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TUESDAY: DON’T FORGET TO VOTE!

November 2 is Election Day for Iowa’s municipalities and school districts. If you haven’t already cast a ballot (mailed an absentee ballot or voted early at Polk County Election Office), Tuesday is the day for your civic duty.


2021 Voter information ⬅️



DE-ESCALATION TRAINING IN THE BOOKS. HOW DID IT GO?

More than 400 Des Moines Police Department members—including all administration staff, detectives, beat cops, and dispatchers—recently completed 16 hours of de-escalation training at a facility near Camp Dodge. Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) trainers led eight classes through the Integrating Communications, Assessment and Tactics (ICAT) program. The City invested $148,436 in the training.


“We learned some different strategies and tactical approaches for things we were already doing,” says Alberto Marquez, a four-year veteran of the force, who described the two days of ICAP classes in August as the best training he’s attended as a DMPD officer.


One of his big pluses was sitting in the same room with dispatchers, detectives, and the administrative staff. Open conversation flowed. “This put everyone on a level playing field,” says communications administrator Brad Button. “This training will impact the team aspect throughout our building.”


PERF executive director Chuck Wexler agreed. “If the dispatcher asks the right questions and gets the right info to the cop, the information becomes so invaluable on how the officer responds.”


After a day of classroom work, the Washington, D.C.-based PERF team set up scenarios with retired officers, active officers, and actors. All DMPD officers worked through three scenarios:

· Despondent individual with a knife in a confined outside space; only threat to himself.

· College student in a classroom who had just received his first failing grade. He had a baseball bat and was a threat to his professor and classmates.

· An individual was fired from his job and armed with a knife. He intended to damage his boss’ car. Wide-open space.


“For first responders, emotions are high and rational thinking is low,” says Don Alioto, PERF senior principal, who led the Des Moines classes. “The officer’s job is to get the two—emotions and thinking—closer in alignment, then listen to what individuals are saying. And get a good outcome.


“So often, when police are dealing with someone in crisis, they are only a threat to harming themselves or making others uncomfortable. It doesn’t involve a criminal act. Our training is to listen to understand—not respond. Don’t get caught up in the culture of speed. Take a tactical pause. Wait until you’re in a really good spot.”


Don says he was impressed with everyone’s attentiveness: “These were some of the most pleasurable classes that I’ve led. There was a lot of note-taking and great conversation after classes.”


Alberto and his partner, Angel Perez, credits the new tactical approach with preserving the safety of innocent bystanders not long after they attended the class.


A DMPD dispatcher summoned the duo to a second-story apartment, in which an individual was suffering from a meth withdrawal. Also present were the 911 caller—a female friend of the individual— and the individual’s girlfriend. “There were narcotics and mental health issues to resolve,” Alberto describes. “The adult male appeared to be bipolar, going from extremely violent to compliant.”


The dispatcher arranged for the civilian mobile crisis team to park nearby. “We had all the resources we could have,” Alberto remembers. “We didn’t rush in. We took a little bit of time to get a feel of what was going down.”


What they saw was the individual had his girlfriend in a bear hug. The officers talked the individual through it. The two women left safely. “My partner and I didn’t do anything to bring up the stress level—we just glided through the situation,” Alberto recalls. “We remained calm.


“And at the end of my shift, I was content with the outcome. We had preserved the safety of innocent bystanders.”



MORE GUNS TAKEN OFF THE STREET

By year’s end, the Des Moines Police should set a department record for the number of guns taken off the street. As of a couple of weeks ago, 345 had been removed. In 2020, 381 guns were eliminated, more than one gun a day. Guns have been seized during commission of crimes, from felons illegally possessing them, and from underage youth.


Beginning July 1, a new Iowa law legalized carrying a handgun in most public places—permits optional.


DOGTOWN LIGHTING IN THE WORKS

As part of Invest DSM initiatives, Wells Fargo has agreed to underwrite a $75,000 lighting display for the Drake Neighborhood’s Dogtown Business District. Eleanor Kahn, a Chicago-based artist and Drake Neighborhood artist-in-resident, has teamed with Mike Lambert, a local lighting designer, to celebrate winter—in Dogtown fashion—along University Avenue between 23rd and 24th streets. Look for details as mid-December approaches.


BROADWAY RETURNS TO THE CIVIC CENTER

The national touring company of The Band’s Visit—winner of 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical—wrapped up eight performances in October. It marked the first Willis Broadway Series performance in Des Moines since February 2020.


