In The News: Educators putting emphasis on social-emotional skills as students navigate virtual learning

Jane Boyd offers a variety of programming that furthers the mission focus of supporting families’ and children’s academic, emotional and social well-being.

With the pandemic limiting in-person contact and forcing a lot of schools to move to virtual learning, the Achievement Academy has worked to incorporate social-emotional learning curriculum into its after-school programming to help young students with navigating the challenges that come with learning in a virtual environment.

Check out this story that KCRG did on how Jane Boyd is incorporating social-emotional learning curriculum into its programming to support youth as they navigate virtual learning.

In The News: Pandemic forces mentoring programs to get creative to continue guiding young Iowans

With the uncertainty and instability that the COVID-19 pandemic has created, youth in Linn County face significant challenges in navigating the changing world around them as they transition from high school into the workforce and post-secondary education.

Four Oaks’ TotalChild® Workforce is there to support teens and young adults through this transition with the goal of having them into a stable job and self-sufficiency by age 26. One major component of the program is providing participants with community mentors.

Check out this story by Iowa’s News Now on TotalChild® Workforce’s mentoring program and how it’s helping participants like Daysha Gibson determine their next steps and goals.

Impacting Families Statewide

Building a stronger tomorrow for the Thurmon family

Together, Four Oaks, Jane Boyd, and the Affordable Housing Network work to ensure the success of children and families across Iowa. Through a comprehensive network of resources and programs, our partnership of agencies is able to create a continuum of care to address a variety of barriers to success.

For the Thurmon family, this innovative approach that brings the child, family and community together in a wide-ranging way has helped them build a stronger tomorrow for their family.

“It can only benefit your family and make it stronger,” Destiny Thurmon said. “Four Oaks has given so many supports. It has helped our family survive. Four Oaks has helped make the kids more positive, healthy and productive young adults.”

Destiny and her children, Desmarie (26), Jerome (24), Nashaunda (20), Jamar (18), and Jquan (9), with the support of resources and programs through Four Oaks and Jane Boyd, have worked on their family relationships, communication and problem-solving, self-sufficiency, and setting goals for their futures. Since starting their relationship with Four Oaks and its affiliates, the Thurmon family has achieved stability and are continuing on their journey to success.

One program that has been especially impactful for the family has been the TotalChild® Workforce program. Both Jamar and Nashaunda have participated in TotalChild® Workforce and have plans to pursue higher education. “The Workforce Program helped connect my kids with education pathways and college,” Destiny said. “I know nothing about either of those things and it was so nice to have a support person helping them navigate getting into college and make the transition successfully.”

Destiny expressed how significant her relationships with Four Oaks staff have been in her life and the lives of her children. “I appreciate how the staff forms personal relationships, where people connect with your family on a personal level,” Destiny says. “They make a connection and make our lives easier.”

Opening Their Hearts and Home: The Owensby Family

Heather Owensby spent much of her childhood living with her grandparents, a home she describes as “a place of safety and love.”

As she grew older, Heather realized that if not for her grandparents, she more than likely would have been in the foster care system. She always knew that someday she wanted to provide a safe and loving place for children in need as her grandparents had done for her. Her husband, Matt, shared this desire and in 2018, Heather and Matt Owensby became foster parents. They currently live in Madrid, Iowa and have five biological children who are ages 14 to 22-years-old.

“There is such a tremendous need for safe, loving homes for children in need,” Heather said. “For those who are able, we have the opportunity to be a part of healing and hope in the lives of children in foster care and their families. There are so many children in need but it starts by saying yes.”

When it comes to foster care, the goal is to safely reunite children with their birth families. A foster parent’s impact goes beyond a child—they may have a chance to help an entire family move toward wholeness. The Owensby family had the opportunity to do this with the first child they cared for, a six-year-old boy who lived with them for almost four months before he went to live with his grandparents.

With the father in prison and the mother working on a plan to get her children back, the Owensby family recognized the tough road ahead that the family faced. They kept in touch with both the grandmother and mother of their foster son after he had left their care.

Their foster son’s father was recently released from prison and in need of a job. Their foster son’s mother reached out, knowing that Matt owns a construction business, asking if they would consider hiring the father to work for their business. Matt said he would hire him. Currently their former foster son’s father works for their company and alongside Matt on a daily basis and it has been a very positive experience, Heather said.

