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Save IJH effort goes to legislators

January 29, 2014
By John Speer - Editor ( , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

More than 100 came by charter bus and private car on Wednesday, Jan 22. Supporters of the effort to save the closed Iowa Juvenile Home / State Training School for Girls in Toledo took a shot at lobbying members of the Iowa Legislature in an effort to overturn the order by Governor Terry Branstad and the Department of Human Services which locked up the facility on Jan. 15.

It was then, a day earlier than the announced closing date, that State Troopers were on the campus and gave employees an hour to leave.

Some of the IJH supporters said Wednesday they were met by senators and representatives who were receptive to listen to their pitch. However, in at least one case, a state representative was described as "rude" in her rejection of a request to talk with her.

Article Photos

State Representative Sally Stutsman, rural Johnson County, (left) is greeted by Colleen Whitmore, who was a supervisor in Bryant Cottage and Bob Hendricks, a youth technician at the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo. They were among a group of more than 100 who went to the Iowa Capitol on Wednesday to urge legislators to take action to reverse the decision to close IJH.
Chronicle/John Speer

Current and former employees, spouses and friends were among the group. They were joined by local officials including Toledo Mayor Dave Svoboda, council members Brian Sokol and Joe Boll and Tama County Board of Supervisors members Kendall Jordan and Dan Anderson.

Former U.S. Congressman Dave Nagle, a 1961 Toledo High School graduate and past state Democrat Party chair was even on hand to muster forces as an advisor to the IJH effort.

Also on Wednesday, the Senate Human Resources Committee heard testimony from three former IJH residents who credited their stay in Toledo with the successes they have had in life with work and family.

One, Chelsea Reasoner, recounted her young life filled with placements in care in which "were unsuccessful in all." She said she came to IJH at age 13 "Angry and hurt."

Reasoner and the others credited the support, care and "family" of IJH for her turnaround in their lives.

They said "the staff care" - something which they said was often missing in other placements ,or their home life.

Bill Skow, Toledo, a founding member of the iowa Juvenile Home Foundation, told the Senate panel the organization has contributed $600,000 in funding over the years for projects ranging from major upgrades to the student library to buying Christmas presents for the kids.

He questioned the leadership of the department of Human Services in closing IJH and the cost of reported out-of-state placements for former students at Toledo.

Jim Roan, also of Toledo, testified a private meeting with Governor Branstad and Toledo area representatives on Nov. 15 gave assurances IJH would not be closed.

"The governor and DHS cut the heart right out "with the decision leaving jobless "dedicated employees who have worked for may years at the Juvenile Home."

At the close if the hearing, Senator Joe Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City), called the closing "a colossal mistake." He called for a bipartisan effort to reopen the facility.

Senator Amanda Ragan (D-Mason City), who chair the Human Resources Committee, promised a closer look into the closing will be forthcoming.

Todd Sprague, an 8-year IJH employee and a lead organizer of the trip who also testified, commented following the capitol visit on the social media Facebook page "Keep IJH Open": "wow....everyone did spectacular. Within minutes of talking with Steve Sodders, people didn't hesitate to put in slips to start talking with legislators. Lots of people were reached and our voices were heard. Generally speaking, reception was very positive...several legislators ended up wearing 'Save IJH' buttons. The meeting went even better, standing room only do...esn't do justice to the crowd we had there!! Overheard Mr. Kauffman staying he had never seen a crowd this big for a meeting like this before! So proud of everyone today that made the trip to support us. Thanks to Dean Fisher as well for supplying us with a steady stream of legislators to speak with. Keep up the fight guys, we have a lot of people standing up with us!!"

(In Sprague's message, Mr. Kaufman" refers to Clark Kauffman, a Des Moines Register newspaper reporter, who authored a series of articles about the findings and accusations of Disabilities Rights Iowa.)

The federally funded, non-profit attorney group claimed following an investigation IJH students were not receiving educations which met legal standards. The organization also said it had discovered at least one girl who had stayed in a seclusion or a "quiet" room for nearly a year.

Disability Rights Iowa head Jane Hudson told The Chronicle during the investigation, DRI members had gone to The Register to report it's findings.



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