Letter to the Editor

Stepping up for your roots

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Many Iowans grew up and were raised in a rural small town setting. We started out in the neighborhood, were supported by the church setting and later educated by the school system. The eighteen years passed by quickly, frequently interspersed with part time jobs at the local stores, service facilities and maybe the local business or production center. We left to go to college or for a job in another part of Iowa or the world. What was once our home transformed into our roots -- our basic heritage.

Even though we left our home, the roots run deep. The appeal and memories from those early years remain vivid and strong. It is those years that framed our personality, provided us the sense of values, developed a work ethic, promoted high standards, built respect for others, a regard for authority and in general, embraced a true feeling of community.

There is an African expression that "it takes a village to raise a child."

There seems to be a great deal of truth to the idea here in the Midwest. Small towns are close knit communities where every citizen tends to feel a sense of responsibility for everyone in the village. Iowa is filled with these villages and now some of them need help.

They are threatened with declining population, loss of schools and a decline in services and business. Their challenge is to find a new sense of place that the community can sustain and hopefully grow the community for the future along with economic and cultural vitality.

For many of you -- your personal lives have become filled with economic success. That success undoubtedly has its roots in your hometown. With that success in the "big town" Keep Iowa Beautiful would like you to check back to see how your hometown is doing. What is happening to your "roots"? Maybe there is a feeling that you might owe the town something for all that it did in molding your success. Maybe it is payback time as well as pay forward time.

We know of stories from around Iowa of individuals that have returned to their hometown and put substantial investments in the town. Many of those stories focus on facility improvements and those gifts are important. However, what is really needed, in this day and age, is leadership and skill development for the local residents that will take the community into the future.

We need to teach people "how to fish and not simply hand them fish". Learning how to fish (how to guide their community to a successful future) is essential. These leaders need to provide new visions for the town's future that can be sustained and provide economic and cultural vitality!

In most cases that future is not based on history or what it has been, but, in a newly discovered concept or "sense of place" to give the town a new future and life style -- placemaking!

On occasion someone will make a gift (handing out fish) for a community endowment and that is also important, but, preparing the community and its residents for the future is even more important and provides longer term results. The need is to reinvigorate the community and its citizens that we grew up with -- home.

Now it is time to find out what you can do to help the community. The community has already done its work in shaping you and your success. Time to step up and "thank the village"!

Hand them fish if you want, but more importantly provide them the support they need for leadership development.