At their most recent meeting last week, members of the Nevada City Council learned of a new initiative underway in Story County that would help all people who live in the county to obtain a valid form of identification.
Introduced by Myron Herzberg, pastor of Memorial Lutheran Church in Nevada, and his colleague, Rick Exner, of Ames, they explained that they are still in the “education/communication phase” of bringing a Community ID program to Story County. But, they are part of a strong group of partners, called the County Coordination Committee, who are coming together work toward making this program a reality.
“Our group is made up of representatives from Ames churches (Collegiate United Methodist, St. Cecelia Catholic, St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic, Unitarian Fellowship and United Church of Christ); Nevada pastors Chris Waddle of First United Methodist, John Molocek of Central Presbyterian and Myron Herzberg of Memorial Lutheran… In addition, we are getting support from law enforcement, especially Ames Police, and health care organizations such as Mary Greeley hospital and primary health care,” said Exner, who is an agronomist, and who also works with AMOS (A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy), which is a collaboration, mostly of congregations, in Story and Polk counties. “We are still in the process of talking to service providers and businesses to increase the circle of support.”
Nevada City Council members listened with interest as Herzberg told a story of why a program like this is needed.
“A couple of years ago, we had a middle-aged man, a stranger to us, show up at the church office at Memorial Lutheran. He asked to see a pastor.” When Herzberg sat down with the man, “he told me he had come to the church because he was thinking about killing himself and he didn’t know where to turn.” Herzberg said he was able to convince this man to let him drive him to Mary Greeley Medical Center. “I knew there was a behavioral health unit there.”
Herzberg walked with the man to the desk of the emergency department where the clerk asked to see the man’s identification. “I didn’t know that he was chronically mentally ill, had been on the streets as a teen and didn’t have a driver’s license or any other identification to present,” Herzberg said, and that was where things almost fell apart. “When he couldn’t present any identification, he was convinced that he would not be treated and turned around to leave. It took some tense minutes to convince him to stay, while the clerk figured out how to get him into the computer system for admittance to the ER. I have wondered with dread what might have happened if we had been unsuccessful at persuading him to stay.”
Through the meetings that the County Coordination Committee has held so far, the faith-based group has learned, Herzberg shared, that there are a surprising number of people in the county who do not have a state-issued ID card or driver’s license. “This includes chronically mentally ill persons, homeless persons, persons who have come to work in Story County from outside the state or country and elderly persons who live without family support systems.”
“We see this (program) as one way to integrate into our economic and social life community groups that have been marginalized and difficult for service providers to reach,” said Exner. “A community ID (program) builds bridges across many divides. We think it can help repair the torn social fabric in our country, so neighbors can get to know one another again.”
The County Coordination Committee has taken its cues from the faith community in Greensboro, N.C. “Our research led us to a successful program in North Carolina called FaithAction ID,” Herzberg said. In a partnership with local law enforcement, health service providers, city services and the business community, the faith community (there) provides an identification card that the whole community recognizes.
“To get a card, a person attends a mandatory orientation with some proof of identity, like a utility bill, a medical record, a national identity document or an apartment lease… anything that helps law enforcement know that this person is who they say they are,” Herzberg said. “The community of Greensboro has found that these identification cards have helped to integrate groups of people who were on the periphery of their community.”
Herzberg and Exner said their committee is hoping to get to other communities in the county to share what this program will mean to the area and to continue to get support for the program. At the moment, they are busy just getting things started in Ames and Nevada.
This fall, the committee is working to become familiar with procedures and software that will be used to bring the program here.
Their hope is to begin enrolling Story County residents in the program by early 2019.
As for the number of people this program will help, they are honest. “We’re not sure that anyone has a handle on the potential numbers,” Exner said. And he said they hope that in addition to the groups of people they know may need the program, they are hoping to have many allies of the program obtain a Story County ID, even if they have another form of ID. “I intend to get a Story County ID,” Exner said. “It is a way for me to be present at the ID orientation and meet people in the community that I would have a difficult time meeting in another way. If many citizens step up to support the community, then we could enroll hundreds of people.”
As for the possibilities of how a Story County ID can be used, there are many, Herzberg and Exner agree. Herzberg said Johnston County in Iowa is offering a photo ID now. “Their survey,” Herzberg said, “showed that people were using their card for making purchases, banking, the library, health care and with law enforcement, in that order of frequency.”