For the 11th year, Prince of Peace Parish Pax Christi and the Sisters of St. Francis co-sponsored the series which includes a free soup supper followed by a program and discussion. This year the programs centered on the topic, "Our Invisible Neighbors. Clinton Franciscan President Janice Cebula explained. "Most of us are not aware of how income inequality and other factors affect other peoples lives, some of whom are our neighbors right here in Clinton. What they may be going through can be invisible to us. I am looking forward to learning more about the conditions right here in Clinton and what is being done, as well as what needs to be done. After all, we are all called to love our neighbor.
The group chair, Gabriela Egging, commented as well, saying, "We are pleased with the number of qualified speakers this year who will lead our Peace Soup discussions. Clinton County has so many support systems in place and we have asked several notable members of our community to speak on issues that are often hidden from us that need to be addressed.
March 7 - Income Inequality
Peace Soup began at the center of our country's most heated issues with discussions about income inequality.
Facilitators: Sisters Janice Cebula, Joan Theiss, and Teresa Kunkel
A crowd of about 85 people gathered at St. Boniface Center for the first "Peace Soup" of the Lenten season on Tuesday, March 7.
Without knowing it, the committees chose the same topic Pope Francis addressed in mid-February via a letter read in Modesto, California at the U.S. World Meeting of Popular Movements. Sister Janice Cebula, President of the Sisters of St. Francis, Clinton, opened the first Peace Soup presentation by reiterating his words by saying "The grave danger is to disown our neighbors. When we do so, we deny their humanity and our own humanity without realizing it; we deny ourselves, and we deny the most important commandments of Jesus. Herein lies the danger, the dehumanization. We must become good neighbors to any person in need."
In the first session, titled, "income inequality, Sister Joan Theiss and Sister Teresa Kunkel joined Sister Janice to guide the audience through the misconceptions about the distribution of wealth and income in the United States using visuals and activities. Group-participation exercises helped make the information given in the charts and graphs of a PowerPoint more palpable while also encouraging questions from the audience. Several comments were generated, too, regarding tax breaks, myths about the market, the power of lobbyists, and the change in the economy since the 1980's and 1990's.
Sister Janice shifted to solutions for the nations income inequality as she brought the event to a close. "That last exercise [human bar graph about income inequality] was first demonstrated to me on Nuns on the Bus by Sister Simone Campbell, who said, What we know is that policies made this problem. So policies can change it," adding that, "working locally would create a healthier community here in Clinton County.
A note of gratitude from an audience member capped off the evening when Rachael DeSpain of Fulton, Illinois said, "I want to thank everyone from across the river. I work for Head Start in Sterling and the stories told tonight are the stories of every one of our 701 families. You came to educate yourselves and to support those whose voice is going unheard. Thank you. I appreciate all of your time.
March 14 - Affordable Housing and Options for Homeless People
An analysis of affordable housing in Clinton County and the options available for people who are trying to find and keep a roof over their heads.
Speakers: Deb Vath and Lori Freudenberg
Deb Vath, Executive Director of the Clinton Housing Authority (CHA), spoke about affordable housing in Clinton County and Lori Freudenberg, Community Outreach Director for the Franciscan Peace Center, talked about the efforts currently underway in Clinton County to address homelessness.
Speaking to a group of 90, Deb Vath informed the audience that CHA is a Section 8 and public housing agency in Clinton that received 1.5 million in housing voucher funding last year. This amount was less than in the past, meaning that the agency that once helped 424 families find places to live is now able to help only 390 families. The agency assists Clinton residents with applications for public housing and vouchers for rental assistance. There are currently 250 families on the waiting list for public housing and 750 on the waiting list for vouchers. Applications for vouchers have not been open since July 2014.
To define homelessness, Vath referred to the four federally defined categories under which individuals and families might qualify as homeless: literally homeless, imminent risk of homelessness, homeless under other Federal statutes, and fleeing or attempting to flee domestic violence. These guidelines were determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Expanding on the Federal and state governments roles in Clinton, Vath said, "Everyone in the program pays a different amount for rent. The government built housing, public housing, and had the Section 8 rental assistance program, but in the more recent past the answer to that was what they call affordable housing for a community. This came through the state tax credit program
developers would apply for these credits through the state finance authority and if their applications were approved they would develop properties and get tax credit through the IRS for their investments. In exchange for that the developer of the properties had to make rent affordable, which meant it had to be below market rate.
