Carolyn Bogott: A need to contribute

Published 5:57 pm Friday, February 3, 2023

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Laura Helle lives the philosophy that her parents modeled and taught her: “To have the community you want, you have to contribute to that community.” 

Her parents shopped locally and worked in elected and volunteer positions to support their community in rural Iowa.

Laura Helle

So, when Laura came to Austin 22 years ago, she began to look for ways to serve this community.  Her first efforts were volunteering in church work and with Mower County Mentoring, working with at-risk young people.  Her first big opportunity for contributing to our community came when the Hormel Historic Home was beginning their building and programming expansion.

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Laura was hired as executive director during this critical time.  She realized she needed more education to meet this challenge and attended the Institute for Executive Director Leadership at St. Thomas University  and was mentored by Mark Bjorlie, then director of the YMCA and Mary Ann (Law) Sunde, then director of the Parenting Resource Center. In the HHH position, she learned much about writing grants, funding cycles, and funding campaigns, as well as facility design and management, and working with a board of directors.

Laura characterizes herself as an “idealist,” one who can always visualize what will make a situation or organization better.  When Austin leadership began to work on the Vision 2020 plan, she wanted to use her talent and skills to be a part of it.  She became coordinator for that undertaking. The list of benefits she gained in that position include contacts at the city, county, Riverland Community College and state, plus understanding of funding sources and options.  She was fascinated by her interaction with city department heads and that led to her interest in running for city council. 

This remarkable woman said she has come to enjoy grant-writing, working on budgets and how they are tied to outcomes, and keeping track of data to evaluate progress.

Laura ran for and won a City Council seat in 2016 and again in 2022. Her two top issues are housing needs and broadband access, with inclusion of diversity a close third.

After her contract with Vision 2020 was complete, Laura worked briefly for the Riverland Foundation as Director of Grants and Alumni Relations. Then her current position, which brings together many of her strengths, was presented to her.  Her college training in graphic design and journalism plus all her experience in all levels of government as well as in the non-profit sphere make her an ideal executive director of Austin Area Arts. Laura loves the variety in her job as well as the relationships with her staff and with all the artists of all kinds with whom she comes in contact.

In all her roles in our community, Laura said she always tries to bear in mind the power of the words she speaks: Are they true and do they characterize what she really means to say. She wants to be authentic in all her interactions.

Thank you Laura Helle for your many contributions to Austin!

For more information about the Austin Branch of AAUW, contact Sue Grove  or Carolyn Bogott The American Association of University Women, now AAUW, is open to anyone who has completed a two-year degree or beyond.  AAUW welcomes men who support our objectives and there are student memberships available. AAUW has been empowering women since 1881.  We support equity and education for women.  Scholarships are offered, as well as help in litigation in cases dealing with sex discrimination.  We are the most important and highly respected research and lobbying organization dealing with women’s issues such as equal opportunity and job equality.