Helping juvenile offenders stay out of court system

Three Des Moines area residents explain why they applaud the expantion of a mediation program that helps first-time, juvenile offenders understand the impact of their actions directly from their victims. Kathy Bolten/The Register



St. Vincent de Paul Board Selects Andrew Gross as Tom Varilek Education Center Director

DES MOINES – Andrew Gross, a former Catholic elementary school principal who was most recently an achievement coach and recruiter with the WTA-Connect program at Des Moines Area Community College, was named director of the Tom Varilek Education Center today.

“Andrew brings a unique and extraordinary skill set to the Des Moines Council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul,” said board president Jim Wachuta. “With a focus and commitment to walk with the center’s students on their journey out of poverty, we recognized that Andrew’s ability in the classroom combined with his strong administrative abilities and practical knowledge and extensive knowledge in the workforce arena made him the perfect candidate for this critical leadership position.”

The Tom Varilek Education Center provides classes in basic computers skills classes (English and Spanish), Hi-SET, financial literacy and English as a Second Language. All classes and services are free and open to the public.

Gross, who earned his bachelor’s degree in education at the University of Iowa, was an upper-elementary classroom teacher in urban and rural schools from 1975 to 1983. From 1983 to 1988, he was the director of religious education at St. Therese of the Child Jesus in Des Moines and earned his master’s degree in education from Drake University in 1985. He served as the principal of Holy Family School from 1988 to 1996, earning his specialist degree in education in 1994 at Drake University.

Gross was superintendent of the Interstate Community School District in Truro and Sentral Community School District in Fenton between 1996 and 2000. From 2000 to 2010, he was a drug prevention/school safety lead coordinator, career advisor and teacher with the Des Moines Public Schools system. He was employed by DMACC from 2010 through the present.

“DMACC was one of 10 sites across the country to be selected for a research study on the effects of wrap-around services to long-term employment and self-sufficiency,” Gross said. “The study, entitled WTA-Connect, gave me a firsthand opportunity in workforce skills assessment and development. We’re certainly not going to duplicate services or reinvent the wheel, but those are areas where the Tom Varilek Education Center can strengthen its special niche in the community to help people out of poverty and into better lives.”


Volunteers Sought for Colorado Flooding Disaster Relief Efforts

The Des Moines Council of St. Vincent de Paul Society is seeking disaster volunteers from the local conferences to work as caseworkers for disaster victims of the Colorado floods in the Boulder area. SVdP is currently on “standby” to perform this mission.

Barbara Slaven, National VP for the Midwest Region (from Omaha) received the call from Ken Merlin, National Disaster Committee Representative, Midwest Region. She said, “According to Mr. Merlin, ‘Volunteers will be trained in casework management by a SVdP team from the South Central Region (SCR) who served during Hurricane Sandy (NJ/NY), the OKC tornadoes, and a fertilizer plant explosion in Texas – prior to assigning the Omaha volunteers to a FEMA Disaster Recovery Center (DAC). We are responding to a special request from Catholic Charities USA to provide the casework because of the excellent work provided by the St. Vincent de Paul Society in recent disasters.’”

The DAC is a secure site located outside the disaster zone.

Volunteers are encouraged to carpool to and from the Denver area, and will be assigned to the same work site, if possible. Commercial air is authorized.

Anyone in the Des Moines area wishing to volunteer may contact Fern Klemm, Des Moines Council Social Services Director, at (515) 282-8328 or socialservices@svdpdsm.org with your name, phone, email, availability after Oct. 1 , and any experience/classes in disaster work. Minimum availability for this assignment is one week.


Friends of the Poor Walk Planning Under Way

The planning committee for this year’s Friends of the Poor Walk in Des Moines met on Saturday to begin planning for the event to be held at Pete Crivaro Park from noon to 3 p.m. on Sunday, Sept 29.
Anyone interested in additional information or in serving of this year’s organizing committee may contact Jessica Daab at (515) 282-8328 or Eric Woolson at ewoolson@svdpdsm.org. Anyone who would like to sign up as a walker should check out the national society’s web page for the event and click “Walkers.”
“The Friends of the Poor Walk is a great opportunity to help those in need and, to be honest, it is a wonderful chance to get to know other people committed to the cause of the poor in our community. Any money that is raised goes directly to the Des Moines Council and our conferences to help people in need right here in the metro area,” said Maureen “Moe” Kauzlarich, this year’s event chair. “Walkers have the option of one mile or two, which makes it a wonderful event for young and old. Anyone who isn’t up for the walk but would like to show their support on the day of the event is invited to join us at the park’s shelter house for music, lunch and friendship.”


Volunteers, Employees Honored with Service Pins

DES MOINES — The efforts of a number of long-time volunteers and employees of the Des Moines Council were recognized this morning during the society’s quarterly meeting at the Basilica of St. John.

“I want to share a few thoughts about the value of volunteers summed up in three quotes. The first is, ‘Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they just have the heart.’ The second is, ‘Don’t ever question the value of volunteers. Noah’s Ark was built by volunteers; the Titanic was built by professionals.’ And, finally, ‘Volunteers are not paid — not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless,'” said executive director Eric Woolson. “Our volunteers truly are priceless. They not only have heart, but faith, energy, good humor and so many other wonderful assets. We could not do what we do at the thrift store without them.”

