Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Day of Service offers an important opportunity for RISE AmeriCorps Members to reflect on civil rights movements of the past and look forward to service opportunities in their own communities. Through several upcoming events on Monday, January 17 , members and their host sites are joining the community to celebrate service together.
At the RISE Host Site Hoover Community School, the team is both volunteering in the community and hosting their own event. In the morning, members are attending a speaker series on the importance of service at Mt. Mercy University. Later, they will volunteer with Olivet Neighborhood Mission, a non-profit organization serving the Cedar Rapids neighborhood with basic needs. RISE Members will be lending a hand with sorting and preparing food boxes, as well as other direct services as needed.
From 12 - 2p.m., RISE AmeriCorps Members with Hoover are hosting a resource and clothing drive in the Hoover Community School gym. Both families at the school and others in the surrounding community are invited to learn more about and sign-up for resources such as clothing donations, job coaching and workforce readiness training.
“[The event] is going to be very impactful no matter what because it’s going to provide an opportunity for engagement, expanding learning opportunities beyond the school hours,” Community School Coordinator Lemi Tilahun said.
Since Hoover students don’t attend school on MLK Day, Tilahun said 50-80 children may be without food for lunch. The event is therefore providing a hot lunch until supplies run out.
RISE AmeriCorps Members Elsa Barroso Ramirez, Tania Ekutshu, Nafissatou Lamidi and David Niyogushima have been involved with every step of planning for the MLK Day event, Tilahun said. They were responsible for recruiting the volunteers and will ensure the logistics run smoothly on the day of the event.
RISE Host Site Community Youth Concepts in Des Moines is hosting both in-person and virtual events to engage the public. From 10-11 a.m. on Zoom, guest speaker Jane Jackson will speak on the importance of service and lead activities to spread kindness. From 1-3 p.m. at King Elementary School, the community is invited to participate in a wide range of service projects for all ages.
Jane Jackson’s session will reflect on her lifelong dedication to service, including as an activist in the civil rights movement alongside people like Dr. King himself. After her talk, Jane will guide participants to create and distribute You Matter Cards and Smile Cards. Both options help spread joy and kindness.
The in-person event will feature tables from community partners with hands-on, kid-friendly service opportunities.
RISE AmeriCorps Member Sul Ciang and program staff have been meeting weekly with groups of high schoolers as part of CYC’s commitment to youth outreach. Together, Sul helped students identify and plan their projects. She’ll also be assisting students to run their tables smoothly.
Students involved with CYC’s programming at North High School, East High School and Hoover High School will guide projects such as creating friendship bracelets and friendship rocks to spread random acts of kindness. Other students are hosting tables to create self-care kits and to design bookmarks to donate to the reading non-profit Everybody Wins! Iowa.
“Students will really take the lead and facilitate the projects at the event at their tables,” CYC Program Coordinator Amber Miller said.
Overall, RISE AmeriCorps Members are exemplifying the meaning of service on MLK Day with their participation in community events. To RSVP for CYC’s two events, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website here: http://cyconcepts.org/martin-luther-king-jr-day/. No RSVP is needed for Hoover’s event at 4141 Johnson Ave NW, Cedar Rapids, but you can call 319-558-2369 with questions.
Tapestry Farms’ gardens offer a wealth of opportunity for serving refugee communities, including through a therapeutic gardening group and a food pantry with fresh harvests. Now, RISE AmeriCorps Members are building on their accomplishments over the summer to support the growing number of refugees in Davenport.
Founded four years ago, Tapestry Farms is a nonprofit organization that empowers refugees with urban gardening and support services. Their gardens are located across the city, in neighborhoods with high reported rates of food insecurity. Tapestry Farms also helps refugees overcome barriers to education, housing, medical assistance, transportation, citizenship and more.
Esperance “Hope” Nyanduhura was Tapestry Farm’s first ever RISE Member in the summer of 2021. Throughout her first term, she used her lived experiences as a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo to interpret for and lift up other refugees.
