Mari Culver, wife of Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, visited Fort Dodge Wednesday morning to give a presentation on youth and domestic violence shelter awareness to the Introduction to Human Services class at Iowa Central Community College.
She also made her first visit to the Youth Shelter of North Central Iowa Inc., 301 Ave. M. West, where she visited with the children staying there.
Culver said she first became an advocate for Iowa shelters while campaigning for her husband in 2006.
"As I was traveling across the state campaigning I started visiting shelters in different towns and really had an eye-opening experience quite frankly," Culver said. "I didn't understand at that time that there was such a great need for shelters in our state. Both shelters that serve domestic violence victims and emergency shelters. So as I traveled the state and started visiting these shelters I tried to really educate myself on the human-services field and the need for these types of shelters."
She spoke with the class on the need for shelters, the reasons women and children end up in shelters, and the "tireless efforts" of the directors of all the shelters throughout Iowa.
According to Culver, there are only 24 licensed emergency juvenile shelters for the 99 counties in Iowa. The Domestic/Sexual Assault Outreach Center of Fort Dodge serves six counties. She said that one domestic violence shelter in Ottumwa is serving six counties, and is the sole shelter for a population of 88,000.
The great need for shelters is what prompted her and Mary Sheka, senior adviser to the first lady, to come up with the idea for Shelter Awareness Day, which is April 25, she said.
"The purpose of Shelter Awareness Day is to increase awareness, to increase volunteerism, to increase financial donations, to say thank you to the people who work at the shelters who do such important work, underpaid, and under-thanked, and to really to get people to come out and help," she said.
She cited the leading causes of need for shelter care as lack of education and affordable housing, family violence, loss of employment, and lack of child care.
According to Culver there are fewer shelters in the state of Iowa then there are animal shelters.
"Which is just kind of a sad fact," she said.
There were also more than 30,000 victims of domestic violence receiving services from shelters across Iowa last year. Iowa has a population of about 3 million.
However, Culver said the need was not for more shelters, but more funding for existing shelters, many of which run on "shoestring budgets."
She finished her presentation by reading several letters she received from children at shelters across Iowa.
"The common thread I think in all of these letters is the mutual respect and admiration the kids have for the people that work with the shelter. How much energy, and care, and time they put into all the programs available to the kids," Culver said.
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