Sept. 13 – City-based Initiative, Community-based Action
Adam Cotton, AmeriCorps VISTA – Iowa Civil Rights Commission

 Ames strives to be a welcoming community, not a community of fear. And most of the residents of Ames were accustomed to the “diversity” inherent in a college town that hosts many international students—people from all over the world subsequently raising their children within the school system and sharing in the experience of strong neighborhoods and an embracing community.  But in recent years, the understanding of “diversity” in Ames has become a different matter all together.  Ames has seen an influx of new residents mainly due to migrations from major Midwestern cities (e.g. Chicago), which was followed by increased criminal activity, socioeconomic and racial tensions, and a certain level of fear of such “diversity.” 

In 2008, with the support of the City Council and the Mayor’s Inclusive Community Task Force, the Ames community created the Community Conversations on Diversity.  From these conversations, four current “action teams” have been focusing on various social issues (e.g. education, strengthening neighborhoods, and welcoming new residents). They have been successful in addressing key elements of a truly healthy, thriving, diverse community: engaging youth and parents, strengthening neighborhoods through self-empowerment, and creating a welcoming environment for all residents of Ames. 

Through City-based initiative and grassroots community-based action, an energetic momentum has carried the Ames community through a dynamic summer.  Community members hosted a welcome booth at the Annual July 4th Pancake Breakfast, offering information from City departments and local nonprofits, as well as name tags for all 1200 residents in attendance.  This event allowed citizens, especially newcomers, to connect with one another on a first name basis and access needed human service and community information.

The Street’N’Greet block party trailer was fundraised for, purchased and introduced over the course of the summer.  Collaborating with AmeZone, a new youth service learning organization, the first block party took place on Tripp St., which is part of a neighborhood known for its socio-economically and racially diverse residents.  With over 200 people in attendance, two police officers on Segways, and a fire engine, rescue vehicle and staff for children to interact with, this event allowed for  relationship building between apartment renters and house owners, as well as neighborhood residents and police and fire staff. 

Looking to the future, the One Community action team has been implementing a youth logo and motto competition to rebrand the Community Conversations on Diversity under the new name “United Ames.” The education focused action team will be hosting an information booth about Ames schools for new families at Ames High School’s parent night. 

Ames is working to transform fear into something else—a sense of inclusiveness and appreciation for the growing diversity the City is experiencing.  By allowing the citizens of Ames to discover their own capacity for unity, their own creative ability to find peace that transcends fear, we have become a stronger community, with unique neighborhoods and exceptional potential for a diverse future worth celebrating.  I look forward to seeing where such a motivated community can go from here.