Culver touts shelters in visit


At the Four Oaks Youth Emergency Shelter on Thursday, three teenage students excitedly took a break from their school day to chat with Iowa first lady Mari Culver.

“This is the best shelter home I’ve ever been to,” a teenage boy told Culver as he shook her hand.
She stopped at the Four Oaks Youth Emergency Shelter in Iowa City as a part of her statewide tour to promote Shelter Awareness Day on April 25. For 30 minutes, she walked through the building, asked questions about the shelter’s services, and met with three young residents.

“I’m embarrassed to say I wasn’t aware of the great needs for these shelters and shelter services,” Culver said, and she learned about emergency youth centers when she campaigned with her husband in 2006. “As I began to educate myself, I found out that people in the shelters or services never had an advocate or light shone on the work they do.”

The Iowa City shelter serves roughly 500 children every year, officials said. The 10-bed facility houses runaways, victims of abuse, and youth transitioning into foster care. It offers schooling, therapy sessions, and after-school program for younger children and juvenile delinquents.

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Youth stay for one to two weeks, but officials said the length also depends on the season.

“[The Culver visit] is a big deal,” said Lisa Pritchard, the Four Oaks public-relations and marketing manager, noting that the young residents wrote Culver a letter and asked her to come. “We’ve got youth who are very excited.”

Culver, an eastern Iowa native, said she wanted people to appreciate the services shelters provide. She stressed that the centers provide counseling and a caring, supportive environment.

“Last year, there were around 30,000 victims of domestic abuse,” she said. “There are great needs for these services.”

The Iowa City emergency shelter, which serves all of Johnson County, has an on-site school facility, officials said.

Some shelters aren’t so lucky.
“Most of these shelters have large service areas,” Culver said. “They aren’t as well as supported by neighboring towns and counties.”

The shelter is at half-capacity. Officials said because finances mostly depend on state appropriations, the center will be affected if budgets are cut.

“As state services shrink, emergency services for these kids shrink,” said program manager Zach Schultz.

Culver said she understood many of the shelters had “shoestring budgets,” but she would continue to advocate for the centers.

“There are a variety of reasons why children seek the shelter,” she said. “Hopefully, this will get people talking and the discussion going.”

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