September 2022

(Southwest Iowa) – The Community Foundation for Western Iowa, formerly Pottawattamie County Community Foundation, announced today that the Women’s Fund of Southwest Iowa’s latest grant cycle has awarded $45,000 in project funding to four organizations. Grants to the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce, Council Bluffs Schools Foundation, MICAH House, and the STARS Scholarship Program will support programming and projects that are focused on improving the quality of life and well-being of women and children in southwest Iowa.

“Empowering women in all phases of their life is the focus of the Women’s Fund of Southwest Iowa,” said Lucy Hough, board member and chair of the Women’s Fund of Southwest Iowa. “Since its inaugural year, the fund has awarded 19 grants to 17 organizations whose purpose is to enrich lives throughout our western Iowa communities by supporting programming for women’s safety and well-being, education, dynamic solutions for engaging seniors, and accessible, quality childcare options. Through the generosity of our donors, we have been able to make dreams a reality, and for that we are grateful.”

  • The Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce received a $5,000 grant to support their L.I.F.T. Mentoring Program, a joint endeavor between the Omaha chapter of the Human Resource Association of the Midlands and the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce that is focused on supporting talented professional women looking to restart their careers after an extended absence from the workforce. Women have historically assumed many roles that have caused them to exit the workforce temporarily, such as giving birth, raising children, or caring for aging or ailing relatives. Additionally, COVID-19 has caused many mothers to return home to ensure the well-being of their families and to assume the duties of educators as schools closed when “stay at home” ordinances were issued.

The L.I.F.T. Mentor Program provides opportunities for participants to receive a one-on-one professional mentor, get reacquainted with the local professional network, strengthen professional skills, broaden their perspective, explore new career paths, and experience a direct and guided mentorship.

The Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce will serve 20 women per cohort, ages 18-61 and are returning to work in the metro area. Grant funding from the Women’s Fund of Southwest Iowa will support the interviews through the SurveyMonkey platform, print materials (handbooks) and advertising costs related to the program, and refreshments for the professional development workshops.

“The Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce is so happy to continue our strong partnership and collaboration with the Community Foundation for Western Iowa,” said Drew Kamp, President & CEO of the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce. “These funds will assist us greatly as we integrate the Leveraging Individual Female Talent Program into the community and assist females returning to the workforce. We thank the Community Foundation for Western Iowa for their support and look forward to continuing to provide workforce services to the entire Council Bluffs and Southwest Iowa community.”

  • The Council Bluffs Schools Foundation received a $20,000 grant to support the construction, equipment, furnishings and other construction-related costs of their new Early Learning Center that will serve nearly 200 at-risk students in full-day preschool and birth-to-3 childcare.

Located at 8th Street and Avenue G, an area of high need and centrally located within the district, the Early Learning Center will house fourteen classrooms serving children from birth to five years old. Eleven classrooms will be designated for preschool-aged children, helping to achieve a district goal of providing universal full-day preschool for four-year-old children and high-need 3-year-old children, and three classrooms will serve children ages birth-to-3, with the ability to expand to six birth-to-3 rooms.

In addition to meeting the educational needs of students enrolled in the Early Learning Center, comprehensive child development programming would provide parent and family engagement; health, safety, mental health, medical, dental, and nutritional services; and the option of before- and after-school care provided in partnership with the Council Bluffs Schools Foundation to support parents’ needs for childcare extended beyond the regular school day.

"We are so grateful for the Community Foundation for Western Iowa, and their support of the Early Learning Center through the Women's Fund of Southwest Iowa," said Chris LaFerla, Executive Director of the Council Bluffs Schools Foundation. "The Early Learning Center is going to transform the early childhood education landscape in Council Bluffs and improve the lives of children and families for generations to come. The Community Foundation plays a critical role in supporting so many important programs in western Iowa, and we are thrilled to receive this grant."

  • MICAH House received a $10,000 grant to support construction costs of their “Building Beyond Shelter” Child Care Center project. MICAH House intends to build a 12,000 square foot child development center on the Charles E. Lakin Campus next to their existing homeless shelter. This center will serve up to 70 children in a trauma-sensitive and service-rich environment. The majority of the children served would be those staying at or in transition from MICAH House. The goal of the child development center is to eliminate barriers to access, provide in-depth assessments, and immediately start wrap-around services for children experiencing homelessness. Staff will work with families to transition children to permanent care settings that meet the family's longer-term housing and employment goals.

