Steffensmeier is passionate about people, rural Iowa

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As Economic Development & Community Outreach Coordinator for East Central Intergovernmental Association (ECIA), Katie Steffensmeier, of Dyersville, coordinates Prosperity Eastern Iowa and handles intake for four federal grant programs. She recently took on additional responsibility by stepping into the role of mentoring Earlville and Delaware, as their Hometown Pride coach.

Keep Iowa Beautiful (KIB) expanded its Hometown Pride program by partnering with ECIA in the summer of 2022. The program’s mission is to “enhance the economic and cultural vitality of communities by supporting, facilitating and furthering the implementation of community and county plans and ideas in a coordinated strategy with the assistance of a community coach,” according to its website.

As a Hometown Pride coach, “I help keep the ball rolling and have the privilege of working with very talented and driven folks in the communities. This process is inspiring because you get to meet many individuals who are passionate and dedicated to where they live. We’re all working toward the common goal of creating pride in where you live, and also making these places more vibrant to live, work and play,” Steffensmeier explained.

“Born and raised in Iowa, I think the rural areas of Iowa are a best kept secret. We have the best places to grow up and raise a family with great schools and wonderful and unique communities. KIB is here to help enhance that, whether it’s with their grants like the Paint Iowa Beautiful program that provides paint for projects and scholarships for students, or the photography contest that draws awareness to the beauty in our state. I personally identify with the program mission, by supporting and sustaining small communities, we help all of Iowa shine.”

According to Steffensmeier, the Earlville Hometown Pride group was doing a lot behind the scenes before the group formally launched. “Their Sunday Market has been a great success. I remember Whitney Strong said over 80% of the vendors were local and making items out from their home. We wouldn’t have known that if she and Heather Vonderhaar hadn’t jumped on their idea,” she said. “It also draws awareness to the fact that we have a lot of talent in our smaller towns and having an opportunity to showcase those talents has been very popular.”

When Earlville’s Hometown Pride group hosted a downtown walk around with leaders from the Downtown Resource Center at IEDA, Steffensmeier felt it was a great learning experience. “We got to see Earlville through a fresh set of eyes, and they’ve made recommendations on what can be done to improve the downtown area. They gave us lots of great input on things ranging from doing historical tours, signage to growing leaders and restoring one of the last brick storefronts,” she said.

“In Delaware, it’s exciting to successfully raise funds for the park project. Not every grant we write or fundraiser we have is successful, but it contributes to the overall goal. Budgets are tight right now and getting grant funding and donations is quite challenging. I’m very proud of the fact that we’re slowly raising the funds we need to improve the park,” said Steffensmeier.

“The City of Delaware and one of our key leaders, Erin Learn, are also fundraising for new swings, including a handicap accessible swing, and to replace the sand and grass under the playground equipment with a softer surface, as well as a complete landscape improvement. We’ve raised close to $20,000 for the park, which is amazing for a town with less than 200 people.”

Earlville is in the process of going through recommendations from the Downtown Resource Center, according to Steffensmeier. “We’re sifting through lots of ideas. I think the group hopes we can bring more business to Earlville and to the main street area. The market will definitely be back next year with Heather Vonderhaar and Whitney Strong at the helm.”

Being a Hometown Pride coach has revealed to Steffensmeier how much she loves her state, especially the rural parts of Iowa, and her passion working with people. “I grew up on a farm basically in the city of Dubuque, but had family in Bankston, Farley and Holy Cross. I was jealous that my cousins could ride their bikes everywhere, and I grew up on too busy a street for that,” she said. “I’ve also learned even a small group can have a lasting impact. It’s amazing how meeting with a group can spark a great idea that no one would have on their own.”

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