MLK Day of Service represents much of what RISE AmeriCorps Members stand for as they serve diverse, underrepresented communities across Iowa.
To celebrate the holiday, four RISE AmeriCorps Members shared their thoughts on the meaning of service and their experiences with RISE through written and video reflections.
RISE AmeriCorps Members Kamaura Kim with ArtForce Iowa and Fatima Tahir with Kirkwood Community College:
RISE AmeriCorps Member Amanda McVann with EMBARC Des Moines:
Looking back, I think my whole life has been dedicated to the service of others. Helping other people when they need it most is almost an autonomic response for me - it’s like breathing. I can’t function in a world that allows injustice and oppression to continue on without resistance, so I’ve made it my mission to help uplift voices and experiences from those on the margins.
By serving with RISE AmeriCorps, I’m able to engage with members and leaders from diverse, creative, thriving, and inspiring refugee communities throughout the Des Moines area. As a newcomer to Iowa, I’ve felt warmly welcomed to the EMBARC team and feel valued for not only my previous community leadership experience but also my passion for social justice and creative writing skills. Overall, I hope that through my time with RISE AmeriCorps that I am able to continue uplifting other people’s stories and experiences that further empower and develop their voice as well as their communities.
RISE AmeriCorps Member Nafissatou Lamidi with Hoover Community School:
For me, serving is leading an impactful life. It’s a life dedicated to helping, enriching, and improving disadvantaged people’s lives. It adds value to others.
Serving with RISE has impacted me in many ways, but the most important is my personal growth. I am part of the community I am serving, so I also face some of the barriers at points in my life. By working daily to help remove those barriers for others, I’ve learned a lot. I get to improve my problem-solving skill set and I feel empowered and more integrated now.
One of my first cases was to help a kid and his mom set up a doctor appointment for his eyes after his teacher noticed that he had difficulties following along in class. But the mom didn’t have insurance and can’t speak English. Therefore, I helped her apply for insurance, called hospitals to set up an appointment and went in with them as an interpreter. Now the kid is the best student in his classroom. It was an enlightening experience to me, because I couldn’t stop wondering what they would have done without me. That’s when I told myself, “I want to keep doing this. I am sure there are many more family like this one who
needs assistance and I want to help.”
For me, service is very important because I want to live a meaningful and fulfilling life by adding value to other’s lives around me as much as I can, whether it is through service, policies, or entrepreneurship.
RISE AmeriCorps Member Julia DiGiacomo with EMBARC Des Moines:
For me, MLK Day of Service is an annual reminder to reflect on the civil rights movement and the importance of always striving for social justice and community service. Activists like Martin Luther King Jr. paved the way for underrepresented communities in the United States to gain rights and a better future. Since RISE AmeriCorps serves immigrants and refugees who still experience huge barriers in the United States, I think that recognizing and learning from past movements for social justice is essential.
The popular saying, “It takes a village,” truly exemplifies the meaning of service to me. As humans, we rely on one other to lend a helping hand in times of need. Therefore, I believe service is the lifeblood of a healthy, thriving community. All of my service experiences over the last decade have been extremely formative for me and I feel fortunate to be able to continue contributing through RISE AmeriCorps’s mission of reaching immigrants and refugees in need.
Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Day of Service offers an important opportunity for RISE AmeriCorps Members to reflect on civil rights movements of the past and look forward to service opportunities in their own communities. Through several upcoming events on Monday, January 17 , members and their host sites are joining the community to celebrate service together.
At the RISE Host Site Hoover Community School, the team is both volunteering in the community and hosting their own event. In the morning, members are attending a speaker series on the importance of service at Mt. Mercy University. Later, they will volunteer with Olivet Neighborhood Mission, a non-profit organization serving the Cedar Rapids neighborhood with basic needs. RISE Members will be lending a hand with sorting and preparing food boxes, as well as other direct services as needed.
From 12 - 2p.m., RISE AmeriCorps Members with Hoover are hosting a resource and clothing drive in the Hoover Community School gym. Both families at the school and others in the surrounding community are invited to learn more about and sign-up for resources such as clothing donations, job coaching and workforce readiness training.
“[The event] is going to be very impactful no matter what because it’s going to provide an opportunity for engagement, expanding learning opportunities beyond the school hours,” Community School Coordinator Lemi Tilahun said.
Since Hoover students don’t attend school on MLK Day, Tilahun said 50-80 children may be without food for lunch. The event is therefore providing a hot lunch until supplies run out.
RISE AmeriCorps Members Elsa Barroso Ramirez, Tania Ekutshu, Nafissatou Lamidi and David Niyogushima have been involved with every step of planning for the MLK Day event, Tilahun said. They were responsible for recruiting the volunteers and will ensure the logistics run smoothly on the day of the event.
RISE Host Site Community Youth Concepts in Des Moines is hosting both in-person and virtual events to engage the public. From 10-11 a.m. on Zoom, guest speaker Jane Jackson will speak on the importance of service and lead activities to spread kindness. From 1-3 p.m. at King Elementary School, the community is invited to participate in a wide range of service projects for all ages.
Jane Jackson’s session will reflect on her lifelong dedication to service, including as an activist in the civil rights movement alongside people like Dr. King himself. After her talk, Jane will guide participants to create and distribute You Matter Cards and Smile Cards. Both options help spread joy and kindness.
The in-person event will feature tables from community partners with hands-on, kid-friendly service opportunities.
RISE AmeriCorps Member Sul Ciang and program staff have been meeting weekly with groups of high schoolers as part of CYC’s commitment to youth outreach. Together, Sul helped students identify and plan their projects. She’ll also be assisting students to run their tables smoothly.
Students involved with CYC’s programming at North High School, East High School and Hoover High School will guide projects such as creating friendship bracelets and friendship rocks to spread random acts of kindness. Other students are hosting tables to create self-care kits and to design bookmarks to donate to the reading non-profit Everybody Wins! Iowa.
“Students will really take the lead and facilitate the projects at the event at their tables,” CYC Program Coordinator Amber Miller said.
Overall, RISE AmeriCorps Members are exemplifying the meaning of service on MLK Day with their participation in community events. To RSVP for CYC’s two events, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website here: http://cyconcepts.org/martin-luther-king-jr-day/. No RSVP is needed for Hoover’s event at 4141 Johnson Ave NW, Cedar Rapids, but you can call 319-558-2369 with questions.