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  For more information on D.I.P.G. you can go to

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.

Open Hearts, Open Hands, Open Doors

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.

Thank you Officer Blake Snyder for your service

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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…

Tammy Iskarous
Exec. Director
Riverbend Family Ministries

Our First Grace Skief Memorial Volunteer Scholarship


Grace Skief was a vibrant and beautiful 11-year-old girl. This energetic young lady spent her time caring for children and animals, and cooking crazy creations. She loved to volunteer every chance she had. One of Gracie’s favorite events each year was the RFM Trivia Night. She was a runner for answer sheets, and she loved to goof off and interact with the players as she passed by each table. In April of 2015, Gracie was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma DIPG is a type of cancer that attacks the brain stem. There is no cure, and no useful treatment. In July of 2015, Gracie went home to be with Jesus.

As a way to raise awareness and promote community volunteerism,  RFM started a scholarship grant in her name.

Kim and Brett Skief-Gracie’s parents were here at RFM to hand Ariel Mundy her check and show her the plaque with her name on it as the first recipient.


Volunteer Coordinator Susan Broadway, Board Member Jim Folsom, Exec. Director Tammy Iskarous and Kim and Brett Skief had the privilege of reading through the stack of applications to choose our recipient Ariel Mundy of Alton High School. Ariel loves food like Grace and loved volunteering her time in her community.


Big Daddy Weave Tour

Two fish. Five loaves. One little boy. When a small lunch was offered to Jesus, He took it and multiplied the simple offering, feeding five thousand. Like that little boy, the members of award-winning band Big Daddy Weave continue to submit their music, their ministry and their lives to Him with their seventh studio album, Beautiful Offerings (Fervent Records/Word Entertainment).

Beautiful Offerings follows the biggest album of the band’s career, Love Come To Life, which yielded the rare feat of four back-to-back #1 singles – “Love Come To Life,” “Redeemed,” “The Only Name (Yours Will Be)” and “Overwhelmed.” “Redeemed” became an anthem of unprecedented impact. Big Daddy Weave members Mike Weaver (lead vocals, guitar), Jay Weaver (bass, vocals), Jeremy Redmon (guitar, vocals), Joe Shirk (saxophone, keys, vocals) and Brian Beihl (drums) never would have predicted that a vulnerable song written for the lead singer himself, initially deemed by Mike too personal to even turn in for Love Come To Life, would become the group’s best-selling track in their 16-plus year history.

“I thought if I could somehow achieve something for God, that’s what He was going to use,” Mike admits, “but when we shared about brokenness, God used that more than He ever used any of the little successes that we had been given along the way.”

“Redeemed” spent 11 weeks at No. 1, was dubbed “Song of the Year” at the first annual K-LOVE Fan Awards, garnered Dove Award and Billboard Music Award nominations and certified a gold single by the RIAA for sales of over 500,000 records. However, more than all the accolades Big Daddy Weave has achieved, it’s the stories about how the songs have impacted lives that fuel the band’s passion for recording and touring. In fact, they used “Redeemed” as the starting point for the fresh batch of songs hand-picked for Beautiful Offerings.

“This record continues where “Redeemed” left off, celebrating what God has done over the last season,” Mike affirms. “Even as we saw and heard hundreds of amazing things happening in people’s lives, we also saw people who were barely approaching what God is offering. Many people were saying, “Thank God, I am redeemed,” but then going right back into their same old thing,” adds Mike. “We wanted to bring light on that with Beautiful Offerings. Being redeemed is more than the forgiveness and the fact that our past is taken care of. It’s a message of hope that calls us out of where we used to be into a new place. It’s as much about what we are redeemed to as what we are redeemed from.”

“Every day is an opportunity to bless the heart of God through how we live, how we encounter our families, people we see in the grocery store, and everybody we meet,” adds Mike. “This isn’t us buckling down and trying to earn God’s love by pleasing Him. It’s a realization that because we are children of God, we can bless the heart of God by being subject to and directed by Him in every moment of our lives. Our lives then become something that is pleasing to Him. We become a beautiful offering.”

The theme of Beautiful Offerings was the premise for a tour long before it became the title of the band’s next project. It was a concept the five men were already beginning to live out, so it proved a natural compass for the record.

“We worked to find songs that echo where we are now, not just anything that was a song for a song’s sake,” adds Jeremy, who has produced all of the band’s music since their second album. “I went into this really trusting that the Lord is working out the details of it. Even in the sounds and the parts that were chosen, He really made it happen.”

Through Beautiful Offerings, Big Daddy Weave wants to share the message, “Every one of us is beautiful because of what God has deposited in us. Our lives are an opportunity to literally be used for the Kingdom,” Mike explains. “Now we have an opportunity to live in response to who He is. Jesus is the beauty in the offering.”

Taking that approach into worship, Joe observes, “A lot of times we don’t worship the way we should—in our all. We should be offering that. I believe that’s one of the biggest parts of what makes the offering beautiful. It’s not just leftovers; it’s from our gut. It’s from the very core of who we are.”

Joe adds that the songs on the new album are “more chiseled and more focused and directed” as a result of the conversations the band members have nightly following the ministry time at the end of each performance, an intentional time of dedicated dialogue and one-on-one prayer with the people who attend their concerts. It’s been a transformational experience for the band as they’ve seen God work in powerful ways in the lives of people across the country and a theme that emerges in the lead single from the album, “My Story.”