According to Executive Director Ann McGlynn, one of Nyanduhura’s most successful contributions over the summer was interpreting for a gardening therapy program. In partnership with an occupational therapist, Tapestry Farms hosted groups of refugee women experiencing physical challenges or social isolation.
The women gathered to garden together under the guidance of the occupational therapist, who went on to write an 86-page report of the successful project. Occupational therapy helps individuals with physical and cognitive problems recover skills for daily life.
Nyanduhura provided transportation for the women and interpreted for the therapist with her multilingual Swahili and Kinyarwanda skills.
“I know that it was very meaningful for Hope to play a role in that program,” McGlynn said. “It was really lovely. Actually, it was one of my favorite things from the summer.”
The gardens proved fruitful for another of Nyanduhura’s main roles - helping run Tapestry Farm’s bi-monthly food pantry. McGlynn said Nyanduhura helped coordinate the resources, which included harvests from the gardens. This year, Tapestry Farms staff and volunteers focused on growing vegetables preferred by African refugees. McGlynn said this included common vegetables in the U.S. like Roma tomatoes, onions, potatoes and spinach, as well as African vegetables like the leafy green lenga-lenga and an eggplant variety called intoryi.
For the upcoming RISE AmeriCorps service term, the members’ help will likely be in rising demand. Davenport is expecting a rush of of new refugees along with many other communities in the U.S., in part due to the Biden administration raising the cap on refugee resettlements. The number of refugees to be resettled in the U.S., from Oct. 1, 2021 to Sept. 30, 2022, was raised from 62,500 to 125,000. Previously, the Trump administration set the cap for refugees at 15,000.
Tapestry Farms is currently preparing to welcome a significant increase of refugees from countries like Afghanistan and Sudan. Currently, most of the refugees they serve are from Africa or Burma (Myanmar), McGlynn said.
As more refugees start new lives in Davenport, Nyanduhura and new RISE AmeriCorps Member Fadilatou Boukari will be assisting families in a variety of ways. They will continue sharing local resources: they recently hosted a trip to the Salvation Army to explain its benefits. They’ll also continue setting up appointments, helping refugees navigate systems, interpreting, and assisting with Tapestry Farm’s many other services, McGlynn said.
Overall, McGlynn said she’s thankful to the RISE AmeriCorps Program for helping to support their growing refugee community. The program gives their site the opportunity to have people with unique insight into the immigrant and refugee experience, she said.
“We’ve wanted to be a RISE site for a long time and it took us a while to build to that point,” McGlynn said. “We’re glad we’re finally there.”
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.”
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.
High school students from immigrant and refugee families are helping communities navigate the intricacies of technology and the U.S. school system.
Through EMBARC Waterloo’s Youth IT Navigator project, the students produced a new translated video series to help immigrant families learn basic computer and internet navigation skills -- using technology training the students themselves received through the Youth IT Navigator program.
“The primary idea for this program is to train youth about technology because they are already so integrated into the school community,” RISE AmeriCorps Member Chris Weber, who helps organize the program, said. “The youth would then be able to branch out and teach their parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and others in their community.”
EMBARC modeled the Youth IT Navigator program after the original IT Navigator program, developed for immigrant and refugee adults. Both programs utilize a “train the trainer” model to teach tech skills to community leaders who then disseminate the information further into their community, Weber explained. Both the adult and youth program offered extensive training in using web browsers, email, Microsoft programs and more.
“The project gave the students the opportunity [to] use the computer skills they learned from the course,” Weber said.
Su Meh, 16, is one student from the Burma refugee community in Waterloo who has been especially committed to the project over the last year. Meh joined the Youth IT Navigator program to give back to the community alongside her brother, Claw Reh, who was the youngest volunteer when he joined last year in eighth grade, Meh said.
Meh balanced classes at Waterloo West High School while researching and writing presentations for videos. Meh worked on the videos about grading systems, Waterloo’s online student and parent portals and more.
