In 2019, Deb and her friend Elizabeth Bernal visited seven mobile home communities in the Iowa City area. The families living there faced significant challenges, including food and housing insecurity, limited access to educational resources, and difficulties related to poverty and undocumented immigration status.

The women brought cardboard, markers, and other craft supplies and began having Box Parties in an effort to provide a recreational outlet for the kids and to connect with adult residents.

This became the origins of Open Heartland, a project that supports the physical, mental, and emotional health of Latinx immigrant families in Johnson County, Iowa. It connects vulnerable immigrant families with access to legal and housing assistance, food, and youth education programs.

In 2022, Deb Dunkhase received a local Jefferson Award through her nomination by Media Partner, KCRG, TV9, Cedar Rapids, IA.

Today, Open Heartland is a shining example of what can happen when people come together with a shared goal of making the world a better place. Deb Dunkhase's vision and dedication have touched countless lives and inspired many others to take up the mantle of community service.