By Julia DiGiacomo
RISE AmeriCorps Members at Kirkwood Community College are connecting the Sudanese community with resources for educational and professional success. Their wide impact ranged from assisting with events designed to improve workforce readiness skills to teaching staff about Sudanese culture.
Kirkwood Community College’s location in Iowa City is home to a significant population of Sudanese immigrants and refugees. After the president of the Sudanese Community Center, Wisal Hussein, joined as a RISE Member and created a partnership, the host site’s role in serving the unique needs of Sudanese immigrants was cemented. RISE AmeriCorps Member Entifar Jafar also brought fluent Arabic skills and experience to the table.
Although Kirkwood joined the RISE AmeriCorps Program in summer 2021, the members have made a big impact in just a few months. Their regular tasks included signing Sudanese students up for the TRIO program, which provides extra support for students from marginalized backgrounds. They also helped with financial aid applications, finding classes suitable for certain careers, and even job applications, Hussein said.
“We have a lot of Sudanese refugees and immigrants here as students at Kirkwood,” Hussein said. “This is why they contact us to work with them, so they can get jobs and into programs. If they need any help from Kirkwood we can help them.”
In July, Hussein and Jafar hosted a Zoom event for 44 Sudanese immigrants looking to expand their employment or education experience. They presented information on resources at Kirkwood, such as free English classes and support for students in the TRIO program. Hussein and Jafar also shared about local programs to gain job skills.
Based on a survey from the event, the members reconnected with 18 individuals looking to gain job skills.The members connected the Sudanese community members with Iowa WORKS job skills training, where they assisted as cultural guides and Arabic interpreters. The event focused on resume building and how to apply for jobs.
“They now have their resume ready and they know what to do,” Jafar said.
During the rest of the summer, Jafar and Hussein also hosted two educational events for staff at Kirkwood to learn more about Sudanese culture and ways to assist students from the community. Staff responded positively and reported learning a lot, Hussein said.
Jafar and Hussein were students at Kirkwood years ago, which inspired them to dedicate their summer toward improving the experience for other Sudanese students. Hussein said having a Sudanese community member at Kirkwood is vital so individuals can completely understand the available resources in their own language.
“We were here a long time ago at Kirkwood, but we didn’t get all these services when we were here,” Jafar said. “So we are trying to help them with the things we didn't get while we were students.”
Although Hussein and Jafar recently finished their terms successfully, their efforts paved the way for new members who will begin in October. Hussein reports gaining new connections to better serve as a leader for the Sudanese community.
“[The RISE] program helped me a lot to communicate some of the benefits our people can get from the government, from Kirkwood, and more,” Hussein said. “We received a lot of resources so we can build a relationship with people we met in Iowa WORKS, Kirkwood, and RISE Program.”