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ICADV honors PACT's Kathy Kuss

November 05, 2008
Kathy Kuss helps people. And she's been doing it for 30 years. Some of her help is aimed at middle school students. Some goes to those who are victims of domestic violence. And some is actually given to those who have been incarcerated and hope to re-enter society. It's the kind of help that often goes unnoticed but is an extremely important tool in the effort to make rural, Southern Indiana communities a better place to live.

Kuss, the program superintendent for Hoosier Hills PACT, recently received the "Outstanding Domestic Violence Professional" award from the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence at a ceremony in Indianapolis. Kuss was nominated for the award by co-worker Suetta Fischer and was selected by the coalition, which gives one award each year.

"I'm really proud of her," said her husband, Jon, director of Hoosier Hills PACT. "And the whole agency is proud of her. This is a distinguished award and Kathy is very deserving of it."

Starting out as a social worker 30 years ago, Kathy has worked with both victims and offenders of domestic violence. She went to work for Hoosier Hills in the late 1990s and helped set up a 27-week program for men's groups and worked as an advocate to victims of domestic violence who come to emergency rooms at hospitals for treatment.

"I was on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Kuss said. "That first year, I was the only advocate to those who were victimized by an intimate partner or were victims of sexual assault. When I got a call from the hospital, I tried to be there within 20 minutes."

The agency provided advocate services for Orange and Lawrence counties and also ran a protective order program in both counties. It offered a danger assessment and a safety plan for victims and also provided shelter to victims, if needed.

"We're now getting the same programs started in Crawford County," Kuss said. "We get referrals from the clerk's office at the courthouses. When victims seek protective orders, they are given the opportunity to know we are available to help, which, in turn, gives us the opportunity to intervene. We've expanded that program to include Harrison, Washington, Scott and, now, Crawford counties. We already have a shelter in Salem and have information on shelters in other areas, as well."

In Crawford County, Hoosier Hills PACT has one full-time person, Steve Massengale, community corrections coordinator, who works with prisoners convicted of drug-related crimes in the Crawford County Jail. There is also a victim advocate, Ashton Niehaus, in the Crawford County office several hours each week.

Hoosier Hills PACT also has one full-time person, Erica Rodhman, who works at Crawford County Junior High School with seventh- and eighth-graders.

"We really believe that if problems are addressed early, the outcome will be more positive," Kuss said. "With this program, every middle school student is required to participate. The students in the seventh grade are in the initial research-based LIFESKILLS program. Students in the eighth grade participate in a 10-week booster program. This LIFESKILLS program deals with risk-taking behavior, drugs and alcohol, improved decision-making and communications skills. By the time they get to high school, these students have had 35 hours of this program. It's very effective."

Just days after Kuss received the "Outstanding Domestic Violence Professional" award in Indianapolis, Hoosier Hills PACT, including both Jon and Kathy Kuss and their staff, received a "Youth Investment Award" at a luncheon in Paoli.

Presented by the Indiana Youth Institute, the award, which included a check for $5,000, was given to Hoosier Hills PACT for its work with youth on issues, including prevention and early intervention, and PACT's Alternative Youth Services program in Crawford and Orange counties.

"Part of what makes Alternative Youth Services stand out is its initial outreach to all middle school students in both counties through the LIFESKILLS Training program," said IYI President and CEO Bill Stanczykiewicz, who spoke at the presentation. "Alternative Youth Services works with local schools to identify those students who need additional attention and provides that attention, producing some remarkable outcomes for these kids."

According to IYI, last year in Crawford Junior High School, school suspensions were cut in half, and the number of expulsions was zero. In Orleans Junior High School, eighth-grade suspensions were reduced 54 percent following the school's first full year of participation.

"Kicking kids out of school often only makes the situation worse," Kuss said. "There are kids who do need to be suspended for major offenses, but these kids will continue living in our community, so if we don't deal with these issues now, we'll need to deal with them when they're much worse later in life.

"Research shows that kids entering middle school are most at risk of getting involved with drugs and alcohol and other dangerous behaviors. The kids at this age are starting to determine what's important to them. If those choices are not good, the long-term impact can be very,very difficult."

Alternative Youth Services is one of 10 recipients of a 2008 Indiana Youth Investment Award and was selected from more than 160 applicants.

A $5,000 award will be used for staff development and training.

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