The news of the Iowa Juvenile Home's closing was a shock to the Tama-Toledo community. At a recent town hall meeting, the program included a few former clients of the IJH. These women - ranging from their late teens to forties - gave powerful testimonies about their time at the home.
What struck me most about their stories was: 1) The importance of a community of care that the women often named "family," and 2) how the IJH was the only place they had experienced such a thing, leaving a lasting positive impact on them as human beings and citizens.
Catholic humanitarian Jean Vanier has this to say about community: "(it) is the only earth in which each can grow without fear toward the liberation of the forces of love which are hidden in them. But there can be growth only if we recognize the potential, and this will never unfold if we prevent people from discovering and accepting themselves as they are, with their gifts and their wounds."
The IJH seems to have provided just this kind of environment for some of Iowa's most troubled youth. The IJH was the "earth in which [they could] grow," to the point of some being able to overcome fear-bound cycles of self-destruction. It was a place where they were able to discover both their wounds and their gifts.
There's an old saying that "it takes a village to raise a child." Not only has the IJH been that village for troubled youth in Iowa, but the Tama-Toledo community has been the host "village," and both are now in crisis at the prospect of the IJH closing. Along with the economic impact, there would also be a blow to our sense of community. Who will we be if we don't do this important work?
So I worry about the future for all involved: the children in need, the staff, Tama-Toledo, the people of Iowa. There are many youth in our state who are suffering in incredibly, sometimes horrific conditions. If the people of Iowa agree that such children must be cared for, and cared for well - then it seems that for all its faults, the IJH and the host community had a good thing going. Could it have been better? Certainly; no institution is without its blemishes and bad habits. But is it worth shuttering? I think not.