Paula Land joined Catherine McAuley Center (CMC) early in 2011 as our Executive Director. Paula is a graduate of Mount Mercy University and most recently held the position of Vice President of Operations and Organizational Effectiveness for Trees Forever. Paula has three children and four grandchildren. In her spare time, Paula enjoys singing and volunteering in the community. She considers herself a lifelong learner. Passionate about nonprofits, Paula’s excited to be back in the education and human services fields.
Sean earned his B.A. in History from Coe College. After working in museum education, he found his passion for connecting local organizations with the funding needed to make their impact in the community. He joined the Catherine McAuley Center in June 2021. In his free time, you can find him playing music with bands across eastern Iowa, cycling, and spending time with his partner and their 5 cats.
Mitch was born and raised in Cedar Rapids. He graduated from Linn-Mar High School and then from Coe College with a Psychology and Neuroscience degree. Service has been a key part of Mitch’s life since he started in Boy Scouts in 6th grade. He would go on to get his Eagle and then pursue volunteering in his free time, and eventually dedicate two years to service across the country in AmeriCorps NCCC. Purpose driven service is critical to having an entire community thrive, and he is very happy to help continue and spread that value through the many programs at CMC.
Marissa Haas, Grant Specialist
Marissa earned a B.A. in Sociology & Anthropology from Carleton College and a M.S. in Nonprofit Management from Northeastern University. She started as a volunteer at CMC in 2013, and joined the staff in 2014. In 2019, Marissa stepped down from her role on the Grants Team in order to spend more time at home with her three children. She was thrilled to rejoin the staff in 2021 on a part-time basis and use her love of writing to support the CMC mission. In her free time, Marissa enjoys cooking, traveling, hiking, and reading mountains of books with her children.
Amanda has a B.A. in Business Administration from Mt. Mercy University. She is most proud of making Dean’s List all four years in college and graduating magna cum laude, all while working full time and raising a family. She is married with a daughter who is her Mini-Me. She plays the viola in the Cedar Rapids Community Orchestra. In her spare time she enjoys cooking and reading.
Madison graduated from the University of Iowa with degrees in Spanish Language & Literature and International Studies with a focus on human rights. After her studies, Madison went on to become a teacher at a dual-language elementary school where she taught third grade dual-language, and language-literacy groups for three years. Throughout her adventure as a teacher, she developed a passion for education and building empowerment in underserved areas. Madison is grateful for the opportunity to serve her community and to support the mission of CMC!
Morgan graduated from Coe College with a degree in Communication Studies and Public Relations. She is excited to bring her skills and experience to CMC and help support this amazing organization and it’s mission. In her free time she enjoys antiquing and thrifting, reading, traveling, and spending time with her husband and rescue dog, Calliope.
Laurie is looking forward to being part of the team at Catherine McAuley Center. She is a widow who was married for 29 years. She has 3 cats, Sophie, Max, and Lily. She enjoys reading poetry, drawing, working in her yard, decorating, and going out to eat. Laurie worked at Kirkwood Community College for 14 years before retiring. She knows she will enjoy working here and appreciates everything Catherine McAuley Center does.
Peggy’s undergraduate studies centered on psychology and education, as she was very interested in human behavior and aspired to be an inspirational teacher. During student teaching, she discovered this wasn’t the right fit for her. At all. That didn’t make her any less interested in either subject, and in many ways it influenced her professional life, including her MBA studies. The majority of her career was spent at GE, which took her to Cedar Rapids, as well as Missouri and Michigan, but she always knew she wanted to return to Eastern Iowa. After many years, Peggy decided to leave the corporate world to buy and run a coffee shop in downtown Cedar Rapids. Managing the coffee shop reinforced her love for the community, but the flood of 2008 brought an end to that business. Following that chapter, Peggy spent 11 years at Pearson, a global company with a mission centered on improving lives through education. She is excited and blessed to be joining the Catherine McAuley Center, where she has an opportunity to carry out that mission and more with a local focus!