Vath went on to explain that there are approximately 165 units in Clinton built or renovated on this agreement. "We have lots of those properties here in Clinton, and typically you have to be income eligible to live in a property but then once you live there the rent is the rent so much for a one bedroom, so much for a two bedroom, whatever the case may be so long as you are income eligible you can live in a property.
Verifying the capacity to pay rent every month may result in a rejected application for some people. "
maybe the rent is a little lower but you still have to be able to demonstrate to the property owner or the landlord or manager that you can pay the rent, she said, adding, "That takes out a large group of people who are at a lower level on the income range who dont have the money to pay that much even though the rent is lower. They still have to be able to show them you can pay that in order to get your application approved.
As the times change, so too does the agencys ability to help people, she said. "I want to mention Skyline Apartments for persons with disabilities...along with Lyons Manor and Park Tower. Those persons who live in those buildings need to be income eligible depending on the income limit. She went on to say, "At Park Tower the income limit is 80% of the median income so its a little bit higher. It was built in 1981 and in 1986 when Lyons Manor was opened the income limit went down to 50%...something in the air must have changed between 1981 and 1986 when Lyons Manor was opened, she said of the rents that are based on 30% of a tenants adjusted gross income, adding, "Now the sector of the community that we were able to help was just a little bit lower.
Following Vaths talk, Freudenberg spoke about area efforts to aid people who may not have a home at all. Addressing the crowd, Freudenberg said, "Many wonder, why arent these people pulling themselves up by the bootstraps? There are four basics reasons for becoming homeless: economics, mental health and substance abuse, loss of support network, and discharge from jail or armed services.
Minimum wage, poverty income levels, and the ability to pay 30% of monthly income on housing were all addressed by Freudenberg. "With a median household income in Clinton of $42,900, were way behind the state of Iowa, which is $51,653. The only community (of this size) were ahead of is Burlington. To this she added, "In Clinton, 45% of renters live below the poverty level.
Freudenberg spoke about many programs in Clinton intended to help people who are experiencing homelessness and/or food scarcity: Share Our Sandwiches and other free meal programs, groups that make plastic mats, Northend Outreach Ministries, Getting Ahead in a Just Getting By World, and the Homelessness Committee that meets at The Canticle.
The evening concluded with the two speakers answering questions from individuals in the audience. One attendee, Clinton resident Leslie McCreery commented, "Its really important to become aware of the needs in our community especially the basics -- food and shelter. Its important to us as human beings."
March 21 - The Needs of Working Poor People
Speakers gave first-hand accounts of years of experience in meeting and helping people who have jobs but are unable to cover the costs of food, transportation, housing, child care, and health care, a major problem for 31 percent of households in Iowa. (United Way, 2014) They also talked about assistance available to Clinton County residents, pointing out that many may be only one unfortunate incident away from slipping below the poverty level.
Speakers: Cheryl McCulloh, Regan Michaelsen, and Kim Ralston
Stepping up to the podium March 21 were three women who also work closely with "our invisible neighbors in Clinton County. Cheryl McCulloh has been the executive director of United Way of Clinton County, Iowa since 1991, working to ensure that all residents get a quality education, that all secure a job that enables self-support, and that all have good health. Regan Michaelsen has been the executive director of Information, Referral and Assistance Services (IRAS) since 2008. IRAS assists low-income families and individuals with emergency needs like help with rent and utilities. She also sits on the boards for Clinton/Jackson County Homeless Coalition and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Kim Ralston has been Clinton, County, Iowas Community Assistance Programs Director for over eighteen years. Her job is to help individuals with mental/emotional disabilities, substance abuse issues, and financial difficulties meet essential needs by offering assistance.