Attendees had to present a vaccination card or evidence of a recent negative COVID test, and pick up playbills from a table. The Civic Center also completed HVAC upgrades to improve air exchanges.


“We were pleased to welcome folks back to a place they hadn’t been in 19 months,” communications director Jonathan Brendemuehl reports. “We had good crowds for all eight performances. The road to the return of Broadway has been a positive experience.”


Touring companies report about 25% no-shows nationally. Des Moines attendance mirrored those numbers.


Tootsie, the next musical in the Willis Broadway Series, opens February 8.


KIND WORDS ABOUT THE SAVING THE VARSITY THEATRE

In an article about independent theaters, Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday recently wrote glowing words about the Varsity Theatre. Des Moines Film, a local nonprofit, is driving a $3 million campaign to reopen the shuttered movie house in Drake’s Dogtown. Click on this link to donate.

PARK VISITORS LOVE THEIR PLAQUES

Jacob Naumann, yellow vest, and Ryan Clutter, olive jacket, install the first batch of commemorative plaques Tuesday afternoon on the Chris and Marcie Coleman Bridge in Gray’s Lake Park. These Parks and Recreation volunteers had 20-plus first-time plaques to install on the recently dedicated bridge. Jacob and Ryan will install another 40 plaques on the Riverview Park Bridge and add a handful of new plaques to the Fifth Street/Jackson Street/Green Bridge.


Commemorative plaques are now available for $200 each on a bridge. A similar plaque program for the Gray’s Lake Park Bridge railings is sold out. Proceeds support local causes.


Interested in a commemorative plaque? Details: https://www.dsm.city/departments/parks_and_recreation-division/programs/bridge_plaques.php


NUGGETS FROM 2020 COMPLETE STREETS REPORT

At Wednesday’s all-day work session, City Council members and the public got the first look at the 2020 Complete Streets Report, the second annual. Here are some highlights:

· Driving in 2020 during the pandemic was more dangerous, as motorists’ behavior and psychology shifted:

- Vehicle miles driven (VMT) dropped 40% initially, then leveled off at 15% below average.

- Despite fewer VMT, fatalities increased, jumping from 15 to 23, including three multiple-fatality crashes, resulting in eight deaths.

- “Lost control” entered the top 10 major causes for crashes at No. 4, indicating people were driving faster and more recklessly.

- In addition, the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) reported a record number of speeding tickets issued for traveling in excess of 100 mph.

· Vulnerable users, including pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists, were disproportionately killed or seriously injured in crashes. It was a particularly rough year for motorcyclists, whose deaths rose 26%.

· Des Moines is steadily closing sidewalk gaps, adding bike facilities, and installing Americans With Disability Act-compliant ramps at intersections. But, we’re not accelerating to the finish line.

· In 2020, new concrete closed 7.06 miles of Priority 1 sidewalk gaps, including City and private projects.


And finally:

Neighborhood traffic-calming requests are through the roof. “Drivers are going too fast” is the No. 1 complaint Council members hear from residents.



FIRST LOOK: FOOD SECURITY TASK FORCE REPORT

Also, at Wednesday’s work session, members of the Food Security Task Force shared their report, packed with information to assist residents with urban agriculture and sustainability info, and recommendations for best practices. Two of them:


1. Create a specific Des Moines Municipal Code Chapter to address urban farming. For example, the line between hoophouses (generally, temporary structures) and greenhouses (permanent structures) isn’t well defined.


2. Reconvene the Task Force for another six months, focused on commercial urban farming, food access, food waste, and protecting the other ancillary systems, as well as resources that ensure food security.


Here’s information from FEED DSM.


4-WAY STOP SIGN COMING TO EAST 5TH AND GRAND

At its October 18 meeting, the City Council voted 7-0 to make East Fifth and Grand a four-way stop. The intersection, the site of four businesses, was the only corner between East 12th and 18th streets near the Central Campus lacking a four-way traffic control. The Historic East Village Neighborhood Association petitioned the Council to add the stop sign for the safety of pedestrians.



HISTORIC HOTEL FORT DES MOINES REOPENS

The gran damme of Des Moines hospitality—the Hotel Fort Des Moines at Tenth and Walnut Streets—is now welcoming guests. The hotel hosted 12 U.S. presidents, Nikita Khrushchev, Mae West, and Charles Lindbergh, in its storied history. And who could forget Tiny Tim, who took up residency here in the 1990s?


