A new café at a RISE AmeriCorps host site is serving up house-brewed coffee from Guatemala, horchata, enchiladas and more for a cause. IC Compassion’s Jabez Café trains young adults with disabilities to gain job skills, confidence and independence while working at the Latin-inspired venue.
Open Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. each week, Jabez Café is easily accessible through the IC Compassion building at 1035 Wade St. in Iowa City. Upon entering, guests are welcomed with a warm environment, the smell of coffee and a lunch menu with Latin American staples. Most importantly, the space is a community for immigrant families with disabilities.
The Jabez Café project started in spring, 2022 after a group of immigrant parents gathered to improve opportunities for their children with disabilities, including several with autism and Down syndrome. IC Compassion’s Program Coordinator Dayrin Lovan, who is also a former RISE AmeriCorps member, spearheads the project. Her son, Jabez, was one of the first students to try out the model and is the namesake behind the café.
Amanda McVann is a perfect example of the adage that no one comes to where they land by a straight path. Now living in Creston and serving as a RISE AmeriCorps communications coordinator and data impact specialist, she is a long way from her native New York, having made a substantial stop in Dallas along the way. But, although her geographic path wandered a bit, the trajectory of her life’s guiding passion looks as targeted as if it were fired from a gun.
It’s all about connections and finding home, you see. For Amanda, that started early. “We moved around a lot when I was a child,” she says, and she spent a lot of time “trying to build lasting friendships.” Then, after she graduated from college and moved to Dallas, away from everyone she knew, she learned a new level of feeling alone, of being cut off and disconnected. After only a short time there RISE AmeriCorps found her, and she moved again – this time to Iowa – and she had to start all over one more time.
What We Do: A Story of Opportunity
“Think about what you need when you wake up.
You have to wash, to dress, to eat a meal. You need a job to go to.”
That’s what Livvy Su, RISE AmeriCorps Program Manager, the AmeriCorps program founded by EMBARC, suggests you imagine when she tries to describe what she and others like her do every day. It’s not an aimless exercise. It’s an example of what their clients need. In short, they need everything.
“We serve refugees and immigrant populations,” she says. “We all have so many needs we don’t even think about.”
On the very first day refugees arrive at the airport, they need someone to pick them up.
They need a place to stay until they can get housing.
They need food and a bed.
They need insurance.
If they have kids, they need school registration and bus orientation.
Their kids might need a translator in school.
Parents need to learn how their kids are doing in school when they can’t speak English.
They need safety training because all the symbols here are different.
They need self sufficiency.
They need a job.
They need to know how to apply and how to interview.
They need education
They need English and computer skills.
They need afterschool programs.
They need counseling and coaching.
They need mentors.
EMBARC didn’t exist when Sam Ti Tha Zam first needed it. Sam emigrated from his native Burma after a two year stop in Malaysia, in 2011, two years shy of EMBARC’s advent in 2013. But they were destined for one another anyway. After all, EMBARC was formed with Burma refugees in mind, and their involvement with Southeast Asia is still strong. Its name is an acronym for Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy and Resource Center, after all.
Sam found EMBARC in 2015, while he was still in high school. He worked with them on video projects while he went to Des Moines Area Community College, then formally joined the RISE AmeriCorps team as a macro communications member in 2020, just before graduating with his journalism/digital media degree in 2021.
“I remember the feeling of fear and confusion, not knowing how to navigate” Sam said. “I understand the feelings of hardship.”
That’s what made Sam a perfect fit now in RISE AmeriCorps, where he offered the kind of help genuinely needed.
Through numerous events with high turnout, a new RISE AmeriCorps host site is connecting with communities and sharing Korean culture across Iowa.
Founded in 1978, Korean-American Society of Iowa (KASI) is the oldest non-profit organization of its kind in Iowa to represent Koreans, Korean-Americans and Korean adoptees. Over the last year, the organization has renewed its purpose to bridge Koreans, share culture with the wider community and connect information and resources.