Most of the students in the Youth IT Navigator program work in addition to their school responsibilities, but they still have managed to dedicate themselves toward educating their community. EMBARC compensated them for their time and positive impacts with a stipend.
The students’ work on the video series began with considering community needs and researching accordingly. Then after writing video scripts in English, six of the students helped translate the presentations into languages like Spanish, Lingala, French, Karen, and Karenni.
The narrated videos are now available on EMBARC’s Youtube account. EMBARC and the Youth IT Navigator program also produced a separate series of videos with information specific to Waterloo Community Schools.
The videos cover a wide range of subjects, which were chosen based on needs expressed by community members. Families can learn how grading functions in elementary school, middle school, and high school. Videos also show how to check online parent and student portals and the details behind what students are learning in each school subject.
Most families from Burma have insufficient knowledge of the U.S. school system, so the videos in their languages can go a long way to educate them, Meh said. Her bilingual skills also proved useful to create accessible content for other Karenni speakers, who generally suffer from a lack of resources as members of a language minority group.
“Knowing I’m helping out others from the same background as me empowers me a lot,” Meh said.
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.
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.
In a year of unprecedented changes that touched nearly all aspects of daily life, RISE AmeriCorps members at ArtForce Iowa are sharing their unique experiences and deeply personal stories about what change means to them. Their social justice art exhibit, #KNOWJUSTICE: Know Change, officially launched on May 6 and features works of art from numerous youth artists.
The #KNOWJUSTICE: Know Change project was inspired by the civil rights rallying cry “No Justice, No Peace”, which protests against and condemns police violence against Black community members. Since #KNOWJUSTICE is an educational exhibit, the “no” was changed to “know” signifying the aim to truly know what is needed for achieving justice in our society.
The exhibit creates a space for refugee and immigrant youth and the cultures and communities they represent. This year’s #KNOWJUSTICE exhibit took on special meaning for the RISE AmeriCorps members at ArtForce as they explored the dramatic changes that affect their lives. Unfinished and in process work is also included and can be seen throughout the exhibit, along with the theme of change.
For the first time in its six-year history, the event is taking place online due to the COVID-19 crisis, giving added significance to the subtitle “Know Change”. This new format increased attendance considerably, with nearly 3,000 people viewing the exhibit virtually compared to about 150 people in years past. The 2021 edition of #KNOWJUSTICE features the work of ArtForce Iowa’s four RISE AmeriCorps members: Kamaura Kim, Lana Baccam Paredes, Shel Paw, and Mar Blu Moo.
Kim, a first generation Hmong-American and member of the musical group First Gen, wrote and performed the song “Nco Txog Hmoob” about the challenges of leaving one’s homeland to come to the United States. She hopes it will raise awareness about the experience of living in Iowa as a young person from a different country and inspire others to learn about their own culture as she has.
Baccam Paredes emphasized the importance of the journey leading up to #KNOWJUSTICE: Know Change, including reflections on past exhibits and group conversations about justice and change and what those ideas look like.
“It gives such a big platform for what seem to be little stories to share with the whole world. Our youth, we see them as little but they’re not. They are big and they are important,” Baccam Paredes said.
Mar Blu, or MB for short, is a photographer who designed his own short film, titled My Body is in Des Moines but My Heart is in My Home Country. Through his innovative artwork, MB is bringing attention to the atrocities committed against Karen people during the military coup in Myanmar in February 2021. The Karen are an ethnic group residing mainly in Burma, however they have faced injustice and oppression and many have had to flee state violence in their country.
“I want to preserve the Karen culture in my life and in my photography. I want new generations to know about my culture and my history,” MB said. “For now it’s difficult because I see my people dying and it seems like most people don’t care about it.”