The reopening of the 1919 hotel, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was delayed a year due to COVID. The two-story lobby—covered for 60 years during a remuddling—has reappeared in its original glory. Yes, worth a trip downtown to check it out.


Hawkeye Hotels closed the building in 2015; it has reopened as part of Hilton Hotel’s Curio Collection.

The price tag on the remodel and update: $50 million.



3 MILES OF NEW TRACK; SPIKES DRIVEN BY HAND

At the Des Moines Industrial building site, crews are laying nearly three new miles of railroad track for the transloading facility. And guess what? They’re driving those railroad spikes the old-fashioned 1800s way—one whack of the sledgehammer at a time.


Gabe Claypool, COO of Des Moines Industrial, reports it takes a crew member 6 to 10 swings of the hammer to drive home each spike. This week, crews started pouring tons of ballast between the new rails and tracks.


The 31-acre transportation hub along East ML King will provide warehousing and access to Iowa Interstate, Norfolk Southern, and BNSF railroads. The facility is on schedule to be open in early 2022.


More about Des Moines Industrial

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Jill and Brody McCarthy plan to use Block Challenge funds to replace a leaning retaining wall at the Kingman Avenue home. Ten-month-old Theodore will have a front-row seat to the construction.

BLOCK CHALLENGE GRANTS ROLL OUT CITYWIDE Block Challenge grants—a popular Invest DSM program in four targeted neighborhoods—gained a foothold in other Des Moines neighborhoods this summer.

The purpose of the Block Challenge is to bring neighbors together to make exterior improvements, including painting, replacing front steps or retaining walls, sprucing up the landscaping, and other curb-appeal improvements. For a group of 10 or more homeowners, the City provides up to $2,500 for each project costing $5,000 or more. Earlier this year, the Des Moines City Council approved $170,00 in matching funds.

Approved programs are sprinkled throughout Wards 1 and 3—121 homeowners in all—and something is percolating for two Ward 2 programs. A total of 147 homeowners are participating for projects proposed at $615,668; Invest DSM will reimburse $258,670 to homeowners upon completion.

The application process requires at least five neighbors to participate. But programs in the Waveland Park, North of Grand, Woodland Heights, and Drake neighborhoods have each attracted 16 or more homeowners.

Two of those are Jill and Brody McCarthy, part of a new Kingman Avenue Block Grant Challenge. When Kathy Schott went door to door to sign up neighbors, including the McCarthys, Brody realized that Tim Schott, Kathy’s husband, was his elementary school principal and lives just two blocks down the street. How cool is that?

Kathy organized a Kingman block walk on Sept. 12 to check out the “before” homes and yards of participants.

Invest DSM staff administers the Block Challenge program for the City of Des Moines. There’s still time to apply for funds for projects this year. The deadline is Sept. 30. Details here.

LAND AND WATER LEGACY BOND ON NOV. 2 BALLOT

In addition to municipal and school board elections Nov. 2, your ballot will include checkboxes for a referendum to extend Polk County’s Water and Land Legacy Bond. I urge you to join me in voting “YES!” for the bond, which would cost the average homeowner less than a dollar a month.


If approved by at least 60% percent of voters, the $65 million referendum would green-light the Polk County Conservation Board to:


  • protect drinking water sources;

  • protect the water quality of rivers, lakes, and streams, including the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers and their tributaries;

  • improve public access to and the safety of rivers and creeks for floating, boating, and fishing;

  • reduce flooding;

  • protect wildlife habitat and natural areas; and

  • expand Polk County outdoor recreational opportunities for walking, hiking, biking, and water trails.


In 2012, 72% percent of Polk County voters supported a similar referendum that enabled dredging of Easter Lake, improved tributaries to reduce siltation, expanded outdoor activities at Jester Park and the Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt, and reduced flooding of Fort Des Moines Park and Fourmile Creek. Learn more here.

TELLING THEIR STORY: PROUD HMONG COMMUNITY

If you missed the recent reopening of the Robert D. Ray Asian Garden, please carve out a few minutes to stop by the pavilion and expanded gardens just north of the Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge, at the northern edge of the Principal Riverwalk loop. You will not be disappointed.


And don’t overlook the compelling stories of the five Southeast Asian communities—Vietnamese, Cambodian, Tai Dam, Lao, and Hmong—who have enriched our community since the mid-1970s.


