Visions of Grinnell

The Build a Better Grinnell Project Needs Your Input

February 15, 2023

Jackie Hartling Stolze

A Grinnell street scene
Grinnell’s thriving downtown is home to many businesses, restaurants, and shops.

Grinnell’s wide streets, beautiful parks, good schools, thriving businesses, and inviting restaurants have earned it the unofficial title, “Coolest Town in the Midwest” — which is no surprise at all to the people who live here.

But like other communities, Grinnell has faced unprecedented challenges in recent years, including the COVID-19 pandemic, economic upheaval, and a derecho windstorm that damaged homes and businesses and knocked down hundreds of trees.

It’s time for a fresh look at the community’s needs, strengths, and vision. What do we need, what are our strengths, and where are we going? To find out, a new community project is asking the experts — Grinnell citizens.

Build a Better Grinnell

Monty Roper
BABG Research Director Monty Roper.

With input from as many area residents as possible, the Build a Better Grinnell 2030 (BABG) project will produce a comprehensive assessment of needs and strengths, as determined by the people themselves. Research Director Monty Roper says the project will initially cast a broad net to gather information on the range of needs, strengths, and aspirations in the community.

A steering committee leads the project, with representatives from almost two dozen community organizations and groups. This diverse, nonpartisan committee represents a cross-section of the community, Roper says.

A $197,000 grant from the USDA Rural Placemaking Initiative Rural Placemaking Challenge is funding the project, with $10,000 each in matching funds from the Greater Poweshiek Community Foundation, Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance, and the city of Grinnell. The College contributed another $10,000. The money pays for marketing and publicity, website creation, a logo, direct mail, and salaries for research assistants and community researchers.

Given the nature of the project, the community researchers play a particularly important role, Roper says. “Because it is a community-based project and we really want to understand what members of the community are thinking and feeling and experiencing — you can’t get that by just talking to the institutional heads,” he explains.

Make Your Voice Heard

Bel Kugel
BABG Project Coordinator Bel Kugel.

According to Project Coordinator Bel Kugel ’20, the most important thing to know about the project is that it belongs to the entire community, rather than to any one group or organization. People are coming together to collaborate and to listen to each other through a process that encourages input from all.

An online survey is the first step to learn what people like about Grinnell and what they think needs to improve. Everyone — even people who live in surrounding communities but use services in Grinnell or commute to a job here — is invited to take the survey and share their thoughts. It will remain open until February 15.

With the survey results in hand, researchers will organize and analyze what they’ve heard. Anything mentioned by more than 10% of survey respondents, or issues mentioned by underrepresented groups, will then be carried over to the second phase of research, in which the entire community will be asked to decide which issues should be prioritized.

Following the prioritization phase, Roper says, phase three of the research will dive into the top issues, looking at solutions attempted in other communities as well as conducting more detailed community research to really understand the needs and available assets, including in-depth interviews, focus groups, and more. BABG will publicize and share the results with the public and community organizations. The final stage of the project is an implementation phase. BABG will help to organize working groups around the prioritized issues to make decisions, develop action plans, and move ahead with the strategies.

Putting the Pieces Together

For Kugel, a recent Grinnell College graduate, this project offers her the chance to do the work she loves. As the project coordinator, she works hard to tend all the stakeholders equally and to make sure that everyone is seen and heard.

The job is never boring, Kugel says. “In a lot of ways, I'm the glue that is holding the project together,” she says. Whether her day involves creating and distributing posters, sending emails, leading focus groups, or just filling in wherever she’s needed, Kugel says she’s happy to do it. “I love being at the intersection of all the information — being able to grab a piece of information from over here and then provide it to the people who need it — that’s such a fulfilling aspect for me.”

Roper says Kugel is a key player in the project. “She helps to tie lots of the pieces together.”

Kugel works with Roper on various research aspects of the project — a perfect fit, as she graduated from Grinnell College in 2020 with a degree in anthropology, and Roper is an associate professor of anthropology at the College.

Speak Up

To be a part of Build a Better Grinnell, visit the project website and take the survey [Ed. site no longer available], which remains open through February 15. You can take it as a group or individually. Think you could recruit some friends to take the survey? Use the contact information on the website to reach out to Roper or Kugel.

But most of all, don’t miss this opportunity to help build a better Grinnell!

Editor’s Note: The BABG Steering Committee includes representatives of the Ahrens Park Foundation, the Grinnell Area Arts Council, the city of Grinnell, Saints Rest Coffee House, the Grinnell-Newburg School District, Mid-Iowa Community Action (MICA), the Ahrens Foundation, the Greater Poweshiek Community Foundation, the Drake Community Library, the Chamber of Commerce, Prairie Lakes Church, Grinnell Public Housing, Unity Point GRMC, Second Mile, Poweshiek County Emergency Management, the Claude W. and Dolly Ahrens Foundation, several independent citizens of Grinnell, and Grinnell College.

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