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Four Oaks Education Liaison Kara Grafft Appears as Guest on KCRG News

On Friday, November 18, 2022, Four Oaks Education Liaison Kara Grafft made an appearance on KCRG News! Kara shared tips and coping techniques that anyone can use when they are feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Kara did a great job and will be back on KCRG on December 19! Click here to watch the interview!



Students from Four Oaks ATLAS Program Part of a Record-Breaking COMPASS Graduating Class

Graduating class

From Linn-Mar alternative program helps get students on track to graduate, pursue their future | The Gazette  by Grace King


Linn-Mar alternative program helps get students on track to graduate, pursue their future

MARION — The hallway at Linn-Mar’s COMPASS Alternative Center filled with students last week as they celebrated Kira Sharp, 17, dressed in a cap and gown.

Upon completing the credits Sharp needed to graduate, she walked the halls as a student for the last time at the alternative program to a round of applause, taking time to hug and high-five classmates and teachers alike.

COMPASS was “my lifesaver to get the help I needed,” Sharp said.

Sharp, who was a student at Linn-Mar High, made the decision to attend COMPASS last year because she struggles with anxiety that causes her to miss classes. Some mornings, she would arrive at school and be unable to leave her car, she said.

At the COMPASS program — which serves more than 100 11th- and 12th-grade students — Sharp said she didn’t feel overwhelmed like she did at the 2,200-student high school.

She felt supported by teachers who were able to get to know her better because of smaller class sizes, Sharp said.

Sharp was able to catch up on the classes she missed at Linn-Mar High and graduate earlier than she was expected to in May 2023. She still hopes to walk with her graduating class in the spring.

The small celebration last week, however, is the way many students at COMPASS are recognized for their achievement instead of waiting for a larger graduation ceremony in May.

COMPASS had a record-breaking number of graduates during the 2021-22 school year with 76 students graduating, said COMPASS director Steve Goodall.

The program meets each student where they are by providing them an individualized graduation plan, modified schedule and small student-to-teacher ratio.

A transfer to COMPASS can be made with the support of a students’ parents or guardian. Students who attend COMPASS may have experienced a disruptive life event that interferes with their progress toward graduation or need an altered school day schedule other school’s can’t accommodate.

COMPASS is open to students until they are age 21.

Students come to COMPASS from Linn-Mar High School, the Marion Independent School District and ATLAS — which stands for Achieving Transition through Learning, Advancement and Success — a program through Four Oaks for at-risk youth.

Four Oaks is a nonprofit juvenile justice, and behavioral health agency in Cedar Rapids that provides services to children and families across Iowa. Children in the ATLAS program live in Four Oaks residential facility in Marion.

A solution for some

Logan Adams, 17, was a student at Marion High School when he decided he needed something different.

“I didn’t try to reach my full potential” at Marion High, where he felt like he was “hanging on by a thread,” Adams said.

COMPASS was a solution for him. Since transferring into the program, Adams said he’s never felt like he wasn’t going to graduate. He also has plans to pursue college or trade school after graduating, which he expects to do in January 2023.

Kourtney Albright, COMPASS Language Arts teacher, said she sees incredible growth from students during their time in the program. School goes from something they feel like they have to do to a priority, she said.

Amy Stevens, a teacher with the ATLAS program, said 90 percent of her job is being a mom first, then an educator since the students aren’t living with their families when they’re in the program.

“We show them this is a safe place, and we’re here to support them and their progress,” Stevens said. “I listen without judgment.”

Students are typically in the ATLAS program between four to nine months, Stevens said.

“We try to love them while they’re here and make this a positive experience — plant a seed,” Stevens said.

COMPASS counselor Danielle Patterson said the program is like a family. Staff members know learning can’t happen if a student is hungry, sick or experiencing a panic attack. The school has a food pantry, clothing closet and hygiene pantry available to students.

COMPASS is Patterson’s “favorite place I’ve been” she said.

“These are my favorite kids,” she said. “You give them love and a place to grow and they do incredible things.”

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School readiness – beyond the first day of Kindergarten

From the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque:

Parents and organizations play important roles in providing children with positive experiences that prepare them for school beginning at birth.

Over 16 years, Kristy Fenwick has worked with hundreds of Dubuque County families, helping prepare them for the day their children enter kindergarten. Seeing those kids eager and ready for school never gets old.

