Posts Tagged: Lora Friest

Community Builder: Lora Friest

By Sara Friedl-Putnam

It’s early on a hot July night, but Lora Friest bounds into Java John’s Coffee House in downtown Decorah as if the day were just getting started. She’s been going nonstop for hours, but you wouldn’t guess it judging by the enthusiasm, energy, and quick wit she exudes while talking about Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation and Development (NEIRC&D).

Based in Postville, Iowa, the nonprofit organization partners with community members to diversify local economies while also protecting and enhancing natural resources. Lora, the executive director, leads a staff of 12 full-time employees.

“Our stated mission is to ‘recognize opportunities and provide leadership to make Northeast Iowa a vibrant, place-based model for the nation,’” she says. “What that really means is we want every rural area to be what it aspires to be – communities have different strengths and different dreams, and it’s our job to help them capitalize on those by empowering people who have great ideas.”

Basically, Lora and her team help communities build community.

It was 1999 when Lora left her job with Luther College’s Environmental College for Young Leaders to join NEIRC&D as its Upper Iowa River watershed coordinator. “I had worked as intern at the Decorah Fish Hatchery a few years before and kept wondering why we were continually restocking fish and not making it so that they could live and reproduce naturally in the streams,” she recalls. “There was not much natural reproduction at the time, and I wanted to be part of efforts to change that.”

And she has been. Today, thanks to the dedicated efforts of many individuals and organizations – including Lora and NEIRC&D – 45 Iowa streams boast naturally reproducing populations, compared with just five as recently as the 1980s. “It has had such an amazing impact,” she says, noting that fishing and other water activities bring more than a billion dollars to regional economy. “If you are ever involved in something that is that broad in scope and it actually works, you are inspired to do other things.”

Or, in Lora’s case, many other things, and often simultaneously – she logs, on average, 60 hours per week writing grants, conducting feasibility studies, meeting with community members and leaders, and doing whatever else it takes to build a better Northeast Iowa. That dedication has produced results: Lora estimates that she and her NEIRC&D team have helped secure more than $100 million in funding – much of that in state and federal grants – to support a wide range of projects, including the Guttenberg Marina, Decorah’s Trout Run Trail and Freeport Trail, and local foods programs.

“Yes, we have received multi-million-dollar grants, but I try to never forget how much it meant to someone that we got him or her $2,000 for a project,” she says. “That $2,000 grant can change one person’s life as much as a $1 million grant might change the lives of others.”

Some 18 years after first signing on with NEIRC&D, Lora says she never tires of visiting with people about their ideas and helping them realize that they can actually achieve them.

“The real community building occurs when a group of people sit together to envision and inform a project,” she says. “To me, it’s all about helping people realize they can work together to make a positive difference in their community.”

Read the Fall 2017 Inspire(d) Online!

Here’s what’s happening in the Fall 2017 Inspire(d) – our 10 YEAR ANNIVERSARY ISSUE!!!

10 Years of Inspire(d)! 10 Community Builders from Across the Driftless, Sum of Your Biz: Empty Nest Winery, Infographic: 10 Truths We’ve Learned, Chicago Train Trip, Unicorn Presents! Fun Fall Events, Cool New Driftless Places, & More!
Read the whole thing online here!

A note from Aryn:

Roxie and I were reading the Disney book, Pocahontas, recently. It’s not one I love (I’m not sure when it even made it to our shelves)…but it did spark a good conversation. We were discussing what happened to Native Americans when settlers came to this “brave, new world,” and how they’re treated still today. We talked about how people from different parts of the world might look a little different from each other – different sizes, shapes, and definitely colors – but we’re all the same on the inside. And Roxie – who just turned five – says, “Mom, wouldn’t it be SO COOL if there were pink and purple people?!” I smiled, “Why, yes, Roxie. It would be so cool. And isn’t it so cool that the people and colors we do have are all different from each other anyway? It makes the world so much more beautiful, I think.” “Yeah, totally, Mom,” she says.

More colors, more variety, more beauty – we humans all come together to make this amazing, diverse work of art.  And we’re all connected through a community called humanness.

This is our 10-year anniversary of Inspire(d) Magazine. We dubbed it an “experiment in positive news” when we first started out, so I decided to think on what that experiment has taught us. I compiled a list of truths that have risen to the top of my list – check out the infographic on page 25 – but the clearest lesson of all is that community is the most important thing we can build in this life. Big or small, these communities and connections are what we’ll remember at the end of our lives.

So this milestone Inspire(d) is all about community-builders. Our region is filled with them, but we narrowed it down to 10 amazing groups or people: Liz Rog and Brad Crawford, John Condon, Lissa Carlson, Patrick ‘Red’ Longmire, Mike Ashbacher, Roxanne Schnitzler and Jessica Rediske, Shannon Dallenbach Durbin, Lora Friest, Adam Wiltgen, and Greg Wennes.

Wow, am I excited for you to read these stories this fall. I was inspired by every single one of them. They start on page 29.

These are some crazy times we’re living in, but there are some crazy exciting things happening too. There are great events and activities to check out all over this fall (pg. 56) and lots of local friends taking the leap to launch new ventures (pg. 14). We are so excited! Veteran business-owners Dave and Pam Kruger of Empty Nest Winery have some good tips for new business-owners in this issue’s Sum of Your Business. They are a husband-and-wife duo that this husband-and-wife duo truly admire!

And we couldn’t have a magazine birthday without unicorn presents, amIright?!? Check out the paper project on page 28, and the full tutorial right here on iloveinspired.com (coming soon!).

Finally, we got out for a little Family Reseach Adventure: We took Amtrak from La Crosse to Chicago! Hop aboard and check out our itinerary to get some ideas for your next train trip!

I am so grateful to you all for reading this magazine for the past 10 years. (C’mon, stop crying, Aryn!) The fact that I’m 36 years old and have been running a business for 10 years makes me feel proud as hell, and surer than ever that we really CAN do this. We can change the world. It’s so easy to feel completely helpless about things when we read the daily news. “What can I possibly do?!?” we ask ourselves. Talk to your neighbors. Make friends. Build community. Start to understand each other a little more every day. This is what you can do.

People often ask me if I will ever run out of ideas for Inspire(d) and my answer is always, “Definitely not!” It’s because of you– you continue to inspire me, and you inspire the people around you. Keep it up, you guys. It’s working.

Looking forward,

Aryn Henning Nichols

Read the whole thing online here!