Soon after COVID-19 hit in 2020, the founders of Línea de Ayuda en Iowa (Iowa Spanish Helpline) witnessed the disproportionate rate that Iowa Latinos were signing up for essential resources and assistance. In a rush to support struggling communities while the economy plummeted, a grassroots, volunteer-run effort took off to connect Spanish speakers in need with support.
The phone line soon gained larger capacity through its partnership with EMBARC and the RISE AmeriCorps program. Now, after over a year of service, the RISE host site has been awarded for its hard work with the Iowa Disaster Human Resource Council’s Volunteer Award. The award ties back to Linea de Ayuda’s roots when volunteers entirely ran the helpline. The organization was also lauded for its disaster assistance after lifting up Latinos through two of Iowa’s most significant recent catastrophes - the derecho and the pandemic.
“I think we got the award because the Spanish helpline helped many more Latinos sign up for a lot of resources,” Línea de Ayuda Coordinator Nayely Hurtado said. “There was a lot of crisis response that was related to COVID-19 or the derecho storm, like helping people sign-up for financial assistance or FEMA assistance.”
.Linea de Ayuda currently operates Monday through Friday from 8am to 5pm for any Spanish speakers in Iowa seeking resources, information, or other support. Needs range from clients looking for housing assistance, to help coordinating health services, to COVID-19 vaccine help, and much more.
The four RISE AmeriCorps members utilize their bilingual Spanish and English skills to efficiently assist clients and help run the daily phone line processes. For example, RISE Members Laura Meza Ramirez and Katherine Berber-Solis answer calls and follow-up with case management--coordinated plans to assist clients. RISE Member Lizbeth Salina Reyes is currently dedicated to creating a detailed map of resources available in Iowa while RISE Member Shalome Musignac-Jordan answers calls in addition to assisting staff with efforts like grant writing.
Most recently, the Línea de Ayuda team has also prioritized vaccine outreach services. The phone line has become a space to help Latinos learn more information in their native language about the COVID-19 vaccines and get signed up for appointments.
Hurtado said consistent communication with the Polk County Health Department was key for planning each step of the vaccine outreach initiative. As a result of the carefully planned project, Hurtado said the Spanish helpline has signed up many Latinos across Iowa for the vaccine at various agencie's’ clinics.
Since the pandemic has pushed many sign-up mechanisms online, Hurtado said many people needed assistance with navigating the online appointment process.
“We helped people sign-up for the vaccine because we realized there were a lot of barriers, not only for Latinos but for a lot of people that don’t have access to computers or might not be as knowledgeable about signing up for things online,” Hurtado said.
From vaccine outreach to case management, the RISE members, staff, and volunteers at Línea de Ayuda have dedicated months to improving access to resources. Their services continue to impact the lives of countless Spanish speakers since the pandemic and the derecho.