Past Programs 2011-2012

June 7, 2012

A Powerful Voice for a Child in Foster Care

Speakers: Jan Huneke, Chief Executive Officer, Voices for Children; Cheryl Latham, Program Director, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), and Carol MacDonald, CASA Volunteer

Few issues tug at the heart as much as the plight of children locked in the child welfare system. “These children are not safe at home, and most have suffered multiple types of abuse and neglect,” Jan Huneke, CEO of Voices for Children, told WV members at the June 7 meeting. Several months ago, Voices for Children and CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) merged to help coordinate advocacy services for the nearly 2,500 St. Louis City and County children receiving foster care. Currently, CASA has enough volunteers to serve about 30 percent of the children in the system. Ultimately, the goal is to help every child live in a safe, permanent home where he or she has the opportunity to thrive. Sometimes that’s in an adoptive home, sometimes it’s back with a parent or parents who’ve proven they can provide a safe, stable environment.

CASA volunteers contribute to this process by doing what no one else does: Their sole responsibility is to represent the children’s best interests. Inside the courtroom, they speak for the children. Outside the courtroom, they are often the one constant presence in these children’s lives, the adult who listens, who speaks up for them, who lets them know that they can have a good future and that people care about their troubles.

Children in the overburdened child welfare system often fall through the cracks. Too often, they “age out,” without ever being part of a permanent, nurturing family. On average, a child in foster care will:

  • Remain the system for at least 3 years
  • Move at least 3 times, often more frequently
  • Attend 9 different schools by age 18

Foster children are at higher risk for homelessness, teen pregnancy, incarceration, unemployment, mental illness, and repeating the cycle of abuse with their own children.

The June 7 program included a brief video that effectively illustrated the unique way CASA volunteers help these children navigate the system they’ve been thrown into. WV board member Lise Bernstein was one of the CASA volunteers featured in the video. The young girls Lise worked with, sisters who’ve now been placed in a permanent adoptive home, are fully aware of the difference CASA and Lise made in their lives. “She brought back a big chunk of my heart,” said one sister.

Children with a CASA advocate:

  • Spend significantly less time in foster care – the average case lasts 18 months
  • Are more likely to be adopted
  • Are as likely to be reunified with their family
  • Are much less likely to re-enter foster care
  • Receive more services; their parents do, too

In fact, 90% of children with CASA advocates find safe, permanent homes. WV members and visitors peppered the panel with questions about the 25-hour CASA volunteer training program, the ongoing time commitment (an average of 10 to 12 hours a month) and ways CASAs interact with the children, their teachers, foster and birth families and the courts. For more information, visit www.voices-stl.org, 314-552-2352; or call Cheryl Latham, CASA program director, 314-615-4506.

May 10, 2012

Annual Meeting – Consuming News: Good, Bad, Ugly and Other

Speaker: Don Marsh, St. Louis Public Radio, “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, The Other”

 

Members of Women’s Voices celebrated their 7th annual meeting on Thursday, May 10, with an event at the Missouri History Museum. Highlight of the evening was a talk by veteran journalist Don Marsh, who hosts the “St. Louis On The Air” program four days a week on St. Louis public radio.

Under the heading of “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly and The Other,” Marsh offered a candid assessment of the state of journalism today. Under “the good,” he cited the extent of information that is available to average citizens today, and the ease of accessing information. But he feels that “the bad” outweighs the good in many respects, and much of “the bad” is due to corporate out-of-town ownership of most media outlets. As an example of how some reporters lack an understanding of their local markets, he recalled a time when a TV reporter asked him “if Maryland Heights was named for Marilyn Monroe.”

Marsh believes that “the ugly” is gaining a greater foothold in journalism today, and one example he cited is the new practice of outsourcing both reporting and copy editing. There is a newspaper in a small city in California, he said, that covers city council meetings by having a reporter in India monitor the streaming video of the meeting and then writing about it.

Under “the other,” Marsh noted numerous problems such as inaccuracy in many web sites, cable news programs that only give one side of complicated issues, and viewers who select their news programs based upon their own liberal or conservative biases.

Prior to Marsh’s talk, members approved the minutes of the 2011 annual meeting, the financial report and the budget. Mary Clemons gave a brief president’s report and copies of the annual report were distributed (all annual reports may be accessed on this web site).

Officers elected for 2012-13 were: Mary Clemons, president; Jeanne Bubb, vice president; Karel Hippert, secretary, and Barbara Richter, treasurer. Elected to the board as directors were Lise Bernstein, Susan Hayman, Helen Houlle and Barbara Paulus.

