Conversation starters

Volunteers prepare food for Carry On Bags
Volunteers prepare food for Carry On Bags.

The Business Leadership Network engages with Iowa communities to facilitate discussion and collaboration on public health projects.

Sometimes simple conversations can kick-start great ideas. Take the time Laurie LaVan, a media associate in the Fairfield Community School District in southeast Iowa, joined several other teachers in sharing concerns about students going hungry.

“The conversation turned to elementary students who come to school on Monday and say they haven’t eaten since they left school the Friday before,” LaVan says. “It became clear to us that hungry students could be found throughout the district.”

That exchange led to a community meeting, which resulted in the formation of Carry On Bags, a nonprofit organization that addresses food insecurity among preschool to grade 12 students in Jefferson County, Iowa. Each week, the program provides approximately 300 food bags filled with snacks and simple meals that allow children to “carry on” without school meals over weekends and during school breaks. The project’s partners include school personnel, a local church, grocery store, and dozens of volunteers.

The College of Public Health is working to spark more conversations that generate partnerships like these through its Business Leadership Network (BLN). The BLN reaches out to businesses and communities in Iowa to form collaborations around public health needs identified by local residents.

“The people who live and work in communities know best what their health concerns are,” says Tara McKee, BLN coordinator. “Our role is to facilitate conversations about those topics, encourage connections to address concerns, and provide education and resources whenever possible.”

Community Grants in Action

In 2015, the college’s Iowa Institute of Public Health Research and Policy established the Business Leadership Network Community Grant Project. The grants of up to $3,000 fund collaborative projects and programs that support community health. Carry On Bags was one of five inaugural recipients of the community grants, and is using the funds for food and containers to transport the bags to schools.

The organization is interested in evaluating its impact, so McKee connected Carry On Bags board member Dee Sandquist with CPH Assistant Professor Natoshia Askelson, who has research interests in food insecurity issues.

“I’m helping them put together a quick online survey for parents to fill out. The university will host the survey and provide them with a basic summary,” explains Askelson.

The remaining first-year grants included projects focused on keeping at-risk youth active and safe by providing weekend activities (Fort Dodge), engaging youth and adults in dialogue through a shared book reading (Webster City), educating elementary school children about oral health (Creston), and establishing a worksite wellness education, recognition, and reward program (Cerro Gordo County).

Worksite Wellness

Community partners lead a discussion in Centerville.
Community partners lead a discussion in Centerville.

The worksite wellness initiative, a partnership of the Cerro Gordo County Department of Public Health, Mason City Chamber of Commerce, and Mason City Blue Zones Project, has offered several “lunch and learn” sessions for local businesses. The topics have included packing healthy lunches, strength training, and ergonomics and safety. In August, Nathan Fethke, CPH associate professor of occupational and environmental health, spent a day conducting on-site ergonomic assessments at four major employers in the Mason City area.

“He visited with management and employees to reinforce all the things they were doing right, and to offer suggestions for areas of improvement,” says Kelli Huinker, health promotion manager for Cerro Gordo County Public Health. “Having access to experts from the University of Iowa has been great.”

The major component of the grant, says Huinker, has been the creation of a Worksite Wellness Awards Program that “recognizes local organizations that go above and beyond to support their employee’s well-being.” The first annual awards were announced in October.

“We want to recognize employers that are already investing in wellness initiatives, and encourage other businesses to get involved in worksite wellness programs,” says Huinker. “Our goal is to make these programs sustainable.”

On the Road

The BLN is also taking College of Public Health faculty and students on the road to engage in public health-related conversations. As of November 2016, the BLN has hosted 15 community forums around the state with business owners, economic development leaders, public health officials, health care providers, local elected officials, agency and organization representatives, and the general public. Topics have included agricultural health and safety, cyberbullying, health care reform, women’s health, and substance use.

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld visited Mason City in November as part of a Community Forum, which focused on workplace health and safety, mental health, obesity, and more.
(Watch a video about the Mason City visit.)

