and inspire philanthropy.”