Topic of community violence could be part of informal discussions
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – A group advocating for children and families in Lee County wants to talk to you. All of you.
The Empowering Families group spearheaded by Breanna Kramer-Riesberg will hold three community meeting in the next week to have open-ended roundtable conversations with parents, uncles, grandparents, foster parents – whomever touches the lives of the children in Lee County.
The meetings will begin Tuesday, Nov. 16th at the Community Room in Donnellson. A meeting at the Fort Madison Library will take place on Wednesday the 17th. Both of those roundtables will start at 4:30 and run to 6 p.m.
A third meeting will take place in the Round Room at the Keokuk Public library from 5 to 6:30 p.m.
Kids are welcome to attend and light snacks will be provided.
Kramer-Riesberg and the Empowering Families group began in Aug. 2020 when she was hired to lead an effort under a two-year grant from Prevent Child Abuse in Iowa through the Lee County Health Department.
The grant is renewable for up to three more years.
Kramer-Riesberg said the format of the meetings will be very informal and conversational.
“These are meant to be conversational and not a presentation. We’re not here to lecture anyone by any means,” she said.
“I want to learn from parents and get their feedback on ideas we have identified as top priorities. We’re developing these plans for families but we can’t do that without family input.”
The Empowering Families effort is led by a steering committee of community members, physicians, counselors, economic development experts, and child advocacy officials.
The group was formed when the state recognized the county as the bottom performing county in the state with regard to child neglect, and toward the bottom in child abuse. But the state also recognized the foundation in place in the county to take advantage of resources to combat the problem.
Kramer-Riesberg said the recent tragedies that have taken place in Lee County, including the shooting of Deeunta Ceaser, 15, by a school mate and a stabbing downtown, make the group’s efforts even more critical.
“We can come up with a lot of ideas ourselves, but if it’s not supported – if parents don’t think it will be helpful, it won’t be successful no matter how great the idea is,” she said.
“We want to look at creating happy, healthy spaces but we need to have that community connection. These recent shootings now have people fearful of what their community is and what it will be in the future. It makes people trust others less. COVID has isolated us and we really need to go in the other direction.
“We need each other more than ever.”
Kramer Riesberg has spent the past six weeks reaching out to parentS in a different ways, through assistance clinics and parent-teacher conferences trying to reach people where they are. She said there will be other focus groups planned and possibly some town hall meetings, but she said the community meetings are the right place to start.
“These are the right placeS to gather feedback to bring back to the group,” she said.
“I want people to know that their comments will be anonymous. I’m just going to have a conversation with them with a pen and paper and jot things down to create some ideas around what people are telling us they need.”
She said some parents are intimidated by going to meetings and that may keep them from attending, or more importantly, contributing. So the community meetings could help garner interest for tighter focus groups in the future.
“I’m hoping to set up a parent leadership committee to touch base and make sure we’re staying connected with the families. From these community meetings, we’re hoping to identify people who are concerned and want to move forward.”