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Young black professionals choosing to settle in the Cedar Valley

Young black professionals choosing to settle in the Cedar Valley

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CEDAR FALLS, Iowa --- Stephanie Logan is from Ohio.

Yolanda Hood is from North Carolina.

Jennifer Bell is from Wisconsin.

But these three young black women all have one thing in common --- they now call the Cedar Valley home. Though the journey hasn't always been easy, they all admit there are benefits to living in a smaller community.

Logan, 35, is now a first-time homeowner, something she was never able to justify in Ohio.

"I could have done it in Columbus. I made enough, but a good chunk would have gone to pay for a house," she said. "That is something, at least for me."

Hood, 40, was already well-traveled when she moved to the area to take a job as the youth librarian at the University of Northern Iowa. Everything about this next step --- including the state's lack of diversity and cold weather --- scared her. She said it is the job and 9-year-old daughter Josie Enemuoh's love for her school and friends that have rooted her to Cedar Falls for five years.

"The biggest pull for me was that Iowa has good schools. Where we were living, I would have had to pay tuition for school for my daughter," she said. "Many, many people --- the wealthy, middle class and working class --- worked very hard to send their kids to private schools for their education."

Bell, 25, had some experience in Iowa before moving to the Cedar Valley. She did her undergraduate work at the University of Dubuque, but went from there to Arizona and then back to Milwaukee. She wasn't excited about living at home and actively sought employment that would take her elsewhere.

"I adored my time at the University of Dubuque and enjoyed Iowa as a whole," she said.

She looked at UNI after learning a friend was attending graduate school there.

"When I got here (in 2009) I was really impressed with the support network that UNI had for multicultural staff. The older staff took me under their wing, showed me around, took me to dinner and to outings so I could meet other young professionals or others who had just moved to the area."

She now returns the favor, texting and calling newcomers, many of whom are employed at John Deere, to invite them to dinner or events.

"It probably took me about six months to realize I did have a solid network here. One of the greatest things that happened that made me finally realize that was they threw me a surprise party in April 2010."

But even after five years in the community, Hood said she still has trouble making new friends. She has a few very close friends she relies heavily on, but she would love to widen that circle.

"When you move a lot you have to make friends and find people who feel like family to you," she said. "You have to have those people to rely on. People here seem to have their family to rely on because a lot of people are from here. When I lived in Massachusetts or Missouri there were people there from all over. People were used to the idea of needing to meet new people."

Logan, a self-described loner, said sometimes she is still a little lonelier than she would prefer. She's tried meeting people at church and in her building but found those she encountered are in a different season of their lives.

"I don't know where the scene is here," she said. "And because I am so busy with the work I do, meeting other folks can prove difficult."

Bell said in those first six months she thought about moving back home almost every day. Now, she recommends her home to others.

"It is quieter. You have to stretch yourself," Bell said. "If you are not the person to invite someone to do something or go somewhere with someone new, you have to do that. It's the people, not necessarily the place, that make the experience. If you are open to meeting new people and open to stepping outside your comfort zone this is a great opportunity to expand your world view and grow."


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