Three Hmong community leaders stand beside the story of their ethnic mountain group. From left: DMPD Sgt. Doua Lor, Ge Jay Lee, and Khoua Lee. Khoua and his wife, Mao Sayaxang, wrote a commentary about the Hmong community and their arrival from Southeast Asia in 1976.


The garden, which just became part of the Botanical Garden, was recently expanded north to I-235 with more than 28,000 new plantings. Water features have been replaced, along with finials knocked off by a hammer-wielding vandal in 2017. Oh, yes: new lighting and security cameras are part of the $750,000 upgrades. Read details here. TREES AND MORE TREES

Tree-planting in Des Moines continues at a rapid pace: 563 new trees have been planted on City parkways (the grassy area between sidewalks and streets). Trees Forever staff, Growing Futures teen employees, volunteers, and City staff plan to add another 619 trees this fall. City Forester Shane McQuillan reports that by comparison, 612 trees were planted in 2020.


In 2022, the City will plant another 971 new trees; in the Oak Park and Highland Park neighborhoods alone, volunteers plan to plant 288 trees by year’s end. With pledged funding from Invest DSM and potential additional funds, that number could climb to 1,300 to 1,500 trees throughout the City. Several City Council members are lobbying hard to increase the City’s tree budget for fiscal year 2022-23.


You’ve probably noticed a 5-gallon bucket beside each tree. Trees Forever Growing Futures teen employees, paid by City funds, water new trees for two years.

DON’T WANT A SPEEDING TICKET? DON’T SPEED Earlier this summer, the City added a speed camera to Grand Avenue at 14th Street, around the Western Gateway Park and the Pappajohn Sculpture Park. Motorists will be issued tickets if they’re caught traveling at 36 mph or faster (11 mph over the posted 25 mph speed limit).


Speed cameras are excellent tools for traffic enforcement. Best of all, they allow police officers to focus on other public safety tasks without putting themselves on the street.


To combat the old saw that “speed cameras are just revenue generators for cities,” some cities have success with other approaches:



And if you think Des Moines tickets are too onerous, Chicago, home to 100-plus speed cameras, issues tickets if you go 6 mph over the posted speed.


I like the way RAYGUN founder Mike Draper thinks:

“Slow down that traffic, speed up government.”

(trademarked) ACCESSORY DWELLING UNITS GAIN TRACTION

In earlier generations, an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) may have been labeled as a mother-in-law apartment, backyard cottage, or granny flat. Adding another dwelling unit on a residential property provides the benefit of three generations living together (but not on top of each other) and helps spread fixed costs such as property taxes and family members. Unlike traditional rental property, the primary dwelling and ADU generally share utilities (no separate meters).

They are becoming popular in many cities, Des Moines included.


In the Waveland Park Neighborhood, a couple is building a detached ADU for the husband’s mother. They plan to add a 716-sq.-ft. ADU for grandmother in back of an 816-sq.-ft garage.

In the Highland Park Neighborhood, Invest DSM, Home, Inc., Hubbell Properties, and AARP Iowa have partnered to build a new 1,500-sq.-ft. primary dwelling with 540-sq.-ft. ADU in a detached garage (alley access). Construction should begin this fall on the Euclid Avenue lot.


A Drake Neighborhood family has initiated conversations with Invest DSM for an ADU on their property.


To allow for an ADU construction, there must be a familial relationship between a property owner and the ADU occupant. The homeowner may need to sign an annual affidavit for continued use by a family member. Some cities streamline the permit process if the ADU square footage is 800 square feet or less.


Here’s a link for Des Moines ADUs: https://states.aarp.org/iowa/adu-des-moines

general ADU information


And here’s how the permit process works in nearby St. Paul, Minnesota.

CLIVE GREENBELT GOATS:

MORE THAN CUTE Seventeen goats are taking a big bite out of honeysuckle and other invasive plants along the Clive Greenbelt.


“Our Greenbelt Goats are doing a great job of managing the natural area along the Greenbelt—about 400 acres,” notes Richard Brown, Clive’s director of Leisure Services. “They eat a lot!”

While working as assistant director of Des Moines Parks and Recreation, Richard always wanted a goat herd. Unfortunately, Des Moines zoning codes regarding livestock prevent the City from embracing a similar program. But Clive found a sustainable solution — and lots of fans.


“We have volunteers who count the goats each night and send us a quick email,” Richard reports. “And the winter months, we have people stop by and feed the goats.”


