USDA Rural Community Development Initiative will benefit Harpers Ferry

by Kelli Boylen
freelance writer

With ideas to increase collaboration between community organizations, increase community giving and exercise strategic planning for the future, Betty Steege and other members of the Harpers Ferry Boosters, Inc. are excited about a USDA grant intended to benefit rural communities.
Harpers Ferry is one of five communities, four in Iowa and one in Illinois, chosen to share a total of $152,492 in funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Community Development Initiative Program (RCDI) Program.
RCDI helps community-based development organizations and other groups promote economic growth in low-income, rural communities. The grant is being administered by the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque (CFGD).
CFGD hopes the funds will build greater prosperity and sustainability in Harpers Ferry, which qualified for the program due to population and income level.
The grant will fund assistance and training to build community engagement, help the Boosters solidify a vision for the community, increase awareness of the power of giving back to raise community wealth, identify and develop donors, and make strategic grants.
Allamakee County Community Foundation Coordinator Betty Steege said, “We are aware of the fact that this is a real opportunity to grow the community capabilities in Harpers Ferry and broaden its ability for sustainability.”  The capabilities may include grant writing, technical training and leadership development, which further volunteer efforts into the future.
The Harpers Ferry Boosters, Inc. (formerly known as the Harpers Ferry Booster Club), is a volunteer group of people who have been working together almost 20 years for the betterment of the community. They have about 180 members today, with about 30 members who are regularly active with the group.
One of the things the Boosters are currently focusing on is the Harpers Ferry Booster Endowment Fund, which was established about a year and a half ago. The purpose of the fund is for its pay-out to supplement the Harpers Ferry Boosters funds available for community betterment and projects. The Endowment can receive tax-deductible donations or memorials which will grow its pay-out going forward allowing for continued support for projects that benefit the community. Steege explained the USDA grant funds can help educate the public on "homegrown" philanthropy and giving back to the place they love and live.
Other activities the Boosters are currently involved in include a Christmas lighting display called “Christmas Magic in the Park,” a 5K fun run on the Fourth of July, and they are planning an ATV ride which will take place in late summer. In addition, the Harpers Ferry Boosters, Inc. contributes to many other community events.
The advisory committee for the USDA grant will meet again in mid-January, and at that meeting they will set the date of the first public meeting to gather input on how the USDA grant funds can best be used in the community.
A result of the USDA grant may be greater understanding of what a community is capable of accomplishing once it can see a vision of its opportunities for volunteerism, leadership and giving back. The USDA wants communities to step up and be proactive in improving the quality of life in rural America.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced last summer that the USDA awarded 48 grants totaling $6.7 million to organizations in 26 states, the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, including four organizations in Iowa.