The BLN will announce the second round of community grant recipients in December 2016. Additional support from the UI Provost’s Office of Outreach and Engagement, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, and the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust is funding the second grant cycle. Several more community forums are being planned for the spring.

“The BLN is a great way to learn about what’s happening in communities around the state, and to explore new areas where the college might partner on initiatives,” says McKee.

This story originally appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of InSight.

Food drive to benefit Crisis Center ends Dec. 16

The CPH Student Association is co-sponsoring a food drive December 5-16 to benefit the Johnson County Crisis Center Food Bank. The College of Public Health is holding a friendly competition with the Public Policy Center, College of Dentistry and Dental Clinics, Obermann Center, Army ROTC, and Air Force ROTC to see which unit can donate the most food!

Drop off your donation in the bins located around the main stairway in CPHB. On Dec. 16, the donations will be tallied and the winning department within the college will be determined.

View a list the the Food Bank’s Top 10 Needed Items.


On December 18, the 2nd Annual Last Dash Food Bank Fundraiser will take place. Organizers will announce how many pounds of collections each participating group collected for the Food Bank.

Place: The Mill, 120 E. Burlington St

Time: Doors open 3:00 p.m., music from 3:30 – 6:00 p.m.

Entertainment: Iowa bluesman Kevin BF Burt and IC rockabilly and blues band HomeBrewed.

Admission: 3 non-perishable food items or minimum donation of $5

Raffle items available during the show (donation of items for the raffle are welcome).


Sign up for Haitian Creole workshops by Oct. 24

The University of Iowa College of Public Health is offering free workshops to introduce people to the Haitian Creole language. The first workshop will be on Friday, Oct. 28, from 6:15 to 8 p.m. in room S106 CPHB, 145 N. Riverside Dr., Iowa City.

College of Public Health students, faculty, staff, and others in the Iowa City community are welcome.

If you plan to attend the Oct. 28 event, please RSVP to by Monday, Oct. 24. It is very important to RSVP, as some workshop materials and announcements will be sent via email ahead of time.  Food will be provided.

If you are interested in attending, but cannot make the Oct. 28 date, please email Jeff Dawson so that you can be placed on an email list to keep you informed of future workshops.

The second workshop is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 9.  The frequency and format of the workshops will be adapted to fit the needs of those who attend.

Preview October diversity events and programs at the UI

A variety of UI organizations are hosting events in October. For an expanded calendar of diversity-related events, visit

Garba, Raas, Bhangra, and Bollywood 2016
Saturday, October 1st, 8:00pm-12:00am
Iowa Memorial Union, 125 Madison St.

Black Student Union Sunday Dinner
Sunday, October 2nd, 6-9pm
Afro House, 303 Melrose Ave, Iowa City

8th Annual Health Sciences LGBTQ & Allies Fall Welcome Reception
Tuesday, October 4th, 4:00-6:30pm
LGBTQ Resource Center, 125 Grand Ave Court

Latinx Multiculturalism: Complexities of Latinx Identity
Tuesday, October 4th, 7-8pm
Latino Native American Cultural Center

Pizza N’ Professionals: Latinx Networking Social
Wednesday, October 5th, 7-9pm
The Airliner, 2nd Floor

Disability Celebration
Wednesday, October 5th, 3:30-4:30pm
University Capitol Centre, Room 2520D
More information:

18th Iowa Latinx Conference
Friday, October 7th
Iowa Memorial Union
More Information:

Privilege or Pariah Film Screening and Discussion
A discussion about intersectionality and personal identity.
Monday, October 10th, 6-8pm
LGBT Resource Center, 125 Grand Ave, Iowa City

Planning for the Future: Guardianship & Conservatorships in Iowa
A workshop for families whose children with disabilities are turning age 18.
Monday, October 17th, 6-7:30pm
Iowa City Public Library, Room A