Prior to the meeting, members enjoyed an after-hours tour of “Hunger and Resilience,” the photo/audio exhibit on display at the History Museum.

April 12, 2012

The High Cost of Cheap Meat – Revamping Our Food System for the Future

Speaker: Kathleen Logan Smith, executive director, Missouri Coalition for the Environment

 

“We have to rethink our entire food system,” warned Kathleen Logan Smith, executive director, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, at our April 12 meeting. The coalition works on issues of clean water, air, and energy; farm policy; and wetlands and flood plains. In a discussion of “the high cost of cheap meat,” she showed how all these issues are related in food production practices that are bankrupting our soil, water, and health. In Missouri, the state legislature is greatly influenced by agricultural lobbyists and the Missouri Farm Bureau, with disastrous effects:

  • CAFOs raise animals (mostly pigs and chickens in Missouri) in such tight quarters that they must use feed containing antibiotics to prevent the spread of disease and add weight faster, contributing to the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant pathogens.
  • CAFOs generate huge amounts of animal waste that are contaminating waterways. Missouri does not have effective laws regulating agricultural pollution, nor does it require smaller CAFOs to obtain permits, which would prescribe setbacks from wells, limits on pollutants, and other precautions.
  • Corn growers are heavily subsidized by tax money. Herbicides and pesticides used in corn production deplete the soil. Along with fertilizers, they pollute waterways, lakes, and the Gulf of Mexico. The result is dead zones where fish cannot live because excessive algae growth depletes the oxygen in the water.
  • Farmers cut down trees to plant as much corn as possible, causing alarming loss of soil due to erosion. Missouri is one of the top five states in the country for soil loss.
  • Big Agriculture’s pervasive use of Roundup results in the killing of soil microorganisms, disrupting soil ecosystems.

Smith noted that pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides are all made from fossil fuels. Our destructive food production system has evolved in only 50 years, and it can be reversed if we act quickly, she said. Here’s what we can do:

  • Advocate for a Farm Bill that includes compliance with conservation standards and attaches conservation strings to a “revenue insurance” proposal that guarantees a farmer’s income if the market goes down. [The current Farm Bill expires September 2012 and is currently being considered by the U.S. Congress.]
  • Change our food-buying habits. Buy organic, locally grown food from farmer’s markets or small-scale farmers, and buy only free-range, pasture-raised meat.
  • Support enforcement of environmental protections and penalties for violators.

For more information:
Missouri Coalition for the Environment
The Izaak Walton League of America
Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry
House Committee on Agriculture

 


 

Amy Smoucha, long-time Women’s Voices member and organizer with Jobs with Justice, was honored at our April 12 meeting as she prepares to leave St. Louis for a job with Families USA in Washington, DC.

Click here to read remarks in Amy’s honor by President Mary Clemons, who presented Amy with a gift of appreciation from all of us.


 

March 8, 2012

Addressing Hunger at Home and in Haiti

At our March 8 meeting, speakers addressed the problem of malnourishment, especially of children, at home and abroad. In Haiti, where one in five children is malnourished, the organization Meds & Food for Kids (MFK) has saved more than 30,000 lives by providing Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) to severely malnourished children. Marianne Frapwell, MFK development officer, described how MFK manufactures RUTF using locally grown peanuts and local workers. The food, known in Haiti as “peanut butter medicine,” contains vitamins and minerals, as well as peanuts and other simple ingredients. It successfully treats children in 6 to 8 weeks, enabling them to survive, even though they may still be malnourished, Frapwell explained.

Currently MFK treats 8,000 children a year, and it will soon be able to treat 80,000 when its new RUTF factory is completed. MFK also develops products for other nutritionally vulnerable groups, including pregnant women, school children, and infants, Frapwell said. RUTF has potential for other developing countries, where, unlike in the United States, peanut allergies are not a problem, she said.

Kari Hartel, a registered dietitian with Operation Food Search, told us that more than 135,000 children in the greater St. Louis area lack adequate nutritious food. When kids are hungry, she said, they have problems learning, cannot concentrate, and have behavior problems. In St. Louis public schools, 85 percent of the students rely on free or reduced-cost meals. To ensure they have food over the weekend, Operation Food Search (through its Operation Backpack program) distributes backpacks filled with easy-to-prepare foods on Friday. On Monday, students return the empty backpacks and the cycle continues, Hartel explained.

