Community rallies to save Iowa Juvenile Home

TAMA – Community members provided the human aspect of the work of the Iowa Juvenile Home in an effort to show what the facility means to not only Toledo but the entire state of Iowa.

A “Keep IJH Open” rally was held at the South Tama County High School gym Thursday night to speak out against the decision by Gov. Terry Branstad and the Department of Human Services to close the facility for at-risk young girls Jan. 16.

A crowd of several hundred people heard from current and former staff at IJH, former students and area legislators.

“Closing the Iowa Juvenile Home is not in the best interest of the at-risk youth in Iowa,” said Jamie Koster, a current special education teacher at IJH.

Koster pleaded with the governor to listen to the students and not the reports from people who have spent so little time in the facility. The facility has come under fire during the past year, especially for the use of seclusion rooms.

Breanna Dailing, 18, is a recent graduate of IJH and she said she is a “success story” and now in college.

She said staff at IJH helped her value herself and gave her comfort.

“We all became a little family at IJH,” Dailing said.

Closing the facility will mean pink slips for 93 staff members and the students will be sent to other facilities in the state.

Former longtime teacher and principal at IJH, Mike Sawyer, is not in favor of the closure.

“The students at Iowa Juvenile Home and Iowa cannot be better served in other placements,” Sawyer said.

Area legislators Rep. Dean Fisher, R-Garwin, and Sen. Steve Sodders, D-State Center, were in attendance and continue to fight the closure decision.

“I think this is a bad call,” Fisher said. “It’s just not fair.”

Sodders said he hopes the turnout of people at the rally will resonate with state leaders.

“Hopefully this will show the governor that his decision was a bad decision,” Sodders said.

He continues to look into the legality of the decision by the governor, he said, and already has plans to talk about it when the 2014 legislative session opens next month.

“We may come into next session with a proposal to start (IJH) back up,” Sodders said.