“I’ve worked with some children from the time they were born,” says Fenwick, who coordinates the Parents as Teachers program through Four Oaks. “Seeing them go from little babies to kindergarteners holding their backpacks and ready for school is so rewarding.”

With the first day of school just around the corner, many people like Fenwick are feeling that same excitement for children about to enter kindergarten. Many are also feeling nervous, wondering how kids will fare in a new environment. With so much importance placed on school readiness, parents and guardians can’t help but wonder: Is my child ready?

School readiness starts at home

As Fenwick knows, preparing children for school doesn’t just happen in the months prior to kindergarten — and it doesn’t end when kids walk into the classroom for the first time. At the Community Foundation, our Every Child Reads initiative is focused on school readiness year-round, and our partners like Four Oaks are key to ensuring all children in the community are prepared for a lifetime of learning.

As children’s primary caregivers, parents and guardians play a major role in getting children ready for school, and Parents as Teachers is a prime example of how local organizations can provide parents and guardians with essential support.

“When it comes to resources for children and families, people often think about schools and child care centers,” Fenwick says. “There’s also a need for resources that help parents — particularly those with children from birth to age 5 — be the best they can be.”

All families in Dubuque County with children age 5 and younger are eligible to participate for free in Parents as Teachers. The program has four components — home visits, groups, developmental screenings, and a resource network — each of which equips parents and guardians with tools to help them create nurturing environments and prepare children for school.

Opportunities for play, bonding and ongoing support

During home visits, parent educators bring activities that foster educational play, such as interactive stories and finger puppets, directly to families and help them understand why these activities are good for the youngest household members. Through group gatherings families get together for positive, supportive activities, such as a scavenger hunt around town based on the Ever Child Reads book Be a Healthy You! In Dubuque.

Beyond fun activities, Parents as Teachers provides resources, including developmental screenings and a robust network of supports. Fenwick says families reach out when they need to know about anything from library events to food baskets.

All of these components foster school readiness in different ways. Play activities are early learning opportunities, outings help children build bonds with neighbors and the community, and resources provide parents with the reassurance that they will have ongoing support throughout their journeys.

Ultimately, they add up to positive experiences that foster social-emotional wellness and help children be ready for school — on the first day of kindergarten and beyond.

If you are interested in participating in Parents as Teachers, contact Kristy Fenwick at or call 563-557-3100.

See the original story at Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque


Horizons Meals on Wheels partners with Affordable Housing Network at Geneva Tower

The Affordable Housing Network, Inc. (AHNI) has partnered with Horizons’ Meals on Wheels to serve congregate meals at Geneva Tower in downtown Cedar Rapids. Starting July 12, residents are able to receive a warm meal from the newly renovated kitchen in the Community Room. They may eat with neighbors in the Community Room or bring their meals to their unit.

Congregate meals are available to any adult 60 or older, their spouse regardless of age, and their child with disabilities (who lives with and attends with an eligible parent). Meals are open to anyone under 59 for a $6 donation and will be served at Geneva Tower from 11 am to 12 pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

In addition to meals, Horizons’ Meals on Wheels provides the opportunity to socialize with others, participate in activities such as BINGO, card games, or knitting, and hear presentations on topics such as heart disease, stroke, and more!

The Gazette: Achievement Academy bridges crucial summer learning gaps

CEDAR RAPIDS — Imani Perdomo, a rising fourth-grader at Johnson STEAM Academy, is spending the summer learning and exploring her community at the Achievement Academy at Jane Boyd Community House.

Imani, 8, has been coming to the summer school program since she was in kindergarten for child care and to help prepare her academically and socially-emotionally for the next school year. Some of her favorite things to do at the Achievement Academy are math lessons, crafts and reading and writing mystery stories, and making snacks like graham crackers frosted with blue frosting, topped with Goldfish crackers and sprinkles to resemble the ocean.

Imani is one of about 85 kindergarten through fifth-grade children in the Cedar Rapids Community School District attending the 10-week summer school program for kids from high-risk communities. Families apply to be a part of the program, the cost of which is assessed on a sliding scale fee based on income. State child care assistance, which is available to the children of income-eligible parents who are absent for a portion of the day because of a job or participation in academic or vocational training, is also accepted. Jane Boyd Community House Director Megan Isenberg said families pay an average of $25 a week for their child to participate.

The program is expanding this summer by adding a certified teacher, Shaylee Maas, to address gaps in reading and math after decades of providing summer school to Cedar Rapids students.

