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.