Riverbend Family Ministries Executive Director, Tammy Iskarous and Refuge’s Executive Director, Erin Bickle are visiting an orphanage in Egypt called, The Littlest Lamb. They provide a safe environment for children who’ve lost either one parent or both and give them the necessary tools to be leading members of the Egyptian society.
Iskarous says this will not be her first trip there, she went there a few years back with her husband, “We walked the halls of this orphanage and have seen just how loved these children are by the staff and care givers,” Iskarous said. “The Littlest Lamb caregivers are all intentional about the safekeeping and emotional stability of these kiddos that otherwise would be left to fend for themselves on the streets of Egypt.”
Iskarous said her and her husband had planned on going back for another personal mission trip ever since they left, but this time they wanted to share the experience with friends. She thought, who better to share it with than, Refuge’s Executive Director, Erin Bickle and her husband? They’re using this trip as a personal mission trip with intentions to share their knowledge and also take away knowledge that they learn from the amazing the team at The Littlest Lamb.
“I am not only excited to be able to take friends there to witness The Littlest Lamb’s great work, I am blessed to be able to share with them the people and culture I love,” said Iskarous. “We’re honored to be able to go over and train their team to be more trauma informed and focused, which they’re already doing so well.”
“I’m so honored to take part in this experience, I feel like our values align with their cause and we’ll learn a lot from each other,” said Bickle. “Children are our future and protecting them is everyone’s job.”
According to their website, there are an estimated 1 million orphans in Egypt and an additional 3 million street children. In Egypt, adoption is not recognized, therefore these children do not have many options. But this non-profit provides these children with shelter, food, clothing, education, attention and love. Their building can house up to 150 children and caretakers. It also has a library, computer room, dining room and kitchen.
Similar to Refuge’s holistic strategies, The Littlest Lamb believes in the following: home, education, health and well-being, instill values and social skills. Their number one goal is to lead the children to become leading members of the Egypt society and end the stigma that goes with being an orphan.
If you’d like to learn more about The Littlest Lamb, visit their website: www.littleslamb.org.
Riverbend Family Ministries (RFM) received a check from Restore Decor for $5,000. This check is from their fundraiser on July 22 at their store locations in downtown Edwardsville. The volunteer store manager (and brains behind the idea), Dana Adams said RFM’s fundraiser helped them break a sales record since opening their stores a few years ago.
“We’re beaming with joy and feel honored to receive this check,” said RFM Executive Director, Tammy Iskarous. “Restore Decor is such a gem in our community, not only do they restore some amazing furniture pieces, they give back to the community, touching so many lives.”
Like RFM, Restore Decor relies heavily on their volunteers, especially since they need to paint and restore dozens of new furniture pieces each week. “Anyone can walk in and help us paint,” said Adams. “We’re in our main store on Main Street every Tuesday and Thursday evening painting and can use all the help we can get, even if you don’t like to paint, we have something for you to do.”
Restore Decor hosts a fundraiser for different non profits and organizations in the community once a month. If you would like to volunteer, or have furniture you’d like to donate, call 618-980-2018 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Where: 223 N Main Street & 111 N 2nd Street
- Painting parties: 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays
- Retail hours: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays
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.
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.
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 www.Gracelovestogive.org. For more information on D.I.P.G. you can go to www.DefeatDIPG.org.
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.
We are so blessed to introduce our newest family member, Shannon Plummer. She has joined our team as the Community Content Director. This is a brand new position that will focus on marketing, media relations, website content and brand awareness. “We are thrilled to have her join our team as we expand services and locations throughout this community,” said Riverbend Family Ministries Executive Director, Tammy Iskarous.
Shannon brings more than ten years of experience in Public Relations, Media, Corporate Communications and Marketing. With a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, she worked as a reporter and news producer in the beginning of her career for a local television station in the Chicago-suburbs. Most recently, she’s been working independently with local businesses and PR agencies to produce marketing videos for their websites and social media. Prior to that, she worked for McDonald’s Corporation in Oak Brook, IL where she did internal communications and video production work.
“We look forward to the skills she will bring to Riverbend Family Ministries,” said Iskarous. “She has hit the ground running and is excited to tell the stories that make RFM such an amazing asset to the Madison County community.”
About Riverbend Family Ministries
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.
For the past 9 years you have helped provide services for over 5,000 families through services offered at RFM. Because of you, we have been able to have Open Hearts, Open Hands, and Open Doors for a community in need. This year we are running a campaign to help provide more resources for our families that find themselves in crisis. Riverbend Family Ministries has joined #GivingTuesday, a global day of giving that harnesses the collective power of individuals, communities and organizations to encourage philanthropy, and celebrate generosity worldwide. This year #GivingTuesday will be November 29th. Our goal for this campaign is to raise $130,000. Generations can be changed with your commitment to RFM. Do not forget to mark your calendars now for this incredible day of giving.
Because of your partnership, we were able to help more than 700 children live stronger, healthier and safer lives. Your financial commitment helped more than 600 families with sustainable housing, transportation, advocacy and therapeutic care. We also were able to contract a youth violence prevention specialist to facilitate our youth 12-17 that have used violence to resolve conflict or come from an environment where violence was prevalent. RFM was able to expand throughout Madison County and register more than 6,800 volunteer hours in order to better serve your community. Due to our increasing client numbers and your faithful support we were able to hire our first part time employee to oversee all clients that come into RFM for sustainability with excellence and timeliness.
Today, we ask you to open up your hearts to donate to help families that have been affected by violence, addiction, poverty and homelessness. Open your hands to the people who do not have the resources needed to live safer and healthier lives, and to help us keep open doors to welcome any family in need of the services offered here at Riverbend Family Ministries.
We at RFM are so heartbroken over the loss of our dear friend Officer Blake Snyder. Blake joined the board of Riverbend Family Ministries in 2008. When asked why he wanted to join our board his response was, “to help facilitate what God is doing within this community, especially the changing of the lives of young people.” Blake lived this model every day! He brought energy, talent, and a desire to serve in whatever capacity to make this community better. We were sad when he rotated off, however we knew that his acceptance to the academy was exactly where he was suppose to be. His love for his family and friends was contagious and his commitment to the community he served was inspirational. We as a board pray for his wife,son,family, and friends. His light will be missed. We pray that his desire for young people to learn a better way will be a torch picked up by those whose lives he has changed and left behind…
Riverbend Family Ministries