Story by Julia DiGiacomo
RISE AmeriCorps members at Mary Treglia Community House were instrumental in helping a COVID-19 vaccine clinic run smoothly. The Sioux City non-profit opened its doors to vaccinate 250 people within the span of several hours last Wednesday, March 17.
The goal of the event was to help immigrants and refugees overcome language and technology barriers to receive protection against the coronavirus.
“I think we’ve all heard how hard it is for anyone that isn’t technologically literate to sign up for a vaccine appointment,” Mary Treglia Community House Executive Director Becky Carlson said. “So we wanted to be able to provide another option.”
Most vaccine providers in Iowa, such as Hy-Vee, Walgreens, and CVS only offer appointments on their websites, which limits accessibility for immigrants and refugees without computer experience. Non-English speakers can also face obstacles navigating the blocks of English text on the applications.
Instead, Mary Treglia Community House only required a phone call to register for the clinic. They also reached out directly to immigrant and refugee staff and clients. Interpreters assisted patients with the registration and vaccination process.
Local news coverage and word of mouth spread information and helped increase registration beyond expectations. The clinic was also the first in the area to include people aged 16-64 with underlying health conditions, which drove up demand for the vaccine.
“We’re still getting calls,” Carlson said the day after the clinic.
As a result of the surge in registration, many people vaccinated were English speakers from the Sioux City surrounding areas. However, Mary Treglia Community House’s interpreters still kept busy helping non-English speakers. Food production workers, many of whom are immigrants and refugees, were one of the eligible groups vaccinated.
RISE AmeriCorps members Samson Weldu and Brianna Marroquin helped staff coordinate the rush of people. Weldu helped with check-ins and monitored the patients for 15 minutes after their shots in case of allergic reactions.
Weldu, who was born and raised in Eritrea, has also been an advocate for the safety and effectivity of COVID-19 vaccines. Carlson says he’s important for raising trust of the vaccine in African refugee communities.
Although the event was extremely busy, Weldu says the Mary Treglia Community House team made it work. The patients were happy for the chance to receive the Moderna doses.
“Everybody was really helpful,” Weldu said. “It was my first time working with so many people. But it was a good experience.”
Story by Julia DiGiacomo
The simple comfort of a quilt brightened winter days for immigrant and refugee children at Hoover Elementary School. RISE AmeriCorps members exchanged greetings with families in various languages while children excitedly selected their favorite quilts from an array of colors and patterns.
Through the generosity of the Des Moines Area Quilt Guild, RISE AmeriCorps members with Eastern Iowa African Diaspora hand-delivered dozens of homemade quilts to families on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Many refugee families at Hoover were forced to relocate after the hurricane-level derecho winds hit Cedar Rapids and devastated their apartment buildings in August. The quilts would help turn their new housing into homes.
“The families were so welcoming when we arrived at their homes,” RISE AmeriCorps member David Niyogushima said. “When we showed them the quilts, the kids’ reactions were priceless.”
RISE AmeriCorps member Kelli Klaus said the kids loved the quilts. The experience also offered a rare opportunity to meet the families of the children she works with. Since Klaus often works remotely, interactions with the community have become especially valuable. With interpretation from RISE member Angelique Nijimbere and a beginner knowledge of Swahili, Klaus was able to connect with families for the first time.
The quilts for Hoover Elementary School kids were among over 1,250 quilts sewn and donated by the Des Moines Area Quilt Guild in 2020. Guild members took advantage of time at home during the pandemic to sew more quilts than ever expected. Some quilters followed a strip pattern provided by the guild while others took off with their creativity.
Education and Community Giving Co-Chair Jill Reber said her organization is dedicated to meeting any need for quilts across Iowa. They have gifted quilts to cancer patients, newly adopted children, the Polk County Department of Human Services and others whose homes were destroyed in the derecho. Reber hopes that the quilts keep families warm during tough times.
“Quilts bring comfort to people in a really tangible way,” Reber said. “We know, just through the past year, that the quilts have made a difference in lives.”
Story by Juila DiGiacomo
Resources are not widely available in Columbus Junction, Iowa, a tiny town home to over 45 percent Hispanic residents and a Tyson meat packing plant. However, two RISE AmeriCorps members are set on guiding residents over obstacles and helping boost their self-sufficiency for a better future. Their work readiness, citizenship, and unemployment projects are impacting lives everyday.
When Mandy Grimm, Columbus Junction Public Library director and RISE supervisor, received unprofessional resume after resume from students, the idea for a work readiness high school program was sparked.
“As a community employer who hires for many positions, I was kind of appalled by the resumes I was getting from our school students,” Mandy says. “A work readiness class is one way we could address some of these needs without creating more work for our school staff.”
The project finally came to fruition in early 2021 when RISE AmeriCorps member Margaret Peterson took things into her own hands. Margaret is now finishing her second rotation of the class, which she developed to teach Columbus Community High School seniors the basics of applying and securing jobs successfully.
Using the RISE AmeriCorps program workforce readiness training modules as a reference, she prepared a series of presentations on resumes, cover letters, and interviewing for jobs.
Although Margaret is only able to spend about a half hour per day with students for eight days, she says she has seen the confidence levels in her students rise. They’ve developed a better grasp of the material and improved scores on a post-test vs a pre-test.
“I’ve learned, especially through the high school workforce readiness class, that none of us are really as prepared as we think we are when we go out into the workforce,” Margaret says. “I was grateful for the workforce readiness course from RISE and I’m grateful that I get to do this for other people as well.”
Outside of her time helping high schoolers, Margaret has been working to meet the need for citizenship test classes despite the COVID-19 pandemic. She adapted in-person class materials for a website and created new content after the citizenship questions changed in late 2020. Margaret is also currently helping a client prepare to retake the writing portion of his test.
“I’m really excited to keep working with my client so he can get his citizenship,” she says. “I’m excited to keep working with more people because they are just coming out of the woodworks, people who need help.”
Columbus Junction’s second RISE AmeriCorps member, Ana Vazquez, has been changing lives through unemployment casework, citizenship tutoring, and much more. On just her second day, she resolved a communication mishap which allowed an unemployment client to get his job back.
Ana says another big accomplishment has been helping a recently widowed woman back on her feet. Due to a lack of English skills and other factors, she hasn’t worked for years and relied on her husband’s salary to take care of her young granddaughter. Ana has used her Spanish skills to intervene in the client’s life and obtain new marriage and guardianship licenses, which have enabled her to receive various benefits. Ana’s still committed to working with her to help her family thrive beyond hardship.
She says she was compelled to assist other immigrants and people in need after immigrating from Mexico with her family as a child. The experience helps her connect with her primarily hispanic clients.
“There’s not many resources available in Columbus Junction so helping people is crucial,” Ana says. “I see helping anybody as a great accomplishment because we experienced the same barriers and I know the struggles of coming here and not knowing anything.”
Mandy says she has especially been impressed by both of her RISE AmeriCorps members’ intuitive natures and problem solving skills in all of their endeavors. As a result, she says their positive reputation has spread around the community to people in need.
“They’ve just been such incredible assets and have gained our community’s trust,” Mandy says. “There's been so many word of mouth referrals and I think that's the biggest accolade they could receive."