Introduction to Islam: Tenets of Belief and Cultural Accomplishments
Presented by Staff Language and Culture
Wednesday, October 19th, 9-11am
112 University Services Building Training Room
Register in Employee Self Service|MyTraining| Course 851

LGBT History of Iowa City Lecture
Wednesday, October 19th, 7-8pm
101 Becker Communication Studies Building

Every 28 Hours
90 one-minute plays inspired by the BLM Movement
Saturday, October 22nd, 7:30pm
Darwin Turner Action Theatre (DTAT), Iowa City

The Safe Zone Project: Trans Awareness
Tuesday, October 25th, 2-3:30pm
Teacher Leader Center (N140) Lindquist Center
Sign up through Employee Self Service|My Training

Summit explores role of arts, culture in enhancing rural communities

open sign broad through the glass of window at coffee shopPeople living in rural communities need the same access as their urban counterparts, not only to clean water, jobs, housing and other basic standards of living, but art and culture, as well, note the backers of a growing movement called “rural creative placemaking.”

Led by the Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI) in the University of Iowa College of Public Health, researchers have been providing analysis and information on the challenges and opportunities facing rural America since the institute’s inception in 1990. Only recently, though, has the “creative” aspect come into play.

In creative placemaking, partners from public, private, nonprofit and community sectors shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, city or region around arts and cultural activities to rejuvenate spaces, improve business viability and public safety, and bring people together.

A national spotlight will focus on those efforts as the first summit for rural creative placemaking takes place Oct. 12-14 at the University of Iowa.

Attracting the Next Generation

“Chefs, growers, musicians, artists and other makers build an expressive, exciting place that adds to the quality of life of that place and the vibrancy of that quality of rural life,” said Charles Fluharty, RUPRI’s president and CEO.

That vibrant quality of life is essential in attracting the next generation to rural communities, Fluharty said, in order to sustain those places and the culture which has built and sustained them.

From a public health standpoint, 40 percent of health care costs stem from social determinants of health; conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. Those circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels, so the distribution of money and resources is significant, Fluharty said, citing massive funding flow inequities for rural areas.

He noted that rural residents receive less than five percent of national philanthropic funding, and significantly less federal community and economic development support than urban places, therefore rural regions receive far less support than urban areas for community development. But the health of the nation’s cities is intertwined with the sustainability of rural areas – where 75 percent of our country’s natural resources exist, and need careful stewarding – so investing in rural communities has a significant benefit on a far broader scale, Fluharty said.

Key to that investment is attracting young families who will stay in a community if they can find a job, he added, and if they deem the place diverse, inclusive and dynamic, with opportunities for personal expression and community engagement.

“It doesn’t really matter how much federal, state or local money you invest in a place if it cannot attract the next generation of citizens to raise a family there,” Fluharty said. “Absent that, this community will eventually wither away.”

The Importance of Arts and Culture

group of diverse adults dining at long table outdoorsOftentimes, rural artists are used as a tool to draw in tourists during a weekend art fair, for example, but rural art and cultural expression should be seen as an investment, such as in a school music program in order to sustain the quality of life in that place, he noted.

“If art investments are only appreciated for their contribution to regional GDP, one misses the role investments play in rural quality of life, far beyond economic output,” Fluharty said. “Where that does not occur, it’s palpable.”

In rural areas, when successful collaborations do occur, other rural communities often fail to share those benefits and lessons learned, it is difficult to share the benefits and lessons learned, given the distance and other factors involved in disseminating information. A new “Next Generation” initiative has been designed to address those challenges.

During a session this summer at the Des Moines Social Club, 50 Iowa arts and culture practitioners and public policy makers identified a list of priorities for the Iowa Next Generation Working Group. Similar efforts are underway in Minnesota and Kentucky, states in the pilot program along with Iowa.

