Genie Gottula takes a lot of pride in her garden.
It’s come a long way since the Janesville resident moved into the home on the property in 2005. Pushed right up against a forested patch, the garden had weeds and trees creeping in and growing rapidly when Gottula arrived.
The backyard now showcases plenty of green grass, and hundreds of flowers radiate vibrant hues. Sun peeks through the towering trees as buzzing bees motor through the garden.
Gottula’s garden is one of nine local gardens open to the public for Rotary Botanical Gardens’ 25th annual Home Garden Tour fundraiser.
“After I retired, I really started working on this place the way I like it,” Gottula said. “It was hard, hard work. From trimming trees to pulling weeds, it was a lot, but it was worth it.”
This year’s tour features nine gardens including Rotary Botanical Gardens and the SSM Health/St. Mary’s Hospital healing garden. There is plenty of variety, including one garden that features no flowers but instead has different types of grasses.
“We are looking for a nice variety,” said Barb Tapovatz, co-chair of the tour. “We like little gardens, big gardens, professional gardens—we love all of them.”
Gottula’s garden has plenty of flower variety as well. The work she has put into her retirement fun is easy to see. A walk through the backyard reveals multiple flower types and colors.
She said she has no idea how many flower varieties are in the garden because some grow naturally.
“I just like it to look peaceful, and that’s what I love about my backyard,” Gottula said.
Plenty of wildlifes make its way to her garden. The bees and hummingbirds especially enjoy Gottula’s work.
“I can sit up here, listen to the birds and watch the butterflies and the bees. I’m happy to be here and enjoy it all,” she said.
Tapovatz hopes people on the garden tour and enjoy both Gottula’s garden and the others on the tour.
“They’re all beautiful in their own way, and they all are designed by homeowners and gardeners who put a lot of time into them,” Tapovatz said.
As Attorney General Josh Kaul and Gov. Tony Evers advocate for more DNA analysts at the Wisconsin Department of Justice, new data shows the backlog of DNA evidence at the state’s crime labs has been cut by nearly half in 2019.
Data obtained by WPR from the DOJ through an open records request show the number of DNA evidence cases pending for more than 90 days in 2019 dropped from 766 in January to 410 in April.
The DNA backlogs have been hotly debated since it was reported in 2015 that there were 6,000 untested sexual assault kits in Wisconsin. Former state attorney General Brad Schimel vowed to speed up DNA analysis at the state’s crime labs by increasing funding for the labs and contracting with testing centers in other states. In September 2018, Schimel claimed the state’s backlog of untested sexual assault kits had been eliminated.
Kaul told Wisconsin Public Radio this year’s decrease in the number of DNA analysis cases pending for more than 90 days is partly due to the state’s crime labs finishing up work on a statewide initiative to reduce the number of unsubmitted sexual assault kits known as the Wisconsin Sexual Assault Kit Initiative.
“The crime lab’s role in that has largely been completed,” said Kaul. “So, that has allowed analysts to spend more time focused on other DNA cases. Submissions ebb and flow as well. So, there are a number of things that can account for changes in those numbers.”
The backlog of sexual assault kits in Wisconsin became a central issue in the race for attorney general, in which Kaul narrowly defeated Schimel.
Since his election, Kaul has advocated for more support for the state’s crime labs.
Evers proposed a nearly $2 million funding increase and 17 additional positions at the state’s crime labs including five DNA analysts in his budget proposal, according to an analysis by the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. The Republican led Joint Finance Committee reduced those numbers in their own budget, and instead allocated an additional $722,400 for seven new positions.
Kaul said he was glad to see the added positions approved by the finance committee. He said regardless of the recent numbers, increased support of the state’s crime labs will help prevent future backlogs of critical evidence.
“While there’s been an improvement in the last few months, we want to make sure we have a solution in place that’s going to be sustainable for the long term and make sure these delays don’t crop up again down the road,” said Kaul. “And the way we can do that is by making sure we have sufficient resources at the crime labs.”
According to the DOJ there have been eight cases that have been prosecuted using evidence collected from the backlog of untested sexual assault cases.
Mary E. Hove
Richard A. Murray
Marian H. Olin
James L. Tracy
The Janesville School District has eight social workers, 10 school psychologists, 26 school counselors, four specialists, five nurses and one coordinator for homeless students.
So kids have plenty of people to talk to about the emotional and practical challenges of everyday life. But sometimes, they need more than a listening ear—they need professional help.
Starting next year, they’ll be able to get it—possibly without ever leaving school.
On Thursday, District Director of Pupil Services Kim Peerenboom announced the district had received a $75,000 grant to help establish professional therapists in one elementary school and in the two high schools.
