Women of Achievement Award

Riverbend Family Ministries’ Tammy Iskarous was recently included among a select group of women honored as 2018 Women of Achievement.

Iskarous is one of 10 extraordinary volunteers from the St. Louis metropolitan region to receive the 2018 honor. The St. Louis Women of Achievement Award, which was founded in 1955, is the oldest, ongoing program in the area whose sole mission is to honor and recognize the volunteer service and volunteer leadership of women.

“A hard-working volunteer who has clocked more than 30,000 volunteer hours and believes there is always she would be the first one to tell you that there’s more work to be done,” the St. Louis Women of Achievement announcement said of Iskarous. “She had a vision to bring smaller nonprofits all under one roof in order for them to work together holistically for families in crisis due to violence, addiction, homelessness and poverty.

“She founded Riverbend Family Ministries, an incubator model of care that has been recognized by leaders in Madison County and Illinois. She has served on the boards of other nonprofits, including YWCA-Alton, Wood River Library, Phillips 66 Community Action Panel, Wood River Business Alliance, Wood River Women Club, and was a past Wood River Rotarian and PEO. She is active in her local church and has a strong voice in the mission work that is done through her congregation.”

Iskarous was chosen for her “social enterprise.”

“The Women of Achievement Class of 2018 is a strong, inspiring group of women who have decades upon decades of impactful volunteerism,” said Women of Achievement President Gwendolyn Packnett, Ph.D. (Class of 2006). “It’s truly an honor for us to recognize these outstanding women and highlight the many years and many ways they’ve donated their time, energy, talent and leadership to enhance our region’s nonprofits and make a noticeable difference in the community.”

“The annual luncheon at the Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis is our special way of celebrating the honorees alongside their families, friends, civic and community leaders, and nonprofit organizations they volunteer with,” said Phyllis Langsdorf, chair of the 2018 Women of Achievement Luncheon. “Not only do the honorees receive their awards and enjoy a gourmet lunch, but we also feature a 30-minute video about the honorees and their history of volunteer service. It’s a touching gesture that reminds us of the power and unity in volunteering.”

Women of Achievement honorees are selected from nominations from the St. Louis metropolitan area, including Metro East Illinois, who have demonstrated outstanding commitment to the betterment of the St. Louis region through voluntary contributions, volunteer leadership and a significant breadth of a volunteer career. Women of Achievement considers nominees with significant volunteer impact in areas such as, but not limited to, education, arts, health and human services, youth and family, philanthropy, social justice and advocacy. For additional information about the awards, luncheon and honorees, please visit www.woastl.org.

 

RFM is on a Mission


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.

 

Record Breaking Sales

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 restoredecoredwardsville@gmail.com.

  • 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

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.

 

 

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 www.Gracelovestogive.org.  For more information on D.I.P.G. you can go to www.DefeatDIPG.org.

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.

 

Riverbend Family Ministries Hires New Community Content Director

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.