Story by Julia DiGiacomo
The last several months at Iowa City Compassion have encompassed a wide range of service work designed to lift up immigrant and refugee communities. Although COVID-19 has caused the number of in-person volunteers to dwindle, the organization has been busy planning several new programs to engage community members while getting volunteers back on board.
Stecker says the second big project on its way in early 2021 is a computer lab, where RISE members and volunteers will teach computer skills, English, job training, and more. The room will be separated into one half for adults learning computer and job skills and the other half for ESL students who are struggling with online schooling. This set-up is designed with a family focus so parents and children can simultaneously receive the training they need to succeed.
Stecker says the computer lab will allow adults to learn essential computer skills for employment, such as designing resumes and applying for jobs online. She says the extra assistance is also of utmost importance to young ESL students who have struggled with virtual school during the pandemic.
“The stress has been that ELL kids are falling way behind, especially because the schools keep switching,” Stecker says.
In addition to the two new programs on the horizon in 2021, RISE members have been making impacts in many other areas. In late October, several RISE members assisted with the logistics of the University of Iowa’s free mobile clinic while it was stationed at Iowa City Compassion. Other RISE members focused on cooking and delivering meals to elderly who were shut-in at home. Several others spent their time interpreting meetings or assisting with a winter coat drive. Through such varied tasks, RISE members are finding their roles and helping the programs at Iowa City Compassion grow.
Story by Julia DiGiacomo
Despite hurdles this year, the Catherine McAuley Center’s online classes are taking off again with the help of RISE members. CMC’s tutoring program, which primarily supports immigrants and refugees, hosted its largest online orientation for new volunteers in October.
Volunteer & Outreach Manager Katie Splean says that the transition online was slow at first as the program gauged students’ interest and comfort level online. Computer skills were an initial barrier in signing up members of the immigrant & refugee community.
However, Splean says classes are picking up again recently after moving online this summer. In addition to training 20 new tutors at the October orientation, there are currently about 150 students working with about 90 volunteers.
Berryhill says her favorite part of her service is interacting with the students and tutors over Zoom and watching them laugh and have fun with each other.
“CMC's education program relies on strong, positive relationships between students, staff, and volunteers, so knowing that students and tutors are able to forge these connections even through an online format makes me very happy,” Berryhill says.
After a year of dealing with a pandemic and the derecho, Splean says tutoring can also help redirect students to other CMC resources when they are in need. By building a strong relationship and learning about students’ lives, tutors can help them find assistance.
She says students report feeling as though their tutor genuinely cares as a result.
“It just means a lot that when [clients] walk into our four walls or when they are connecting with somebody who's affiliated with us virtually, they're getting that sense of welcome like they belong here,” Splean says.