Operation Food Search also runs Cooking Matters classes, a food education program offered in 27 states. Adults and children attend the 6-week courses, which are held in schools, churches, etc. Volunteers help the Operation Food Search staff teach the 2-hour classes, which are geared to show how to have nutritious meals on a limited budget and give participants the opportunity to actively cook meals. Hartel suggested how people can help solve hunger: volunteer with Cooking Matters or a food pantry or bank; donate food; be active in a local food policy council; advocate. To learn more, visit the following websites:

Food Research and Action Center, www.frac.org
Bread for the World, www.bread.org
Operation Food Search, www.operationfoodsearch.org.

February 9, 2012

Strategies for Eliminating Poverty

Speaker: Michael Sherraden, PhD, Youngdahl Professor of Social Development and Director of the Center for Social Development at Washington University

Speaker Michael Sherraden, PhD, impressed the audience with his report of research that offers hope for alleviating poverty by helping low-income families build assets. In 40 states and other countries, his Center for Social Development is studying ways to help the poor save for a home, education, or starting a business. Sherraden, who is founding director of the Center for Social Development at Washington University’s Brown School of Social Work, explained that U.S. benefit policies, because they limited how much money families can have to qualify for aid, have not helped the poor climb out of poverty.

Sherraden explained that, historically, more affluent people have been helped by policies and structures (e.g., retirement accounts, tax deductions for a mortgage) that help them manage their money. The programs that the center is studying provide structures that can especially help people in poverty. One promising program is individual development accounts (IDAs), savings programs that match the contributions the recipients make to their accounts.

Sherraden pointed to Singapore as a model of a country that has a successful asset-accumulation program for all its citizens. He warned that millions of American workers face a world in which it is increasingly difficult to compete. The number of skilled workers has grown in the past decade from a half billion to 2 to 3 billion, he said, and more of the total income across the world comes from capital, not labor.

In this environment, the question the U.S. must answer, he said, is: How can people have a stable life and provide education for their children so they can do the best possible? As part of the answer, the center has been testing children’s accounts that would be used for education.

In a lively question-answer discussion, audience members expressed hope that the center’s research will result in the creation of policies and programs that address the income disparities between various groups so that all people have the resources they need to succeed in a healthy society.

 

December 8, 2011

A Visit To Shalom House


1040 S. Taylor Ave., Central West End
5:30 p.m.

On a cold December evening, 27 members of Women’s Voices went to the central west end to bring dinner and gift bags to 25 women in the emergency shelter program at Shalom House. Shalom House is the only 24-hour full service emergency shelter for chronically homeless women with mental illness and chemical dependency in the city of St. Louis.

Women’s Voices President Mary Clemons wrote the following recap of our visit:

After having a good night’s sleep in a comfortable bed in a quiet, well heated house, I woke up thinking about the women of Shalom House. They too slept last night in a warm bed with a colorful comforter and are on the path to having places of their own. Thank you to the team that organized the event last night. It was wonderful to have an opportunity to work together with fellow Women’s Voices members and friends. We had a chance to get to know each other better and see how industrious we are and how caring. The extras provided by some of our members – the gift bags prepared by Piera and presented in a twinkling Christmas lighted basket, the bags of fruit prepared by Joyce Clark and the wonderful idea of wrapping a pair of earrings to be included in the bags prepared by our organizers helped make the evening truly special. I overheard the resident who received the raffle Chanel #5 bubble bath tell another resident she was going to put a bit of it on her washcloth that evening and go to bed smelling wonderful. Our dinner was spectacular and enjoyed by the shelter women. It was especially nice to see all the home prepared special dishes – from spinach salad and Ruth Ann’s delicious wild rice and walnut salad, homemade brownies and homemade chocolate covered mints! There could not have been a better pot luck.

Marcy Bursac, Development Director of Shalom House, could have come to the Ethical Society and presented a program on the work they are doing, but that would not have given us the complete picture of their work. In addition to learning some statistics – that the 25 shelter residents can only stay 90 days, that the 12 transitional residents stay as long as needed (even years) until they are safely in a place of their own, and of the amazing 97% who remain in their own places two years after they leave – we saw the facility, how the women have to cooperate in using bathing facilities, and live in close proximity to their neighbor. We saw how structured the program is and how the staff interacts with the residents.

And, finally, sitting around the conference table, asking questions, and then hearing the story of the program graduate would not have been nearly as effective in our rented meeting room. The graduate’s story of her life before Shalom house, her appreciation for the help she received, and of her life now was powerful. Sitting together with her while she interacted with us was truly special. And the interruption by her phone call from her six year old grandson did not distract from the moment but showed us how far she has come in her journey.

