“Don’t doubt what can be accomplished; be a part of it.”
Danny Heggen always has a creative project going on that betters the community around him. I think this is truly important for everyone in life. We need things that we can put our whole hearts into, set goals, and strive for them. Something that not only helps others around us, but makes us feel better about ourselves. Take a moment to think about what and how you could create a better community around you - by volunteering, helping a friend? Or more?
Today I’m excited to chat with Danny Heggen of Des Moines, Iowa - one of the hardest working people I know.
(Patrick Tape Fleming)
Before we get into all your projects tell us what you do for a day job, and if you consider it a day job?
By day I am a youth program coordinator for the nonprofit Community Youth Concepts in Des Moines. I run after-school and outside-of-school programs based around volunteer service. Basically, what I do is jumpstart service projects. Working with groups that don’t know how to get started on service, I facilitate planning sessions to develop projects based off activities the youth enjoy doing (like playing video games or making stuff out of duct tape) and then figure out how to turn those activities into community service. One of my favorite recent projects was making duct tape wallets for a homeless shelter in Des Moines (Central Iowa Shelter & Services). The shelter was pumped, and I got to learn how to make these during the process. I absolutely love it. I get to work with the community. I get to be creative. And working with youth is so random and fun. I’ve been doing this for a couple years now, so it seems that it’s more than a day job. What I want to do with my life is a constant question. I am passionate about working with young people, music, and writing. And the harder I work on each of these, the answer becomes a bit clearer: I need and want to do something with my life that allows creativity, purpose, and working with my community. What that is exactly, I don’t know. The fun part is trying to find the balance in all these, as well as being in love with my wife.
PTF: You edited the book From a Growing Community, Iowa’s Homeless Youth, To date, From a Growing Community has been taught at four local colleges and universities around Iowa and helped to raise more than $40,000 for Youth & Shelter Services, Inc. Tell us how you got involved with the project and how you achieved such success with it?
DH: I started that project after working with imprisoned women in Perth, Australia for a year, which resulted in my first published book, Voices on the Inside: the Women of Boronia. Coming home in 2007, I knew I wanted to replicate that process and see what I could do. I got to work in 2008 researching youth homelessness in Des Moines — something I’d learned about through Reggie’s Sleep Out, an event organized by Iowa Homeless Youth Centers. After spending a few months volunteering in shelters around Des Moines and Ames, I left a letter at the shelters about myself and asked staff to give them to youth who came through to receive services. In the letter, I asked youth to respond, and that’s why the book ended up being a collection of letters. Throughout all that, I had moved into Des Moines and got connected with a great group of people, including Justin Norman, a graphic and website designer. He signed onto the project, and we expanded his company, Shrieking Tree, into a publishing company. It was an incredible learning experience. The issue of youth homelessness is intimidating, which, I believe, is why most people don’t even begin to think about it. So the main thing I wanted the book to do was make the issue accessible and approachable. If I could draw someone in to pick it up and read one story, I knew it would impact their worldview. I wanted each reader to ask, “What can I do to help?” My real lesson, however, was in marketing and advertising. It was the night of the book release that I realized we’d produced this resource for the community, but that in-and-of-itself was not enough. I could create the most beautiful thing in the world, but that truly is the easy part. The hard part is getting the people around you to see that beauty, too. In short, producing something only gets you to the base of the mountain. The work begins at that point. Which kind of sucks. But also makes me believe in the power of community. I started saying, “Don’t doubt what can be accomplished; be a part of it.” That’s what makes sense. I love supporting people. And I love asking people for their support. I want everyone around me to be successful. And I hope everyone wants the same of me. All that achieved was due to the people who helped me move forward, which was often one person at a time. (Sorry, that was a novel.)
PTF: We are pretty lucky to live in Iowa, such a star on the political map. Back in 2004 my band got to play with Max Wineberg of the E-Street Band at a political rally. Your band the Seedlings recently opened for the real BOSS, President Barak Obama. Describe how you felt when you got that call to open for President Obama.
