Story by Julia DiGiacomo
RISE AmeriCorps members at Oakridge Neighborhood in Des Moines have spent the first chunk of 2021 improving the lives of immigrants and refugees through ESL classes, a job readiness course, and education about the COVID-19 vaccine.
Oakridge Neighborhood in partnership with DMACC provides English class sessions to help immigrants and refugees better navigate daily life in Iowa. RISE AmeriCorps Member Halima Ali’s role is assisting with teaching and helping students who speak Arabic. She’s built off a year of previous experience assisting with the ESL classes as a Workstudy student at DMACC.
Halima’s brother and fellow RISE AmeriCorps Member Mo'ad Ali also joins to assist with class sessions when he has time away from Oakridge Neighborhood’s culturally diverse preschool, Oak Academy. Together with DMACC and Oakridge staff, they break up the class of about 15 into groups according to English level for more individualized assistance.
Halima says she’s enjoyed watching her students become increasingly confident in their English. She’s also received positive feedback from students at the end of class terms, with reports that they’re excited to be improving English.
“They say they are so happy and can see improvements in themselves,” Ali said. “We can see that too in them. It’s so great to see them be happy and see a difference from where they started and where they are now.”
Eight of the ESL students were recruited to join Oakridge Neighborhood’s first Workplace Skills 101 course in March. The eight hours of training were aimed at immigrants and refugees who are largely unfamiliar with the details of the American workplace. Topics included workplace safety, employee rights and responsibilities, workplace terminology, and other useful information like pay stubs.
RISE AmeriCorps members and staff helped interpret for students in four languages: Arabic, Swahili, Tigrinya, and Kunama. Halima helped the students who spoke Arabic follow along with content.
“The students all successfully completed the program and they were so excited to finish,” Halima said. “We also have plans to open another similar program in the future for the public, not just the Oakridge residents.”
RISE AmeriCorps members were also instrumental in translating and delivering vaccine facts to immigrants and refugees so they could make informed decisions. Oakridge Neighborhood’s outreach included calling clients and creating surveys to gauge thoughts on the vaccine. They then cleared up misconceptions and dispersed translated vaccine information from the CDC and local health departments.
Halima said that learning the facts in their language as well as hearing about others in their community getting vaccinated helped encourage many clients to seek out the vaccine at their clinic.
At least 240 people were vaccinated with Pfizer at Oakridge Neighborhood and UnityPoint’s vaccine clinic. They’re now nearly fully vaccinated and protected against COVID-19 after the two doses on April 10 and May 1.
“To be honest, at first [clients] were like ‘no no no’ to the vaccine,” Halima said. “But by the end of our efforts, we ended up having waitlists for the vaccine.
Story by Julia DiGiacomo
Despite unprecedented circumstances, AmeriCorps RISE members at Oakridge Neighborhood Services have adapted to meet the needs of the most culturally diverse neighborhood in Des Moines. Through unemployment assistance, a new English language program, care packages, and more, the RISE members have dedicated their year to serving immigrants and refugees in their community.
Oakridge Neighborhood’s newest endeavor is an English language learning class at Des Moines Area Community College, which currently serves about 15 students. Immigrants and refugees from across Des Moines are invited to learn beginner to intermediate-level English skills. Two AmeriCorps RISE members currently serve as teaching assistants for the class’ second session. Moad Ali, Halima Ali, and an English teacher break the class into three groups according to their language level to practice English constructively.
Oakridge Neigborhood’s Adult & Family Director Almardi Abdalla says the class is one of the only in-person English classes in the area. Although Oakridge considered an online format, he says barriers with technology in the community interfered. Many students new to the United States lack experience with the internet and computers. Others simply do not have consistent access.
The class takes place in a large room with social distancing and masks as a health precaution. So far Abdalla says there have been no issues. In fact, attendance has been stellar and many students from the first session re-enrolled for the second.
“People are learning and coming back to class,” Abdalla says. “They’re getting something out of the class so that's why they are investing their time more and more.”
Although the AmeriCorps members provide a variety of direct services, they most consistently help with unemployment assistance. This service entails helping clients file for unemployment or apply for public assistance. In the midst of an economic downturn, Abdalla says these services have been greatly in need.
The AmeriCorps RISE members have also assisted with multiple giveaways for community members in need, such as food care packages. In the last few weeks, they also gave out COVID-19 and winter clothes care packages to 107 families in the area.
“I think overall it was a great success and a great experience,” Abdalla says.
During the initial wave of the pandemic, sharing timely information became another important task to help the community through an uncertain time. Oakridge Neighborhood staff and AmeriCorps RISE members shared information to groups on Whatsapp. Members helped translate COVID-19 information, such as vaccine news and safety advice.
“Although the scope of our activities have been limited since COVID-19, [AmeriCorps RISE members] have been a great addition to our efforts to reach out to and help more people in need,” Abdalla says.