Dedicated for a Decade

On August 7, 2007, Riverbend Family Ministries (RFM) opened its doors for the first time in downtown Wood River at 131 East Ferguson Avenue. Before opening the doors, Executive Director, Tammy Iskarous had a vision to serve families in the Riverbend area who were being affected by crisis from violence, homelessness, addiction or poverty. Today, they provide services to everyone living in Madison County.

“We call everyone that walks through our doors family,” said Iskarous. “We do that because a family is always there for you, in good times, and bad without judgment.”

When they first opened their doors in 2007 they served 51 families. Last year RFM helped more than 1,700 local families, and currently, the mid-year report shows they’ve helped more than 950 families.

“The thing each of our families has in common is they’ve reached a point in their lives where they need a little extra support,” said Iskarous. “Whether it may be help paying for their utility bills, rent, mortgage, working on their resume and finding a new job, or just having someone to talk to and pray with; we’re happy to be that safety net.”

Under one roof, they house other non-profit programs such as: CASA, Pathways Counseling, Refuge, Youth Development and Group Intervention. They also teach anger management and parenting classes at their location.

Recently, Madison County Community Development and United Way asked Iskarous to expand her services into the Eastern part of Madison County. Their second office location is inside the Madison County Community Development building at 130 Hillsboro Avenue.

“We asked Tammy if she would open an office in Edwardsville since we’ve seen such an increase in demand and appreciate all that they’re doing at their Wood River office,” said Madison County Homeless Services Coordinator, David Harrison. “Having their help has made such a difference, we’re now able to help more families in our community.”

Currently, their Wood River office is getting a new therapy room, office spaces and a new client service area. Construction for this project is wrapping up and they’re looking forward to hosting an open house once it’s completed.

“In ten years Riverbend Family Ministries has developed from an idea that God planted in Tammy’s mind into a vital part of the Riverbend community,” said RFM Board President, Wiley Davis. “Through the hard work of the volunteers, the staff, and board of directors; RFM provides a safe place for individuals and families to get the resources necessary to become self-sufficient.”

One event their board is working hard to organize is their first annual ask dinner on November 2nd at the Best Western Premier hotel in Alton.

“Our space and programs may have changed over the past ten years, but one thing will never change, and that’s our dedication to giving our families a path of sustainably,” said Iskarous.

Therapy Dog Helps Kids

Refuge received a puppy as a donation to be used as their new therapy dog. The Double Doodle puppy named Ellie Mae joined their team this summer on June 14th.

“Children don’t process like adults do in therapy sessions; we observe their behaviors more through their artwork and how they play, now that Ellie Mae is here, we can also observe how they interact with her,” said Refuge Executive Director, Erin Bickle. “I’ve worked with therapy dogs before and have seen children tell them things they don’t feel comfortable telling adults, it’s our job to observe their behavior with the dog.”

Bickle says there’s a lot of research to support how having a therapy dog can help better the recovery process. There are countless ways that they can be useful in therapy, some of them are: helps lower blood pressure, lifts spirits and lessens depression, encourages communication, provides comfort, helps children overcome speech and emotional disorders, creates motivation for clients to recover faster and reduces loneliness.

They’re working with a certified therapy dog coach, Claire Clark with the K9 Assistance Program. The type of training is called, “Bond-Based Choice Teaching.” Once she’s completed all of the training, Ellie will work with the children one-on-one and their families.

“Anything you can teach a three-year-old, you can teach your dog, they’re super smart,” said Clark. “We want to build her confidence during these brain exercises, all their bad behaviors go away because they’re getting so much more positive attention and they become a well adjusted member of the family.”

“Our goal is to show the children all the wonderful things she’s learned once she’s certified, they’ll be shocked to see her know letters and colors,” said Bickle.

Refuge is a self-funded nonprofit located downtown Wood River inside the Riverbend Family Ministries office. They serve children and families in Madison County who’ve been exposed to childhood abuse. They help address and prevent childhood abuse and violence exposure with therapy and training.

Refuge Receives Last Donation

The Alton Exchange Club members wrote their last check to a local nonprofit at their final meeting. After serving the Alton area, they finally decided it was time to shut down their doors. For their final meeting, the group invited Erin Bickle, Executive Director of the local nonprofit, Refuge to speak and handed her a check for $6,000.

“Our mission has always been to look out for our youth, that includes ensuring they have a safe environment to learn and grow up in, and that’s why we were really impressed with the work Refuge does in our community,” said Roger Queen, Alton Exchange Club President. “After reading about Refuge in the newspaper, I knew it was a worthwhile program and we had to help them out.”

Back in 1976 the National president of The Exchange Club created a cause called, “Prevention of Child Abuse,” and setup centers throughout the United States to work with families in need.

