Grand Opening for Alta Resource Center

Thursday, September 4, 2008

An open house to kick off the Community Resource Center in Alta will be held Wednesday as a crowning achievement to the nearly two-year-long Horizon development program.

"Alta has done a very good job with Horizons. They should be very proud of how far they have come, and very excited for the opportunities ahead of them in this effort," said Barb Wollan, ISU Extension family resource management specialist, who has assisted the community in Horizons. The program is designed to help lift people who are in poverty, so that an entire community has the opportunity for prosperity. Alta is one of 20 communities in the state chosen for the program.

The open house will be 4-7 p.m. Wednesday, with speakers and refreshments. Everyone is welcome to come check out the services.

The Resource Center is located as 212 1/2 Main Street, and will be a one-stop shop for anyone who may be new to the community or is in need of information or assistance programs or referrals to a variety of northwest Iowa services. Volunteers will staff the office. "It is basically about helping people," Wollan said.

Rev. Terry Pollard is leading the Horizons committee, with Bonnie Hach as secretary. They said the office will initially be open on Friday mornings, with hours to expand soon.

"Every day there are low income, frail elderly, new residents, and people whose life situation has changed that have questions about where to find help for financial assistance, housing needs, available childcare, health services and transportation," said Kris Shannon, a Horizons participant and a resource center organizer. "This center is conveniently located on Main Street and will have answers to those questions.In small rural towns, the strength has to come in a good people network."

With a steering committee now formed, and an agreement in place with the city to manage grant funds, Alta has fulfilled all of its responsibilities in the program, according to Wollan, and will this month receives the first installment of its $10,000 reward grant, with the remainder of the seed money coming in by the end of the year.

It is at this point that some communities fizzle out with Horizons, Wollan noted. "My hope for Alta is that the program will still be alive and well 10, 20 years in the future. The project is accomplishing things there. People in Alta are concerned for the well being of their neighbors - they probably always have been, but now they are finding ways to take action and build stronger community connections."

The program in Alta began with more than 40 people involved in study circles in 2007, followed by six weeks of guided community discussions, and 26 volunteers completing a nine-week leadership course. Three Altans have additionally earned certification as trainers in the course so that it could be conducted in Alta - and could be shared with other groups in need of leadership development in the future.

Among the accomplishments of Horizons:

* Alta Builds Connections - Volunteers and the business community have joined forces to create a program to welcome newcomers to town. This will help people learn about their community and to reach any resources they need.

* The Community Resource Center - A central location for residents to work toward the goal of prosperity for all.

* Health Care - Although the ultimate goal is to provide a clinic for the town, volunteers realize that may not happen anytime soon. Instead, they are working to provide health resources through school nurses and other focal points, referrals to various health facilities in Storm Lake and elsewhere in the region, transportation to health facilities, and to ensure that services like school physicals and a variety of health screenings are available in the community.

Cassie Bishop, leader of the Horizons health care work group and a recent nursing school graduate, will provide blood pressure checks when she is volunteering at the center. The group has also spoken with United Community Health Center in Storm Lake about possibly having a clinic day in Alta once a month. "We'd also like to get a wellness center started, but that's down the road," Bishop said.

* Affordable Housing - The group found this to be one of the city's greatest needs. Luckily, city officials are working on new housing and rehabilitation efforts, which should dovetail with the Horizons goals.

* Jobs and Entrepeneurial Development - A committee will be working to encourage new business start-ups and support for existing businesses, in hopes of seeing more jobs. A "Smart Start" class will be held later this month in Alta with the Small Business Development Center to help people who are interested in starting or growing local business.

Communities advancing to the visioning stage of Horizons include: Alta, Allerton, Bedford, Chariton, Corydon, Ellsworth, Elma, Grand Junction, Greenfield, Humeston, Keosauqua, Morning Sun, Olin, Oxford Junction, Rockford, Sac City, Scranton, Seymour, Waukon and Woodbine.

Horizons began in 2006, and is open only to communities between 500 and 5,000 population with poverty rates of 10 percent or higher.

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