By Julia DiGiacomo
RISE AmeriCorps Members at Kirkwood Community College are connecting the Sudanese community with resources for educational and professional success. Their wide impact ranged from assisting with events designed to improve workforce readiness skills to teaching staff about Sudanese culture.
Kirkwood Community College’s location in Iowa City is home to a significant population of Sudanese immigrants and refugees. After the president of the Sudanese Community Center, Wisal Hussein, joined as a RISE Member and created a partnership, the host site’s role in serving the unique needs of Sudanese immigrants was cemented. RISE AmeriCorps Member Entifar Jafar also brought fluent Arabic skills and experience to the table.
Although Kirkwood joined the RISE AmeriCorps Program in summer 2021, the members have made a big impact in just a few months. Their regular tasks included signing Sudanese students up for the TRIO program, which provides extra support for students from marginalized backgrounds. They also helped with financial aid applications, finding classes suitable for certain careers, and even job applications, Hussein said.
“We have a lot of Sudanese refugees and immigrants here as students at Kirkwood,” Hussein said. “This is why they contact us to work with them, so they can get jobs and into programs. If they need any help from Kirkwood we can help them.”
In July, Hussein and Jafar hosted a Zoom event for 44 Sudanese immigrants looking to expand their employment or education experience. They presented information on resources at Kirkwood, such as free English classes and support for students in the TRIO program. Hussein and Jafar also shared about local programs to gain job skills.
Based on a survey from the event, the members reconnected with 18 individuals looking to gain job skills.The members connected the Sudanese community members with Iowa WORKS job skills training, where they assisted as cultural guides and Arabic interpreters. The event focused on resume building and how to apply for jobs.
“They now have their resume ready and they know what to do,” Jafar said.
During the rest of the summer, Jafar and Hussein also hosted two educational events for staff at Kirkwood to learn more about Sudanese culture and ways to assist students from the community. Staff responded positively and reported learning a lot, Hussein said.
Jafar and Hussein were students at Kirkwood years ago, which inspired them to dedicate their summer toward improving the experience for other Sudanese students. Hussein said having a Sudanese community member at Kirkwood is vital so individuals can completely understand the available resources in their own language.
“We were here a long time ago at Kirkwood, but we didn’t get all these services when we were here,” Jafar said. “So we are trying to help them with the things we didn't get while we were students.”
Although Hussein and Jafar recently finished their terms successfully, their efforts paved the way for new members who will begin in October. Hussein reports gaining new connections to better serve as a leader for the Sudanese community.
“[The RISE] program helped me a lot to communicate some of the benefits our people can get from the government, from Kirkwood, and more,” Hussein said. “We received a lot of resources so we can build a relationship with people we met in Iowa WORKS, Kirkwood, and RISE Program.”
Story by Julia DiGiacomo
Through Hispanic Heritage Month and the rest of the year, RISE AmeriCorps host sites offer a wide array of opportunities to help Latino immigrants transition from surviving to thriving in Iowa.
Centro Latino of Iowa, La Luz Centro Cultural, and Linea de Ayuda en Iowa/Iowa Spanish Helpline are three RISE sites whose main mission involves serving Hispanic communities. Each site responds to the unique needs of its surrounding communities.
Centro Latino of Iowa in Council Bluffs serves as the only Latino-based organization in Southwest Iowa. Its services run the gamut from cultural celebrations to resource navigation for immigrants and refugees.
The organization doubled their space in September to supply more room for in-person classes such as computer classes, English classes, and job coaching. Executive Director Ramon Calzada said their HiSET (High School Equivalency Test) class in partnership with Iowa Western Community College helps Spanish speakers gain a high school education in their own language and pursue better jobs.
RISE AmeriCorps members joined Centro Latino for the first time this summer, where they assisted with workforce readiness tasks like job coaching. Starting in October, new RISE members will continue these efforts and assist with classes in Centro Latino’s new space. Calzada said one-on-one support with clients is especially needed.
“AmeriCorps members will work one-on-one guiding the immigrants and teaching them how to access things online, because many don't know how to use a computer,” Calzada said. “They guide them through the information and help with what they need.”
La Luz Centro Cultural joined the RISE AmeriCorps Program over the summer. The nonprofit organization in Hampton educates and empowers immigrants while fostering cultural awareness in Iowa. About 25 percent of Hampton’s population is Hispanic, according to the 2020 U.S. Census. La Luz reflects this community’s needs with a focus on services for Latino immigrants and Spanish-speaking residents.
RISE AmeriCorps members at La Luz assist with English as a Second Language classes to help immigrants adapt to their new lives in Iowa. They also help individuals successfully find and apply for jobs.
Iowa Spanish Helpline, also known as the Línea de Ayuda en Iowa, is a RISE site that has been integral in connecting Spanish speakers across Iowa with information and resources during the pandemic. Founded in the wake of COVID-19 and the subsequent economic downturn, the organization runs a Monday through Friday phone line for Spanish speakers in need. Callers can inquire about COVID-19, finding assistance for basic needs, securing medical appointments and much more.
Spanish Helpline Coordinator Nayely Hurtado said bilingual RISE AmeriCorps members help answer calls and follow-up with clients in need of coordinated assistance. She said their COVID-19 vaccine outreach throughout 2021 was especially beneficial for Spanish speakers who struggled with the online vaccine appointment process.
“We’ve been able to help a lot of Latinos sign up for the vaccines while different agencies are offering clinics,” Hurtado said.
Although Hispanic Heritage Month ends October 15, La Luz, Centro Latino and Spanish Helpline continue impacting the lives of Iowa’s Latino community all year-round. They pave the way for RISE AmeriCorps host sites’ service to Latino immigrants in Iowa.