“My eyes filled up with tears as they handed me the check,” said Bickle. “Their dedication in making sure the youth are looked after and have a safe environment to thrive in motivates me even more to do the work we do, and that’s to keep children in a healthy environment.”

Bickle says we typically parent how we were parented until we learn a different way. The Refuge program helps break that cycle with their weekly child/family therapy sessions and the ten week parent education classes.

“We’ve been serving the Alton area for more than 90 years, so it’s sad to close our doors, however, learning about programs like Refuge makes us realize the community will continue some of the most important values the Exchange Club represents, and that’s looking after our youth,” said Queen.

Refuge is located at the Riverbend Family Ministries office downtown Wood River at 131 E. Ferguson Ave.  If you, or someone you know is interested in their services, call (618) 251-9790.

Kids Helping Kids, One Bear at a Time

First Christian Church of Wood River held their annual Vacation Bible School and made something special for kids in the community. The children that attended the VBS made a craft that they didn’t take home, instead, they made them for other children. They made more than 80 G.U.T.S.Y. Bears (God’s Unique, Talented, Special You).

“I was looking for a craft for the children to do that had some meaning behind it, and these bears were the perfect project,” said Michelle Decker, First Christian Church of Wood River. “We’re aware that there are many children in our community who do not have much, and these bears are something they can call their own.”


Decker thought of Riverbend Family Ministries as the perfect partner to find homes for each of the bears since they have such a broad outreach with families in the community.

“I was so touched that they thought of our families, especially our littles,” said Riverbend Family Ministries Executive Director, Tammy Iskarous. “Helping families in our community is what we’re all about, especially helping our kiddos, which is something our Refuge program focuses on.

Refuge is one of the nonprofit programs that RFM supports and houses at 131 E. Ferguson Ave. in downtown Wood River.  Refuge is a trauma-informed holistic program for hurting kids and their families in Madison County. Their mission is to create safe surroundings and restoration for families in need.

“Sometimes, children are immediately put into foster homes, which can be hard for them, and most of the time they don’t have their comfort blankets, or stuffed animals,” said Iskarous. “These bears will be special to each child because they can call them their own no matter where they’re living.”

“Each child and member of the church prayed over the bears that God will send them to the kiddos who really need them,” said Decker. “There are kids out there that don’t know what love is, these bears represent Jesus’s love. This was not just about doing a kid’s craft, but about kids helping kids.”

The children also colored backpacks that they plan on having RFM distribute to their families in need. The First Christian Church of Wood River is located at 160 E. Lorena Avenue.



Bringing Leaders Together

Roxana Church of the Nazarene

The Roxana Church of The Nazarene is hosting, The Global Leadership Summit 2017 at their church for the first time. This summit is being broadcasted live from Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago onto a big screen inside the Roxana host site. The theme is, “Everyone has Influence,” and it’ll talk about how improving your leadership skills can impact lives, churches, businesses, governments, schools and families.

“I’ve attended this summit in the past and am so excited to broadcast it live at our church so that everyone in the community can enjoy the benefits without needing to travel to Chicago,” said Rev. Dr. Earl Gillett. “We understand that this may be a new concept to some, but it’s a new approach that we’re happy to share with our community leaders.”

There will be 12 well-known authors, advocates, CEOs and TV personalities that’ll have their own breakout sessions. Bill Hybels is Founder & Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago and will be hosting the event. Gillett also said that it’s important to note, leaders in the community don’t necessarily need to be a business owner or corporate executive.

“You are a leader if you can look at the person on your left and the person on your right and become an encouragement to them, that’s a leader,” said Gillett. “They’re people who are willing to look forward and use their influence for the good of the community.”

Summit topics include: Assessing an organization’s growth potential, Creating an innovative culture, Streamlining process to boost execution, Reimagining performance management, Identifying personal attributes critical for success and Thriving in the face of adversity. The schedule for the summit is as follows: Thursday, August 10th 8:30am-4:30pm, and Friday, August 11th 8:30am-3:30pm.

Riverbend Family Ministries Executive Director, Tammy Iskarous says they plan on attending the summit and hope to encourage others in the community to attend as well.

“What an innovative way to bring this event to our backyard,” said Iskarous. “This is just the beginning at thinking outside the box on how we can benefit from broadcasting national summits from around world so that people don’t feel like they have to spend a fortune – this way accommodates everyone.”

Registration is still open for anyone who wants to attend. You can simply register online at The Global Leadership Summit website: or call The Roxana Church of Nazarene at 618-254-4026.

Gillett said their goal is to get at least one-hundred people registered.

“It can be difficult in this day in age to all get together in one location to unite as one community and bounce ideas off each other, but I’m hopeful this summit will spark conversations among our leaders in this community,” said Gillett.

