County supervisors are allocating almost $2 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds
toward the program, which looks to increase access to services, especially for communities of
color, and address the shortage of mental health workers in the county...
Called the Mental Health Workforce Initiative, the program is seeking to help 90 new mental
health therapists pay up to $20,000 of their student loan payments.
...The county's efforts stem from a partnership with A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy, an
organization with members from local faith congregations, neighborhood groups and
nonprofits. Over the last few years, organization leaders have sought to address the lack of
mental health workers after crisis mental health services for county children were delayed...
From there, AMOS held listening sessions for county residents and learned of their need "for
more mental health workers with lived experiences and language skills to support racially
and linguistically diverse" people...
“Our staff was filled with joy when we received news of these funds,” said Anne Starr, chief
executive director of Orchard Place, a youth mental health provider in Des Moines. “This
investment is going to save lives.”
With a goal to reach people of color, Polk County looks to hire 90 mental health counselors, Des Moines Register [pdf]
Des Moines middle schools...have a program in place that focuses on mediation and conversation to address and resolve conflict.
...Community volunteers launched the Let's Talk program in three district middle schools eight years ago with one key objective: fix a system that disproportionately disciplines students of color, [Cheryl] Hayes, who's also a coordinator for the program, tells Axios.
The district has since expanded the program to nearly all of its 12 middle schools.
...Let's Talk is run by AMOS, a network of dozens of metro churches, neighborhood groups and community organizations.
The program helps students resolve conflicts peacefully, and ultimately aims to disrupt the "school-to-prison pipeline" — the link between punishments and the criminal justice system.
Inspiration for the restorative justice program came from "The New Jim Crow," a book about the U.S. legal system and how it has led to the mass incarceration of Black men, Hayes says.
...Volunteer mediators, such as retired judges, go into schools to help resolve student conflicts or other disciplinary issues through discussion.
Oftentimes, mediators help students work through home-life traumas that are a factor in problems surfacing at school, Hayes says.
Program facilitators also assist with cultural awareness training among district educators to help improve teaching and disciplinary practices.
...Hayes says organizers believe Let's Talk is a factor in why disciplinary referrals — generally those involving assaults or weapons — were down in grades 6-8 during the first four months of this school year.
...A research project is ongoing to better assess the project's full impact.
Reducing Violence in Des Moines Public Schools, Axios Des Moines
After 100 AMOS leaders appeared at a Broadlawns Medical Center Board Meeting to support an initiative expanding children and youth access to mental health services, Broadlawns Trustees voted 5-2 to hire two mobile crisis responders trained to work with children and adolescents. Walnut Hills UMC leader Connie McKeen delivered testimony on behalf of AMOS in support of this momentous step forward for Polk County youth and their families. During the hearing, one of the Trustees exclaimed, "Wow, that's a lot of people."
20 AMOS leaders followed up in person within weeks, inspired by thousands of Polk County residents who shared stories based on their experiences, conducted research, and organized postcard campaigns and neighborhood walks over 4 years to make children's crisis services a reality.
In a related Oped, leaders Lindsey Braun and Benjamin C. Bell expressed,
Anger has been the pilot light that has kept AMOS leaders doggedly pursuing the implementation of youth mental health crisis services for over four years.
New Mental Health Resources Coming for Children in Polk County, Des Moines Register [pdf]
Polk County Unveils New Mental Health Services for Children, KCCI Des Moines [pdf]
The Rev. Bill Cotton wasn’t sure he was seeing what he was seeing. As a civil rights leader, the longtime pastor of Grace United Methodist in Des Moines, and founding member of the grassroots organization AMOS (A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy), he had seen a lot. But he never thought he would see a teenager on the roof of one of his two adjoining church garages attempt to jump the gap between them on a skateboard. Fortunately, the skater made the jump, Bill didn’t have a heart attack, and he did what everyone does to annoying skateboarders — he shooed them away.
Little did Bill, who has since died, know that those skaters, from his own congregation, would join AMOS and start a revolution in Des Moines.
The skaters were part of the Grace United Methodist Church youth group, and when AMOS organized a large-scale community listening campaign, they met with that youth group and heard of the need for a first-class skatepark in Des Moines. That led AMOS to Callanan Middle School’s newly formed skateboard club, where they heard more of the same. The AMOS adults challenged the youth to organize a presentation to Des Moines’ mayor and City Council at an upcoming AMOS Issues Assembly....
[Photo Credit: Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines]
...In Iowa, it’s illegal for the state to translate official government forms. including anything election-related. This makes it really hard for non-fluent English speakers in Iowa to gather official voting information.
Iowa’s "English-only" law, as it is known by some, dates back to 1918 after World War I. Republican Gov. William Harding signed the Babel Proclamation into law, which made English the only language legally permitted in the state. It was intended to limit the German language in schools and other public spaces.
Tun said this law scares her community. She said sometimes they are too afraid to vote. They are worried they will get in trouble if they make a mistake in the voting process.
But people who translate the forms disagree. Jan Flora and Terry Potter of A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy (AMOS) said it is especially true this year. Flora translates voter forms into Spanish and Potter distributes them to other organizations throughout the state.
“If we cannot translate that, maybe we’re going to lose our voters…Yea, a lot of voters," Tun said.
