By: Jamie Burdorf
What happens when you combine a hometown boy and a big city girl who decide to make their home in Shenandoah? You get a young family that is committed to both the Shenandoah Community School District and to the community. That’s exactly what happened when Dustin and Haley Christiansen committed to the Shenandoah Iowa Education Foundation’s “Family Challenge.”
Dustin, the son of Dennis and Cheri Christiansen, was born and raised in Shenandoah. He graduated in 2005, went on to the University of Iowa, and made stops in Nashville and St. Louis before returning home to Shenandoah.
He works for Edward Jones as a Financial Advisor. When asked if his plan was always to return home, Dustin said, “I always knew it would be an opportunity, but nothing was set in stone. He (Dennis) wanted me to do what I wanted to do.”
Haley, on the other hand, couldn’t have grown up in a more different environment. Her hometown of Overland Park, Kan., is just shy of 200,000 people. Haley attended Olathe East High School where she earned a full ride scholarship to University of Illinois at Chicago to play softball. Unfortunately, her softball career was cut short by two torn ACL’s and she transferred closer to home to attend the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She earned her degree in psychology and went on to work at Children’s Mercy Hospital in KC.
From there, their paths crossed when Dustin and Haley met online in 2016. Haley and her daughter, Reagan, moved to Shenandoah in 2017.
“I’ve never been in a town this size before and at first I was thrown off,” Haley remembers. “But, the more I visited, the more charming I found it. Now, I can’t imagine being in a city.”
In addition to Reagan, the Christiansens added twin boys, Hayden and Landon, to their family a year ago.
This couple sees the importance of supporting your community.
“Every community needs people to step up and make it a better place,” Dustin said. “We need the (education) foundation in this community. It’s about investing now for bigger benefits down the road.”
Enter the foundation’s Family Challenge.
Around Thanksgiving last year, Dustin heard a foundation story on KMA radio and also saw some marketing pieces the foundation circulated, promoting its new campaign. After talking it over, the couple decided to make the commitment to the Family Challenge.
The total number of families or individuals who have made pledges in the first year of the challenge is currently at 20. It was launched in September, 2019, by the family of Bob and Kathy Sweeney, who pledged to donate $10,000 to the education foundation over the next 10 years – if their pledge is matched by 24 families in 2020, then 25 additional families in each of the next three years.
If successful, the Family Challenge will generate $1 million, which would allow the foundation to establish a solid endowment to help support and enhance the Shenandoah schools.
“Supporting schools is huge for the success of a community,” said Haley. Strong schools help build population and inspire community development. She added that the family liked the idea that their donation to the education foundation will have “a direct impact right here in Shenandoah. Dustin grew up here, and now I’m excited to call Shenandoah my new forever home.”
It’s obvious the Christiansens can see the importance of stepping up and being in a sustainable community where their kids can make their own memories.
Dustin reminisced, “It’s a neat thing that the people who were my teachers in school, I now have relationships with them that have nothing to do with education, but they all started because of education.”
If you’re interested in becoming part of the Family Challenge, you can reach out to the foundation’s President Corby Fichter at 712-621-2386, Treasurer Nick Bosley at firstname.lastname@example.org or Executive Director Jamie Burdorf at email@example.com or 515-520-7641.