“My Story,” written with GRAMMY®-nominated songwriter Jason Ingram, chronicles not only the story of the band members, but also a larger, overarching narrative. “If I told you my story, you’d see hope, you’d see love, you’d see victory, all these things, but it’s not mine. My story is really the story of what God has done in our lives, and the goodness of that is that it awakens things in other people. Our story is really just part of His story,” Mike offers.

“The idea for the song, “Already Done,” written with Josh Wilson, showed up on the road in the moment of us seeing people receive ‘Redeemed,’” Mike explains. “What we were seeing on the road is people really experience relief from dealing with things in their past, and God challenging us to realize, ‘It’s more than being forgiven. You have a purpose; there is more to this life. There is a greater reason for getting up in the morning. You matter to the Kingdom.’”

Meanwhile, keystone “I Belong To God,” co-written with Matt Redman and Allison Mellon, was inspired by the band’s recent trip to Cambodia. The group heard a story about a young man who had been abandoned by his earthly father and connected so strongly with the Gospel that he would strum a guitar and shout at the top of his lungs: “I belong to God! I belong to God!” The centerpiece of the new song was forged, with the rest of the cut centering around human trafficking, one of the most critical issues facing Cambodia today.

“I don’t know that I’m going to recover from that trip. We saw and heard things that were so terrible that when I got back, I tried to forget about it all,” Mike admits of the trip. “I feel ashamed when I say that. I really felt that I connected with God’s pain in that place, but I was trying to keep the pain at arm’s length. I didn’t realize it was Him at the time showing me what He sees.”

“Letting the truth of that song get a hold of you will really change the way you view God and the way you view others,” Brian adds.

In truth, the transformation they’ve experienced in their own lives and the miracles they’ve witnessed in the lives of others post-“Redeemed” have dramatically challenged the way the five men in Big Daddy Weave approach everything, from the songs they sing to the way they tailor their concerts each night.

“Our focus is definitely not just on coming out with touching songs. Ministry is on the top of the list in terms of what God wants to do night to night,” Joe maintains.

While they’re humbled by No. 1 singles that ensure a large number of people hear their songs, the awards, the fame, the attention, those aren’t the things the band views as significant. Obedience is their standard.

“The things I used to hold as important, or the things I wanted to have control over the past few years, the Lord has allowed me to truly let go of that stuff and not care about it anymore,” Jeremy admits.

Mike echoes Jeremy’s thoughts, adding, “When we hear the Lord, we want to do what He says, whether it looks like success to the world or not.”

After all, the story they’re telling with their music and their lives is not their own. “We just pray these songs touch people’s lives,” Brian offers. “I think that’s what we hope for with this record; that He just takes it further, it reaches more people and that His story comes through in all of this.”

In story and song, the members of Big Daddy Weave simply want their legacy to be one characterized by loving people and telling of the Love that’s changed their lives—their own beautiful offering. “When you see the goodness of the Lord, and it’s evident, not just in life, but in the lives of those around you like we’ve been able to see, all we care about now is just pursuing that and finding more of that,” Jay says. “I think you see that in the songwriting of this record, and I think you see that in the eyes of each member of this band.”

Every song, every concert, every prayer they pray with the people they meet, they are giving it all to Jesus. “It’s about who we give it to,” Mike concludes, “and God can feed everybody with it.”


Let’s raise the roof

raise the roof

Riverbend Family Ministries provides strength and support to those affected by violence, addiction, poverty and homelessness. Some of our services are being interrupted due to leaks in our roof. We have patched it for the last 8 years in order to financially serve clients. In order to continue these vital services, we are in need of partners to help us with a new roof!



We have gotten various bids to tear off existing years of patch and replace with complete new flat rubber roofing.  Materials,labor,clean-up and permit estimates range between $20,000 to $25,000 to complete this project.  The more we have to spend on this project, the less we will have to spend on our families in crisis. Please consider making this your class, service group, office, or company cause this year. 


Be blessed knowing you are being a blessing to so many in this community

Volunteer Scholarship

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Grace Skief was a vibrant and beautiful 11-year-old girl. This energetic young lady spent her time caring for children and animals, and cooking crazy creations. She loved to volunteer every chance she had. One of Gracie’s favorite events each year was the RFM Trivia Night. She was a runner for answer sheets, and she loved to goof off and interact with the players as she passed by each table.

In April of 2015, Gracie was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (Click here to learn more about DIPG). DIPG is a type of cancer that attacks the brain stem. There is no cure, and no useful treatment. In July of 2015, Gracie went home to be with Jesus.

The RFM board of directors has decided to give an annual $500 scholarship to a local high school student who exhibits an interest in volunteering. The Grace Skief Volunteer Memorial Scholarship will be presented with a plaque honoring Grace (courtesy of Budget Signs), and the awardee’s name will be engraved on the plaque hanging in the RFM building. We can think of no better way to honor our beloved volunteer, who made such a difference in so many lives, even in her short time with us.

Gracie was my baby cousin; the youngest of all of us. She always had a mischievous grin, and could brighten up anyone’s day. This scholarship has touched my family in a way we can’t even describe. This is her legacy: her short life was spent helping people, and she will continue to have an impact on lives for long after she’s gone. Thank you for this beautiful gift.


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Thank you Budget Signs and Trophies in Wood River designing and giving this gift to the Skief family and RFM. you are a blessing and a friend!