I will treasure the visit we had and think of these women who are so appreciative of the gifts they receive – the gifts we gave, the gifts of caring counselors, the gifts of warm beds.

Our visit to Shalom House was very powerful for our members. Here are some responses from a few of them about the evening….

“Wow! What a powerful event last night at Shalom House! … A lot of work and caring thoughts went into the evening. It was a privilege to meet and talk with so many of the women at the shelter and to hear Linda’s testimonial of her personal journey.”

“One of the women that I spoke with was so grateful for the medical and dental care that is provided to the residents. She said that she worked for Walmart for 13 years and could never afford to see a dentist. While at Shalom House, they have seen that all her dental problems have been taken care of. …. She said that Shalom House was wonderful and urged us to support them.”

“I didn’t really know what to expect when I arrived at Shalom House last night. In fact, I was running late and arrived right as the program was beginning. I tossed my coat in the coat area and joined a big circle of women (including our own WV members) who were introducing themselves. As I looked around I could see the care that went into the dinner we provided and I could also see wary smiles on many faces around the circle. I was lucky. The first woman that I sat down with was interesting, fun, and very willing to share with me about her dreams, ideas, and plans for her future. She looked to be about 20, but was actually 44, and had 3 grown children. She was hoping to go to college and become a social worker. And my “luck” continued all throughout dinner. EACH one of the women I spoke with had their special story to share. One woman loved all of her food related jobs she’d had over the years, another spoke of her love of doing research. At one point I looked across the table and saw women enjoying the gifts they received from us, smelling their lovely bath products, and preening over “new” earrings. The tour and talk portion of the evening was equally interesting and it was very evident to me that this was a program that truly operated with the principles of respect and care for all and that they are successful at changing lives. As the evening came to a close, I left with the feeling of having given far less than I had received.”

“Each bag I fixed had a snowflake ornament attached. As we toured the sleeping area, a snowflake hung on a otherwise empty bulletin board. I got a little choked up when I saw it, but cannot help but think how “empty” that woman’s life must be that a single snowflake and the evening meal that went with it certainly was a little light her day.”

“Just think, 20 of the 25 residents are on psych drugs. If not in this wonderful housing system that provides structure to lives and psych meds on time as per MD orders, the women would be running up hospital tabs like crazy.”

November 10, 2011

Help For The Homeless in St. Louis

Speaker: Rosemary Terranova, director of St. Louis County Family and Community Services; Lowry Finley, manager of Veterans and Homeless Programs, St. Louis County

Homelessness has a new face in recent years-families. At our monthly meeting on November 10, Rosemary Terranova, director of Family and Community Services in St. Louis County, put today’s homeless problem in context. When homelessness became a huge problem in the 1980s, due to many factors, including drastic cuts to funding for public housing and mental health care under President Reagan, women and children swelled the ranks of those who were visibly homeless in St. Louis, she explained.

Lowry Finley-Jackson, manager of St. Louis County’s Veterans and Homeless Programs, said the county’s response system is built around a network of agencies that provide prevention services, emergency shelters, transitional housing, permanent supportive housing for people with disabilities, and support services. But the system is unable to meet the need. In 2010, for example, only 2,248 out of 5,600 requests for shelter were filled.

How can this problem be solved? Responding to this question from the audience, Terranova said it can only be solved by prevention that addresses the many factors that cause homelessness such as lack of education and early pregnancy. She also emphasized that federal stimulus money has provided vital funds to address prevention.

 

October 13, 2011

Health Insurance Exchanges Offer Lower Costs, Clear Choices

Speakers:
Dr. Sidney Watson, attorney and specialist in health care law and health care access for the poor
John M. Huff, Director, State of Missouri Department of Insurance
Amy Smoucha, Health Care Organizer, Jobs With Justice

Health insurance exchanges are a crucial component of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act signed into law by President Obama in March 2010, yet few people understand what they are and how they can work. Three speakers demystified exchanges at our general meeting on October 13.

John Huff, director, Missouri Department of Insurance, explained that the law requires that states must establish exchanges through which individuals and businesses can purchase health insurance by Jan. 1, 2014. This is especially important for Missouri because a handful of insurance companies control the individual and small businesses markets, so competition among plans is very limited. If Missouri does not meet the 2014 deadline, a default federal exchange program will go into effect in the state. In the last legislative session, a bill to establish exchanges died in the Missouri Senate. The Senate is currently holding hearings, and Huff said it is still not certain that the legislature will pass a law in 2012. He said his department is laying groundwork for a process to establish eligibility. Information technology to integrate various state insurance programs such as Medicaid and high-risk must be set up.

