Citizens take the lead

“That government is best which

governs the least, because its people discipline themselves.”

– Thomas Jefferson

There was a time in our history when citizens saw a problem, figured out a solution and resolved the problem either individually or by joining with their neighbors. They didn’t turn to or depend on government for the solution. If there was an issue or special need in a community or area, the local citizens would band together to find resolve it. In most cases government was not needed. A “can do” attitude and spirit of community achievement prevailed. It was an era of citizen leadership.

One of the best historic examples (and there are many) of local citizen leadership without government is the beginning of Iowa’s State Parks. The first Iowa State Park was Backbone State Park in northeast Iowa. The land was acquired and donated by a local citizen in 1920. The development was supported by local community leadership. It was that initiative that encouraged the development of the Iowa State Park system. In many instances local residents would take the initiative to acquire key unique and beautiful areas for their recreational use, enjoyment of nature and preservation. In 2020 we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Iowa’s State Parks and those early citizen initiatives.

A unique initiative in Iowa is sparking a renewed commitment to local action. This initiative is underway in several communities empowering the local citizens to determine and develop their own future it is called Hometown Pride. It is a program designed and initiated by Keep Iowa Beautiful (KIB) to assist communities in implementing their plans to fulfill their dreams and visions for their future. Participants focus on supporting community values and on achieving measurable results.

A “community coach” is selected by a set or number of communities that have a common interest in working together. A five year contract is entered into with KIB and the local communities along with various other supporting partners. Each community establishes a working committee, plans are reviewed and a multi-year program is initiated that supports the plan and community values. The coach helps to guide them, keeps them focused on their goals and assists in finding financial and technical sources to carry out their plans.

KIB through private and public funds provides 75 percent of the cost of the Community Coach and the local entities must provide the other 25 percent. The program is working in two pilot rural Iowa counties. The initial success is significant. The communities are empowered to determine their future and to see that it happens. Several more counties and areas are preparing to become part of the program.

Watch for more on this program in future articles. Iowa citizens are once again taking the lead.