“KASI will now really focus on not only gathering and engaging with each other, but we will focus a lot on how we collaborate and work with other communities in the state of Iowa,” KASI President Erin Kim-Cho said.
In 2022, KASI expanded its scope with a series of partnerships and events, including a K-pop festival at the University of Iowa, a Korean food truck event in Ames and an AAPI Heritage Month event at Iowa State University. At the annual CelebrAsian festival in Des Moines, KASI and the Korean tent display also earned the award for best overall village. The Korean organization educated audiences with traditional music performances, K-pop dance performance, a Korean food demonstration and fashion show.
One event in particular showcased successful leadership by a RISE AmeriCorps Member. In late April, RISE AmeriCorps Member Jiyoun Yoo noticed an opportunity to share Korean culture and food by collaborating with Memorial Lutheran Church in Ames.
On this World Refugee Day and every day, RISE AmeriCorps members from refugee backgrounds are using their perspectives to meet needs and create change within their communities.
Sixty-eight percent of RISE AmeriCorps members come from an immigrant and refugee background and about a quarter of current members are refugees themselves. Refugee members fill important gaps while representing diverse communities from Burma, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Eritrea.
In 2022, RISE AmeriCorps Members are advancing opportunities and building self-sufficiency for fellow refugees with training in job skills, digital literacy, English skills and more. At EMBARC in Des Moines for example, RISE AmeriCorps Member Pray Meh is leading a class to prepare other Karenni refugees from Burma for the U.S. citizenship test.
From collage to photography to acrylic paint portraits, ArtForce Iowa and RISE AmeriCorps members are showcasing their talents while also lifting up the refugee youth they serve.
ArtForce Iowa’s series of exhibits, “#KNOWJUSTICE”, highlights immigrant and refugee voices and the power of storytelling. In May, #KNOWJUSTICE:The Collective centered on themes of coming together. The virtual exhibit, displaying art by youth, RISE AmeriCorps members and the community, is available here:
In-person exhibits continue on the first Friday of each month, featuring an individual artist’s collection of works. On July 1, RISE AmeriCorps Member December Paw will be showing her art at Mainframe Studios in Des Moines from 5-8 p.m.
By Autumn Diesburg
RISE AmeriCorps Macro Communications Member
The experience of unresolved trauma can affect all aspects of our lives, making understanding what trauma is and how we can respond to it key to our day-to-day quality of life. Still, the term is often misunderstood or misused, compounding confusion for people seeking to understand their own stress and pain. So, what does the word ‘trauma’ actually mean and how can we respond to its presence within our own lives and the lives of those we care about?
In recent months, increased exposure to media coverage of global, national, and local crises has left many RISE AmeriCorps members questioning how they can identify and respond to their own stress and trauma responses.
In adults, trauma is a result of a person’s coping ability being overwhelmed by life-threatening danger – either to someone important in their lives or to themselves, said Tony Raymer, Director of Brain Health at Easterseals Iowa. Children, however, who need adults to survive, may be traumatized when they lack adults who take care of their social, emotional, or physical needs. After experiencing traumatization, Raymer said, common trauma responses tend to fall under five umbrellas:
Over lunch each week, just down the block from each other’s organization, RISE AmeriCorps Member David Clower and First Lutheran Church Food Services Coordinator Ruth Ehrhardt bonded over their shared passion of community service. Together, they strategized Clower’s plans for the future and ways to connect resources for the Afghan refugees Clower primarily serves.
“I got super lucky because Ruth has an incredible wealth of experience that she has been able to share with me,” Clower said.
Through the unique opportunity of the RISE AmeriCorps mentorship program, members are gaining professional and personal connections to lead them successfully into their next season of life. RISE AmeriCorps members are carefully matched with mentors according to their ambitions. The pairs then meet for one hour per week for at least six months, talking through steps to meet their goals.
In this video series, RISE AmeriCorps Members are taking us along to their host sites across Iowa. Mariely Perales is key in supporting the Spanish-speaking community in small-town, Hampton Iowa. Watch to learn more about Mariely, La Luz Centro Cultural and their service to empower Latino communities.