A certified teacher helps tailor direct instruction to target specific student needs, Isenberg said. Other teachers with Achievement Academy are there to get experience in a summer job while working toward degrees in teaching or social work, Isenberg said.

The Cedar Rapids school board in May approved an agreement for summer programming with Jane Boyd, paying $26,560 toward the program and to help with hiring a certified teacher.

Maas said there are “big gaps missing” in children’s learning, which she especially noticed teaching second grade in the Linn-Mar Community School District. Her students during the 2021-22 school year were in kindergarten when the pandemic hit in March 2020, and missed half of that academic year. Their first grade year was a blend of virtual and in-person learning.

Even so, Maas is confident students today can get back on track and is working with them to fill in foundational skills such as letter recognition with kindergartners and phonics.

“Repetition is key — keep working with them and they will grow,” she said. “They’re filling in those gaps really quickly.”

Of students in Achievement Academy over the years:

  • 97 percent report having a positive relationship with an adult who they trust outside their family;
  • 44 percent live at or below the federal poverty line;
  • 41 percent are from single-parent households;
  • 94 percent report feeling a positive sense of self;
  • and 55 percent increase their reading proficiency.

Jane Boyd also has staff who work at Grant elementary and Johnson STEAM to help families gain access to mental health services and basic needs, like food, toiletries and housing, and are available during the summer at the Achievement Academy.

Megan Brown, Jane Boyd program manager, has worked with students in the Cedar Rapids district for almost a decade. Brown is a “consistent adult kids can trust,” Isenberg said.

Brown always knew she wanted to help people — and tried being a nurse — before she realized it was the connection with kids where she felt she had the most impact.

Many of the children who come to Jane Boyd have a similar background to what Brown experienced growing up, she said. Brown described a lackluster education in Jamaica, where she was born and raised in a single-parent household.

Being in the schools helps Brown see where the students are emotionally and how it impacts them academically.

Achievement Academy also is fun and games, with students going on field trips to community pools, splash pads, learning about sports, gardening with Iowa State University Extension and even taking a field trip to Indian Creek Nature Center this week.

See the original story in the Gazette

Iowa Department of Human Services Hosts Roundtable Discussions

On June 22, Four Oaks was honored to be invited by Department of Human Services (DHS) Director Kelly Garcia to participate in a discussion on children’s mental health services and supports across Iowa.  The event was held at the Independence Mental Health Institute (IMHI) where Health and Human Services (HHS) hosted representatives from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH), Intergovernmental and External Affairs (IEA), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

The event included two roundtable discussions with representatives from University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, several Iowa Mental Health and Disability Regions, Blank Children’s Hospital, Orchard Place and Four Oaks. The group toured House of Mercy and UnityPoint Health Behavioral Health in Des Moines and Independence Mental Health Institute.

Mary Beth O’Neill, President and CEO of Four Oaks, and Four Oaks therapist Roger Pollock, LISW, were afforded the opportunity to provide insight into service gaps and systemic barriers impeding service delivery to children.  “We had a collaborative and engaging discussion that bodes well for the future direction of children’s services,” said O’Neill. 

Radiant Church Hosts Community Day at Agin Court Apartments

AHNI Agin Court Apartments Community Day
Radiant Church hosted a Community Day at Agin Court Apartments, an Affordable Housing Network, Inc. (AHNI) property, on Saturday, June 18. Volunteers from the church cleaned the property inside and out. They picked up trash in the common areas outside the apartment buildings and helped six residents that requested assistance with organizing and cleaning their apartments.

Church representatives played water games and Bingo with tenants, and followed up with a free afternoon cookout for residents.

We thank Radiant Church for the fun day, and hope to continue this partnership with similar events at other AHNI properties.

KCRG: Trauma experts say law enforcement experience extreme trauma while on the job

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) – A memorial for Sgt. John Williams was set up at the Coralville Police Department Tuesday to help people deal with grief from their loss.

Williams died from a medical issue after responding to a shooting at an apartment complex where a three-year-old was killed.

“Stress will put in all these chemicals in your body, large amounts of them,” said Senior Training Specialist and Implementation Coach for Four Oaks, Amber Martz. “There’s a point that it becomes overwhelming to your body if you’re unable to work through those different things.”

Amber Martz trains others on how to handle traumatic situations. Being in a shooting situation where a three-year-old died was something she said can be traumatic for even a veteran with nearly 30 years of experience like Sgt. Williams.