The goats also have become a branding opportunity—“We’re now selling T-shirts and koozies displaying our goats,” Richard adds.


A third party owns the goats; Clive is responsible for the daily care. Chief goatherd Ryan Fogt, an operations specialist for the Clive Parks and Recreation Department, tends to the herd’s daily food and water needs and moves the herd’s fencing weekly.


Here are details about the baa-bies.

Antonio Mireles in the ring with manager and SPO John Saunders

TOWERING SOUTHSIDE BOXER

TURNS PRO Antonio Mireles recently inked up for a professional boxing career. Senior Police Officer John Saunders, long-time manager for the Des Moines Police Activities League (PAL), couldn’t be prouder.

John, who stands all of 5 feet 4 inches, has looked up to Antonio for years, and not just because the Lincoln High School grad and PAL product towers over him at 6 feet 9. Antonio, who joined the PAL when he was 12 years old and competed for the first time when he was 15, was a five-time Iowa Golden Gloves champion and the 2019 National Golden Gloves champion. Saunders and Elly Nunez were Antonio’s coaches through his 12-year amateur career.

How far a boxer can go, John says, depends on how willing he is to work hard. “From that respect,” he adds, “Antonio was easy to train.”

Known in boxing circles as “The Lincoln Giant,” Antonio had a 28-4 amateur boxing career, including winning all five bouts in the super heavyweight division to earn gold at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Despite that, he was not selected to the U.S. team that competed in the 2021 Tokyo Games. Instead, Antonio signed in late July with Split-T management and now trains with the Robert Garcia Boxing Academy in Oxnard, California.

Generally, John has a dozen boxers training at the Pioneer Columbus gym, part of the nonprofit PAL program. All know Antonio and his story and now have someone to look up to—if they’re willing to work hard. Here’s more about “The Lincoln Giant.”

For more about PAL activities—including flag football and bike rodeos, contact SPO Deb VanVelzen. “Our mission to reach all youth in Des Moines through all types of activities from sports to the fine arts,” Deb added. “We are looking to partner with other nonprofits to provide some out-of-the-box opportunities to our City kids.” A LITTLE BIT ABOUT A LOT OF THINGS

(with a tip of the hat to the late Maury White, Des Moines Register sports columnist)

The first new E911 signs are sprouting up along Des Moines trails. The signs, in quarter-mile increments, provide valuable information to emergency responders and for alerting city staff of trail conditions. Friends of Des Moines Trails funded the initial signs. …




Speaking of trails, Des Moines Parks and Recreation director Ben Page reports that individuals or groups have adopted 11 Des Moines parks and seven trail segments in a new program rolled out earlier this year. Here’s how you can participate. … <

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Officer Andrea Brouwer, left, and SPO Lindsey Kenkel

When 28 freshly minted Des Moines police officers graduated from the City’s 79th Police Academy in mid-May, an equal number of veteran police officers seated nearby were glowing, inside and out. Those experienced officers, who volunteered to mentor academy candidates, watched with pride as DMPD badges were pinned for the first time above left pockets.


Officer Alan Kent, left, and SPO Brian Foster

It was a proud day for the graduates and the mentors for another reason: For the first time in recent memory, 100% of the academy class graduated. Commonly, candidates leave the academy, some realizing police work isn’t for them, others who don’t meet DMPD standards.


Early in the 24-week academy, department leadership assigns an experienced officer to navigate a candidate through the rigors. Then, at weekly meetings, the pairs take a deeper dive into classwork, tune up for the physical standards, fill in the gaps in public-safety lingo, and answer personal questions about a successful career while balancing home and family responsibilities.


Senior Officer Lindsey Kenkel, an eight-year DMPD officer, was assigned to Andrea Brouwer, an educator for 18 years before applying to the academy. Lindsey became interested in a public safety career while working as a part-time emergency medical technician for the Johnston-Grimes Fire Department.


Police work, even in a small city, like Des Moines, can be complex. On one of Andrea’s first nights on patrol, she recalls, the pair handled the theft of a catalytic converter, a traffic stop, and burglary. “Lots of domestic calls in the first week,” she related. “And all different paperwork. And I’ve learned how to label a victim scenario when there wasn’t one clear example on the report form.”


Andrea impressed Lindsey with her organized learning. “Andrea put together study guides for her classmates—that’s the teacher in her,“ Lindsey says. “And she wasn’t too afraid to ask one of the instructors or me a question.”


