Small but mighty: Gothenburg wins All-American City award

Gothenburg sent a group of 22 people to represent it at the All-American City competition in Denver last weekend. The community is the smallest in the contest’s history to win the award.

GOTHENBURG — During the 70th Annual National Civic League 2019 All-American City awards, Gothenburg became the smallest community to ever win the award in the contest’s history.

Gothenburg was one of ten winners, which included communities of all sizes across the United States.

The National Civic League presented this honor to recognize Gothenburg’s work in inclusive civic engagement to address critical issues and create stronger connections among residents, businesses and non-profit and government leaders, said Gothenburg Development Office Executive Director Deb Egenberger.

Gothenburg sent a 22 member delegation to the All-American City in competition in Denver which was held June 21-23. There were 19 other cities in the running for the award.

“Back in March, a committee from the Gothenburg Improvement Company (GIC) board of directors submitted an application to the National Civic League for the All-American City Award under the theme, “Creating Healthy Communities Through Inclusive Civic Engagement,” said Egenberger in a blog post.

“We chose three local projects to highlight how Gothenburg comes together for the good of all: The Gothenburg Early Childhood Learning Coalition, local food initiatives such as the BackPack Program and Lunch Buddies, and the YMCA at Gothenburg Health with hospital expansion. All three of those have taken the support from the entire community to accomplish,” she said.

Egenberger said all applicants submitted their community-wide work on creating healthy communities through inclusive civic engagement and three projects for consideration. The field was narrowed to 20 in March.

“Over the weekend, finalist communities presented their projects and their communities to a jury. The entire presentation focused on the three projects and how each community leverages civic engagement, collaboration, inclusiveness and innovation to successfully address local issues,” Egenberger said.

The Gothenburg Improvement Company applied for the award using, All Means All, as its premise, and the delegation of 22 community representatives used their 10-minute presentation to drive home the meaning of, “The Gothenburg Way,” said Egenberger.

In Gothenburg, leaders and residents work hand-in-hand through a collaborative process that places the needs of the community first. This approach to community engagement is well-known within the community as doing things “The Gothenburg Way,” which entails bringing everybody to the table. The result of doing things “The Gothenburg Way” is an established civic infrastructure that lends itself to the continued economic prosperity of the community, she said.

“We are happy to designate Gothenburg as an All-America City. They showed us today that they do a great job of engaging the whole city in creating a healthier community,” said Doug Linkhart, president of the National Civic League.

The National Civic League judged the three project examples the Gothenburg application provided. The first was the Gothenburg YMCA.

In 2013 Gothenburg Health began considering a large expansion and used community focus groups to identify the needs. Theses showed there was an “overwhelming,” need for expanded wellness and recreation opportunities.

A financial feasibility study was held and found a stand-alone center would cost between $8 million and 12 million, building alongside the Gothenburg Health expansion would only cost $5 million. According to the application, the community raised $3.3 million and the remaining $1.8 million came from grants.

After the fundraising, a partnership with YMCA of the Prairie was formed to include Gothenburg. The facility opened in April 2018 and includes a lap pool, a gymnasium, walking track and fitness room.

The second project was the Gothenburg Food Access Initiative. The whole Initiative is made up of different programs. These include the Gothenburg Shares Program, Gothenburg Senior Center and BackPack Program.

The Gothenburg Shares program is a collaborative effort between the Rotary Club, school district, Gothenburg Police and local newspaper, it provides individuals with holiday meals.

The Gothenburg Senior center serves 2,200 meals per month. Volunteers give their time to help serve the meals. There 16 different civic organizations rotate the responsibility of helping deliver meals to those with mobility issues.

The BackPack program helps student’s identified by the school who have food shortage issues, at the end of every week they are given a backpack containing two full lunch meals, one breakfast meal and vouchers for perishable items.

The last program is the Gothenburg Early Childhood Learning Coalition, GECLC. After a study showed 13 percent of Gothenburg students didn’t attend preschool and these students scored 16 percent lower than their peers on basic assessments, concerned citizens decided to do something.

A group of school staff, local mothers and community providers wanted to address this, the GECLC was born out of this group.

Casey Madsen, a member of the GECLC, opened the Learning Adventures Child Daycare in the First United Methodist Church in Gothenburg. The daycare focuses on educational childcare for the 64 children enrolled in the daycare.

To also help address this issue Gothenburg Public Schools opened a half-day preschool. Priority was given to children from backgrounds who usually have limited access to preschool. The Swede Academy now serves 16 children and has been expanded to 16 children.

“The GECLC Advisory Committee meets every two months and consists of nearly all local providers, as well as school administration and staff, occupational therapists, and community support workers. The purpose of these meetings is to improve early childhood education in Gothenburg in a coordinated manner between public and private interests,” according to the application.

Also considered in the judging, the Gothenburg City Council adjusted its bi-monthly meeting time from 7 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. to make it easier for residents to attend the meetings. Public input is also gathered from meetings which are held around the town which is open to people from a variety of different backgrounds.

Having won this award, Egenberger said this type of nationwide recognition will help showcase the community to business interests and it offers a “seal of approval,” when trying to access grants.

“But above all, we get a sense of accomplishment, teamwork and pride knowing Gothenburg is one of the top 20 cities in the U.S. when it comes to collaboratively and inclusively meeting challenges head-on,” Egenberger said.

Egenberger thanked a number of people for their time and effort including, Colten Venteicher, Tabitha Venteicher, June and John Venteicher, Will Rahjes, Jena Rahjes, Joe Richeson, Angie Richeson

Chiara & Ashlyn Richeson, Helen Cool, Mayor Joyce Hudson, Becky Jobman, Devin Brundage, Jami Brundage, Antonia Mendez, Abraham and Alexavia Mendez, Mike Bacon, Luke Rickertsen and Heath Keiser.

Gothenburg received this award one other time in 1991, Lexington won back in 1973 and Dawson County received in in 1993, Egenberger said.

The other 2019 winners were, Battle Creek, Mich., Cornelius, Ore., Dubuque, Iowa, Lancaster, Texas, Mission, Texas, Rancho Cordova, Calif., Rock Hill, S.C., West Hollywood, Calif., and Wichita, Kan.

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