Meet DSM: Allissa Johnson

There’s a hum in Earlham, Iowa. It’s a buzz that is somehow both exciting, yet peaceful; extraordinary, yet part of the day-to-day fabric of this small town in the northwest corner of the Greater Des Moines (DSM) region. 

It’s a hum and heartbeat that emanates into pockets throughout the Earlham community and especially in places like Bricker Price Block

Bricker Price Block is billed as an events venue, but its actions speak louder than its name. Yes, it’s a space to host weddings and birthday parties and meetings, but it also serves as the cornerstone for renewed community life in Earlham and Madison County.  

At its helm is executive director Allissa Johnson, who grew up in Earlham. After living elsewhere, she returned to DSM in 2010 and moved back to Earlham in 2018. She has been in her position at Bricker Price Block for nearly five years.

Bricker Price Block is absolutely a visual jewel in the Earlham community. Once a derelict stretch of storefronts, the 120-year-old building is now a beautiful space and flourishing with purpose and hum.  

kids playing

Certainly giving the building its buzz on any given summer weekday are dozens of Earlham kids, attending one of the 28 Kid’s Club Summer Camps led by Allissa. The program provides a safe, enriching experience for kids when school isn’t in session, and it’s driven by community collaboration 

“It’s amazing how so many people help us create this,” says Allissa. From free sunscreen from the Iowa Cancer Consortium, STEM camp programs provided by the state and iPads from the Greater Madison Community Foundation to field trips to nearby Pammel State Park hosted by Madison County Conservation, caring for Earlham’s kids over the summer is truly a community effort.  

a group of individuals listening to a speaker

At the other end of the age spectrum, Bricker Price Block also offers programming for seniors. Allissa saw an opportunity to engage seniors in the Earlham community and so the Senior Speaker Series was born. The program is both educational, offering deep dives into history and exposure to new cultures, and community-building, as some of the participants have been speakers themselves and shared their stories.  

These are just few of the visions that are becoming realities in Earlham. 

“We have so many dreamers in this town and I’m a doer,” says Allissa, “I love taking someone’s dream and say, ‘let’s do that.’” 

And “do” is just what Allissa does. She has volunteered for many years with Amanda the Panda (a grief support organization) and is secretary of the Madison County Chamber. Allissa is also president of Chicks with Checks, a member organization that provides financial support to community causes. Each quarter, the organization gathers to give money as individuals and then decide as a group where to direct the funds. The organization has welcomed new students with school spirit shirts, resurfaced tennis courts, led school supply drives, funded the turkey for the town’s free Thanksgiving dinner, helped families in nearby Winterset after a devastating EF4 tornado ripped through the town, and on the list goes. And it all started with four women in a backyard. 

Allissa is also one of the founders of Christmas on Chesnut, a holiday celebration right in the heart of Earlham with all the holiday favorites (a tree lighting! Cocoa! Letters to Santa!), open to the community and fueled by local business owners and champions like Allissa. 

a table with table setting

Another event that builds the buzz in Earlham? The Harvest Gathering Farm-to-Table Dinner, which takes place on Chesnut Street and is an event for the community, by the community. The FFA and 4H students from the Earlham School District volunteer as servers and kitchen assistants. Local businesses provide funding and ingredients are sourced from nearby farmers and growers. It celebrates the programming and events of Bricker Price Block. The event gives attendees the opportunity to experience a small town feel and give back to a community, says Allissa.  

For Allissa, it’s rewarding to come back and give back to the community where she was raised and is now raising her own two children. She’s part of the flourishing happening in Earlham – a small town that’s buzzing, not by making shocking waves, but with a graceful hum that conveys community, connection and a place where people want to be. It’s a place with a small school district, but a quick drive from big city amenities. A place where neighbors gather on the town square for the Levitt Amp Earlham Music Series for local and nationally touring musical acts, or team up for Trivia Night. A place surrounded by the beauty of places like Pammel State Park and Kuehn Conservation Area. 

In all, it’s a place to call home and to build something greater. 

“I think we can make a bigger impact in Greater Des Moines than we can anywhere else. You can flourish here, and you can spread your wings in a small town,” Allissa says. 

Greater Des Moines (DSM) is a vibrant, growing region in the heart of Iowa. DSM spans a vibrant city core, amenity-packed suburbs, dynamic small towns and stunning rural expanses. Here, you can do something greater and build the life you want and be who you were meant to be, all in a neighborly community and at an affordable cost. Learn more and find your something greater in DSM.