On this World Refugee Day and every day, RISE AmeriCorps members from refugee backgrounds are using their perspectives to meet needs and create change within their communities.
Sixty-eight percent of RISE AmeriCorps members come from an immigrant and refugee background and about a quarter of current members are refugees themselves. Refugee members fill important gaps while representing diverse communities from Burma, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Eritrea.
In 2022, RISE AmeriCorps Members are advancing opportunities and building self-sufficiency for fellow refugees with training in job skills, digital literacy, English skills and more. At EMBARC in Des Moines for example, RISE AmeriCorps Member Pray Meh is leading a class to prepare other Karenni refugees from Burma for the U.S. citizenship test.
From collage to photography to acrylic paint portraits, ArtForce Iowa and RISE AmeriCorps members are showcasing their talents while also lifting up the refugee youth they serve.
ArtForce Iowa’s series of exhibits, “#KNOWJUSTICE”, highlights immigrant and refugee voices and the power of storytelling. In May, #KNOWJUSTICE:The Collective centered on themes of coming together. The virtual exhibit, displaying art by youth, RISE AmeriCorps members and the community, is available here:
In-person exhibits continue on the first Friday of each month, featuring an individual artist’s collection of works. On July 1, RISE AmeriCorps Member December Paw will be showing her art at Mainframe Studios in Des Moines from 5-8 p.m.
By Autumn Diesburg
RISE AmeriCorps Macro Communications Member
The experience of unresolved trauma can affect all aspects of our lives, making understanding what trauma is and how we can respond to it key to our day-to-day quality of life. Still, the term is often misunderstood or misused, compounding confusion for people seeking to understand their own stress and pain. So, what does the word ‘trauma’ actually mean and how can we respond to its presence within our own lives and the lives of those we care about?
In recent months, increased exposure to media coverage of global, national, and local crises has left many RISE AmeriCorps members questioning how they can identify and respond to their own stress and trauma responses.
In adults, trauma is a result of a person’s coping ability being overwhelmed by life-threatening danger – either to someone important in their lives or to themselves, said Tony Raymer, Director of Brain Health at Easterseals Iowa. Children, however, who need adults to survive, may be traumatized when they lack adults who take care of their social, emotional, or physical needs. After experiencing traumatization, Raymer said, common trauma responses tend to fall under five umbrellas:
Over lunch each week, just down the block from each other’s organization, RISE AmeriCorps Member David Clower and First Lutheran Church Food Services Coordinator Ruth Ehrhardt bonded over their shared passion of community service. Together, they strategized Clower’s plans for the future and ways to connect resources for the Afghan refugees Clower primarily serves.
“I got super lucky because Ruth has an incredible wealth of experience that she has been able to share with me,” Clower said.
Through the unique opportunity of the RISE AmeriCorps mentorship program, members are gaining professional and personal connections to lead them successfully into their next season of life. RISE AmeriCorps members are carefully matched with mentors according to their ambitions. The pairs then meet for one hour per week for at least six months, talking through steps to meet their goals.
In this video series, RISE AmeriCorps Members are taking us along to their host sites across Iowa. Mariely Perales is key in supporting the Spanish-speaking community in small-town, Hampton Iowa. Watch to learn more about Mariely, La Luz Centro Cultural and their service to empower Latino communities.
From serving the Sudanese immigrant community to receiving resources to excel in the medical career, Fatima is is sharing her life-changing journey as RISE AmeriCorps Member at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa City.
RISE AmeriCorps Member Sayri Reyna gives us a look into her service at the City of Columbus Junction and how she's adapting to meet immigrant and refugees' needs everyday.
RISE AmeriCorps Members at Kirkwood Community College are bridging the divide between immigrants and refugees and programs to help them fill quality, in-demand jobs. Since summer 2021, a partnership between Iowa Workforce Development (IWD) and Kirkwood’s TRIO Student Support Services program has forged the way for more immigrants and refugees to enter the workforce.
“At Kirkwood, the benefit of our program is that we’re really connected to the students and the community here,” TRIO ESL Director Mallory Petsche said. “We started this partnership because there was a gap between the community accessing and knowing these programs IowaWORKS has.”
RISE AmeriCorps Members and Kirkwood’s TRIO program collaborate regularly with IWD Workforce Consultant Shane Greve. Greve meets one-on-one with Kirkwood students and discusses IWD’s wide array of services that assist with tuition, childcare, transportation, job searches, career planning and more. IWD programs such as GAP grant Iowans the funds to train and enter in-demand jobs. Certified nursing assistant (CNA) training is a particularly popular pathway among the Kirkwood community, which is helping to fill a shortage of care workers in Iowa.
After the Taliban-takeover in Afghanistan forced thousands of families to flee from their homes and seek resettlement, RISE AmeriCorps Members and staff at Catherine McAuley Center (CMC) are helping Afghan refugees adjust to their new lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
In affiliation with the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), CMC is responsible for resettlement services to support refugees during their first months in the country. From coordinating housing to medical assistance to cultural orientation, CMC is the official guide in Cedar Rapids for refugees abruptly dropped into a foreign land and culture.
RISE AmeriCorps Member David Clower said the number of Afghan refugees arriving in Cedar Rapids has poured in like a tidal wave, in comparison to the usual trickle of refugees resettled from mostly Central Africa. During just a two week period in November 2021, over 80 Afghan refugees arrived in Cedar Rapids. In all, Clower said 250 Afghan refugees have been welcomed by CMC from mid-November to mid-February. In contrast, CMC often resettles only about 150 clients over a year.
Since January, two RISE AmeriCorps Members have been essential in helping a group of refugees from Burma on their way to U.S. citizenship. Thu Meh and Pray Meh, who serve with EMBARC, host a weekly class to help fellow members of the Karenni community excel on their interviews and tests.
Thu Meh said the citizenship class is extremely important for her community, because passing the interview and civics test are required in order to be awarded citizenship. Citizenship has many advantages for immigrants and refugees living in the U.S., including easier access to public benefits, the freedom to travel abroad, the ability to vote, family reunification for their loved ones in other countries, and more.