The history of Lutheran Family Service is grounded in the early days of the 20th century, when Lutheran churches were responding to human needs by building hospitals, schools and orphanages to keep up with Iowa’s rapidly growing population. Iowa Lutheran lay leaders and pastors recognized the pressing need to find Christian homes for the many children who were orphaned by their families due to the death of a parent, illness or harsh financial times.
In response to this need, the Lutheranish Kinderfreund Gesellschaft (Lutheran Children’s Friends Society) was established in 1901 in Fort Dodge. For the next 60 years, children were provided with love and care through the Lutheran orphanage until a permanent home with a Christian family could be located.
By the 1960s, the children’s home, as it was conceived in 1901, was no longer necessary as the needs of orphans were being provided in foster homes. The ministry remained focused on reaching out to children in need of permanent families through adoption, but it repurposed its facility to serve as a home for unwed mothers. Unmarried pregnant women were not accepted in their home communities, but at the Lutheran home, they could be cared for both spiritually and physically until their babies arrived. As times changed, the facility was later used to provide short-term placement and professional counseling services for young women with behavioral concerns who were not able to stay in their own family homes.
While LFS continued to provide pregnancy counseling and adoptive services throughout the state, it also began offering professional counseling services with a spiritual dynamic in the 1970s to meet the need for families, married couples and individuals. To better reflect the broadening range of services provided to families, the Board of Directors officially changed the name of the organization to “Lutheran Family Service of Iowa” in 1974.
Over the next several years, the demand for Christ-centered counseling greatly increased. LFS grew its professional Christ-centered counseling exponentially, from employing two part-time counselors in 1984 to 10 full-time counselors in 2003. Residential services to adults with mental retardation were initiated, with group homes built in Atlantic and Storm Lake in 1984 and 1985, respectively. These services expanded, not with the building of more homes but with the organization of programs in Buena Vista, Benton and Webster Counties to support individuals with mental retardation and/or mental illness living independently in their own homes. Staffing in this area of ministry grew from one staff person in 1985 to a high of 28 in 2002. As always, pro-life ministries serving women experiencing an unplanned pregnancy and couples seeking to adopt children continued to be provided statewide.
Through strategic partnerships with other like-minded Iowa non-profits, Lutheran Family Service strengthened its commitment to providing professional Christ-centered care to individuals through programs in counseling, pregnancy counseling, adoption, family life education and support for professional church workers. A partnership with Lutheran Adoption Network established in 2004 allowed LFS to serve families exploring international adoption, even as domestic adoptions continued.
In 2013, Rev. Max Phillips was called to serve as Executive Director of Lutheran Family Services. In addition to his commitment to serve people in need as an extension of the local church’s ministry, Rev. Phillips brought a strong background in business management and organizational leadership. Today, Rev. Phillips directs the statewide ministry alongside an experienced senior leadership team including Kim Laube (Director of Pregnancy Counseling & Adoption Services), Courtney Frerichs (Director of Counseling Services), Holly Eldridge (Operations Manager) and Wanda Pritzel (Director of Congregational Services & Ministry Support).
Expansion of services to reach and serve more people in Iowa is currently in the works. LFS opened a new office in Bettendorf in September 2015, providing mental health and marriage counseling as well as pregnancy counseling and adoption services to families in southeast Iowa for the first time. Congregational outreach services designed to support healthy marriages and strong and confident youth and to serve those with dementia—the elderly and their caregivers—are also developing in southeast Iowa and in other parts of the state.
The needs in our communities have certainly changed over the years. Through it all, our Christian compassion and commitment to reach out in love to all that are in need of Christ’s care remains unchanged.