At a school board meeting Tuesday, Peerenboom cited statistics that show about 70 percent of students nationwide with mental health needs don’t receive adequate treatment.
Schools across the country are seeing more students with challenging behaviors and mental health needs. In Marathon County in northern Wisconsin, a consortium of county and school officials, schools, counseling agencies and law enforcement was created to solve the problem.
Schools and the criminal justice system were seeing more and more young people who had suffered some sort of trauma at home such as witnessing domestic violence or being victims of abuse. Drug endangered homes, poverty and other issues translated into students who couldn’t function at school.
But traveling from Marathon County to another nearby can take an hour and 20 minutes, said Lee Shipway, consortium member and head of Peaceful Solutions, a counseling service based in Wausau. Parents who had access to counseling services found it difficult to consistently take a half-day off of work to transport their children for treatment.
Law enforcement agencies were dealing with an increase in young people who were victims of crime or trauma that had begun acting out, said Wausau Deputy Police Chief Matt Barnes. The answer was to create a group of nonprofit, for-profit and public counseling services that each agreed to provide therapists in each of the county’s 11 districts and 57 schools.
In Wausau, the police department used Department of Justice grant money to employ a therapist who spends part of her time in schools, Barnes said. In addition, two of the district’s four school resource officers have therapy dogs.
The therapists are paid by their patients’ insurance companies, and no child is turned away because he or she cannot pay, Shipway said.
Therapists also help with teacher training and are part of parent-school events designed to connect with families and to de-stigmatize mental health issues.
Why not use school psychologists or counselors? Because they are not licensed to diagnosis conditions such as depression or anxiety disorders, nor are they allowed to treat them, Peerenboom said.
The National Association of School Psychologists describes the work of its members as providing “academic, behavioral and mental health system supports; crisis prevention and response; evaluation, assessment and data analysis; and consultation with teachers and families.”
According to the association, its members’ duties include helping students “apply academic achievement strategies; manage emotions and apply interpersonal skills and plan for post-secondary roles.”
In Janesville, a group of school psychologists, counselors and student advocates formed a mental health initiative, said District Student Services Coordinator Sonja Robinson. The group hopes to replicate what Marathon County started two years ago.
Wilson Elementary School was chosen as the first site to be serviced after a survey of school needs was conducted, Robinson told the board.
A therapist from Hope Child and Family Counseling Center in Roscoe, Illinois, will meet with children at Wilson. She also will be part of the school family, be in the halls during passing time, work with teachers on professional development and run group programs in conjunction with the school psychologist, counselor or social worker.
Therapists from Hope Child and Family Counseling Center already work in several Beloit schools, and they are excited about expanding their services to Janesville, said Jamie Wagner, a therapist who owns the counseling center.
Another counseling site will be set up at Parker High School, and Craig High School students will use Hope Child’s satellite office on Racine Street in Janesville.
The counseling center will be in charge of billing families’ insurance, and no child will be denied care because they don’t have insurance.
Robinson said a mental health services grant from the state’s Department of Public Instruction will allow different schools to host “family engagement nights,” which will provide information about nutrition, mental health issues and connect families with community resources.
If necessary, the grant also will pay for transportation to bring students from other schools to the counseling site.
If the program is successful, Robinson hopes to expand it to all district schools.
Richard Parks is the superintendent of schools in Marathon City. The district has 731 students.
“Because we are a small school, we have a therapist come on an as-needed basis,” he said. “That might be one day or a half-day every two weeks.”
But Parks said he values the service so much he is writing a grant in hopes of expanding the program.
For a student to seek help elsewhere means he or she will miss at least a half-day of school.
When students and their families get the help they need, it shows in improved behavior and more academic success in the classroom, Parks said.
In the Fox Cities area, the United Way developed a program to provide students with mental health services in schools. Of the students treated, 67 percent said the services reduced their symptoms; 77 percent said they felt better about life; 58 percent improved their academic performance, and 72 percent reported improved relationships with family and friends.
Barnes said he sees therapy as a “ripple effect.”
“We know we see positive results with kids who get mental health care,” he said.
“There are two ways to look at law enforcement,” he added. “Early in my career, it would have been easy to say, ‘Our investigate crimes and hold people accountable.’”
Now his attitude is “If not us, who?”
Offering mental health services is a way to help troubled families and young people who might have turned to a life of crime after being victimized themselves, he said.
Peerenboom and Robinson believe such services will help students who are dealing with the fallout from childhood trauma. They hope, too, that the service will help prevent suicides and reduce instances of drug and alcohol use.
Substance use is often connected to underlying mental health issues, she said.
“It’s all about prevention,” Peerenboom said.