McCulloh began the evening with handouts for the audience about ALICE, a United Way project that stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, meaning people who earn more than the U.S. poverty line, but less than the basic cost of living. According to the handout, Clinton County in 2014 had a population of 47,768 with 19,977 households and a median household income of $49,849. Of those 19,977 households, 13% are in poverty and 20% are considered ALICE households. The remaining 67% are above the ALICE threshold. "It describes people in our community, McCulloh said. "They are above poverty level but they may be one emergency away from losing everything most of the time. For Clintons 11,239 households, 39% are considered to be a combination of poverty and ALICE. Some cities in the county have higher percentages of the poverty/ALICE combination like Lost Nations 176 households at 48% and Wheatlands 246 households at 35%. Some cities have lower percentages. Thirty percent of Calumus 165 households are either in poverty or considered ALICE. For Grand Mounds 208 households the percentage is 32.
"Sixty-eight percent of the jobs in Iowa pay between $10 and $15 an hour, she said. A bar graph titled "Household Survival Budget, Clinton County was presented by McCulloh showing what families pay for housing: $624, child care: $736, food: $533, transportation $702, health care $587, miscellaneous $352, and taxes: $342. Individuals were included on the graph as well. According to the graph, individuals pay $386 for housing, 0 for child care, $176 for food, $351 for transportation, $147 for health care, $124 for miscellaneous, and $177 for taxes. People who work at a convenience store, a day care, or another minimum or near-minimum wage job do not have money to set aside. "This is minimal. This isnt going to a movie. It isnt having steak once a week. Its the bare minimum. It also doesnt allow for something like damage to a roof from a hail storm."
Michaelsen talked about IRAS and their aid to families and individuals who live paycheck to paycheck. "A sick child or a car repair can send a person or a family into financial crisis. Listing a variety of services provided by IRAS, Michaelsen said, "We help people move from couch surfing to a permanent home
the police now take motel vouchers with them to offer to people experiencing homelessness
we helped with $2000 in utility assistance this year (current fiscal year beginning October of 2016)
we have the med tree program for individuals who cannot afford medication
and we help most of our families every month with food pantry assistance.
Another program, Back Pack Buddies, was a program she and McCulloh collaborated on to provide small plastic bags containing a few easy-to-prepare food and drink items for students who may not have food to eat on weekends or during school breaks. The number of students taking the bags home in their backpacks increased this year. "We served 178 students in Clinton elementary schools and Clinton Middle School this year. Thats up from 155 last year."
IRAS receives no state or government funding, "So we can help where other agencies cannot," Michaelsen remarked, mentioning IRAS helps people who dont have the money for transportation to a doctors appointment in Iowa City or for steel toe boots to begin a new job.
Ralston, on the other hand, who works for Clinton County, Iowas Community Assistance Programs, is employed by the county. "Were a county program so were limited by a budget decided by a board," Ralston said. "One of the programs is the General Assistance Program. It is mandated by the state that every county have one," she said. "Here in Clinton County the general purpose was to serve poor persons but it also helps those whose income doesnt cover all expenses. So far in the current fiscal year (which ends June 30), the county has helped 76 people with rent, 18 with utilities, 11 with transportation (to a doctor in Iowa City or a new job), and 2 with medications. In the past fiscal year 174 were helped with rent, 57 with utilities, 10 transportation, and 5 with medication. "With the Affordable Care Act (ACA) its been nice but now thats an unknown, Ralston said of pending changes to the ACA. "We have to ask, what will happen with that line item (medication)?" Other programs provided are mental health assistance, a crisis hotline through the Eastern Iowa Mental Health and Developmental Disability Services Region, and food assistance.
Among questions fielded from the audience, one asked if the new clinic, Community Health Care was helpful, to which Michaelsen replied, "Yes. Instead of having to go to Iowa City many people are able to just go down the street. Another asked how people find the three agencies, to which McCulloh replied, "Word of mouth is very strong in social circles, plus people are Internet savvy. United Way tries to get to agencies and leave information with them. When one asked how many people were helped, another asked if people were turned away. "Yes, said Michaelsen. "We do turn away some, said Ralston.
"This was very informative, commented attendee and Clinton resident Linda Wynkoop Portz. "I will walk away tonight feeling a little depressed and frustrated that these issues arent cared about by our leaders and legislators. But Im so thankful to the people who put on this program.
Thinking back to the previous weeks Peace Soup, one attendee wondered about the waiting list for housing, asking, "Who is assisting with rent after the first month? Grateful for help from local churches, Michaelsen replied, "It is hard for us and other agencies. We work with some of the churches but its really hard to get people more than a few months of rent."
