MUSCATINE, Iowa–While speaking with Community Foundation of Greater Muscatine board members about the food backpack program Muscatine Community School District implemented, Executive Director Charla Schafer asked a poignant question; “what if we could make systemic change?” That question led her to discuss with Trinity Muscatine Public Health Director Christy Roby Williams what this systemic change could look like. From this conversation, and many others like it with other community partners, the Fueling the Future program came to life.
Fueling the Future aims to help lift families out of poverty. Parents of elementary school children receiving weekend food backpacks may apply for the program. Those accepted enroll in six week certified nursing, computer numerical controls, or welding courses at Muscatine Community College. Each program includes an internship with a local employer who will then hire graduates upon successful program completion. As participants complete their certificate program, and for the first six months of their employment, an economic navigator from public health will work with them, helping them access any additional services they need, with help from Aligned Impact Muscatine, the City of Muscatine, Muscatine Center for Social Action, the Robert Young Center, and United Way of Muscatine.
Originally, Fueling the Future received funding from Future Ready Iowa and several matching donors, including Bayer, the Community Foundation, HNI, Kent Corporation, the Trinity Muscatine Foundation, Toyota of Muscatine, and United Way. Now, Unity Point Trinity Muscatine, with assistance from the Trinity Muscatine Foundation, has received a $900,0000 Health Resources and Service Administration grant to broaden the program’s scope.
With the additional funds, public health will hire a full time project coordinator to oversee Fueling the Future. Public health will also hire two economic navigators to help extend the program to 120 families more than they originally planned for, effectively making it countywide. The grant will also provide money to help public health and the other Fueling the Future partners cover the cost of meeting the other needs participating families may need while in the program, such as food assistance or internet access.
After the COVID-19 pandemic pushed back the programs original start date, Fueling the Future intends to enroll its first class of participants in August. As families move through the program, both public health and the University of Iowa College of Public Health will collect data on the program and its outcome to determine its effectiveness. If it produces positive results, other cities in Iowa and across the country may choose to replicate it.
For Williams, getting this grant represents a huge step forward for the program. “I think this is an exceptional opportunity for our community,” she said.
Schafer shared her enthusiasm. “I’m thrilled Trinity Muscatine Public Health put in the work for this grant and got it; it will make a big difference for the families and will bring about multi-generational change.”
Fueling the Future continues to enroll new participants. If you want to see if you could participate, call public health at (563)-263-0122 and ask to speak to the economic navigator.