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    Strengthening Relationships with the Public

    Strengthening Relationships with the Public

    Photo By Kelcy Hanson | Kaden standing with the employees of Lock and Dam 11.... read more read more



    Story by Kelcy Hanson 

    U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Rock Island District

    It’s not out of the ordinary to have visitors at lock and dam sites throughout the District. People come from across the country, sometimes the world, to watch barges lock through and see wildlife, especially the bald eagles. Lock and Dam 11 in Dubuque, Iowa, is no exception to this rule, but for one visitor, Kayden Franck, the visits have become more than just a leisure activity.

    Kayden’s mother, Kari Franck, started bringing him to the lock and dam in spring of 2020 to get out of the house and have something to do. They would sit on the benches, watch the barges go through the lock, and see the bald eagles feeding. Kayden became infatuated with watching the barges as they passed through the lock and his mom quickly identified that this site was his happy place. She noticed, during their almost daily visits, that the space calmed him more than anything had been able to before.

    At a very young age, Kayden was diagnosed with autism. He and his mother previously lived in Wisconsin but due to lack of resources, chose to move to Dyersville, Iowa, where they had better access to medical care and a better school district for Kayden, who now attends fifth grade in the Western Dubuque school system.

    One day, Kayden and his mother were sitting on the bench at the lock when lock mechanic, Willie Hansen, approached them and introduced himself. He had seen Kayden’s mom at the site several times and thought he recognized her from high school. He asked her, “By chance, are you the Kari Franck I went to high school with?”

    Much to his surprise, she was, and from that moment forward, Hansen has continued to grow a relationship with Kayden and has introduced him to the other employees at Lock and Dam 11. He has become a welcomed, familiar face they love to see.

    Kayden and his mom have also built friendships with others who regularly visit the lock and dam site. Kayden will speak one or two words and exclaim with excitement when he sees one of his friends. He has gotten to know everybody by name and two of his favorite friends are, Dick, who always shows up in a little car and brings surprises for Kayden, and Paul, who is most often seen sitting on the benches watching the birds while smoking his cigar.

    One of Kayden’s favorite things to do is wave to the captains as they navigate their vessels through the lock. He visually signals with his hands, pretending to pull down on an imaginary air horn string to get the captains to blow their horn for him. When the captains respond with a loud blast of their horn, Kayden is filled with joy and excitement and can frequently be heard yelling “Hi, man” from the observation deck above the lock.

    Raising a child with special needs has made Franck realize, “I have to stop worrying about what other people think. We have built our own community at the lock that welcomes Kayden for who he is. He has learned what he likes and can enjoy it without judgement.”

    Hansen describes Kayden as a ‘really neat kid’ and says he’s thankful he reached out to communicate with him and his mom last year.

    “If it wasn’t for me recognizing Kari as a former classmate and engaging in conversation with them last spring, we might never have been able to build this relationship with him,” said Hansen. “This small gesture is a good reminder that we can always build better relationships with the public.”

    Since starting to visit the lock and dam, the Franck family has missed only a handful of days. They’ve become such regular visitors that if a day is missed, employees begin to worry. During their regular hour-long visits at the site the Franks have learned a lot from the employees and the employees have come to enjoy seeing Kayden’s excitement.

    In late December, Lock and Dam 11 employees presented Kayden with a gift; a handmade towboat they made just for him with his favorite colors.

    “It is one of Kayden’s favorite toys to play with,” said Frank, “He’s played with it so much, a few pieces had to be glued back on again!”

    Although this act of kindness was made on a personal level by the lock employees, District management was supportive and encouraged the positive engagement with the Frank family.

    “The Corps is a public service organization and our lock staff members are regularly called upon to engage with the public,” said Bob Castro, chief of the Mississippi River Project’s Lock and Dam Section. “In this case, our guys were willing to go above and beyond to make a difference in one child’s life, in a year that’s been anything but easy.”

    As for Kayden and his mom, they say they can’t wait for the weather to get nicer so they can get back to watching barges again.



    Date Taken: 02.23.2021
    Date Posted: 02.25.2021 12:31
    Story ID: 389738

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