If you love your small town and you know that it is poised to thrive (which I’m sure is most of you if you’re here at this podcast/blog), this episode is for you.
In today’s episode of Small-Minded, I sit down with my friend Jason Neises. It’s readily apparent that Jason LOVES what he does in helping small towns grow and capitalize on the assets in their communities.
Through his work as a community development coordinator at the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque in Dubuque, Iowa, Jason “helps empower residents of rural areas in the seven-county Dubuque region to identify their towns’ best, most unique attributes and use them as the basis of future decision-making” (more about his work here). He gets into communities to talk to real people, assessing their needs, sharing their stories, and helping organizations make future plans that will truly benefit citizens in these areas. He looks at the pieces of small towns that impact the quality of life and functionality for citizens to make these town function, attract, and retain the people who live there.
Community Heart & Soul
Beyond his work at CFGD, Jason also is a coach of the Community Heart & Soul framework to help people in small towns get clear about their goals and take action on them, and he also volunteers with the Dubuque County Historic Preservation Commission to preserve historic structures in the Eastern Iowa area.
On a personal level, I’ve been able to work with Jason side-by-side as my own hometown of Cascade went through the Community Heart & Soul process. With Jason’s coaching, we were able to reach out to all the voices in our town, not just the people at the table in committees and City Council meetings, to hear what was important to them and their families. We heard common themes that we expected (we need more parking, we need more restaurants, Main Street is crumbling) but we also hear things that surprised us and forced us to question our identity (are we really as welcoming as we say we are?). And a big part that I loved about this process was that we focused on the assets in our town and celebrated what we loved about living small in order to highlight those positives and help them expand and grow.
In today’s episode you’ll hear more about this Community Heart & Soul framework, how it benefits communities, and how you can implement some of this into your own small town. Enjoy this one, my friends!
- “I think the best part of what I do is every day, I get to work with people who love their small towns, and want to make them even better.”
- Small towns leave little margin for error because we’re working with limited resources when compared to bigger communities: fewer dollars, fewer volunteers, fewer options for essentials. So we need to work together and communicate needs and ideas in small towns so resources aren’t wasted.
- Doing your research and going in with eyes and ears wide open helps small town projects achieve success.
- Remote working could be one piece of the puzzle in achieving widespread rural revitalization. Many small towns already have quality of life perks like safety, amenities, and connection. By bringing in the high-speed internet access piece, towns can help residents connect to anywhere in the world for their work.
- Some communities are so small that they can’t access resources like money, people, and time, to access programs and dollars that are meant to help small towns and small businesses. That’s where local Community Foundations can help by connecting these people with the tools they need to improve their communities. These foundations can help residents feel empowered and take action via grants, government initiatives, and assistance in processes.
- Community development principles: involve everyone, work around assets already in place, and play the long game
- Everyone can be a community leader and take and active role in community development whether they are on City Council, a teacher at the local school, work the register at the convenience store, or work from home raising their families.
- Community Heart & Soul plays a huge role in developing emerging leaders in small towns.
Find the Heart & Soul in your Community!
If you want to learn a little more about the Community Heart & Soul process, visit their website. And if you’d like to get in touch with Jason to discuss how this could happen in your own small town, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.