Sidney Watson, professor of law, Center for Health Law Studies, St. Louis University, emphasized the need for health insurance reform through the Affordable Care Act. Health insurance companies have posted record profits in the first quarter of 2011, she said, with many devoting 40 percent to 50 percent of an individual’s premium to profit and overhead.

In Massachusetts, which has exchanges, Watson said the benefits to the state are impressive: 98 percent of residents are insured and the state is paying less than before the reforms. Purchasers choose from among Bronze, Silver, and Gold plans, but all plans must cover certain minimum benefits, which makes it possible for consumers to easily “compare apples to apples” when choosing a plan. In Missouri, it is impossible to decipher how plans’ coverage compares. Also Missouri is one of only eight states without rate review, whereas the Massachusetts insurance commission has the authority to approve rate increases. Not only is there no Missouri rate review process, but also the insurance commission cannot even collect data on rates. In many other states, insurance companies must file their rates and the commission can compare them. The inability to access rate information makes it difficult for Huff’s department to compare Missouri insurance coverage with that in Massachusetts and other states.

Missouri lawmakers want fewer controls on insurance companies and have stalled voting on the health insurance exchanges to obstruct anything President Obama proposes, said Amy Smoucha, statewide healthcare organizer, Jobs with Justice. She said her organization’s goal is to stop health care costs from reducing the standard of living of working people. Health care costs are barriers to building communities because if people are not healthy they can’t take care of their families, she said. She urged the audience to sign up with Missouri Health Care for All to receive emails and be active. She warned that public consensus about needed reforms must be built in the face of political threats to the new law.

In the lively question-answer session, Beverly White asked about the high salaries for health care CEOs. Huff said that under the Affordable Care Act, 80 percent of premiums must be spent on medical care and only 20 percent for overhead and CEO profits. An audience member currently facing a premium of more than $17,000 asked about how the law will specifically make health insurance affordable. Watson said that in 2014 “you won’t pay more than 9.5 percent of your income” for insurance. Smoucha added that there will still be copays and deductibles, but also more protections. She said we need aggressive health care regulation because insurance companies have proven they don’t care about health care for all.

For more information:
Missouri Department of Insurance
Missouri Health Care for All
National Association of Insurance Commissioners

September 8, 2011

Photo Project Documents North St. Louis History, People, and Progress

Speakers: Kim K. Lenz, Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church; Dayna Kriz, Rebuild Foundation; Andrew Raimist, Architect/Photographer/Educator

After sponsoring an eye-opening bus tour of North St. Louis three years ago, Women’s Voices sought a project to help the courageous residents, schools, and businesses that are working hard to rebuild their community. Fortuitously, Barbara Finch read an article about a new photo project at Most Holy Trinity Catholic School and Academy in Hyde Park. She contacted Kim Lenz, the school’s development director, to see if Women’s Voices could help. As a result, Women’s Voices was able to help publicize the project, which was the subject of our fall kick-off meeting on September 8. Our three speakers were closely involved with the project.

The project was a collaboration between Most Holy Trinity and the Rebuild Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that focuses on cultural and economic redevelopment in under-resourced communities. Eighteen students ages 11 to 14 participated in the photo project. “It taught the students to appreciate the buildings and history of their neighborhood,” Lenz, explained. “It opened the world to them.”

Dayna Kriz, artist-in-residence and community development organizer with the Rebuild Foundation and its Urban Expressions outreach program, showed interesting slides of Hyde Park buildings that have been rehabbed through Rebuild Foundation, which brings in artists, photographers, city planners, and anyone interested in neighborhood development to work together on adaptive reuse of properties it has purchased.

The artist who guided the photo project, Andrew Raimist, taught the students the basics of using a digital camera: capturing images and then editing, printing, and publishing them. He walked the neighborhood with the students and urged them to photograph whatever interested them. “I told them, Photograph what you would like others to see, what you think is important about your neighborhood. They learned that photography is serious, more than just taking photos with your phone,” he said.

The students’ wonderful photos were exhibited at Old North St. Louis Restoration Group, 2700 North 14th Street, St. Louis, 63106. A book of the photos is available for purchase (see below). All profits will go to the Rebuild Foundation.

The project was supported by the Incarnate Word, Lutheran, Trio, and St. Louis Mental Health foundations.

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