Lindsey also recalls that Andrea didn’t want to fall behind on her physical standards after injuring a shoulder while at the academy. So they connected for some physical therapy.


“I appreciate all the time Lindsey spent with me,” Andrea says. “And she’s still putting up with me! Lindsey is so gracious about answering my questions—emails, texts, phone calls.”


Senior Officer Brian Foster, with 14 years in law enforcement, including three in Des Moines, was paired with Alan Kent, a 2019 naturalized citizen who immigrated from London, England, after marrying a Central College student he met during her semester abroad. Alan’s introduction to American policing included weapons training (“I had only shot a gun once or twice”), and legal issues such as domestic violence and no-contact orders. “Luckily,” he says, “the officers I’ve met are good at sharing procedures.”


Also, Alan took a lot of razzing about his English accent and slang. “We worked on saying ‘hood’ rather than ‘bonnet’,” Brian recalls with a chuckle. “Or a ‘parking lot’ rather than their ‘car park.’ He’s got the American lingo pretty well managed now.”


Over lunches in small mentor/candidate groups or just the two of them at Jethro’s Southside, Brian realized how well Alan eased into the ideal U.S. police model of connecting with individuals.


“What I noticed about Alan is the great way he talked with people,” Brian reports. “He has a very trusting demeanor when on duty. Another time, he picked up on a suspect’s deception—the person wasn’t forthcoming. Good skills.”


The graduating cadets are probationary police officers for the first year. In Phase 1, they spend 20 working days observing one officer. In Phase 2, the new officer takes control—with a veteran officer in “the shadow,” if necessary. If they pass muster after their probation, the newest officers are on their own—but the mentor connection can last throughout their careers.



RETURNING TO THE OFFICE: YOU CAN’T MAKE UP THIS STUFF

As we all know, businesses across the metro have begun rolling out plans for employees to return to the office. Here are a few interesting reactions or responses worth sharing. (Company names withheld.)


  • At one downtown insurance company, everyone is expected to be in the office three days during the week. One question brought forward to the CEO: “Will we get paid mileage for the days we are to be in the office?”

  • At a West Des Moines insurance company, the entire IT department decided they could just work from home. Responded the executive team: “Oh, good, we’ll just outsource IT and save some money.” The IT staff reconsidered.

  • For one locally owned bank, the lengthiest discussion about returning to the office revolved around men wearing ties. Ties prevail. For now.

  • At a downtown nonprofit, everyone is expected to return to the office and pre-COVID face-to-face community interaction. However, one employee signaled a preference to work from home. After a bit of probing, the employee revealed why: “I moved to Las Vegas in September.”

  • In one department of four, an individual staked a claim to the in-office days by announcing: “These are the days that work best for my child care schedule.”



IN SEARCH OF NEIGHBORHOOD CHAINSAW ART

Some of my bike friends served up an interesting challenge: Where can we see the best chainsaw art in our neighborhoods? Can you help map out locations for excellent front-yard sculptures created from tree trunks? I’ll collect your suggestions and publish a map. Somewhere in Beaverdale, there’s a giraffe . . .









DEFERRED EXPULSION: SHOWING STUDENTS SOMETHING DIFFERENT

Remember when you opened your first savings or checking account? Who could forget that prized passbook with handwritten entries we tucked safely away in desk or dresser drawers?


Savings passbooks are relics, but opening an account is still a big deal—especially if it’s connected with your first paying job. That’s the highlight takeaway of a conversation earlier this summer with Joseph and Bryan. The two 15-year-old high school students opened new accounts at local institutions because of their first paying summer jobs, through Good Vibes, a neighborhood nonprofit working with youth.


Joseph and Bryan participate in the Des Moines Public School (DMPS) deferred expulsion program, which began in 2015. They’re among 30 or so students identified with unsafe “Level 4 event” behavior—e.g. fighting, weapons, drugs—that lists them for potential expulsion.


“These are kids that no one wants to deal with.” says Negus Imhotep, Urban Dreams case manager. “Most are candidates for the school-to-prison pipeline. So we have a lot of societal issues to deal with.”


Expelling students without service support doesn’t serve the family or community, says Rich Blonigan, who oversees DMPS’ alternative programs. Deferred expulsion is about turning kids around, getting them back on track, and keep them in school. “We work with Urban Dreams to wrap services around the students and find a better situation for them to succeed,” Rich says, referring to the Des Moines nonprofit that became the community partner of the program in 2017.


