Sunday, January 23, 2011

Making a Splash

Sadly, I took a Sunday afternoon nap a few months ago and slept right through the last Lucas County Nonprofit Roundtable --- so I figured I should stay awake this time and go.

The roundtable, brainchild of Chariton attorney Ray Meyer --- one of those community busybodies more cities need --- has been held more or less quarterly for a couple of years now in an attempt to address a Lucas County problem most communities share. Our various organizations and government entities quite often move mountains independently but sometimes have difficulty working together --- in part because there’s no organizational framework to encourage it.

So now we all get together once in a while, hear reports on various ongoing projects of the nonprofits represented, receive updates on grant opportunities and review upcoming programs and events. One thing you learn quickly when trying to work something into the community schedule at a meeting like this is that nearly every square inch of time already is filled --- who says there’s nothing to do in small places?

It was interesting to hear updates on Chariton’s ongoing Strengthening Communities Project, especially some signs of renewed interest in the Main Street Iowa program, used successfully by several Iowa communities to revitalize their downtowns. This has been talked about before, but requires a substantial public-private commitment and so never has even reached the point of application in Chariton.

The Chariton square (other than the Courthouse and its grounds) hasn’t been the focus of a concerted improvement effort since perhaps the 1970s when arcades that look kind of woodsy and hopelessly outdated by now were added to the entrance facades of several buildings. Now, with many vacant storefronts and the continuing problem of the old Charitone Hotel, there really does seem to be interest again in trying to do something constructive about the situation. We’ll see.

Ray gave us a brief report on the Charitone --- which the city is trying to wrest from ownership of a negligent absentee landlord as a public nuisance (although the building’s basic structure is practically indestructible, its brick facing is not --- and windows now are for the most part boarded up to keep glass from falling out and onto pedestrians below). It’s gotten to be four stories of ugly. It’s not clear what’s going to happen here, but failed attempts to develop the old building (on the National Register of Historic Places) privately are among the reasons it’s in the shape it is now.

I was actually most interested in a presentation by Chariton High School students involved in the district’s SPLASH program, a fairly unique effort to encourage young people to develop and grow as philanthropists on several levels --- not only by giving their own time and resources to worthy projects but also by administering a grants program that disburses several thousand dollars annually to worthy in-school and community projects.

SPASH is a "youth pod" of the Dekko Foundation, brain child of the late Chester H. Dekko, which funds the project and also assists it with advice and consent. The Dekko Foundation operates only in areas where he once had business interests --- including Lucas, Clarke, Decatur, Ringgold and Union counties in Iowa (it also operates in several Indiana counties and more limited geographical areas of Minnesota, Florida and Alabama).

Many of us knew about the Splash Foundation, but it was cool to watch and listen as a series of eloquent and well-organized kids told us more about it. I also had the brilliant (or so it seemed to me) idea that this might be a source for the youth advisory board member I’ve been thinking about for the historical society (student-adult partnerships are among new Splash goals). So it will be fun to see if anything can be made to develop here.

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