March 28 - The Treatment of Person with Mental Illness
A panel of five will addressed the quiet problem that often comes to the surface in tragic ways.
Speakers: Becky Eskildsen, Mike Johannsen, Margaret Kuhl, Leslie LaShelle-Mussmann, Todd Noack
What programs are currently in place in Clinton County for mental health services? Experts Becky Eskildsen, Coordinator of Disability Services, Clinton County Mental Health Department; Mike Johannsen, CEO of the Eastern Iowa Mental Health and Disability Services Region; Margaret Kuhl, Clinton County Justice Coordinator; Leslie LaShelle - Mussmann, Director of Prevention Services Area Substance Abuse Council; and Todd Noack, Executive Director, Life Connections Peer Recovery Center, DeWitt, Iowa all spoke to the over ninety people present at St. Boniface Center.
Eskildsen opened the evening explaining that mental health is not easily compartmentalized but instead spans other areas of public service. To effectively cover all mental health, Eskildsen invited local experts to cover a broad range of topics like mental health and incarceration, and mental health and substance abuse.
Johannsen, spoke about the Eastern Iowa Mental Health and Disability Services Region and the changes they endured when Clinton, Jackson, Scott, Muscatine and Cedar Counties were combined. "Sometimes the legislature gets an idea (about combining services) and were at the end of it but, at the end of the day its the services that matter," Johannsen said, noting that "the law enforcement and mental health services can work together this way. The board of directors wanted to maintain local autonomy with services and tax dollars. Tax dollars from Clinton should be spent in Clinton as much as possible."
Kuhl, Clinton County Justice Coordinator, who was part of the team that communicated to the community the need for a new law center, Clinton County Justice Coordinating Commission (CCJCC), said that while the current facility has no space for inmate programs, the replacement facility will have an area for new programs for mental health evaluations and treatment. Kuhl provided a handout titled, The Stepping Up Initiative, which states that "jails across the nation serve an estimated 2 million people with serious mental illnesses each year." Kuhl hopes the new facility will help increase public safety and reduce recidivism with new programs. Members of the CCJCC mental health and substance abuse committee, court issues committee, and jail facility and planning committee are coordinating a plan for program space and usage at the new law center.
LaShelle-Mussmann, Director of Prevention Services Area Substance Abuse Council, also provided a handout. Titled, "Mental Health/Substance Use Cycle," it states that 7.9 million people struggle with both a mental disorder and substance use disorder and 55.8% of people struggling with co-occurring disorders receive no treatment. LaShelle Mussmann instructed the audience that substance abuse and mental health only recently began combining their efforts. "Fifteen to twenty years ago substance abuse and mental health started to work together. Prevention and research changed and we became data people. We looked at data to see the real problems." Addressing the children of substance abuse parents, she went on to say, "Eight million kids come from substance abuse parents. The statistics show these children are four times more likely to be dealing with neglect and three times more likely to be abused."
Noack finished the talks by speaking about Life Connections Peer Recovery Center of DeWitt which operates a peer-run recover center. Noack presented two short videos on peer recovery and spoke about the 200 peer specialists trained in the area. "Our vision is to have a 24-hour peer-run respite house where a person can work on recovering with peer specialists."
After the talks, Eskildsen commented, "It was a powerful presentation and the panel provided a lot of information. Its cumbersome and complicated but they attempted to hit the highlights so someone would know who to talk to."
April 4 - Local Jobs and Training
A talk about job openings that go unfilled because the applicants lack the necessary skills.
Speakers: Andrea Feller and Charlene Nicoletto
Andrea Feller and Charlene Nicoletto of Iowa Works and Eastern Iowa Community College (EIC) spoke about local jobs and training available to residents at the final Peace Soup.
The duo gave an overview of how the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) created a partnership between Title I (formerly JTPA), Wagner Peyser Employment Services, Adult Education, Vocational Rehabilitation Services, and Iowa Department for the Blind. The five entities within the Clinton County Workforce Team collaborate, without duplicating services, to provide a one-stop workforce system that supports local workforce efforts, job seekers, and employers.
