I think it is always important to acknowledge the good work that is taking place in our community and state. Too often we fail to celebrate the good work by our local non-profits and state public officials. Especially when those efforts involve services to our children and grandchildren, we should highlight them and express our thanks. So I wish to spotlight a local program and a legislative initiative that merit praise and appreciation.

On the local level, GiGi’s Playhouse Down Syndrome Achievement Center deserves recognition for the wonderful work it has accomplished over the past 10 years. This is an organization founded by parents and committed volunteers to serve children with Down Syndrome. Those founders realized firsthand that there was a lack of programs for children with Down Syndrome in the community and they connected with the National GiGi’s Playhouse in Illinois and opened a GiGi’s here. Quality services are provided and efforts such as the annual Gala fundraising event and summer Walk and Run are efforts to educate the community on Down Syndrome. Awareness is key to public understanding of the potential within every child with Down Syndrome and also contributes to the effort at reducing stigma at every level from schools to workplace.

By the way, there are 41 GiGi's Playhouses across the country serving over 40,000 children and adults. Sioux City is fortunate to have one. GiGi’s offers a range of programs that are unique and include the development of vital gross and fine motor skills, developmental fitness and speech and language programs. In total GiGi’s provides 30 programs and all are offered at no charge. Social interaction is stressed at GiGi’s and children are taught to build on their strengths.

GIGI’s fully survives on donor dollars. Nearly 800 hours of free programming was offered in 2018. One of our granddaughters has Down Syndrome and our family has experienced the wonderful committed care provided at GiGi’s by the staff and volunteers. Last year’s Christmas Party was an amazing, heartwarming event for our family and for all those in attendance. I am well aware that there are other fine programs in the area meeting the needs of children with Down Syndrome, but Gigi’s is special because it is parent and volunteer driven, offers such diverse services, and is free to all. The Playhouse is located in downtown Sioux City at 835 Gordon Drive in the Woodbury Center Mall.

The second development meriting recognition and praise involves the state Legislature. Last week the House passed a bill to establish a Children’s Mental Health System for the state of Iowa. The bill will likely pass the Senate and is fully supported by Gov. Kim Reynolds. It is incredible that the current state and county funded mental health system is only for adults. This legislation is long overdue, and it finally acknowledges that thousands of children in Iowa suffer from serious emotional disturbances.

The bill outlines the core services to be provided to children and creates a board to oversee those services. In addition, the services would be covered in whole for a family at 150 percent of the federal poverty level and in part for families up to 500 percent of the federal poverty level. This means that in the future defined services will be available to thousands of Iowa families who are not covered by Medicaid. Much work still needs to be done including, most important, an agreed-upon funding mechanism acceptable to the state and counties.

However, this is a significant step forward for children and families suffering the ravages of mental illness. It is both common sense and research-based evidence that the best prevention in mental illness is early intervention and treatment. Such early intervention at the grade and high school levels can offer hope and prevent the onset of a lifelong disability. I am proud to have been a part of establishing school-based therapy while I directed the Siouxland Mental Health Center. With the support of the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors, the Sioux City school system and the Sanford Center, we established programs two decades ago which can now be implemented across the state of Iowa.

I have always maintained my hope in the future because of the ability of people to care about one another and especially to care about our children with special needs. The examples cited here illustrate that care and we should thank all those involved in these positive, loving efforts.

Next week: Jim Wharton

A Sioux City resident, Jim Rixner is the retired executive director of the Siouxland Mental Health Center, is the current board chairman of the Winnebago Comprehensive Healthcare System and is a former member of the Sioux City Council. He and his wife, Bernadette, are the parents of three adult sons and the grandparents of nine.

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