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Listening and Learning Conversations

Listening and Learning

In June, 2014, 114 of people representing business/philanthropy, non-profit/faith, government/schools, people living in the stresses of poverty gathered at Opportunity Summit: Creating Prosperity for All to engaged in an intense conversation about all the opportunities available in central Iowa and how to make those opportunities available to all people living here. With the guidance of Paul Born from the Tamarack Institute the group began a discussion  with this diverse group of dedicated people by looking at data and hearing stories about the realities of living in poverty. Participants heard about amazing opportunities and the daunting challenges of many people who live in our community. The common understanding that it is possible to create change to reduce poverty now provides the path for interested members of our community to continue the work in the months ahead. The goals of the summit were:

  • To achieve a greater understanding of real community concerns we have here in central Iowa.
  • To find hope and learn new ways to solve poverty issues.
  • To achieve unity by combining resources.
  • To have honest conversations and develop real solutions.


At the conclusion of the Summit, the Leadership Roundtable with members representing the four groups at the Summit, began work to create a plan with short and long-term steps, to help more people out of poverty. In their discussions, they realized the need to hear from more people in the community who experience the stresses of living in poverty; to identify needs and barriers to move people out of poverty.


To that end, they asked people involved in this work if they would conduct at least 20 Listening and Learning sessions to find out what helps people the most and what gets in their way of living the life they want for themselves and family. Volunteers from across the community conducted group and individual sessions, asking people:

  • To describe the life you want to create.
  • What is helping you to create that life?
  • What is getting in the way of creating that life?
  • What would help people most, to get out of poverty?


This qualitative data provides a rich source of information. provide a rich source of qualitative data about our central Iowa Community. This data can help not only the Leadership Roundtable as they create the plan, but individuals and groups, organizations and businesses to make more meaningful contributions  to our community as we understand what matters to people.

Who We Listened To

OpportUNITY Listening and Learning Work Group members engaged over 184 individuals in 22 group and 31 individual sessions between October and December, 2014. The majority of participants were currently living in the stresses of poverty. Sessions were conducted by volunteers from across the Polk, Dallas and Warren Counties community with people in the following categories:

  • Youth aging out of the foster care system
  • Youth in Urban Core
  • Urban Core In-home child care providers
  • Pre-school parents
  • People staying at shelters and safe housing
  • People living in subsidized housing
  • People accessing community services

o   People using pantries and free meal sites

o   People who are unemployed

o   People who are underemployed

o   People who are ex-offenders

  • Teens in alternative to suspension programs
  • Families involved in the child welfare system
  • Refugees
  • Senior citizens
  • Latinos

Themes: What We Heard

After facilitating conversations with over 184 participants about four questions:

  • To describe the life you want to create.
  • What is helping you to create that life?
  • What is getting in the way of creating that life?
  • What would help people most, to get out of poverty?

Four distinct themes emerged:

  • Policy and System Change – Policy improvements at the state or community level suggested by participants
  • Direct Service Enhancements – Improvements to services which would help individuals living in poverty to navigate the system better.
  • Community Support Enhancements – Improvements which would improve the lives of all citizens.
  • Individual changes – Things that individuals can do to improve their own lives.


Policy and System Change

  • Offenders: evaluate and expunge felonies for access to employment
  • Child Care Centers: reimbursements made quickly; staff training requirements simplified; better marketing of professional development opportunities
  • Housing: regulations that require housing units to be safe, updated and heated; Section 8 apartments that has more bedrooms; a shorten Section 8 wait list
  • Financial support: gradually decrease support as an individual’s income increases; increase Social Security payments; decrease taxes
  • Education: institute year-round K-12 school; add career planning and vocational training to K-12; offer free college education; K-12 individual cost evaluation so it doesn’t hurt student success
  • Health care: ensure that a co-pay is not a barrier to accessing services and care.



Direct Service Enhancements

  • Transportation: affordable, accessible, timely, safe for low-income individuals; cater to child care drop off and pick up; allow time for people to board and debark bus; provide routes and times for people to get to and from work; drivers friendly and compassionate
  • Health care: cover prescriptions; help to understand the Affordable Care Act.
  • Refugee resettlement: provide “community rules” education; provide English classes and mentors
  • Funders: offer grants to poverty areas; work together
  • Service Providers: assist with what client wants, not what you have; answer calls quickly-short hold times; help people fill out required forms; simplify reporting

Community Support Enhancements

  • Health: longer doctor/clinic office hours; increase mental health care offerings; make birth control available; increase affordable recreation and fitness opportunities – attention to people with special needs (autism)
  • Child Care: affordable, accessible, high quality; provided at AA/NA meetings
  • Housing: affordable in downtown and suburbs; increase rental units; offer rentals for seniors that allow for children, grandchildren and pets; increase number of shelters
  • Employment: generate more jobs; increase the number livable wage jobs; generate jobs for youth, seniors, ex-offenders; create consistent work schedules for employees; offer microenterprise mentors; encourage economic development
  • Education: for parents of teens; support for single dads
  • Safe Places: for teens to “hang out”; for survivors of domestic violence; programming to keep kids out of gangs
  • Safety: focus on community policing

Individual Changes

  • Get to know people: in your neighborhood; people who shop in the same places; people who are different from you (culturally, etc.); other parents; Police Officers and help them create a safer community
  • Volunteer: help those you know: be a mentor to a refugee
  • Be Active: Get outside; know the community; vote; keep our community clean
  • Finances: Open savings accounts (for education, emergencies, buying home or car, etc.); make a plan to get out of poverty