Story by Juila DiGiacomo
A Cedar Rapids non-profit with the mission of supporting healthy families and children is innovating their services for Latino and African immigrants. With the recent addition of two AmeriCorps RISE members from these communities, YPN (Young Parents Network) is developing literacy packets and incorporating group support services for African refugees with young children.
YPN’s programming targets parents under age 27 and children within the developmentally crucial time period up to age 5. The organization offers a variety of services to create community among young parents and promote self-sufficiency.
“The services we're able to provide are helping give participants and their young children an opportunity to really grow and thrive as they develop,” YPN Program Manager Meridith Myers says.
Myers says YPN has been serving the immigrant and refugee communities of Cedar Rapids for years. However she says the new RISE AmeriCorps members have helped the organization to expand its opportunities.
RISE AmeriCorps member Maria Barroso has been working diligently with the Hispanic programming staff to provide English literacy packets for children. Bilingual materials in Spanish and English will help parents and children improve their English together.
Another RISE AmeriCorps member, Orline Makengo, is helping adapt the Thursday night “Parent Café” group for young parents who have resettled from Africa. The virtual meeting features a series of relevant questions to spark discussion among parents, with the intention of fostering self-reflection and learning among peers. Makengo is working to gear these sessions towards navigating the unique experience of parenting as a refugee from Africa.
Myers says the goal of Parent Café meetings are to strengthen parents’ “protective factors,” which are characteristics that predict the best outcomes for children while reducing the risk of child abuse. These factors include social connections, a concrete support system, social and emotional competence, knowledge of parenting and child development, and more.
Many young parents may not have their own natural support system, Myers says, so YPN’s programs like Parent Café are a place where parents of all backgrounds can find support in other participants and program staff.
“‘Parent Café’ is also meant to allow parents to get to know other parents with children of similar ages, who may be having similar struggles,” Myers says.
Story by Julia DiGiacomo
Despite unprecedented circumstances, AmeriCorps RISE members at Oakridge Neighborhood Services have adapted to meet the needs of the most culturally diverse neighborhood in Des Moines. Through unemployment assistance, a new English language program, care packages, and more, the RISE members have dedicated their year to serving immigrants and refugees in their community.
Oakridge Neighborhood’s newest endeavor is an English language learning class at Des Moines Area Community College, which currently serves about 15 students. Immigrants and refugees from across Des Moines are invited to learn beginner to intermediate-level English skills. Two AmeriCorps RISE members currently serve as teaching assistants for the class’ second session. Moad Ali, Halima Ali, and an English teacher break the class into three groups according to their language level to practice English constructively.
Oakridge Neigborhood’s Adult & Family Director Almardi Abdalla says the class is one of the only in-person English classes in the area. Although Oakridge considered an online format, he says barriers with technology in the community interfered. Many students new to the United States lack experience with the internet and computers. Others simply do not have consistent access.
The class takes place in a large room with social distancing and masks as a health precaution. So far Abdalla says there have been no issues. In fact, attendance has been stellar and many students from the first session re-enrolled for the second.
“People are learning and coming back to class,” Abdalla says. “They’re getting something out of the class so that's why they are investing their time more and more.”
Although the AmeriCorps members provide a variety of direct services, they most consistently help with unemployment assistance. This service entails helping clients file for unemployment or apply for public assistance. In the midst of an economic downturn, Abdalla says these services have been greatly in need.
The AmeriCorps RISE members have also assisted with multiple giveaways for community members in need, such as food care packages. In the last few weeks, they also gave out COVID-19 and winter clothes care packages to 107 families in the area.
“I think overall it was a great success and a great experience,” Abdalla says.
During the initial wave of the pandemic, sharing timely information became another important task to help the community through an uncertain time. Oakridge Neighborhood staff and AmeriCorps RISE members shared information to groups on Whatsapp. Members helped translate COVID-19 information, such as vaccine news and safety advice.
“Although the scope of our activities have been limited since COVID-19, [AmeriCorps RISE members] have been a great addition to our efforts to reach out to and help more people in need,” Abdalla says.