At the Group of 20 gathering in Japan, leaders who can find themselves shunned at such multilateral summits were the focus of U.S. President Donald Trump’s attention, humor and respect across Friday and Saturday.
Turkey’s leader was a “tough cookie” and Saudi Arabia’s crown prince a “friend” who has done a “spectacular job.” Trump said he had a “tremendous discussion” with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. China’s President Xi Jinping was “one of the great leaders in 200 years.”
Then on Sunday, Trump became the first sitting president to set foot in North Korea, a day after he issued a surprise invite via Twitter for Kim Jong Un to meet him at the Demilitarized Zone, the heavily fortified border between North Korea and South Korea. What was intended as a handshake and brief chat turned into an unscheduled summit of more than an hour.
The encounters marked a welcome and long-sought return from the cold for the likes of Putin and Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman, who have otherwise been the target of sanctions, isolation and opprobrium from the U.S. government. All came away having gained from the exchange, whether something concrete like trade concessions or more nebulous, such as legitimacy and respect.
“This G-20 meeting has been less about the largest economies of the world, and more about a few illiberal political economies that have influence on the largest economy of the world—the U.S.,” said Karen Young, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “Both Russia and Saudi Arabia have used the conference to demonstrate their ability to capture Trump’s attention and praise.”
The chummy mood was a stark reversal from the prior G-20 in Buenos Aires in November. Then, Trump’s team scrubbed a meeting with Putin over Russia’s capture of 24 Ukrainian sailors in a Black Sea naval clash. He rejected a formal sit-down with the Prince Mohammed over the killing of columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.
Since then, Putin hasn’t released the Ukrainian sailors, and a United Nations expert assigned to investigate Khashoggi’s death has said that Prince Mohammed’s possible role should be probed (he has denied any involvement).
The U.S. president treated them warmly anyway. After meeting Putin, Trump told reporters that Putin was a “terrific person.” He defended the crown prince in a news conference, declaring that “nobody, so far, has pointed directly a finger at the future King of Saudi Arabia,” overlooking both the UN report and a U.S. intelligence assessment that Prince Mohammed signed off on the killing.
Trump has always prided himself on his willingness to speak with anyone, no matter how poor their record on human rights or their defiance of the United States.
“I think talking is great,” he said in Osaka. “I’m not going to say, ‘Oh, don’t talk to them. Don’t talk to them.”‘
But he seems unaware of the pitfalls of the approach. Chief among them: foreign leaders feel encouraged to stick with a strategy, now tried and tested, to circumvent the rest of the U.S. government and appeal directly to the president.
At his news conference, Trump presented an extraordinary defense of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s plan to buy a Russian anti-aircraft missile system in defiance of the U.S. and NATO. Trump claimed inaccurately that his predecessor Barack Obama had refused to sell the U.S. Patriot missile system to Erdogan’s government.
“Honestly, it is not really Erdogan’s fault,” he said.
In fact, the U.S. has repeatedly offered to sell the Patriot system to Turkey since 2013, but Erdogan has sought a transfer of technology with the deal so that he can develop and produce his own missiles. The U.S. has declined.
U.S. officials have privately expressed frustration that the president’s approach is complicating their ability to squeeze concessions from Turkey and get Erdogan to give up on the Russian S-400 system. But Erdogan has calculated that Trump will quash any effort by the administration or Congress to sanction Ankara if he goes ahead with the purchase.
Asked repeatedly in a meeting with Erdogan if he’d proceed with the sanctions, Trump didn’t answer directly. “We’re looking at it,” he said.
Congress will almost certainly resist. Even some of Trump’s stalwart allies appeared queasy with his approach at the G-20. They included Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who criticized the president for concessions to China’s Huawei Technologies Co. as Washington and Beijing press forward with trade talks.
“If President Trump has agreed to reverse recent sanctions against #Huawei he has made a catastrophic mistake,” Rubio said in a tweet. “It will destroy the credibility of his administration’s warnings about the threat posed by the company, no one will ever again take them seriously.”
Read more: Trump’s DMZ Summit Shows How Little Kim Has Conceded on Nukes
One strongman not at the event also enjoyed Trump’s affirmation. Before leaving the G-20 for a stop in South Korea, Trump offered to meet Kim at the DMZ, apparently for the sheer spectacle. After their sit down on Sunday, Trump announced the resumption of talks over North Korea’s nuclear program.
North Korean leaders have craved a meeting with a U.S. leader for decades to legitimize their own rule and, obliquely, their nuclear ambitions. Trump’s sit-down with Kim was their third, even though there’s been no progress for months in convincing Pyongyang to relinquish its arsenal.
“We are tying to work it out,” Trump said. “A handshake means a lot.”