She said the state has a responsibility to Iowans, whether they speak Spanish, Burmese, Karen or anything else.
[Photo Credit: Tiffany Tertipes, Unsplash]
Lost In Translation: How Iowa's 'English-Only' Law Affects Some Voters, Iowa Public Radio [pdf]
At the urging of AMOS leaders, Governor Reynolds is investing $5 million for job training paired with wrap-around services from CARES Act funds.
After hearing stories from Iowans facing the stress of unemployment amidst a shifting economic environment, AMOS (A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy) began researching how to help workers get back to work in living wage jobs.
"Losing a job is a trauma for workers and their families," said AMOS leader Rev. Dr. Benjamin Bell Jr. "We know that workers need not only training to be able to access higher-wage work, but also support for that trauma, childcare access and assistance to help them complete a training program and be ready to re-enter the workforce."
Since May, AMOS leaders had been meeting with business, government, and community stakeholders to formulate a job training proposal to address the coronavirus crisis. In July, 100 AMOS leaders convened a Workforce Summit calling on Governor Reynolds to invest in intensively supported job training which was built on a model pioneered by the West / Southwest IAF. This initiative will ensure workers have the training and support they need to get back to work, strengthening their families and better able to support the communities they live in.
A group of nearly 100 people gathered Thursday to address challenges facing the state’s workforce and what needs to be done as the state continues to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
The meeting, hosted by AMOS Institute of Public Life, the education and training arm of AMOS [A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy], drew members of the region’s faith-based community, business leaders, and state and local government officials.
The meeting focused on Project IOWA, a nonprofit organization that offers support and training to Iowans looking to improve their careers.
Paul Osterman, a professor of human resources at the MIT Sloan School of Management, the keynote speaker of the meeting, said job training programs, such as Project IOWA, have had great success in helping low-wage workers climb the ladder to better-paying jobs.
He said nothing has changed since the pandemic began to spread, “it’s just intensified it,” in reference to the need for services.
Osterman said one challenge that needs to be addressed is helping people move from one job to another, something Project IOWA focuses on.
There isn’t a strong public system to help with that, so the work Project IOWA does is essential to not only train workers, but also provide access to good jobs and creating good jobs.
“And these programs do both of these,” Osterman said. “You provide training, skills and connection to employers, but programs like these also create worker jobs, because there is research that shows that in communities that have effective human capital, skill development systems, employers do better. More jobs are created. It’s better for entrepreneurs. It’s better for employers. It helps new businesses coming to the community when they can see that the community is invested in the skills of its people, and sharing the cost of developing the skills of its people.
“Over time, it actually improves the economic health of the community,” he said.
Change Needed in Job Training, Development in New Pandemic Workforce, Business Record [pdf]
The Legislature made great progress in 2018 and 2019 in reforming Iowa’s systems of mental health care for children and adults. When fully implemented, Iowa’s children and their families, indeed all Iowans, will greatly benefit from their fine work. With that solid start, the necessary next step is providing adequate, predictable, sustainable funding for the new system. We understand COVID-19 has impacted Iowa’s budget, however mental health services for adults and children have become even more critical. In crafting Iowa’s next state budget, we ask legislators to consider:
Maintaining current funding amounts for adults and increasing funding for children’s mental health crisis services to include a statewide hotline, provide for local mobile crisis services for children, and to provide crisis observation centers specifically for children;
Lifting restrictions to enable dollar shifts in any region that has had insufficient funds to pay for adult and children’s mental health prior to COVID-19 and now faces cutting services;
Extending broadband so all people in Iowa can receive telemedicine services which includes mental health services;
Extending the cutoff for telemedicine and the reimbursement rate. Mental health concerns (including COVID related) will not end when confinements end but will continue post COVID physical health concerns;
Ensuring telemedicine reimbursement rates for mental health are mandatory for ALL insurers.
[Photo courtesy of AMOS]
Lawmakers, Please Don't Lose Momentum on Mental Health, Iowa Capital Dispatch [pdf]
Update: As a result of AMOS' public action, Iowa Workforce Development Office announced it would hire an additional 100 temporary workers to handle calls, change its website and phone system, and address language barriers and eligibility questions.
Out of the 50 refugee clients she’s helped file for unemployment, Abigail Sui said only 20 of them have received money from claims so far.
Language barriers, troubles navigating Iowa Workforce Development’s website and phone complications have left some members of Iowa’s refugee community without the money they need to support their families while they’re temporarily laid off from work due to COVID-19, Sui said.
These are some of the struggles A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy, also known as “AMOS,” hopes to bring to light during a virtual day of action with its members on Tuesday over Zoom.
AMOS, an organization made up of churches and non-profit groups is hosting a “virtual accountability action,” so local legislators can hear about some of the barriers Iowans face filing for unemployment.
“We knew there were people really struggling to navigate the system,” said Sally Boeckholt, a leader with AMOS and a member of First Unitarian Church of Des Moines. “There are real people being affected and sometimes those are the stories that don’t really get heard.”
[Photo by Charlie Neibergall, AP Photo]
Group Seeks Solutions for Iowans Struggling To File For Unemployment, Iowa Capital Dispatch [pdf]