CEDAR RAPIDS — Something is new under the sun.
Sufficiently so that community donors quietly have contributed $3.86 million since May to Four Oaks’ TotalChild program, donors who are now promoting a wider public “Commit to a Child” fundraising campaign.
The total fundraising goal is $6 million — or $2.14 million more — with half of the funds to be used to deliver services to 1,400 children who will participate in the TotalChild program and half of the funds to go to purchase and renovate 100 homes in the TotalChild’s Wellington Heights neighborhood housing initiative.
“In my mind, this is giving kids the opportunity to be successful,” Kyle Skogman, president of Skogman Homes and one of the co-chairs of the fundraising campaign, said on Wednesday.
There are now 500 children enrolled in the two-year-old TotalChild program, which adds about 25 children a month as the children enter one of Four Oaks’ support programs and as the children and their families agree to sign on to the TotalChild concept.
Jim Ernst, president/CEO of Four Oaks, said that the central goal of TotalChild — both the program’s delivery of services and its housing component — is to assure children with childhood challenges become successful adults.
Specifically, the program features what Ernst says are three unique ingredients:
— It assesses each child’s stability or instability as an individual, a family member, a school student and a community member.
— It commits to provide support to a child throughout their childhood until he or she reaches age 18.
— It measures the program’s effectiveness so it holds the program and the children and their families accountable to progress in an efficient way.
“Using those three together is not what our industry has historically done,” Ernst said in an interview this week. “And what we are trying to do is begin to verify that there is a need to change how we approach kids and families if we are going to change this trend line where so many kids are not finishing childhood in a successful way.”
Chris DeWolf, president/CEO of Lil’ Drug Store Products and another co-chair of the fundraising campaign’s new phase, told a campaign event crowd in the lobby of Johnson Elementary School in Wellington Heights late Wednesday afternoon that the TotalChild program was “a foundational and critical step for Cedar Rapids’ future.”
He said it was difficult enough to raises his own three children, who he said have all the “typical kid issues.” Four Oaks and its TotalChild program, though, opened his eyes to the difficult obstacles children face in families facing crises in their lives, he said.
“This work will make our community stronger,” DeWolf said. “It will do so by putting the child at the center. … No other program — none — takes that approach.”
Four Oaks’ Ernst said there is a moral reason “to do the right thing” to better serve at-risk children and their families. But he said there also is a practical, economic reason to do so. Research, he said, shows that children in the United States who do not reach adulthood successfully will cost society on average $1.7 million each in adulthood when the costs of substance abuse, criminality, incarceration and public assistance are factored in.
Ernst said University of Iowa researchers have taken a preliminary look at the TotalChild program in its first two years and have found that 80 percent of the 500 or so children in the program now are improving and 95 percent of those who have been in the program for at least a year have reached a level of stability that the program is attempting to achieve for them.
Stability means, in part, staying in and progressing in school, not getting in trouble and having a positive family life, Ernst said.
Marianna Hendricks told the event crowd Wednesday how TotalChild had helped her with job and educational support and her young son with behavioral issues.
“I never realized a year ago the support that I was putting in place when I decided to become part of TotalChild,” Hendricks said.
The housing piece of the TotalChild program calls for Four Oaks’ Affordable Housing Network Inc. affiliate to buy and renovate 100 problem or dilapidated rental properties in an 18-block area of Wellington Heights with the goal of having 70 to 80 of the 100 become owner-occupied homes with the rest to be rentals managed by the agency.
To date, the program has purchased 68 properties and renovated 39 of them. Six have now been sold to homeowners, 20 are in the agency’s rent-to-own program and another 12 are being managed as rental properties.
“We got to get our arms around that problem, or it’s going to be like a cancer, it’s going to spread and the whole community will pay for it,” Skogman said. “More crime, more drugs, deterioration of schools in that area.
“But the other part of it is the children that are in that area. If you go through some of those houses, and you see the conditions, it’s horrible. It’s hard to believe we have houses like that in Cedar Rapids.”
The Hall-Perrine Foundation has donated the largest gift to the TotalChild fundraising campaign, $750,000.
The campaign’s steering committee is co-chaired by Chris and Suzy DeWolf and Kyle and Susan Skogman. Other steering committee members are John and Thelma Rife; Kathy and Rex Eno; John and Dyan Smith; Lydia Brown; Steve Allsop; Brian Scott; Dina Dusk; Diane Ramsey; Lisa Rhatigan; Karl Hoffman; Duane Smith; Sally Novetzke; Dan Thies; and Doug Neighbor.