“For the students, there’s a real positive vibe at Urban Dreams,” Rich adds. “We’re thankful we have partners that want to do this important work.”


"We are thankful to DMPS for thinking outside the box with expulsions,” says Izaah Knox, Urban Dreams executive director. “It is difficult to keep a young person engaged and hopeful for their future if they have no connection to academic and employment opportunities, positive adult role models, and a safe place to go. We coordinate all of that and more.


“This partnership grew from an authentic, and grassroots partnership predicated on assisting young people in our community achieve their dreams. Many have, and many more will succeed because of our long-established trust and dedication to DSM and our residents.”


From offices on Forest Avenue, Negus and Urban Dreams provide case management services. Classroom teachers may drop in; some students work virtually. Students are in the program for 90 days to full semester, depending on their progress. For the three most recent school years, the program has a 64% success rate. For the most recent school year, the program boasts an 88% success rate.


Negus also organized mock job interviews for the boys and helped them and their classmates polish their resumés for that all-important first job. “You should have seen their faces when I told them they had a job!” Negus recalls. Negus also points with pride to two or three program students who joined the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) apprentice program.


“There are a lot of job opportunities that people don’t realize,” says IBEW Local 347 business manager Pat Wells. “We’re looking for people that want to do the job and show up every day.” Recently, Tim Hawthorne signed on as the local’s diversity officer to develop community engagement and identify apprentice candidates.


Good Vibes found summer jobs for Joseph, Bryan, and about 18 other neighborhood kids. They work 10 to 15 hours a week on gardening, yard, and construction projects. Right now, they are rehabbing a house in the neighborhood. “It’s a great introduction of hands-on work and trade skills,” says Good Vibes executive director Maya Bromolson. “They get to invest in their neighborhood and we pay them $10 an hour.”


Good Vibes funding through Future Ready Iowa runs through the summer. Maya hopes to tap other resources to continue after-school and weekend jobs.


Successes—going back to school or signing on to a career—are the goals, but it’s not all roses. “I had three boys who were shot and killed,” Negus says. “I tell the students, ‘Don’t let that be you.’ “We need to show them something different.”



GOING LIVE WITH SOLAR; DOING OUR PART

The heatwaves in the Northwest, the unprecedented severe drought in the West, and the deadly flash flooding in Germany should bring home to each of us the clear and present dangers of climate disaster. How can we, as individuals, and the City of Des Moines do our parts to reduce our carbon footprints and become less reliant on fossil fuels?

Earlier this year, the City Council passed a resolution to develop partnerships that advance a 45% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from 2010 levels by 2030 and to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. We also committed to a communitywide goal of achieving 100% 24x7 electricity from carbon-free sources by 2035, which would make Des Moines one of the first cities to do so. Learn more, and about the City’s other energy initiatives.

For Susan and me, the answer was converting to solar power. Next week, solar panels installed on our East Village garage roof should began generating electricity. A six-person crew from Purelight Power installed the panels in late May, then steered us through the approval process with the City of Des Moines and MidAmerican Energy.


Not only do Susan and I look forward to reducing our $120 monthly MidAmerican Energy budget bill (gas and electric), but excess kilowatts we generate will be credited to our MidAmerican account. We can draw on those credits during cloudy days.

Our solar savings barely makes a blip in the energy consumption in a city our size. Still, we think it’s essential for each of us to do our part to reduce our carbon footprints and become less reliant on fossil fuels.

We understand that not everyone can afford this investment, but you can research other solutions from the DSM Citizen Taskforce members on Sustainability.


10th ANNIVERSARY BIKE CAMP

In mid-June, Randy Damon, Kittie Weston-Knauer, and I volunteered to lead a weeklong bike camp organized by the Des Moines Police Department and sponsored by the Street Collective of Des Moines and the Police Athletic League. It’s the 10th year Kittie and I have volunteered for the activities. So I feel pretty danged lucky to share the duties with two retired schoolteachers, as well as Senior Police Officer Deb VanVelzen, who heads the DMPD Youth Services Division and is a former teacher.


The camp encompasses more than biking—although we did accumulate 90-plus miles for the week! Some highlights included swimming at two public pools, a session on loading bikes onto DART bus racks, a terrific Court Avenue Hy-Vee nutrition tour by dietitian Anne Cundiff, geocaching on three days, and a pontoon boat ride on Easter Lake. And, of course, the week’s big event: biking across the High Trestle Bridge west of Madrid.