Council President Jim Wachuta presented service pins to volunteers and employees who were present. Volunteer recipients included:

Five-year pins: Al Minear, Shauna Bury and Harriette Hawks.

Ten-year pins: Regina Pirtle and Larry Schmitz.

15-year pins: Mary Jo Rageller, Kathy Van Sloun and Della Kinkel.

30 year pins: Marguerite Wines, Betty Wines, Cathy Schuster, Dick Schuster and Clara Sertich.

“When it comes to employees … this advice was offered to business leaders, ‘Encourage your people to be committed to a project rather than just involved in it.’ I can tell you without a doubt, every one of our employees is committed to our cause and doing the best job they can do. And, that’s what has made the Society’s thrift store, social services and literacy center work as well as they do,” Woolson said.

Services pins were presented to the following employees:

Five years: Jerry LaRue, Jr.

10 years: Fidel Romero, Mary Beck, Jaime Jasso, Jessica Daab and John DeMaranville

30 years: Rita Vera.


New Round of ESL, Basic Computer Courses Start July 1; GED Also Available

DES MOINES – Central Iowans in need of English as a Second Language instruction and basic computer training can find help through two free courses starting July 1 at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

In addition, the society’s literacy center is offering assistance to people who are seeking a general equivalency diploma, said its director, Felipe Gallardo.

“As with a lot of things, often the hardest part is getting started. Our literacy center offers free assistance to people who want or need to get started on their GED. We’re also a resource for people who would benefit from more one-on-one assistance as they work on their GED,” Gallardo said.

He continued, “There are many people in this area who need help with their English skills but, obviously, it can be very difficult to get the message to them. In the past, we’ve found that employers will encourage some workers to take classes to help them grow and become more successful employees. I’d continue to encourage anyone who knows a person who could use instruction in these areas to let them know and also contact us.”

The ESL course will be held from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays. The computer course will run from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Mondays. Both courses will run 10 weeks at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, 1426 Sixth Ave. Registration for the ESL classes ends June 27.

Instructor Josh Winicki said the ESL course will provide the entry-level instruction. Students in the computer course will first learn fundamental operating skills before moving forward with instruction on sending email, conducting online job searches and applying for positions, and operating Word, Excel and PowerPoint, he said.

“Beginning to speak and understand English and developing even the most basic computer skills can help people clear two very high hurdles between them and getting ahead in today’s economy,” Winicki said. “These courses are great first steps to start a new life. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul offers them at no cost because we recognize what a difference maker they are in people’s lives.”

For additional information about the ESL and basic computer courses, contact Winicki at 282-8328, ext. 18. For information about the GED offerings, contact Gallardo at 282-8328, ext. 17.


A Special Gift from a Very Special Young Lady

Lyric Baker, a Des Moines girl who recently celebrated her sixth birthday, visited the St. Vicent de Paul Society of Des Moines today to donate all of the money she received for her birthday to buy food for those in need.

Lyric, accompanied by her mother, stepfather and grandmother, presented social services director Fern Klemm with $217 in cash that she received for her birthday from friends and family. She had told friends that she did not want other gifts because she had already decided to make her donation to the Society.

The event was recorded by KCCI-TV photojournalist Glen Biermann and was set to air on the station’s evening newscasts. After she made her donation, Lyric toured the Society’s store, social services center, literacy center, intake department and warehouse. She met employees and volunteer, who each thanked her for her kind act.

“Lyric is obviously a very special girl who has a tremendous heart,” said Eric Woolson, the Des Moines Council’s executive director. “At such a young age, she is an example for all of us that the spirit of charity knows no bounds. Everyone here at St. Vincent de Paul was touched by her generosity and the love and concern she has for others.”


St. Vincent de Paul of Des Moines to Celebrate Dio de la Ninos During Week of April 29

Literacy center director Felipe Gallardo and store manager Jessica Daab have teamed to come up with a special way to promote the Society’s thrift store and celebrate an event adapted from a Mexican holiday.

“In Mexico, Dio de la Ninos — the Day of the Children — is celebrated on April 30. The occasion has been adapted in the United states to underscore the importance of young people in our communities and celebrate and lift up all children in the United States in the same way that Mother’s Day and Father’s Day honor parents,” Gallardo said. “We’ll be celebrating Dio de la Ninos the entire week of April 29 with free cookies and lemonade and free books for each children who visits the store.”

The store is also advertising a special discount on La Reina, one of Des Moines’ Spanish-speaking radio stations. Gallardo has recorded an ad promoting the Society’s Dio de la Ninos event.

“Anyone who mentions they heard about our Dio de la Ninos activities on La Reina will receive a 10-percent discount on all purchases during the week of April 29,” he added.


St. Ambrose Cathedral Knights of Columbus Host Second Annual Cookie Walk on May 19

The St. Ambrose Cathedral Knights of Columbus are hosting their second annual Cookie Walk on May 19 to benefit the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Des Moines to fund the purchase of materials to build shoe shelves in the Society’s thrift store. The members of St. Ambrose Knights of Columbus Council No. 15336 will also assemble the shelves.

“We appreciate the generosity of the St. Ambrose Knights of Columbus so much,” said Society President Jim Wachuta. “We’re grateful for everything all the Knights of Columbus are doing for the Society, including our own employee, Patrick Corrigan.”

The Cookie Walk, which will collect goodwill donations, will follow the 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Masses in the parish center next door to the cathedral.