Hundreds Gather to Show Support for the Iowa Juvenile Home

By Jill Kasparie, Reporter

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By Jill Kasparie

TAMA, Iowa - A passionate group of people gathered Thursday night to fight the state's decision to close the Iowa Juvenile Home.

Officials with the Department of Human Services and the governor announced the closure earlier this month. DHS said the 21 girls, ages 12-18, will move to other facilities when the Toledo-based home closes in January. Its 93 workers will also need to find new jobs.

Governor Terry Branstad has said this is the best option for children at the facility. The decision follows allegations that youth spent days, weeks or even months in isolation cells.

Despite the decision, supporters are not giving up. Employees, state lawmakers and former residents filled the South Tama County High School ready for a battle.

"It isn't over ‘til it's over, and it's not over,” said Rep. Dean Fisher, R-Garwin.

“We feel that we have a shot to stay open and we are going to pursue every avenue we can to do that,” said Juvenile Home Youth Services Worker Todd Sprague.

Organizers said the meeting is all about showing the crowd and anyone willing to listen that the home has changed many lives and shouldn't close.

Many struggled to speak as emotions took over. The thought of losing the juvenile home was too much for some to handle.

One after another, people shared their stories. Ashley Newell of Clinton said her stay at the home in 2009 made all the difference.

“I was a run away,” Newell said. “I ran away a lot and was into drugs and alcohol and they put me through groups and drug abuse prevention and they helped me work through sexual abuse in my past, they just helped me altogether. I became a better person.”

Juvenile Home workers said, little by little, girls are already starting to leave the home. Still, staff members said Thursday's meeting was for them.

“It's all about the kids and what's best for them and we feel like our level of care is what's best for them. And we would like to have more time for people to have an open debate about that, in the legislature, for example, where they can discuss that and look over alternative options,” Sprague said.

Organizers hope Thursday’s meeting motivates more people to act and voice their opinions to the governor and state lawmakers.

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