Iowa’s priorities are:

  • Create a rural arts and culture network at the state or regional level that would, among other objectives, build rural arts advocacy;
  • Increase awareness of the economic and community development potential offered by rural arts and culture and build stronger alignment between this sector and non-sector public policy makers;
  • Create new frameworks to better engage rural youth in arts and cultural participation, particularly through stronger advocacy for K-12 Arts programming;
  • Create and coordinate new channels with a story-telling emphasis to enhance awareness of the importance and efficacy of rural arts and culture in the state’s public life.

A New Direction

In one collaborative example from this summer’s session, a Fairfield art gallery owner in eastern Iowa connected with a person in Malvern, in southwestern Iowa, to identify Iowa artists to showcase in her gallery.

“Art takes us in a new direction,” said Bill Menner, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development State Director in Iowa, who serves as co-chairman of Iowa’s Next Generation Working Group.

Woman holding basket of vegetables, close up, Menner’s USDA agency focuses on financing rural housing, public facilities, businesses, and water and sewer systems that are components of strong, vibrant communities critical to residents and farmers alike.

Rather than dying out, Menner sees small towns taking a more entrepreneurial approach to attracting and retaining the next generation. Low crime rates, expansive space and a lower cost of living are among the attributes that can attract those residents, he said.

Menner cited an editorial piece by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, which noted that, despite concerns about the fate of rural America, a number of key benchmarks show these areas have been growing economically in the past two years, with falling poverty rates and median household income in non-metro areas increasing by 3.4 percent in 2015.

Vilsack will be the keynote speaker Oct. 14, during the Next Generation Rural Creative Placemaking national summit at the University of Iowa.

Matthew Fluharty, Charles Fluharty’s son, has been collaborating with his father for the first time on the Next Generation efforts; a collaboration that somewhat serves as a metaphor for the future of rural communities.

The younger Fluharty established Art of the Rural, an organization that helps build the rural arts field and is a co-host of the Next Generation summit, along with RUPRI.

The Cultural Identity of Communities

Goals of the three-day summit include relationship building, an intellectual exchange about the successes and challenges facing rural arts and finding support structures and funding for that work, he said.

Examples of success stories and the people behind them will be highlighted at the summit, including Zach Mannheimer, vice president of creative placemaking for Iowa Business Growth Co., who was a founder of the Social Club, a cultural hub in downtown Des Moines.

The USDA’s Menner also is among the list of panelists and speakers at the summit, which includes a social dance, wellness activities and other cultural events. The summit is funded, in part, by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Menner hopes attendees come away with a greater awareness of the relationship between art in its many forms – singing in a church choir or joining a book club at the local library, for example – and the cultural identity of communities.

“The arts and culture are critical elements to life in any community,” he said. “Just because you live in a small town doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have access to it.”

CPH hosting preview performance of ‘Black and Blue’

Spotlight Series LogoThe UI College of Public Health will host cast members from Riverside Theatre as they perform scenes from “Black and Blue,” an original production that explores the relationship between law enforcement and African-American communities. Discussion and Q&A with writer and director Sean Lewis will follow.

Monday, September 12
12:30 p.m.
poster for Black and Blue, a play staged by Riverside TheatreCallaghan Auditorium (N110) CPHB

Lunch provided | RSVP to

*Attend to enter a drawing for two free tickets to the Sept. 16 show at Riverside Theatre*

*Discounted tickets will be available for purchase at the preview performance at CPHB*



Written and directed by Sean Lewis

Starring Barrington Vaxter, Alyssa Perry, Ryan West and Tierra Plowden

Ten years ago Charlie was a cop on a beat and Marcus was a suspect in the Fuller Park section of Chicago. Ten years since their paths crossed, their lives have gone in different directions but questions remain: was it abuse? Brutality? Or solid police work? Charlie’s sister Charlotte is looking into the case for herself this time, and this particular evening she’s decided to bring Marcus home with her to really figure out what is what.


For a current list of 2016-17 Spotlight Series events, please visit:

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all University of Iowa-sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires a reasonable accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact Kathy Andrews in advance at 319-384-4111.