“I see it all the time,” she said. “I work in that field and with those people who have to deal with that all the time.”

It wasn’t clear whether Sgt. Williams’ medical condition was related to stress caused by trauma, but Martz said there were biological ways we all can deal with stress; drinking water, watching your regular heart rate and being self-aware.

“The number one thing I want people to know is to be self-aware of your body,” Martz said.

She said what first responders saw on the job makes it even more difficult after months of pressure from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s an even worse issue,” she said. “It’s been deemed one of the biggest health threats that we have here in America.”

Copyright 2022 KCRG. All rights reserved.

See the video here


Shuttleworth & Ingersoll Donation

Shuttleworth & Ingersoll Partners with Four Oaks for Juneteenth Service Project

Juneteenth commemorates the anniversary of the day in 1865 when the last group of enslaved black Americans were freed by Union troops. It is not only a celebration of freedom, but also one of opportunity, equity, and access.

This year, in recognition of Juneteenth and the firm’s commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, roughly 60 attorneys and staff of Shuttleworth & Ingersoll donated over 300 hours to make improvements to outdoor spaces and assist with legal forms for the Four Oaks Enterprise. They generously gave their time and effort to help at the Jane Boyd Community House and Cedar Valley Townhomes in Cedar Rapids.

Shuttleworth & Ingersoll representatives constructed a pergola on the playground at the Jane Boyd Community House for the children attending Achievement Academy, an out-of-school educational enrichment program for children in under-served areas. The trees shading the playground were destroyed in the 2020 derecho, and the pergola will allow children to safely play outside again on hot, sunny days. They also mulched the entire playground, providing a protective ground cushion for active children.

The firm partnered with the Entrepreneur Edge Program at the Jane Boyd Community House to prepare general legal forms. The program focuses on developing and supporting minority-owned entrepreneurs and small business owners in the Cedar Rapids area.

At Cedar Valley Townhomes, an Affordable Housing Network, Inc. property for diverse populations with lower incomes, attorneys and staff refreshed garden beds and filled them filled with flowers for an inviting atmosphere, and spread mulch throughout the playground shared by the townhomes. In addition, they went above and beyond to fill the community’s food pantry with over $400 worth of food.

The day kicked off with Mary Beth O’Neill, Four Oaks President and CEO, welcoming volunteers and speaking of the impact their work would have on the community. Four Oaks’ Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Program Coordinator Ashley Turner also greeted the group and shared highlights of Four Oaks’ commitment to DEI. At lunch, a Cedar Valley resident spoke to the crowd, sharing her inspirational story of moving into Cedar Valley Townhomes with Section 8 funding and her climb to home-ownership.

Four Oaks would like to thank Shuttleworth & Ingersoll for their Juneteenth initiative, and the generous sponsors listed below for plant and tree donations. Additionally, we thank all volunteers for their time and effort. Their selflessness and service to our community at a grassroots level impacts many lives and exemplifies Shuttleworth and Ingersoll’s motto that “We Are Stronger Together.”


About Four Oaks

Four Oaks, headquartered in Cedar Rapids, is one of Iowa’s largest child welfare, juvenile justice, and behavioral health agencies. For more information, visit

Mackenzie Scott Makes Generous Donation to Four Oaks

Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, mom, writer and advocate, has made a generous gift to Four Oaks Family and Children’s Services, an organization that assures children become successful adults. Four Oaks and its affiliates serve more than 27,000 individuals annually, at more than 20 locations across the state of Iowa.

The independent unrestricted gift will allow Four Oaks to, as Ms. Scott notes in her March 23 announcement, “[convert] the funds into meaningful services for others.” Ms. Scott explained, “Helping any of us can help us all…We are all human…Yet when we help one group, we often help them all.”

Founded in 1973, Four Oaks began as a group home for 10 young boys between the ages of 10 and 15 who had no other place to go. Since that time, Four Oaks has grown substantially to become one of Iowa’s largest nonprofits addressing child welfare, juvenile justice and mental and behavioral health. Four Oaks now serves Iowa children of all ages and their families through holistic prevention, intervention and treatment programs and services.

Mary Beth O’Neill, Four Oaks President and CEO, said, “With Ms. Scott’s support, we are creating communities across the state that are committed to ensuring that our best asset, our children, can succeed. Together, we can Expect Success. We thank Ms. Scott for trusting and encouraging us to continue this important work.”

Read More Here