“For us this is our greatest hope in being foster parents. We know that this is not always the outcome as we’ve experienced with other foster children we’ve cared for,” Heather said. “Getting to know his parents was definitely not comfortable at first, but we had committed to doing all we could to let them know that we were for them and not against them.”

Heather said that they are grateful for the opportunity to continue to be a part of their former foster son’s family and stay connected to him.

“We know that the work of foster parents is hard work, but we have come to believe that anything good worth doing is oftentimes hard. But with the hard comes some of the greatest joys,” Heather said. “Learning to love children and families in need without holding back does not always come easy, but it is totally worth it.”

Leaving a Legacy

Celebrating 20 years of the Oak Leaf Society

Since 2000, 155 individuals have committed to investing in the future of Four Oaks and the success of the children and families we serve. It’s because of Kathy Toborg Cook, former Four Oaks Planned Giving Director, that this unique group of donors is what it is today.

In 2000, former Four Oaks CEO Jim Ernst approached Toborg Cook about starting a planned giving society. Toborg Cook, who had prior experience establishing a planned giving program for Kirkwood Community College, set to work right away on laying the groundwork for what would become the Oak Leaf Society.

The Oak Leaf Society is Four Oaks’ planned giving society that recognizes individuals who have named Four Oaks to receive a planned gift through their will or family trust. Members have also been inducted for significant lifetime giving, major gifts, or lifetime service.

“It was a little daunting to start a planned giving society,” Toborg Cook said. “I spent a lot of time meeting with people and learning about what they loved about Four Oaks and what we did that really spoke to them.”

Toborg Cook worked on identifying individuals to be a part of the first class of the Oak Leaf Society, whose name can be credited to Jim Sealy, former Four Oaks Foundation Fund Development Director, according to Toborg Cook. The first class of the Oak Leaf Society was inducted in 2000 with Toborg Cook being among the first members to join the group.

With each year that has passed, more and more members have been inducted. Each year, the induction of new members has been celebrated with a dinner, which are some of Toborg Cook’s fondest memories from her time with Four Oaks.

“I can’t believe it’s been 20 years,” Toborg Cook said. “Sometimes you can spend your whole career some place and not really know what you accomplished. But the last time I attended a dinner and when I saw all of the names of the members in print, that was a very proud moment for me because I knew I had helped the future financial stability of Four Oaks through these people.”

Toborg Cook says committing to a planned gift is one of the most unique and meaningful ways someone could support Four Oaks.

“It just makes my heart swell to see that wonderful type of support that to me is really the most important,” Toborg Cook said. “It’s always important when you have a major gifts campaign or a capital campaign for a specific project and that’s wonderful and I wouldn’t take away from that for a minute, but to me planned giving is investing in the future of the organization.”

It Takes a Village

At Four Oaks, we believe in building broad-based opportunities for youth and families to succeed. To accomplish this goal and to carry out our mission – “to assure children become successful adults” – we rely on community volunteers who share their time and talent making a difference at Four Oaks.

It’s because of volunteers like Dr. Mary Kemen that we are able to accomplish this goal. Kemen, an anesthesiologist with St. Luke’s Hospital, has volunteered with Four Oaks for five years as a mentor to youth with the TotalChild® Workforce program. In her role as a mentor, Kemen has gone on job shadows with youth and met with them one-on-one to discuss their educational and employment goals.

“I think the statement, ‘It takes a village’ is really one that we should give more credence to. I think we all kind of laugh at it but we really shouldn’t,” Kemen said, “because it is true, that an entire community should help raise every child.”

Kemen said that’s what she sees herself doing as a mentor.

“I think that so much of what this mentoring group does is take people at that very delicate stage of life in which they have to begin to develop independence and help them find a path,” Kemen said. “They just need people to take their hand and help them along the way. It’s been very worthwhile doing this.”

Kemen said she hopes that others in the community will consider mentoring youth.

“I really hope that this program will thrive. And I hope they continue to get a variety of people from the community, especially those who have unusual stories or very unique entries into a profession or into the working world,” Kemen said. “I think hearing the stories of other adults has a really big impact on these young people. I highly encourage others to join the mentoring group.”

