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Iowa program hopes to attract veterans leaving active duty

By DAVID DOLMAGE | Newton Daily News, Iowa | Published: July 13, 2018

NEWTON, Iowa (Tribune News Service) — When Homebase Iowa kicked off in Jasper County in 2017, elected officials promised to roll out a welcome mat to attract veterans. Designed to encourage veterans leaving active duty military service to consider relocating to Iowa, the program offers incentives that varied county by county across the state.

More than a year after the kickoff ceremony, Veterans Affairs Director Kurt Jackson is working to enhance the program in Jasper County.

As an extension to Jasper County’s Homebase Iowa program, Jackson has also been working to recruit local families to form a “Welcome Wagon” committee. He’s hoping to pair up incoming veterans and their families with a Jasper County family that’s willing to show prospective residents around the area and serve as a point of contact for newcomers.

Several families have indicated an interest in participating, but Jackson’s hoping to get enough interest to create a self-sustaining group, which would allow him to take an advisory role.

“I’m hoping to set this committee up and then I won’t be a part of it, other than attending a quarterly meeting,” Jackson said. “If they need help I’ll help them out, but my major focus is helping the veterans.”

To help fund the Welcome Wagon, Jackson told commissioners Thursday afternoon he’s found a grant that would potentially fund the group up to $3,000. That money, along with other resources at Jackson’s disposal, would allow the fledgling organization to hit the ground running. Ideally, the program will encourage veterans coming off active duty service to consider relocating to Jasper County.

“They’d have a family that would be somewhere close to them that would be a point of contact that would help them do things when they go out,” Jackson said. “I’m hoping I can get a few more people than I’ve already got.”

Since moving into a full-time role at the Jasper County Veterans Affairs Office in March of 2017, Jackson has focused on expanding the office’s role, letting veterans know his office is available to help.

To reach those veterans, Jackson has employed a number of diverse strategies. He makes it a point to visit American Legion offices across Jasper County and he’s increased his advertising budget and turned to social media in an attempt to connect with local veterans.

Mike Naber, the newest commissioner, made a presentation to the board Thursday. Working together, Naber and Jackson are planning on distributing information about the office to cities across Jasper County. It will be included with other information new residents receive when they move into the county. Even if the new residents aren’t veterans, Jackson said he believes the information will help get the word out about his office.

“He wants to approach all the cities in the county and their leadership and give them my information and give them to someone who’s moving into the community, even if they’re a non-veteran,” Jackson said. “If they’re a non-veteran, then we’re out a couple of pennies, oh well.”

To cut down on printing costs, Naber suggested sending a PDF to each city, which would make it easier for city clerks to disseminate the information.

“If it’s electronic, we can just send them the PDF in a flier so we won’t have to print anything,” Naber said. “We can make this happen.”

In other action Thursday, Jackson reported his office would receive their annual $10,000 allocation from the state of Iowa. Budget cuts forced cuts and the County Veterans Affairs offices only received $9,575 last year. Jackson said he’s been informed they won’t be subject to cuts again this year.

The money from last year’s allocation was used to cover costs associated with training for Jackson, as well as his assistant Keith Thorpe. The funds also covered meals Jackson’s office provided for a Korean War Veterans event and a catered lunch at the Wall That Heals, which visited Newton earlier this year.

“This is the allocation from the state, this is not the lottery money, the $10,000 the state is supposed to provide every year,” Jackson said. “I don’t believe in sending any back if I can avoid it.”

©2018 the Newton Daily News (Newton, Iowa)
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