By Julia DiGiacomo
From hosting creative activities to helping refugee kids catch up academically, RISE AmeriCorps members at Community Youth Concepts (CYC) have dedicated months to enriching the summer of refugee youth in Des Moines. Their hard work resulted in a new partnership with Des Moines Refugee Support (DMRS), weekly tutoring sessions with refugee children and more.
CYC empowers young people to lead healthy, successful lives through their wide array of programming. Annual opportunities include mentorship, research-based outreach for teens, service learning experiences, challenge courses, career planning assistance and more. The addition of RISE AmeriCorps members has renewed focus on assisting refugee children.
RISE AmeriCorps member Nawal Rai said he loved working one-on-one with all the kids in CYC’s various programs. He especially enjoyed meeting weekly with refugee children at Urban Heights Covenant Church, where he and the other RISE members provided tutoring in subjects like reading and math. Extra assistance is often key for refugee children who lack years of quality education prior to resettlement and need help overcoming the English language barrier.
“It was one of the most eye-opening and one of the most rewarding experiences that I’ve had,” Rai said. “That experience will forever be with me.”
Rai said he aspires to work with immigrants and refugees in his future career, so the RISE opportunity proved a great foundation for future work.
In May, RISE members initiated a new partnership between CYC and DMRS with the goal of better coordinating initiatives for refugee youth. The members offered summer activities for children and completed various projects along with DMRS volunteers throughout the summer. Together, the group renovated a Little Free Library and food pantry, sent cards to Blank Children’s Hospital, cultivated vegetables and pollinator plants in CYC’s garden for the community and more.
RISE AmeriCorps Member Masoka Mkombozi is the longest serving member at CYC; the three others only joined the team for the summer months. Mkombozi immigrated to the U.S. in 2008 as a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, bringing skilled multilingual and multicultural expertise to the diverse community of youth she now works with.
“I really love working directly with the kids and with what I’m doing right now,” said Mkombozi, who is finishing her third term with the RISE AmeriCorps program. “I’m really enjoying that and it’s been really fun.”
During the ‘20-’21 school year, Mkombozi also focused on facilitating CYC’s Portable Challenge for local students. The program invites students to think outside of the box and solve challenges with everyday items, such as carefully balancing a structure out of toilet paper rolls and straws. CYC designed the exercise to promote team building and critical thinking skills.
Although Mkombozi and fellow RISE AmeriCorps members Rai, Ethan Vance and Julia Robinson-Frantsvog are now wrapping up their current service terms, their hard work across many endeavors will leave a lasting impact on Des Moines youth and CYC.