Woman Shares Experience to Help Keep Iowa Juvenile Home Open

By Jill Kasparie, Reporter


By Jill Kasparie

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - One woman is speaking out and telling her story in hopes it will help keep the Iowa Juvenile Home open and operating.

The Iowa Juvenile Home/Girls State Training School is located in Toledo. Workers at the home treat troubled youth from across Iowa. On Monday, the state announced all 21 youth currently at the facility had to be relocated to other programs and the 93 staff members were out of a job. Governor Terry Branstad organized a task force that recommended the closure.

The facility has faced criticism for use of seclusion and restraint for children with severe aggressive or destructive behavior. When Disability Rights Iowa visited the facility in October, it found one person had been in seclusion for 111 hours.

Despite the reports, a Cedar Rapids woman said the facility helped turn her life around.

“I made a lot of really good friends there,” Allison Cortez said.

Cortez has fond memories of her days at the Iowa Juvenile Home. She formed good relationships with staff members. In fact, she still keeps in touch with many of them.

"I can call them up and say 'Hey, I'm having this problem, what should I do?' and they still help me to this day,” Cortez said.

The Cedar Rapids mother of two credits the staff at the Juvenile Home for helping turn her life around.

"I think I'd probably be in jail or on the street somewhere,” Cortez said.

When she was a teen, she was quickly headed down the wrong path.

"I was stealing my parents’ checks, right out of their purse," Cortez said. "I would write them out to friends that I went to school with and just, I thought that was the way to get acceptance and for people to like me. I’d run away from home. I'd be gone for a couple weeks at a time."

After about two years at the home, she said she changed for the better. Cortez worked on her issues and learned to give back to her community. Now she's married, has a home and has a job.

She, however, worries about what kind of a place Iowa would be without the facility to help other troubled youth. So she's taking action.

"I'm just going to do whatever I can,” Cortez said.

Cortez especially wants to help those who will lose their jobs at the juvenile home.

"It's going to be hard for them, and I don't want to see them suffer and they've helped me so much when I was younger,” Cortez said.

She's among many sharing their stories to prevent a future without the juvenile home.

People who want to keep the Iowa Juvenile Home open have set up a community meeting. It's Thursday night at 7 p.m. at the South Tama County High School.
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