Over lunch each week, just down the block from each other’s organization, RISE AmeriCorps Member David Clower and First Lutheran Church Food Services Coordinator Ruth Ehrhardt bonded over their shared passion of community service. Together, they strategized Clower’s plans for the future and ways to connect resources for the Afghan refugees Clower primarily serves.
“I got super lucky because Ruth has an incredible wealth of experience that she has been able to share with me,” Clower said.
Through the unique opportunity of the RISE AmeriCorps mentorship program, members are gaining professional and personal connections to lead them successfully into their next season of life. RISE AmeriCorps members are carefully matched with mentors according to their ambitions. The pairs then meet for one hour per week for at least six months, talking through steps to meet their goals.
When Clower entered the mentorship program at the beginning of his service term with the Catherine McAuley Center (CMC), he was in the early stages of applying to graduate school. Each week, Ehrhardt sat down with him to touch base on his progress and talk through decisions. Clower has since been accepted into the Humphrey College of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota and will start classes toward a masters in human rights in the fall.
However, Clower said one of his mentor’s largest impacts was supporting his RISE AmeriCorps service with CMC. Through Ehrhardt’s widespread network of connections in the community, she provided logistical support as Clower set up housing and resources for newly arriving refugees from Afghanistan. The pair collaborated to recruit teams of volunteers and source furniture for refugees’ new homes.
“We had resettled Afghan arrivals over the last six months and could not have done it without community support,” Clower said. “But I in particular could not have done my role without Ruth’s support.”
As the food services coordinator at First Lutheran Church, Ehrhardt fills an essential role coordinating resources for the local homeless population. Previously, she spent decades working in social services and as a registered nurse. Five years spent in West Africa also strengthened her interest in refugee resettlement, which is a field Clower is interested in entering.
“I kind of have the heart for and the understanding of being a stranger in another place, because I’ve been there [in West Africa] and people were good to me,” Ehrhardt said.
Ehrhardt’s commitment to guiding youth also runs deep as a former foster mother to several hundred children and teenagers over the years. Now mentoring her second RISE AmeriCorps member, she said connecting with youth helps keep her young and in touch with the world.
“We can all do small things in the places where we are. That’s what keeps me going everyday,” Ehrhardt said. “Giving encouragement to each other regardless of generation or what area they’re working in is always a positive thing.”
In turn, Clower said his mentor relationship with Ehrhardt inspires him to emulate her lifelong dedication to helping others. From Ehrhardt, he learned it is possible to make huge impacts in the community. He hopes following in her footsteps in this way can always be a part of his life.
To others considering the mentorship program, Clower and Ehrhardt urge them to take a chance and apply. RISE AmeriCorps members can sign up for a mentor within the first few weeks of their service terms. Prospective mentors can join the program by applying here: https://www.refugeeriseiowa.org/mentors.html. After being matched with a member based on their goals, mentors are required to meet one hour per week for six months.
“If you're considering the mentorship program, do it,” Clower said. “There’s just so many different things that you can learn from people. It can really only enhance your time as an AmeriCorps member.”