Community members share their hopes for 2014

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: December 29 2013 | 12:01 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 1:22 am in
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Editor’s note: The Gazette Editorial Board asked our Gazette Community Conversation Corps contributors to share their hopes for our Corridor communities in 2014. Linda Seger and Karl Cassell are original members of the CCC, which we launched in October of 2012. Justin Wasson and Roxanne Erdahl joined us in November.

Linda Seger

As we watch the ball drop confirming 2014 and sing those familiar Scottish lyrics of Robert Burns, “we take a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne,” our New Year’s resolutions fresh in our mind tell us this will be a good year. It has all the signs of being good for many of the citizens of this community.

We have made monumental progress recovering from the largest natural disaster the state of Iowa has ever experienced. Our population, despite over 10 square miles of property loss, has continued to grow. We retained our long-established employers who stood with us through the devastation and project more jobs in the future. New ventures wait in the wings anticipating approval, opening the way for further employment opportunities and prosperity for Cedar Rapids and the surrounding communities.

The educational system offers our children excellence on their educational journey from preschool to institutions of higher learning both public and private. There is much to offer the future generations to achieve the “American Dream” right here.

With all this goodness and achievement there are issues needing more focus by policy makers, educators, community leaders and private citizens. If you have never experienced hunger or been homeless, even briefly, you can be very thankful. Many people in our community exist in these conditions of poverty. A few may perceive the poor deserve their situation because they made bad choices. That perception is wrong.

I firmly believe no one sets out in life to be poor. Poverty has always existed in America but as the wealthiest nation in the world, it may be surprising a population of 49 million people are currently below the federal poverty level by 2010 Census figures. Iowa child poverty is 16 percent, senior citizens 10 percent, and single-parent family units 33 percent. Iowa has 161,000 children receiving food stamps.

A recent federal cut to the food stamp program is disheartening on many levels. We as a community need to take further steps to help reduce poverty here at home. No citizen should go to bed hungry in the heart of America where we produce so much food. Employment that provides a living wage, education, training, affordable child care are some ways 2014 could be a good year for these citizens also.

Linda Seger is president of the Northwest Neighbors Neighborhood Association in Cedar Rapids. Comments:

Karl Cassell

What if the community was able to solve a multitude of problems by committing to confront the most basic challenge for so many families in our communities by providing enough healthy meals for all children? With proven solutions and outcomes, we guarantee that facing the basic challenge of feeding hungry children with enough quality, nutritious food would benefit families and transform the community into a sustainable living center.

Economic means and access to healthy fruits and vegetables often dictates the developmental and academic success of many children in our community. Urban food systems that provide for low-income families as well as the greater community can produce positive environmental, economic and social returns for Linn County.

With an ever-increasing migration and concentration of people in the urban cities of Iowa, healthy food production, distribution and storage is becoming a lost traditional value. The ability to replace the proper nutrients into the environment, spur economic development and create healthy individuals is attainable if the need for a paradigm shift is recognized and quickly implemented. Local food production, through rural farming, is being threatened by the cost and lack of economic returns for families who have traditionally farmed, a deterrent for those who might consider entering the trade.

Combating food insecurity, ensuring access to healthier food choices to those living in poverty, and encouraging local producers will redefine our community. The very present time and the ability to adequately address these concerns is properly positioned before us and is doable with a multilateral approach.

The distance that food is currently traveling to reach our local communities is becoming less environmentally conducive and will become increasingly more expensive for consumers and businesses with the continued rise in prices. Economically, producing and consuming local crops will enhance increased production and be a tremendous benefit to our region and state.

The social ramifications will be felt through informal relationships and positive interactions throughout many communities, while decreasing unhealthy eating habits. When healthier options are readily available, making healthier eating decisions will be easier. Additional benefits include providing residents and businesses access to many learned skills for employment or volunteerism opportunities.

The belief that Horizons, A Family Service Alliance, could begin addressing this problem with viable solutions, I hope will invoke a strong desire to take an active role in utilizing city farms in Linn County.

