With all of the frustrations, the tragedies and the maddening political chaos that have been with us this year, I have the perfect recipe for our Thanksgiving celebrations. No, it is not a new take on green bean casserole. It’s not some newfangled way to ease the strain on our belts after a holiday meal. More than anything else, what our celebrations need this year is an extra helping of gratitude. Randy Evans
Randy Evans is the executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council.
Forgive me, but I don’t think Americans are as tough as we used to be. Specifically, I don’t think many of us see the big picture the way our parents and our grandparents did. I venture down this treacherous path because I think this lack of toughness is affecting Iowans’ response to the coronavirus pandemic. Stay with me, and we’ll come back to this shortly. But first, some context.
I’m tired. I’m worn out. My energy has been sapped. I am tired of getting up every day and bracing myself to learn who or what, in the dawn’s early light, the president has demeaned, disparaged or mocked like a school kid. I long for the days when political leaders try to bring us together, rather than drive us apart.
Vicki and Matt Bruening live on a Floyd County acreage with six children ranging from a sophomore in high school to a fourth-grader. Like others in Iowa, the family makes a living in agribusiness: both Bruenings operate an agricultural repair business in New Hampton, and Matt farms with his uncle on family land nearby.
At home, the family raises goats and chickens, with the help of their kids. When COVID-19 shut down Iowa schools over the spring break season in March, farm life gave the Bruenings the benefit of staying busy — but as time progressed, the family was still concerned whether school doors would open in the fall.
“We were most worried about if they wouldn’t be able to go back at all,” Vicki Bruening said. “It’s been a different kind of school year so far, but it’s also been good to get them back in the classroom, back with their friends.”
Bruening drives her kids to school in the morning as a way to provide more time to get ready. In the afternoon while she’s at work, the family relies on school transportation from Charles City’s joint high school and middle school campus, and one of the district’s two elementary schools.
This piece is part of a collaborative reporting project that includes the Institute for Nonprofit News, Charlottesville Tomorrow, El Paso Matters, IowaWatch, The Nevada Independent, New Mexico in Depth, Underscore News/Pamplin Media Group and Wisconsin Watch/The Badger Project.
There is one week set aside each year to salute newspapers for the important role they have played in our nation, a role that goes back to the beginning of these United States. This year, however, waiting until Oct. 4-10 and National Newspaper Week has been difficult, because the coronavirus pandemic and a variety of major news events across our land have tested newspapers, and our communities, in ways we might never have fathomed. Taking stock of the contributions by newspapers, large and small, serves as an important reminder of why our founding fathers wrote freedom of the press into the Constitution’s Bill of Rights – and why the theme for this year’s National Newspaper Week, “America Needs Journalists,” is so appropriate. We have seen our lives and our communities change in dramatic ways because of coronavirus.
There was a milestone of note recently, and it is a shame there was not a big public celebration. Twenty years ago, Gov. Tom Vilsack and the Iowa Legislature had the foresight to create a program that has brought important changes to communities large and small across Iowa. The program was called Vision Iowa – and it certainly provided that. The initiative enabled communities to bring projects to life that probably never would have gotten off the ground without the unusual financial arrangement that was the beauty of Vision Iowa. State government provided part of the investment for these projects.
Iowa counties with the highest rates of COVID-19 infection are home to large meat packing plants. Part of a collaborative reporting project called “Lesson Plans: Rural schools grapple with COVID-19” in partnership with the Institute for Nonprofit News and several member newsrooms.
Demographics: Iowa’s immigrant children: In 1990 only 2.4 percent of Iowa kids (17,000) were from immigrant families – by 2018 that number jumped to 12 percent (84,000). Multigenerational households: 2011 U.S. Census Survey: 2.6 percent of Iowa’s 750,000 households are multigenerational households and of those include three generations (parent, child, grandchild, ie.) and the majority identify as Hispanic (map broken down by county is on page 4 in the linked census survey). Iowa school districts: According to the Iowa Department of Education there are 330 school districts throughout the state with over 480,000 students and over 37,000 teachers. Districts with meatpacking plants have higher enrollment of Hispanic, Black and mixed race children. These populations are at higher risk of getting coronavirus.
ByJamie Smith Hopkins / Center for Public Integrity |
We heard from more than 200 disaster survivors and people helping them. Here’s what we learned. The Center for Public Integrity, Columbia Journalism Investigations and our partners in newsrooms around the country, including IowaWatch, have been reporting on this for months. We’ve learned a lot by asking experts: people who’ve lived through disasters and the professionals who study this or provide hands-on help. More than 230 shared their experiences in our detailed survey, and we interviewed dozens of additional people.