Amare is the Answer


Riverbend Family Ministries collaborates with Drug Addiction Program

Riverbend Family Ministries is collaborating with Amare, a non-profit support group for individuals in recovery. Amare, meaning love in Italian, focuses on just that, loving and helping those in active drug recovery, or addiction and becoming a safe place for them to get support and have as a resource.

Director and Founder of Amare, Ty Bechel, is a recovering addict himself and is excited about the new partnership and newly formed alliance and plans on mitigating addiction that is ravishing throughout Madison County.

“By offering recovery support to those in need and linking them to treatment services and additional recovery support in the area, we will be able to be with them every step of the way until they are ready to walk on their own,” said Bechel.

According to the Madison County Coroner’s Office, 87 people lost their lives last year in Madison County due to drug abuse, which sets 2017 as one of the highest years with record breaking deaths from drug overdoses. They say, this does not even include the hundreds of calls our first responders have received to revive or treat individuals in a life threatening circumstance.

Riverbend Family Ministries Executive Director, Tammy Iskarous is very hopeful for this collaboration and says it comes at a good time when the drug epidemic is becoming an overwhelming problem in our community.

“Since our focus is all about serving individuals and their families that are in crisis due to violence, addiction, homelessness or poverty, it only seems natural to partner with Amare,” said Iskarous. To be able to walk this journey with our families is a privilege and together we will see generations changed.”

Wood River Fire Chief, Brendan McKee and his team are trained and prepared to use Naloxone, otherwise known as Narcan to treat an overdose in an emergency situation.

“No one wants the call in the middle of the night that their loved one has overdosed, it breaks our hearts every time we get the call to an overdose emergency,” said McKee. “I think it’s wonderful that Riverbend Family Ministries is collaborating their resources with Ty and his program, not only will this enhance everyone’s awareness, but bring more solutions to an ever-growing program in our community.”

The partnership and newly forged alliance between Amare and Riverbend Family Ministries aim to mitigate addiction that is ravishing throughout Madison County by reinstating the final piece of the puzzle, love.

The combined resources that both programs have will offer something unique and be the first stepping stone to the individual’s (or their family’s) overall wellness.

For more information, go to or


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:


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

  • 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 and 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.