Additionally, the capital campaign includes some light shelter renovations. The shelter is always nearly at capacity, and furniture and fixtures have been used daily since their installation in 2008. The focus of these improvements will be windows and window treatments, doors, closets, and beds.

“It takes a community to create positive change and support our most vulnerable,” said Ashley Flater, Associate Director of MICAH House. “With a grant given by the Community Foundation of Western Iowa in support of the Florence M. Lakin Child Development Center, change is happening. Families will be able to focus on recovering stability while their children learn, play, and grow in a safe environment. Projects like this can transform the quality of life for so many individuals and families in our community, and that is truly the heart of our mission and the mission of the Community Foundation for Western Iowa. MICAH House and the families and individuals we serve are beyond grateful for the Foundation’s ongoing support.”

  • The STARS Scholarship Program received a $10,000 grant to support operational needs and childcare scholarships for STARS Scholars. Funding will assist the STARS Program’s seminar series, training for the program director, and the individual needs of STARS Scholars. Additionally, funding will also assist with childcare scholarships for students who are seeking affordable childcare while studying and/or working and are not applicable for state assistance.

The STARS Program supports low-income parents and custodial grandparents in Pottawattamie County in pursuit of college degree attainment. STARS assists with removing barriers, providing a scholarship for both direct or indirect expenses such as tuition, fees, books, childcare, and living expenses. STARS also offers programming designed to assist with career planning, financial planning, professional skills, and self-sufficiency. According to the Association of Public land-grant Universities, a college Degree significantly improves one’s employment prospects and earnings potential and that Bachelor degree holders are half as likely to be unemployed as their peers who only have a high school degree.

Over the last 25 years the STARS program has served over 400 scholars in pursuit of a post-secondary degree.

"STARS empowers economically disadvantaged parents by providing the opportunity to complete a college degree, and by creating brighter futures for themselves and for their children,” said Mia Laustrup, STARS Program Director. “Through our program, the roadblocks to higher education are removed and the completion of a college degree becomes a reality. We are so thankful to the Community Foundation for Western Iowa for supporting our mission of providing low-income parents a post-secondary education.”


In 2018, and after purposeful planning, strategic insight, and a collaborative needs-assessment within the communities that make up southwest Iowa, the Community Foundation for Western Iowa created the Women’s Fund of Southwest Iowa – an endowed fund to support nonprofit organizations with a goal to improve the quality of life and well-being of women and their families in an eight-county region: Cass, Fremont, Harrison, Mills, Montgomery, Page, Pottawattamie, and Shelby.

The goal of the fund is to reach out and work closely with organizations to identify needs and design tangible solutions. Four focus areas include:

  • Education Initiatives for Women of all ages– Increased focus on STEM initiatives, health and safety, personal finance, leadership, equity, and community engagement;

  • Accessible and Affordable Childcare – Accessible and affordable childcare and early learning programming, and access to safe and affordable transportation related to childcare;

  • Women’s Health, Safety, and Well-being – Services focused on women’s health, safety, education, workforce equity, and well-being. Programs promoting dignity and equity for women and their children; and

  • Aging in Place – Programs and services designed to help women age gracefully in their communities, including access to quality and affordable healthcare, healthy foods, exercise, place-making, family resources, and volunteer services for women aging in place.

The Women’s Fund of Southwest Iowa awards grants to nonprofit organizations who provide services within the geographic area and can demonstrate need and ability to create change to the benefit, growth, education, and welfare of women and their families.

The ongoing work to lead the strategy, provide community-based insights and fund development is managed by a steering committee of 16 devoted individuals who are committed to bringing awareness to critical needs in southwest Iowa where poverty, lack of childcare, and issues around women’s safety and health are at a stage of crisis. Members include Kim Armstrong, Jerry Banks, Trish Bergren, Connie Casson, Kate Cutler, Judy Davis, Heidi Hough, Lucy Hough, Ashley Jankowski, Alison Johnson, Suzanne Kotula, Darlene Pilling, Nancy Schulze, Inez Summy, Lana White, and Janet Whitson.

The Community Foundation and its Board are thankful for the efforts the Women’s Fund of Southwest Iowa and its Steering Committee puts forth each and every day and are proud to share that the Fund to-date has awarded nearly $170,000 in grant dollars across southwest Iowa. Additional information about the fund and granting guidelines can be found at www.ourpccf.org/womens-fund.

Nonpareil Article, September 22 | David Golbitz