The Day at the Capitol on February 2nd was many RISE AmeriCorps Members’ first experience speaking with legislators. Yet they were welcomed with introductions, rounds of applause and rich conversations in both chambers of the capitol. The event hosted by Volunteer Iowa helped RISE AmeriCorps Members share their stories and gain skills to continue educating Iowa about immigrants and refugees.
When RISE AmeriCorps Member Jonatan Artola informed about his service with immigrants and refugees at IC Compassion, he found that the legislators from his district were extremely receptive and interested. The experience felt especially striking to Artola, since he said it is almost impossible to talk with representatives in his home country of Guatemala. In some cases, Artola said speaking up on a politically-sensitive issue can lead to Guatemalans getting their families into trouble or even being killed.
“So this experience made me feel powerful as just a normal, common person here in Iowa,” Artola said. “I really do appreciate the opportunity.”
For the first time in two years, RISE AmeriCorps gathered at the Iowa Capitol in-person to make strides in educating state legislators. 21 RISE AmeriCorps Members, representing eight host sites in five counties across Iowa, shared stories of needs in the immigrant and refugee communities and the differences they’ve created through RISE. Others will echo virtually to create connections with legislators.
The Feb. 2 “Day at the Capitol” was organized by Volunteer Iowa to inform Iowa's lawmakers about the impacts of AmeriCorps service.
The RISE AmeriCorps team started off the day-long event with an invitation to the floors of both the House and Senate. RISE AmeriCorps Members were invited by Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott and Rep. Timi Brown-Powers to mingle with legislators and share their experiences serving immigrants and refugees. During the announcements in both chambers, the members were introduced to everyone and welcomed with a round of applause.
“RISE AmeriCorps Members connect and support fellow immigrants and refugees with education, jobs and essential services to increase economic opportunities for the communities and economic growth to Iowa,” Brown-Powers announced to the Iowa House. “Last year, the RISE Program enrolled 99 members: 90 percent recruited from Iowa, 68 percent from refugee and immigrant communities and 80 percent bilingual.”
Legislators such as Rep. Art Staed, Rep. Bob Kressig, Sen. Joe Bolkcom and many more stopped by to inquire about RISE AmeriCorps Members’ experiences serving. Members conversed about their unique experiences as immigrants and refugees in Iowa, why they joined RISE and the biggest changes they’re making in communities across the state.
Later in the event, the RISE AmeriCorps team met in Sen. Zach Wahls’ office to answer questions and explain the purposes of RISE AmeriCorps, such as improving immigrant and refugee self-sufficiency through job readiness training. Many RISE AmeriCorps Members, such as David Clower, and RISE AmeriCorps alumni Mu Paw and Lal Muani gave their perspectives on immigrant and refugee issues as well as the importance of their projects.
“We shared that we have a partnership with Iowa Workforce and we help the students with job readiness, such as getting ready to have a job, find education, and the interview process,” RISE AmeriCorps Member Farhain Mohamed said about her host site, Kirkwood Community College.
RISE AmeriCorps Member Fatima Tahir said she also shared some benefits of the program for members, such as how the mentoring program connected her with a tutor so she can study and rejoin the medical field. Fatima previously worked as a doctor in her home country and is looking to gain certifications in the U.S.
Next, RISE AmeriCorps Members and their supporters set off to request individual meetings with legislators who represent the districts of their host sites. The RISE team conversed with legislators from all political backgrounds, bringing to their attention the barriers immigrants and refugees face in Iowa without services from programs like RISE.
Centro Latino’s Community Engagement Coordinator Gabriela Pedroza shared on behalf of her and RISE AmeriCorps Member Nancy Alers, how Centro Latino is assisting the Latino community with the help of RISE.
“We work with the Latino community and underrepresented communities to create a better quality of life with resources such as GED classes, civic engagement, citizenship classes, and English classes as well." Pedroza said.
Overall, the event was not only many RISE AmeriCorps Members’ first visit to the statehouse, but an in-person look into how the government operates and a chance to make change by educating the state’s decision makers.
“Everyone has a different story for how and why we came to RISE,” RISE AmeriCorps Member Autumn Diesburg said. “Now we get to share our stories and make connections.”