Building a better Waterloo through neighborhood workshops - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Building a better Waterloo through neighborhood workshops

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

Cities in Iowa all struggle with it -- what to do with struggling neighborhoods. It's not an easy fix, but this weekend, some in Waterloo came together to work on creating a better future for kids growing up in those neighborhoods.

You'd expect to see community leaders at a meeting to discuss Waterloo's systemic issues of violence, racial tension and crime. But to see dozens of young adults give up their Saturday to brainstorm solutions -- that may be the first clue that change is happening.

"We're here to solve these problems and make this place a better community," said fourth grader Curtis Graves.

The work session put on by the Waterloo Neighborhood Coalition Saturday is called a "Community Dream Path." The title sounds a bit cliche to some, but their intentions are honest: to physically write out the problems Waterloo faces and come up with real-world solutions.

"We have people who are the 'authorized leaders' defining problems and then generating solutions and then evaluating success. But today, one of the things that's different is we have all types of people defining success, creating the vision," explained Lois Smidt, workshop facilitator and founder of Beyond Welfare, Inc. in Ames.

Some of the issues residents said they'd like to tackle include eliminating gangs, closing down liquor stores, finding strong mentors, and improving community cohesion. But in order for this to work, the adults realize they have to involve the next generation -- the kids who will either perpetuate the problems.. or erase them.

"You know the old African proverb -- it takes a village to raise a child," said Darryl Stokes, a member of the Northeast Side Neighborhood Association. "It's more important now for us to deal with the children, then we can bring the adults along."

"It's really exciting to see young people here today -- and not just see them, but hear them!" said Smidt.

The kids at the workshop are committed to bettering their neighborhoods. Even the youngest ones plan to take what they've written on the pages and make Waterloo's dream a reality.

"They'll like, give their opinion to other people, and they'll go onto their street or block and say something to the kids," said Graves.

Everyone attending Saturday's workshop signed a pledge before leaving, promising to continue the discussion with their friends and neighbors.

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