RISE AmeriCorps Members at Kirkwood Community College are bridging the divide between immigrants and refugees and programs to help them fill quality, in-demand jobs. Since summer 2021, a partnership between Iowa Workforce Development (IWD) and Kirkwood’s TRIO Student Support Services program has forged the way for more immigrants and refugees to enter the workforce.
“At Kirkwood, the benefit of our program is that we’re really connected to the students and the community here,” TRIO ESL Director Mallory Petsche said. “We started this partnership because there was a gap between the community accessing and knowing these programs IowaWORKS has.”
RISE AmeriCorps Members and Kirkwood’s TRIO program collaborate regularly with IWD Workforce Consultant Shane Greve. Greve meets one-on-one with Kirkwood students and discusses IWD’s wide array of services that assist with tuition, childcare, transportation, job searches, career planning and more. IWD programs such as GAP grant Iowans the funds to train and enter in-demand jobs. Certified nursing assistant (CNA) training is a particularly popular pathway among the Kirkwood community, which is helping to fill a shortage of care workers in Iowa.
Immigrants and refugees often struggle to overcome language and technology barriers on their own, which limits their ability to receive support from IWD. RISE AmeriCorps Members boost accessibility of IWD programs by acting as a cultural guide, interpreter and advocate.
“For students who were at the point where they didn’t think they would be able to continue with their education, they’re now getting support to be able to pay for school,” Petsche said. “Now they’re getting into these programs and getting the education they need to get a higher paying job, while also filling these huge workforce needs.”
Before Aamira* contacted TRIO, the single parent and immigrant was preparing to drop out of school earlier this year. Struggling to pay bills, find childcare and pinpoint exactly what she wanted to do was causing a crisis in Aamira’s life.
The team stepped in. Working with RISE AmeriCorps members, Aamira defined goals for herself and her family, and found resources to help financially. Months later, Aamira is now successfully completing business classes and is on her way to achieving her dreams.
Greve said he witnessed similar successes, where clients' livelihoods were transformed. Many clients he works with are working to earn their commercial driving licenses and receive higher-paying jobs with better benefits in industries such as trucking.
RISE AmeriCorps Members, who often come from the immigrant and refugee communities they serve, act as the messenger to inform about the many resources available at IWD. Members refer and schedule meetings to kick off the process with IWD.
Both at Kirkwood and upon requests from the IowaWORKS Center in Iowa City, RISE AmeriCorps Member Farhain Mohamed interprets for Greve with fluent Arabic and English skills. Mohamed and fellow RISE AmeriCorps Member Fatima Abdelhaleem’s language skills have been vital for supporting Iowa City’s large Sudanese population.
“These individual meetings are really helpful because the students get a lot of help from these meetings and after the meetings I follow-up, like did you get in all of your paperwork? How is the process going? And they send out if they need more help,” Mohamed said.
RISE AmeriCorps members like Mohamed continue discussions beyond Greve’s capacity in appointments. They coach students and community members along the difficult process of choosing career options and selecting the right classes to fulfill their ambitions.
This year, Kirkwood, RISE AmeriCorps Members and IWD will be sharing information with even larger audiences. Similarly to last summer, they plan to continue hosting information sessions and registration assistance so groups of community members can learn to access helpful resources.
“I just think having these types of services and these connections really benefit people in our community,” Greve said. “There’s a lot of students at Kirkwood who aren't aware of these [IWD] services, and I think the RISE AmeriCorps Program has helped bridge that gap.”
*Name changed for privacy
(From left to right) RISE Program Coordinator Livvy Su, TRIO ESL Director Mallory Petsche, Member Support Coordinator Donna Jiruska, RISE AmeriCorps Member Fatima Abdelhaleem and RISE Program Manager Clare Angeroth Franks pose for a photo at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa City. Photo taken by Julia DiGiacomo.