Sharing Our Mission

The United Way of Greater St. Louis’ annual campaign kicked off and we were the first stop for Alton Memorial employees.  The employees were able to come and see firsthand what ou

Alton Memorial Hospital Employees with RFM 

r building looks like and learn more about what services we provide.

Riverbend Family Ministries Executive Director, Tammy Iskarous said, “I’m so thankful for the partnership we have with United Way, to allow us to do what we love to do.”

“We are seeing generations change in this building, by giving families their power back. The power to feel safe and supported.”

RFM has been a member of the Southwest Illinois Division of United Way, which is under the big umbrella of United Way of Greater St. Louis since 2012.

RFM Anniversary Dinner

Riverbend Family Ministries is celebrating their 10 year anniversary this year. In honor of their anniversary, they’re hosting their first annual dinner on Thursday, November 2 at 6:00pm. The dinner will be at the Best Western Premier Alton-St. Louis Area Hotel in Alton. Admission is free. Click here to register.

 

 

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

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: www.willowcreek.com/summit 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 www.Gracelovestogive.org.  For more information on D.I.P.G. you can go to www.DefeatDIPG.org.