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Reflecting on a Year of Growth: How TFA Served Our Community

Looking Back, A Year in Review

As we end our year at Thriving Families Alliance, it's a natural time to take a moment and reflect on all we've accomplished together over the past twelve months. It's been a wonderful year of learning, growing, and serving ten counties in Southwest Iowa (Harrison, Monona, Shelby, Pottawattamie, Cass, Mills, Montgomery, Page, Taylor, and Fremont). 

The Thriving Families Alliance staff are dedicated, hardworking, and passionate in their support for children and families. This year, the team was awarded several awards for their efforts.  Patricia Russmann, TFA Executive Director, was named a Community Hero by Prevent Child Abuse Iowa, an award for those in Iowa who have made a positive and significant impact on their community by strengthening families for safer, happier childhoods. Jordan Morse, Early Childhood Coordinator, was named a 40 Under 40 Honoree by the Midlands Business Journal for her leadership, community involvement, career success, and potential. Erika Kirchhoff, Outreach Coordinator, was honored with the Resilience Champion Award through the Community Resilience Initiative for her extraordinary actions, rooted in hope and courage, which have significantly contributed to a more resilient society. Jessica Rayment, Community Impact Coordinator, was awarded a Community Star Award by PMP - Prevention Means Progress, an award that honors those who have dedicated their time, passion, and energy for education, prevention, and/or treatment of substance abuse and addiction.

One of the highlights for us this year has been being able to empower professionals who work tirelessly to support our community’s well-being. We collaborated with the Southwest Iowa Mental Health Region and Disability Services and Green Hills Area Education Agency to provide thirteen professional education opportunities. These educational opportunities covered crucial topics like trauma, de-escalation, resilience, self-care, online safety, and more. Over two hundred professionals were in attendance at these trainings, and 100% reported feeling they were more knowledgeable after a session. We also sponsored and assisted in planning and coordinating the Southwest Iowa Drug Endangered Children Conference. This important event brought together 105 professionals dedicated to protecting our most vulnerable. The featured speakers were renowned experts Dr. Ira Chasnoff, MD, and Dr. Christine Schmidt, PsyD. The conference addressed the critical needs of children and teens who have experienced prenatal and postnatal trauma.  In addition, six sessions (Community Resilience Trauma Informed Certification, Building Hope in Yourself and Others, Healthy Outcomes from Positive Experiences, Connections Matter, and Building Resilience in Yourself and Others) were completed with IowaWORKS staff.

Our commitment extends to strengthening families within our community and raising awareness about critical issues. Thriving Families Alliance leads Prevent Child Abuse Pottawattamie County. Through this committee, a number of awareness and educational opportunities were held throughout April in recognition of Child Abuse Prevention Month. Pottawattamie County and the City of Council Bluffs both issued proclamations highlighting the importance of policies and services that prioritize families and strengthen our community as a whole.  A Family Fun Fair was held in Council Bluffs on April 13th. This event brought together community agencies, organizations, Council Bluffs Police Department, and the State Patrol to provide valuable resources, activities, and lunch to over 123 parents and children.  We further fostered awareness by collaborating with Catholic Charities to host a screening and discussion of the documentary "Gridshock," which sheds light on the hidden realities of sex trafficking in Iowa. This powerful event drew an audience of 40 participants. 

Our staff is also dedicated to active collaboration with various community groups. The Harrison – Monona – Shelby (HMS) HUB, a three-county collaboration, brought on staff and started to convene in their mission to create new resource paths of communication and reduce trauma for children and families by expanding protective factors through increased service connections. Deep dives were held, and the following priority areas were identified: Meeting Basic Needs, Housing Access, Healthcare Access, Prevention / Education, and Childcare & Early Childhood Education.

Staff assisted the Shelby County Prevent Child Abuse Council in facilitating a Poverty Simulation with the Harlan Community School District. This impactful experience helped school professionals gain a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by families living in poverty.  We also partnered with the Shelby County Prevent Child Abuse Council to host two traveling exhibits. Over 213 school staff and community members explored these exhibits. "The Lisa Project," is a multisensory exhibit that uses a child's perspective to illuminate the realities of child abuse. While walking through a guided room-by-room scenario, participants are hearing, seeing, and experiencing the reality of the world of child abuse. The "WE CAN" exhibit is composed of interactive displays that help visitors identify steps to support children and families. Participants learn together that “we can” help prevent trauma and buffer the effects of experienced trauma by supporting a family under stress, promoting self-care, building protective factors, and more.  Staff also participated in a Mental Health Panel in Cass County to discuss resilience strategies to prevent mental health issues and strengthen well-being.  As the primary sponsor and organizer, TFA played a significant role in Laundry Love for the Bluffs by offering free laundry services and other assistance to families in a community-like setting. This program has served over sixty families in the year alone.  

The Child and Family Resource Network (CFRN) team has been busy this past year as well.  CFRN completed five presentations to community partners in an effort to both partner with and increase referrals. These presentations included interagency meetings in Page and Montgomery Counties and the HSAC Inc. meeting.  Staff also connected with several departments at Jennie Edmundson, and Children’s Hospital, Medical Center, with a continued collaboration with the Shenandoah Medical Center. There was also a presentation given to staff at the Department of Health and Human Services.  These presentations helped bring in more than 280 referrals this year. 

CFRN celebrated ten years of connecting families to support services in 2023.    On top of celebrating, there was a busy event schedule with seventeen events. They participated in community events like the National Night Out, Community Wellness Bash, and the Area Education Agency Conference. They also hosted virtual parent cafes and Popsicles in the Park events at several locations. CFRN participated in a church block party, as well as trunk-or-treats at the YMCA and the Lakin Campus.  Additionally, they collaborated with Council Bluffs Public Schools to host three nights of Positive Solutions for Families.

In addition to our on-the-ground efforts, we also strive to empower our community through knowledge sharing.  With an average of 230 readers, the TFA e-newsletter features helpful information for local partners.  This includes local training opportunities, information regarding protective factors, and recent research on family and children dynamics.

While we reflect on this past year, we are filled with gratitude for the opportunity to serve ten counties in Southwest Iowa.  As we move forward, we're energized by the success we have had. We are committed to continuing to offer essential training programs and fostering collaboration within these communities. We believe that by working together, we can create a brighter future and a more resilient community for children and families. 

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