An employment specialist from the Workforce Development Center is available on Tuesdays at the Clinton Public Library, Lyons Branch. Free workshops which are also provided in all counties within the region include career assessments, resume development and overcoming barriers. Vocational Rehabilitation is available in Clinton for those with disabilities to help them reach employment goals. The Iowa Department for the Blind helps educate, train, and empower blind and visually impaired individuals to pursue lifelong goals.
Feller, who serves in Clinton and Jackson counties, works with adults, dislocated workers, and youth through the IowaWorks Title I and Youth@Work programs. The training programs assist eligible persons to complete more education which will help them with self-sustainability. The Youth @ Work program is for ages 16-24.Funds are focused on those who are facing challenges. Feller helps them navigate the system and offers support and employment skills. She seeks out local businesses that are willing to provide part-time employment options to participants in the program. The program is able to assist businesses with wages for up to 19 hours per week at $8 per hour. "This provides our clients with job experience that is valuable when trying to enter the job market on their own," Feller said.
She noted that "by taking a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) course, persons can increase their earning potential to help them get a leg up in the job market." Although this may not get a person out of the poverty level, "It is a start to getting them on a different track," she added.
When an audience member asked where the local jobs are, Feller responded that there is a lot of opportunity for employment as a CNA, and also for those with a CDL, or Commercial Drivers License.
Nicoletto works with individuals seeking educational credentials through EICC Title II with the Adult Basic Education and Literacy Program (ABE), High School Equivalency Diploma Program (HSE), formerly known as GED, English Literacy and Civics Education (ELA), and she serves as Lead Teacher for the program.
Her work is with individuals whose skills are limited or outdated. Some of her students in the ELA class attend to be able to communicate with their children who have learned to speak English. She reports that most of her ELA students speak Spanish, although for some English is the third language they will learn. "An added bonus for students in the ELA class, which currently has seven students, is that the instructor is not from the United States, so he has a good understanding of their needs," added Nicoletto.
In the Adult Basic Education program, assessment tests are used to get a baseline of students knowledge and skill level, and then they are assigned classes accordingly. Day or evening classes are offered to best suit the needs of their clients. Students are retested at the end of the courses to measure their growth.
"We have a good working relationship with the high school," said Nicoletto, adding "we encourage students to attain their schooling through the school when possible." She also feels that "time management seems to be one of the biggest struggles for this group, and career exploration is ongoing, and largely discussed. Upon successful completion of the program, students are offered a three-credit scholarship at any EICC Campus. Concurrent college enrollment is possible while in the High School Equivalency Diploma Program.
Those who are interested in the High School Equivalency Diploma Program should go to www.eicc.edu/hiset to register online. Once registered, students should call 563-244-8185 or 563-244-7050 to schedule their pre-assessment tests. Upcoming pre-assessment tests are April 24 and May 1, 9 a.m.-noon, and April 26 and May 3, 5-8 p.m.
Students should call 563-244-7185 to sign up and find out more information about the English classes, which are held at the Clinton Community college Adult Learning Center, 944 Lincoln Blvd.
Together Feller and Nicoletto have over 25 years of work in the education field. "Cheerleading is one of our major roles, Feller said. A lot of their clients have never had a support system that encourages success. From the first day they meet a student, they are trying to change a mindset, and let them know that success is attainable. "We strive to provide a welcoming environment that caters to the needs of the individuals," said Nicoletto.
Their work is increasingly important in the Clinton area. "Clinton has lost more than one-third of its manufacturing jobs since 1978, according to an article printed in the Des Moines Register on March 30 about mid-size cities like Clinton that have "borne the brunt of economic changes wrenching the nation and Iowa."
"Clinton's challenge in filling skilled manufacturing jobs is felt across Iowa. Plants use more automation, and the jobs are more advanced," Feller told the Des Moines Register. "Our workforce focuses on four years of college," she added. "But what we dont realize is those two-year technical degrees and apprenticeships are hugely needed. And they have great pay and benefits."
Contribution on behalf of Peace Soup
who attended Peace Soup 2017 had the opportunity to donate gently used books or
contribute money to a free-will offering basket for Stay n Play Childcare and
Preschool in Clinton. On April 10 the Peace Soup committee presented Stay n
Play with a check for $1,567.00 and over
The next Peace Soup suppers will be held
in February and March of 2018. News of the upcoming dates, topic, and speakers
can be found on this website early in 2018.