Scholarship Honors Grace Skief

(Kim Skief, right, and Elizabeth Hanke, Brett Skief, Lauren Robinson and RFM Board President, Wiley Davis)

Riverbend Family Ministries grants the Grace Skief Memorial Volunteer Scholarship

Riverbend Family Ministries (RFM) board members presented this year’s winners for the Grace Skief Memorial Volunteer Scholarship. Both recipients graduated on the National Honor Society list, Lauren Robinson graduated from East Alton-Wood River High School and Elizabeth Hanke graduated from Alton High School.

The scholarship is named after 11 year-old, Grace Skief, who was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (D.I.P.G.), a type of cancer that attacks the brain stem. She was diagnosed in April 2015 and lost her battle just a few months later in July. Skief and her family attended RFM’s Annual Trivia Fundraiser and she would volunteer as a “runner,” collecting everyone’s answer sheets.

“Her smile could light up an entire room,” said RFM Executive Director, Tammy Iskarous. “Gracie’s time on earth was precious, she touched many lives and knew the importance of volunteering and giving back in the community and that’s what made me realize we had to do something in her honor.”

Iskarous says that’s what makes this scholarship unique, it targets students who exemplify the importance of community service and helps Grace’s story live on.

The scholarship recipients both plan on attending Lewis & Clark Community College in the fall and will be able to put the $500 Grace Skief Memorial Volunteer Scholarship money towards their college tuition. Robinson’s passion is with little children and plans on studying Early Childhood Education and wants to become a kindergarten teacher.  Hanke plans on becoming a nurse practitioner and is enrolling in the nursing program.

The recipients were selected by Grace’s parents, Kim and Brett Skief, former RFM board president and Grace’s uncle, Jim Folsom and RFM Executive Director, Iskarous.

“We looked for applicants who believed in the volunteer spirit and who did more in the community than just fulfill school requirements,” said Iskarous. “Her spirit of loving people and life continues through the recipients.”

Her family continues to raise awareness for D.I.P.G. and started, Grace’s Gift. They raise money to offer financial assistance to families with children with pediatric brain cancer and D.I.P.G. that seek uncovered or alternative treatment options in the form of non-income based grants.

“In the words of our Grace, while fighting D.I.P.G. at the age of eleven and already understanding the value of life; she would always say, ‘life is too short, you gotta get to the point,’” said Grace’s mom, Kim Skief.  “We at Grace’s Gift strive to do just that, by loving others the way that she would have with her actions of creativity, passion and generosity to beat brain cancer in kids, especially D.I.P.G.”

The family encourages anyone who’s interested in learning more, or to become more inspired by Grace’s story, visit  For more information on D.I.P.G. you can go to

Wood River Police Association Donates to RFM

The Wood River Police Association hosted their 11th annual trivia fundraiser event which benefits many organizations, schools, community events and families.  This year’s event, they played a 50/50 type game to raise money for Officer Blake Snyder.

Wood River Dispatcher and Police Association President, Rick Militello said that the Snyder family asked them to donate the money to a charity of their choice.  Militello and the other officers knew that Riverbend Family Ministries would be the perfect fit because it meant so much to Snyder.

“We knew donating the money to Riverbend Family Ministries was the perfect fit because he served on the board and felt very passionate about the work they do for the community,” Militello said.  “Since they also help protect the same community we protect, we’re confident that the money will go towards a good cause.”

The Wood River Police Association is an organization of active and retired employees of the Wood River, Illinois Police Department, founded in 2002.  Our Association is comprised of regular members who are employed by the City of Wood River Police Department in the positions of sworn police officer, police (911) telecommunicator, police records clerk, police cadet, secretary or any other position which falls under the chain of command of the Police Chief, and such persons who have duly retired or pensioned from such employment and have a membership in good standing at the time of their retirement.

Please Excuse the Mess!

We’re doing more than spring cleaning this week at our Wood River location.  For the first time since opening our doors in 2007, we are knocking down walls, making room for our ever-growing services.

“When we first found this building ten ye
ars ago, it used to be the Wood River firehouse and we just knew it was the space for us to turn our vision into a reality,” said Executive Director, Tammy Iskarous.  “Our goal was to always grow the services in this community, and with that, comes growing our space.”

Iskarous says a big reason why they need to expand their space is because Refuge just hired another therapist to and need to make more room for their therapy needs.

The new space will feature an updated data entry room for their volunteers and case managers, expanding client service space, new therapy room for Refuge and a new office space for a new Refuge therapist.

The building already has space for their Refuge… CASA partners, the Youth Violence Prevention Program, Client Service Department and a training room for all the parenting classes – which is also occasionally used for other training classes.

The construction starts this Spring and is projected to be completed by this summer.


