Lutheran Services in Iowa: Bringing health, hope, healing

Mission | July 1, 2016

One night when Deb Whitford was leaving her office at Lutheran Services of Iowa, or LSI, she heard a noise that she thought she should go check on. She didn’t think anyone else was in the building – but she was mistaken.

Deb opened the door to a conference room of the Davenport office, and found a group of young fathers with their babies – learning the ropes of changing their infants’ clothes and their diapers, and how to give them a bath.

Led by Robert Hummel, an LSI worker with young children of his own, this fatherhood program is just one of the countless ways that LSI supports families, with members young and old, in the Quad Cities and throughout the state.

“They wanted to learn,” Deb said of the fathers, who were surrounded by pizzas and car seats. Deb, who works in church relations for LSI, is a St. Paul member.

LSI is one of Iowa’s largest human services agencies with more than 1,000 employees. They provide services in all 99 counties of Iowa, from 20 locations. The staff work in child welfare, mental health, parent education, child abuse prevention, foster care, adoption, disability services, refugee services, behavior management, and many other areas.

The agency is a ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, of which St. Paul is a part. St. Paul will give $28,000 in 2016 from member offerings to the organization’s work; the agency budget in 2015 was $33.8 million. The work of LSI can be stated in one simple sentence: LSI believes in giving voice to those who are not heard.

LSI’s roots are in Jackson County, just north of the Quad Cities, in Andrew, Iowa. It is there that a group of people founded a home for civil war orphans in 1864. More than 150 years later, workers offer a wide variety of services.

In 2015, the agency logged:
■ 11,127 therapy sessions for children, families, and adults
■ 297,777 hours empowering people with intellectual disabilities
■ 13,672 hours helping children and families build skills for anger management, coping, and healthy decision making.
■ 15,818 home visits for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers
■ 1,448 family sessions to help parents of youth at two residential centers.

“From preventing child abuse to supporting our friends with disabilities to uplifting the needs of refugees, this organization’s heart beats for the most vulnerable members of our community,” said John Twardos, LSI’s CEO. “When people work together for good, amazing things happen.”

LSI’s values are respect, stewardship, advocacy, and excellence. Every person is a unique gift of God and will be served with dignity and humility. We are responsible to God, the Church, and society for the effective and efficient use of all our resources. We are responsible for giving voice to those who are not heard, for seeking social justice, and for empowering people. Integrity, compassion, teamwork, continuous learning, and innovation enhance the quality of service.

Deb shared one more story – this one of a family created through adoption.

Mitch Lanz is a family safety worker with LSI. Five of his clients were five siblings, the oldest a 12-year-old, who were removed from their mom because of abuse they endured at the hands of the mom’s boyfriend.

“The oldest one became parentified, she played the role of mom. The other younger ones looked up to her and what she said. There were four children in one room on a mattress on the floor,” he said.

When the judge said they were no longer safe with their mom, the children were split between two foster homes. It was supposed to be a temporary removal, for three days. They were separated for 111 days.

Then, one house remodeling project later, and all of the kids went to live with one of the foster families – all under the same roof. Last May, after 694 days in foster care, they were adopted.

“When they found out they were going to be together, there were screams and laughter and jumping up and down,” Mitch said. “They wanted to be together, they needed to be together.” Mitch still is involved in the family’s life. They call him “Papa Mitch.”

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