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NOTEBOOK: Equity Challenge, Return to Learn discussed during Capital Crossroads leadership meeting


Here are five things you need to know from this week’s Capital Crossroads third-quarter leadership meeting.

1. United Way of Central Iowa’s 21-day Equity Challenge
Elisabeth Buck, president of the United Way of  Central Iowa, discussed the upcoming 21-day Equity Challenge, an initiative that actually started being organized in November 2019. Beginning Oct. 5, the challenge will convene the community for 21 weekdays to learn about different topics through readings, videos or podcasts and provide ways participants can take action. Participation is free. Buck said the goal is to have 10,000 Central Iowans participate. To participate, you can sign up here. After the challenge is complete, the United Way will partner with the Greater Des Moines Partnership for an Equity and Inclusion Summit, scheduled for Nov. 10. Look for more stories on the challenge in upcoming issues of the Business Record.

2. Regional Cultural Assessment
Emily Kessinger, director of Capital Crossroads, reported that several meetings have been held and that metrics for the assessment have been developed. Discussion has revolved around activation of arts and culture in the region. Kessinger said that no clear path forward has been identified, but that she expects more will be known in the first quarter of 2021 what the Regional Cultural Assessment work will look like.

3. Central Iowa Water Trails 
Maggie McClellen, project manager for the Central Iowa Water Trails initiative, said two consultants have been hired to set up governance of the project, and to develop funding and maintenance agreements with all the jurisdictions within the water trails network. Work will also move forward on developing a safety plan for the network and to bring more of the network online. The fundraising campaign that was put on hold earlier this year because of the coronavirus pandemic will resume in the next couple of months. McClellan said that a strategy to restart the campaign is in the works and that announcements about donor gifts will be shared in the next few months.

4. Return to Learn
Renee Miller, chief community impact officer for United Way of Central Iowa, reported that the agency has been working with 20 school districts in Polk and Warren counties to get real-time information on district plans, and identify where gaps exist. The goal is to fill those gaps and ensure children have the resources they need, particularly those students with vulnerabilities, Miller said. She also said work is under way to make sure mental health needs of students are being met, particularly in a virtual learning environment. Miller said work is being done on a platform connected to the 211 system that will have information from the 20 school districts and information on resources, including a homework hotline and the Tutor Connect Program launched this summer. Mary Bontrager, executive vice president of talent and development at the Greater Des Moines Partnership, gave an update on Tutor Connection, which launched over the summer with Drake University education majors, and expanded to students at other universities. It will continue this fall, with improvements to the scheduling platform. The goal, Bontrager said, is to double the number of tutors, reaching out to retired teachers or those not in education but have an educational background.

5. Broadband expansion
Mike Colwell, executive director of entrepreneurial initiatives at the Greater Des Moines Partnership, reported that the Partnership has been working with Texas-based Nextlink, which was awarded a $280 million contract from the FCC to roll out a fixed wireless system in 85 counties in Iowa, including nine of the Partnership’s 10-county area in Central Iowa. The Partnership is working to accelerate that work, and helping find locations for antennas and an office in Central Iowa, as well as helping to navigate the regulatory process. Colwell said it would likely take a few years because of the amount of work it entails. The Partnership is also closely watching SpaceX, which has a satellite internet system that is being tested. The service is expected to launch in Iowa this year, Colwell said. He also said he expects a study on broadband coverage at the city-block level in the Partnership’s 10-county area to be complete in early 2021, depending on the vendor chosen.

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