Volunteers Keep the Wheels Turning at Riverbend Family Ministries

When you walk into the doors at Riverbend Family Ministries, you’ll most likely be welcomed by a volunteer.  During their regular office hours, Monday through Thursday 9am-1 pm, there’s always a volunteer either answering the phone, or greeting our clients and walk-ins for the day.

“We feel so blessed to have so many volunteers working here, honestly, they keep the wheels turning in our day to day operation,” said Riverbend Family Ministries Executive Director, Tammy Iskarous.  “I stop and think, they’re all doing this out of the goodness of their own hearts – we’re so fortunate to have such dedicated volunteers.”

Iskarous says each volunteer is also super encouraging and are here to listen to our clients, even if they just want to come in, have a cup of coffee and chat.

There are 23 volunteers throughout the week that work at RFM, most of them work in the Client Service Department or the Data Entry department.  Throughout the year, there are almost 150 volunteers that help out when there are special events.

The Client Service Department works one on one with our clients and their families needing aid with rental and utility assistance, job coaching, interview skills, resume writing and rehabilitation connections. Their goal is to provide training in basic life skills and tools to better their futures.

One of their Client Service volunteers, Mary Fisher decided to volunteer at RFM after retiring from a local school district.  “When I retired, I was looking for a way to volunteer in our community and to give back, I already knew Tammy through my job at the school and have worked with children and families and thought it would be a good fit.”

Like many of the volunteers here, Fisher sees clients that are seeking assistance in some way, whether it be help with utility bills or rent.  She says often times people just like to come in and talk about the current situation going on in their life.

“Our director is always looking for new ways to help families in this community, and I feel like that’s what makes this a place great,” said Fisher.

Another volunteer, Pam Coleson, who’s very passionate about the services RFM provides has been with them for more than five years.

“Every time I’m down here, I’m fulfilled and know that we’re making a difference, whether if we’re able to help or not, we help plant the seed and somebody else may come along and water that seed,” Coleson said.  “We’re here to help break cycles and let them know there is a different way to do things and they’re not alone.”

Riverbend Family Ministries provides resources and training for smaller non-profit organizations in the Madison County area.   They work together under one roof, providing families and individuals the tools they need to be self-sufficient.  Their collaborative method focuses on holistic efforts for children, youth and families who’ve experienced trauma, most often due to violence, addiction, poverty and homelessness.

Riverbend Family Ministries Receives Madison County’s Model Leadership Through Service Award

Executive Director, Tammy Iskarous receives award from Madison County Treasurer, Chris Slusser.

Madison County officials honored Riverbend Family Ministries (RFM) with the Model Leadership Through Service Award in the Organization category.  The award was received during the M.I.C. (Model Innovative County) Summit hosted by Madison County Community Development at the Lewis and Clark Nelson Campus in Edwardsville.  Madison County Treasurer, Chris Slusser introduced Executive Director of RFM, Tammy Iskarous and honored her with the award.

“I’m honored to introduce Tammy and honor her with this award because they’ve been serving the Madison County area for ten years now and have become a wonderful resource to this community,” said Slusser.  “I feel blessed that I had the opportunity to see them open their doors for the first time and serve on the board as their chairman in their beginning stages – and now, it has come full circle for me to honor them today.”

Riverbend Family Ministries provides resources and training for smaller non-profit organizations in the Madison County area.   They work together under one roof, providing families and individuals the tools they need to be self-sufficient.  Their collaborative method focuses on holistic efforts for children, youth and families who’ve experienced trauma, most often due to violence, addiction, poverty and homelessness.

“Before we opened our doors in downtown Wood River, I had a vision to house small non-profits under one roof so we could collectively serve the needs of our families in crisis,” said Iskarous.  “We call everyone that walks into our doors family.  We do that because a family is always there for you, in good times, and bad without judgement.  We are more than honored to accept this award and feel very blessed to serve the people of Madison County.”

Madison County Chairman, Kurt Prenzler and his team decided to nominate Riverbend Family Ministries for the Model Leadership Through Service Award this year because of their innovative ways of thinking.

“We chose Riverbend Family Ministries because they put action behind what they do,” said Prenzler.  “Even though they know they cannot depend on the state for funding, it doesn’t stop their perseverance, in fact, it challenges them to do more and be more innovative. Madison County appreciates how giving they are and the example they’re setting for others.’

Riverbend Family Ministries has 15 board members on their board of directors.  The current Board Chairman, Wiley Davis says the entire board is excited for this award and that it makes them even more motivated to look into the future of RFM.

“Riverbend Family Ministries exemplifies community leadership through service to children, youth and families in need,” said Davis.  “They take a holistic approach to mending broken lives. It is in close partnership with other agencies that specialize in training and counseling; providing necessary skills to get lives back on track. I am proud to be part of this organization and the work being done by Tammy, the board, the staff and the volunteers on behalf our community.”

Riverbend Family Ministries receives Leadership Through Service Award