Forum held to discuss family well-being

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By Nick Johansen

Inman Primary’s gym was the site of a special county community forum on family well-being.

The event, sponsored by the Montgomery County Child Abuse Council, Red Oak Schools, the Montgomery County Family YMCA, and the Red Oak Chamber and Industry Association, was organized to provide information on family well-being in the community, as well as details of what was happening in the Red Oak community and the county.

The forum consisted of Bill Drey, representing the Montgomery County Child Abuse Council, Red Oak Police Chief Justin Rhamy, Damon Clark with Zion Recovery Services, Sonya Fittje with Boys Town, and Red Oak District staff Tracy Vannausdle, Debbie Graber, and Sueann Crouse.

Rhamy said one of the things his department had been doing to promote family well-being was having Red Oak join the nationwide National Night Out event.

“It started off three years ago, and this recent event drew 2,000 people. It’s a good way for the families and children to get out and meet with us, talk with us, and interact with us in a positive setting,” Rhamy said.

Another program started this year is the Southwest Iowa Squadron of Heroes, which includes the participation of Rhamy and other members of the community, which is also making a big difference with the kids.

“It’s an amazing feeling to see the kids light up when they see the superheroes. They really get some enjoyment out of that, as well as some of the adults. It’s another way for us to have a positive interaction with the kids,” commented Rhamy.

Clark said his focus working with Zion Recovery Services was to get out into the community and provide education and awareness regarding the harm of drugs and alcohol. Clark said vaping was on the rise among kids, and there were some major risks involved.

“We were told by kids that you can buy them without nicotine in them, and they come in a variety of flavors. We did some research, and found that 90 percent of the vaporizers that said they did not have nicotine in them did. It’s because they are not regulated, and they can lie to you and say there is nothing harmful in them. They are very harmful, especially if a young child gets ahold of one and swallows it. It can possibly kill them,” Clark advised.

Fittje, representing Boys Town, said the organization has been serving Iowa since 1989. In the Montgomery County area, in-home family services have been predominantly offered.

“We are contracted with the Department of Health and Human Services, and offer a family-centered service and intervention that cares for the entire well-being of the family in the home. They improve the skills of the child and the parents,” Fittje said.

Fittje said Boys Town also offers a program called Common-Sense parenting, which is soon to arrive in Page County, with hopes it can come to Montgomery County.

“We’re currently seeking to train more people in this county, so we can have a Common-Sense Parenting class right here,” commented Fittje.

Vannausdle, who is part of student support services for the Red Oak District, said she works with at-risk students in the high school and middle school.

“The biggest thing I do is build relationships with kids and families. I find that when you build that relationship with that child, they will come to you for so many things, and I’ve been able to do a wide array of things with kids. They know I’m always there for them. Another thing I think that really helps in my position is that I’ve been through a family member with drug problems. A lot of the kids I work with know my family member that was involved, so when I say I really know how they feel, they believe that,” said Vannausdle.

Additionally, thanks to a Boost for Families grant, they also started a group which takes students on field trips to locations they may not ordinarily get to go,” Vannausdle said.

Drey, speaking for the Montgomery County Child Abuse Council, and said child abuse statistics in the county have dropped dramatically in the last year, and were available at the website at pcaiowa.org. However, Drey said poverty levels in Montgomery County have increased over the years, which is illustrated in many ways, such as the free and reduced lunch program through Red Oak Schools.

“Back in the year 2000, about 20 percent of students received free and reduced lunch, and now in the elementary, we’re approaching 60 percent of students on free and reduced lunch. Programs like free and reduced lunch are trying to hep out some of the families with their poverty level, but the poverty level keeps increasing and increasing,” Drey advised.

Drey attributed some of the poverty issues to not having enough high-paying jobs in the community. Another issue being dealt with in Montgomery County is a lack of child care. Housing was another critical issue affecting Montgomery County and in rural Iowa in general.

Drey said it was important to make sure the students and people involved in youth organizations involved in the community.

‘I’m Chairman of the Red Oak Park and Tree Board, and we’ve had boy scouts and girl scouts involved in activities. They’ve helped plant trees and paint in the parks. It’s really important to have those kids involved in doing things in our community. It gives them more pride. The George Maher Memorial Day of Service is also a big asset to our community. There’s lots of different things we can do that will allow us to do more of those types of things,” Drey said.

Audience members in attendance participated in a question/answer session during the panel discussion. There were also roughly 20 agencies that participated in the event with informational booths.