Karl Cassell is president and CEO of Horizons in Cedar Rapids. Comments:

Roxanne Erdahl

In taking stock of last year and contemplating changes for 2014, I started thinking of the people who make up the communities in which we live. I could see faces, but then realized I did not know their names. The barista at my local coffee shop or the clerk who bags my groceries, or the newspaper carrier who delivers my paper or even my new neighbor down the street. Every day we see people who have a story, whose dreams and hopes for a better community are never heard. Why? Because we do not ask.

In a world that is moving so fast, I have to often remind myself of the importance of putting down my PDA, taking the time to look up and see what and who makes up the community in which I live. Remembering to thank the bank teller who always has a smile, or the clerk who rings up at the local convenience store, or just a simple wave to the crossing guard.

Over this past year, there were a growing number of community and policy leaders in the Corridor who have adopted the mindset of “We create here!” As someone who had a business in Iowa City, worked in Cedar Rapids and Coralville, and now lives in Solon, I love that the focus is on the creativity and innovation in all these communities. I love the passion that I see from the people who have embraced this way of being.

Some of my most memorable moments in 2013 came in watching the joy on the faces of the parents as their children sang in the “Wizard of OZ” at Theatre Cedar Rapids, or running in to old friends at the farmers market in Iowa City, or watching people dancing at Freedom Festival or ArtsFest in C.R. I also remember meeting the new vendors at New Bo Market and the merchant in Mount Vernon who told me the history of his family’s store, or the bee keeper from the Amanas telling me his theory about bees — all conversations that brought vibrant color and richness to my life.

So for 2014, I hope that we each take the time to get to know each other better. To embrace how we create here, be it in Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, Williamsburg or Riverside. To become the change we want to see in our communities.

For at the end of the day, we all want to know that what we do makes a difference to the community in which we live. How we learn to communicate with each other, educating ourselves to what is happening in our community, having those conversations that open the door to change and understanding can be the foundation for a thriving and creative community. A good start might be “Hi, what’s your name and how are you doing today?”

Roxanne Erdahl resides in Solon and works as a life coach and business consultant in the Corridor. Comments:

Justin Wasson

2014 is going to bring a whole new set of challenges for the city of Cedar Rapids. With these challenges will come a large number of great opportunities. It’s not always easy deciding how to prioritize these opportunities, but I am going to give it a try.

The Wellington Heights neighborhood is home to a very diverse group of people. The approximately 5,000 residents who live here all have different values and priorities, but here are a few things that get brought up frequently:

l Reducing crime

l A neighborhood recreation center

l Investment

Reducing crime is really a no-brainer. Everyone wants less crime in the area where they live. It is incredible how much the police department has done to help improve this aspect of the neighborhood. The total number of crime calls in Wellington Heights has been on a downward trend the past couple years. Continuing the community policing that is being done, as well as the regular neighborhood officers targeting the highest-crime properties, is going to help keep the trend moving in the right direction.

Another priority of several residents is the possibility of a recreation center in the neighborhood. Both Johnson Elementary School of the Arts and McKinley Middle School are in the neighborhood. With a neighborhood recreation center, the kids at these schools would have a place to go for sports, activities and more, even when the weather is bad outside.

Finally, as a finance major in college, I can see great potential for improving an area if the right people and the right groups make investments there. I am constantly out encouraging many of my friends, most of whom are millennials and starting new families, to look into buying a house in the Wellington Heights area. The properties here are extremely affordable. In fact, most people would probably end up paying less for a mortgage payment each month than what they pay for rent of a similar property. Attracting young families, businesses, non-profits, people who love rehabilitating old houses, etc., here is going to help us grow, overall, as a neighborhood.

With 2014 on our doorstep, I encourage all of you to realize the great challenges that we face and turn those challenges into opportunities. There are a large number of opportunities in Wellington Heights and I encourage everyone to look into investing in those opportunities.

Justin Wasson is president of the Wellington Heights Neighborhood Association in Cedar Rapids. Comments:

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