Message from our President & CEO

Message from our President & CEO

FY2020 was a shift for both the world and for our organization. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit back in March, we became even more focused and determined to ensure the success and safety of the children and families we serve. From adding protective measures like the use of Personal Protective Equipment in all of our residential and shelter programs, to moving other programs virtual, we adapted and responded to these challenges with resilience.

While how we operate may look a little different today than it did before, our mission is still the same, “To assure children become successful adults.”

Whether it’s helping families find safety and stability through affordable housing, assisting youth in their challenges with mental health or school, empowering young adults to reach their potential through professional careers, or supporting foster and adoptive families across Iowa, the Four Oaks Enterprise, comprised of Four Oaks, the Affordable Housing Network, and Jane Boyd Community House, are committed to comprehensively helping children and families through their barriers to success.

As you’ll see in this report, our powerful network of services and programs enables us to create a continuum of care that holistically addresses the needs of children and families, whatever they may be. This collaborative approach is based on our TotalChild® service model that was designed to achieve positive short and long-term outcomes for children and their families facing multiple challenges.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has created its own unique barriers to success for those we serve, we have met those barriers head on and are able to do so because of the incredible support of our community partners, volunteers, donors, and others like you. Your support has helped build an organization that’s able to quickly respond to our community’s needs.

Thank you for making this organization strong and able to take on whatever challenges come our way. Together, we are creating a community that is committed to allowing our best asset – our children, to succeed.

Together, we can Expect Success.

Anne Gruenewald

President & CEO

Four Oaks Holiday Wrap Up

We are so thankful for all of the incredible gifts and donations we have received this holiday season. We wanted to share with you some of the highlights! Check out our holiday wrap up below where we highlight some of the amazing things our supporters did this holiday season to help ensure the success of the children and families we serve across the state of Iowa.

Slumberland in Dubuque Donates 40 Mattress Sets to Families in the Dubuque Area

30 twin mattress sets and 10 full mattress sets were donated by Slumberland and delivered to families in the Dubuque area by Four Oaks staff and volunteers.

“People don’t realize there are people in the community that don’t have a bed,” Four Oaks Dubuque Regional Director Amy Kallaher said. “But a bed is not a priority when you’re trying to put food on the table.”

Read more here…

Alliant Energy Donates 1,000 Holiday Food Boxes to Families Across Iowa

Alliant Energy partnered with Four Oaks to provide 1,000 holiday meals for the families we serve across Iowa this holiday season. Our staff helped distribute them to families in Burlington, Cedar Rapids, Marion, Clinton, Dubuque, Ottumwa, Marshalltown and Mason City.

“We were thrilled to be able to be a part of this process because there is a big need within the families that we serve. It make you feel really good to be able to give something to families that can help them enjoy the holidays,” Janna Wuttke, Four Oaks Utilization Manager in Mason City, said.

Community Partners Donate Gifts for the Holiday Project

We had so many amazing gifts donated to our Holiday Project by our incredible community partners and supporters like Bankers Trust and General Mills. Thank you to everyone who donated for helping ensure that the children and families we serve had a happy holidays!

Raining Rose Donates over 5,000 Bottles of Shampoo

Raining Rose donated four pallets of shampoo, which is around 5,000 bottles of shampoo, that was distributed to our different site locations across the state including to each of our residential programs, along with family assistance programs at D Street, the Jane Boyd Community House, Harambee House, Mason City, and The Affordable Housing Network locations including Cedar Valley, Hawthorne Hills, and Geneva Tower.

BluSky Gives Generous Gift to Support Four Oaks this Holiday Season

BluSky, a commercial and residential restoration, renovation, environmental, and roofing services company based out of Colorado, gave a generous gift to Four Oaks this holiday season to support the children and families we serve and to support our continued recovery from the 2020 derecho.

Farmers State Bank Donates Generous Holiday Gift

Farmers State Bank made a generous gift to our Holiday Project that helped ensure that the children and families we serve across the state of Iowa had a happy holidays.


2020 Virtual Community Update

Four Oaks recently hosted a virtual community update where we shared the progress we’ve made over the past year working with children, families, and housing, as well as preparing teens for the workforce. We also provided insight into how hard Four Oaks and its affiliates have been hit by both COVID-19 and the derecho.