DH: Ryan Stier, one of my best friends who plays in Seedlings as well as leads The River Monks, said it best: “I could pick up and take the music I make anywhere in the world. Portland, LA, Austin, Nashville, New York. These are all very great places, and I have the utmost respect for anyone who does. But me, I prefer Des Moines.” His statement stemmed from the fact that this kind of opportunity is probably only possible for a band our size in Des Moines. We’ve been playing together for 4 years now, but it still feels like we’re just getting out of the starting blocks. When I got the call from the Obama for Iowa staff, I couldn’t believe what they were asking. It was only a week before the event, and we had 5 hours to confirm and get them all our information — they needed to do background checks and lyrics to our songs. The hardest part was keeping it quiet for 5 days. I told my office (because I had to take the afternoon off) and I told my family. But otherwise, it was all under the radar until the Tuesday before the event. It was pretty cool taking calls from Washington D.C. from Obama’s official event staff. And when we got there to set up the night before the event, the whole staff came up and was like, “It’s so great to meet you! We love your music.” And we were all kind of stunned — the honor truly was ours. So we did our best to play it cool. And we didn’t get to meet the president as a band, but I did shake his hand after the event. The staff informed me that he was also briefed on us prior to that event. That works for me!
PTF: You’re writing and researching a book called, I Could Do That - How I survived Planning a DIY Wedding. What are the top 3 challenges you had to over come while planning your own DIY Wedding? And how did you over come them?
DH: Oh man.
1. I didn’t know I was supposed to be overwhelmed. At first, I was like, “All right! We’re engaged. Next step marriage.” Turns out there’s a lot to think about (everything….you have to think about everything). To overcome this, the important part was figuring out which tasks I could be in charge of. I took charge of the music, scheduling with vendors, and running 2nd errands — which means I ran back out when we didn’t get the right thing the first time.
2. I like to say, “It’s not that I didn’t care. It’s just that I didn’t care that much.” I wanted Katy, my wife, to be happy with everything — from the flowers to the music. To do this, we decided that our wedding needed to be “us.” Which meant 3 things: great music, great food and drinks, and great people. To overcome this, I literally had to join them, as in “If you can’t beat them, join them.” Wedding planning exists in its own (huge) world. Regardless of how hard I fought joining this madness, joining was the only option to actually get work done.
3. I’m not a direct person. Katy is. And I love that about her. It was a great opportunity to work together. She had to learn how to get me to not be indirect, and I had to learn how to be direct (see what I did there?). To overcome this, I honestly had to think about whatever it was we were working on and form an opinion of it — which means I couldn’t just be apathetic to the whole process. In short, I had to care, which wasn’t that hard to do. I just needed a reminder. The greatest thing about being married? Not wedding planning.
PTF: You are always working on new projects that help the community we live in. What inspires you to make a difference in the world?
DH: I genuinely care about the people who surround me. As I said before, I want everyone around me to be successful. And I hope people want me to be successful as well. There is no greater feeling than supporting a friend in what they’re doing. I think about how I can help them and then do my best to follow through with those actions. Whether it’s connecting someone to the right network or helping them think about what they’re doing to make it more effective, I love figuring out how to help people move forward. I do consulting with artists and nonprofits (get in touch with me if you’re interested: @dannyheggen or email). I see my writing as a way to educate others about the world around us and how we can be involved in the solution. And I see my music as a way to emotionally connect to experiences we all go through from love and happiness to heartbreak and sorrow. It’s all about opportunities — taking them and providing them. Our role changes between each of these, and it’s important to recognize this. If you need an opportunity, ask. If you can provide an opportunity, reach out.
Danny thanks so much for talking with me today! Your hard work and big heart are truly inspiring. Keep up the good work!
For more information on Danny and his many projects visit these links.
http://31tipsfordsm.tumblr.com/ 31 Tips for Des Moines Blog
http://seedlingsmusic.tumblr.com/ Seedlings Band Page