RISE members made brave artistic choices in their work, and the diversity of the art created in #KNOWJUSTICE: Know Change is sure to make a lasting impact on the community. Simultaneously a personal and collaborative effort, the exhibit demonstrates the powerful vision shared by this team of youth artists. The RISE team at ArtForce advocates for continued support of youth artists, their stories, their work, and their healing.
Shel Paw hopes that her painting, Karen, and message will shed more light on the plight of Karen people and the refugees seeking safety from war and persecution in Myanmar.
“I hope whenever someone reads my artist statement that it spreads awareness of what is happening to Karen people,” she said. Shel also hopes to inspire young people to see that they can create and share their own art as a way to give back to the community.
Kim agrees, saying she wants more youth to make art, especially musical performances. “I hope this inspires youth to make music and perform what they love to do.”
Baccam Paredes encourages other community-based organizations to support and foster programs that promote youth empowerment and healing through the arts. She hopes that other young artists who see the exhibit will be empowered to make art that is personal and authentic.
“I hope young artists will continue to tell stories in a way that is not expected by the world. The story is for them, if it’s for others it’s a gift.”
ArtForce Iowa is very intentional about centering the voices of youth who have been marginalized by systems of oppression, and #KNOWJUSTICE: Know Change is no exception. By sharing their stories, these courageous young artists are embodying the mission of RISE AmeriCorps to empower refugees and immigrants. Their art inspires and informs, evoking a visceral response and allowing the audience to learn about ethnic groups and bring attention to what is happening in the world at this very moment. The ArtForce team exemplified the teamwork model that is crucial to the RISE program.
“I’ve never seen it take root in this way. These were truly labors of love, we were all helping each other,” said Yvette Zaród Hermann, Arts Outreach Educator at ArtForce Iowa.
Baccam Paredes seconded that sentiment, saying “It is such an achievement to make it happen, have an online event, and reach more people. That’s the bittersweetness of having the exhibit during a pandemic.”
Thanks to ArtForce and the RISE team, a new generation of artists has a space to share their stories, to support each other, to heal, and call for justice.
Shel Paw summed up the positive impact of the project’s journey and the final exhibit saying, “This was the perfect year to focus on change.”
New artwork has been added each week throughout the month of May, allowing guests to come back and experience the exhibit anew. It will remain open and free to view for the foreseeable future.
Visit #KNOWJUSTICE: Know Change online
Story by Julia DiGiacomo
RISE AmeriCorp’s new host site, Jewels Academy, is sparking interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) for girls from underrepresented communities. Through math tutoring and 8–10 STEM workshops per year, girls are learning skills to help them succeed in high school, university, and future STEM careers.
Jewels Academy’s upcoming project is the “Young Emerging Scientist Virtual App Camp” for 4th through 9th grade girls. The week-long day camp will take place three times over June and July to reach a wide range of students in Des Moines. The main focus will be the design and creation of an app that students can access on their phones.
Jewels Academy’s new RISE AmeriCorps Member Elise Baty will help organize and facilitate the summer camp along with staff. She will help girls troubleshoot technological issues and help them develop business plans for their newfound apps.
“I'm most excited that our new RISE member is interested in becoming a teacher eventually,” Jewels Academy Program Director Joy Castro said. “So I'm just excited that she gets the opportunity to work with kids and learn the ropes of teaching with hands-on experience.”
Although the programs are open to all girls in 4th to 12th grades, Jewels Academy’s mission emphasizes the importance of bridging the gap in STEM training for girls from marginalized communities, such as low-income and racially diverse students. Jewels Academy’s programs are accessible to students from different socioeconomic backgrounds with the help of scholarship aid.
The week of science training can ignite new passions for girls and young women searching out their path in the world. Castro said her favorite part of the summer camps is watching the students become increasingly excited about science and math.
“When the students start the program, they might not be as into computers and science and STEM, but when they leave they say, ‘Oh I actually really like that. I think I want to pursue this in the future,’’' Castro said. “Just seeing their attitudes change about STEM is always one of the most exciting parts of the program.”
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.