Congresswoman Ashley Hinson hears details about Postville’s Community Heart & Soul Program during Allamakee County visit

Ashley Hinson stops in Postville for Allamakee County visit ... U.S. Representative Ashley Hinson visited Postville Friday, March 3 as part of her 22-county tour of Iowa’s Second District that she represents. Hinson (pictued at far right above) discussed Postville’s Community Heart & Soul Program with (left to right in the above photo) Postville Mayor Dennis Koenig, Allamakee-Clayton Electric Cooperative Economic Development and Community Relations Manager Brenda Hackman and Postville Public Library Director/Community Heart & Soul Program Director Crystal Duffy. Standard photo by Joe Moses.

by Joe Moses

Iowa Second District Congresswoman Ashley Hinson of the U.S. House of Representatives met with representatives of Postville’s Community Heart & Soul Program at the Postville Public Library Friday, March 3 as part of a series of visits in northeast Iowa. Brenda Hackman, Manager/Economic Development & Community Relations for Allamakee-Clayton Electric Cooperative, and Crystal Duffy, Community Developer/Library Director initially discussed Postville’s Heart & Soul Program with Hinson, and Postville Mayor Dennis Koenig later joined the meeting.

Hinson began the discussion with Hackman by questioning her about the genesis of Postville’s Community Heart & Soul Program, an effort described as a multi-step, resident-driven process that engages an entire community in shaping its future. Hackman discussed her background in economic development and observations that she has made in visiting communities in northeast Iowa and elsewhere in the state. She noted that many thriving communities in Iowa have a local economic developer working in conjunction with an economic development professional at the county level, with a chamber of commerce often assisting in these efforts.

Hackman noted that during the COVID-19 pandemic, communication with Community Development Officer Jason Neises of the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque took place relating to the Community Heart & Soul Program as a potential option for Postville. Hackman discussed the training, guidance and grant funding made available through the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque with additional grant funding being beneficial in keeping the community developer position sustainable. With the City of Postville and Allamakee County Economic Development (ACED) voicing support, the early steps necessary to establish the program began in Fall 2021. Hackman noted that the 30-hour-per-week Library Director position presented an opportunity for additional hours focusing on community development, while further discussing the role of community development in supporting and benefiting economic development.

Duffy, a former public school teacher, advised that she began her role as Postville Library Director in July 2022 after relocating to northeast Iowa. She noted that she is an avid reader with the Library Director position being a great fit with her education and professional experience. Duffy further noted her personal interest in programming with providing financial literacy courses, an area in which she is certified, in both English and Spanish, being a goal.

Duffy discussed that after a few months with the Postville Library and with the approval of the Library Board, she applied for the Community Developer position and was hired, with both part-time positions complementing each other. Duffy noted that the library is a great home base for the Community Heart & Soul Program, allowing for interaction with public.

She provided an overview of the four phases involved in the program, including:
1. Identifying who is in the community and building interest in all segments;
2. Data - gathering stories and feedback, identifying what matters most;
3. Development of an action plan, creation of Heart & Soul statements;
4. Action - how to make this a reality. Incorporating information into comprehensive planning, information used to guide future policies and decisions.

Duffy discussed reaching out to all of the communities within Postville and overcoming language barriers. She noted the various cultural and ethnic groups residing in Postville with the library being a unique place of interaction in comparison to some businesses or locations that may rarely or never see some individuals. Duffy discussed some early feedback received relating to the lack of a traditional grocery store, noting that Postville has Mexican, Somali, Guatemalan and Kosher grocery stores collectively providing an assortment of fresh produce and foods beyond what can generally be found in other towns.

Duffy also made note of events and activities planned for the summer to allow for feedback, the sharing of stories and promoting businesses to better acquaint the public about products and services available. She discussed developing relationships with the public, visiting businesses and churches, and working with volunteers as part of this program.

Postville Mayor Dennis Koenig joined the meeting and provided additional feedback relating to the Community Heart & Soul Program. He discussed the importance of the community developer role at the local level working with Executive Director Val Reinke of ACED at the county level. Koenig noted his support of this program which he described as a great way to reach individuals and communities, which he also noted is helping overcome issues created by a lack of communication dating back a few decades.

Hinson questioned Duffy about the expected timeline for the program’s completion, which Duffy advised would likely involve Phase 3 being completed in November, which will coincide with the end of grant funding. Duffy added that Phase 4 can be completed through her role as Library Director with limited or no hours remaining for the part-time community development position. Hackman advised that the Heart & Soul Program is typically a two-year process.

Duffy and Hackman noted that a video will be produced as part of the conclusion of this process with portions of the video potentially being animated utilizing voice recordings to allow those individuals not wanting to be on camera to further tell their stories and experiences.

In conclusion, Hinson met with members of the local press and provided feedback relating to discussion of the program. Regarding her visit to Postville and Friday’s meeting, Hinson stated, “A lot of my focus as a member of the Ag/FDA Subcommittee is on rural development and community engagement. When I hear about programs like Community Heart & Soul and what they are doing to help keep the vibrancy, economic development going in a community, I want to hear more about it. That’s what drove this stop today on my 22-County Tour. How can I learn about this program, are there ways where we can help assist with existing federal programs and connect those?”

Hinson further noted the importance of telling this story in other communities and discussing with other community developers and community leaders as she travels throughout the district. She further discussed the importance of connecting with local community and individual groups, noting that not all groups may be proactive in reaching out.

Hinson noted that she was aware of this program with the details and specifics of the program’s implementation being learned at Friday’s meeting. Hinson provided an overview of recent business and organization visits, including childcare centers and a machining/fabrication facility, with Northeast Iowa Community College (NICC) to be visited next following this meeting at the Postville Public Library.