Katie graduated from the University of Maryland with a B.A. in English and a Masters in Library Science. She began tutoring at CMC shortly after moving to Cedar Rapids and has volunteered in various capacities since then. In her role as Government Grants Coordinator, Katie is so happy to help grow the important programs offered by CMC. When not working, Katie loves spending time with her husband and two young children, reading, running, and visiting family and friends on the East Coast.
Ever since Katie got her first taste of international travel in high school, she has been very passionate about encountering and learning about all cultures and lifestyles. She majored in Business Management and German at Luther College, but took a detour to teach English in South Korea for two years. After returning, Katie joined CMC as a RefugeeRISE AmeriCorps member, having benefited from a helping hand overseas and wanting to pay it forward to new arrivals in our community. Following her AmeriCorps term, she has joined the administrative staff and is excited to be continuing to support CMC’s mission.
Kelsey graduated from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL, with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and a concentration in Not-for-Profit Management. She joined CMC in March 2015 after volunteering as a tutor since October 2014 and is excited to use her degree to support CMC’s mission. In her free time, Kelsey enjoys finding adventure through running, reading, and travel.
Garrett has been an adult literacy program volunteer and English tutor for CMC for the past two years. It was through this that he became acquainted with CMC’s humanitarian vision. In his free time, he is an artist and musician, and enjoys working with a variety of art mediums and instruments. He also enjoys cooking, sewing, and spending quality time with his friends.
Sandy joined our staff in January 2015 as our Systems and Facilities Manager. She was a computer programmer for 16 years before resigning to stay at home with their three sons. At that time, she volunteered at church, school, and with their youth baseball program. She is thrilled to be able to serve the staff and community at the Catherine McAuley Center!
Joseph is currently studying at Kirkwood Community College to become a nurse. He looks forward to bringing his experience and talents to further CMC’s employment opportunities as a RefugeeRISE AmeriCorps member. Outside of his studies, Joseph plays rugby and enjoys participating in chess tournaments with other students and teammates.
Ryan graduated from the University of Northern Iowa, where he obtained his degrees in Social Work and Spanish. He started his journey with CMC as a Social Work Intern and found an immense passion for the work that the Center does for the Cedar Rapids community. Ryan is a dedicated advocate for social justice, and has committed his life to fighting inequalities experienced by marginalized populations. In his free time, Ryan enjoys singing, creating pottery, learning, and spending time with family.
Education Services Staff
Anne holds a B.A. in English from Coe College and an M.Ed. with an emphasis in Teacher Leadership from Mt. Mercy University. She worked in the healthcare industry for many years and taught in Barbados for two years. She is passionate about helping students and tutors create community through quality language learning and new educational opportunities. Anne believes all learners are teachers and all teachers are learners, and to that end, is inspired daily by the interactions she sees at CMC. In her spare time, Anne spends time with her close family, loves to write funny and slightly dramatic letters to all and sundry, and going out for great meals with friends.
Stephen’s passion for teaching language led him to teach ESL in Mexico, Russia, Turkey, and the exotic land of Minnesota. Through his church, he learned about volunteering at CMC then came on staff as Tutor Student Liaison because “CMC gives people the means to a stable, good life. Who wouldn’t support that?” He has made friends in five countries he had never been to before and has written an unpublished novel. In his free time, he reads, walks, goes birding, watches old and new movies, and cooks.
Angie Miller, Education Coordinator
Angie has a TEFL/TESOL Certificate and a B.A. in English Language Learners Studies. She started volunteering as a tutor at CMC and loved it so much that she applied for a job! Her favorite part about CMC is meeting people from all over the world and with many different backgrounds. In her free time, she likes to care for her animals and volunteer in her church. She also goes on mission trips to Guatemala every year and plans to teach there someday.
Achissa received her B.A. in accounting at AUCA (Adventist University of Central Africa) in Rwanda in 2000. She came to CMC in March 2015 as a student. She is delighted to be part of the education staff as an Education Coordinator because it gives women and men the opportunity to expand confidence and empowers them to be who they want to be regardless of where they are from. Achissa enjoys swimming, cooking, and spending time with her family in her free time.
While studying for a B.A. in music at the University of Iowa, Katie accepted an Honors Fellowship in the Writing Center, where she discovered a love for tutoring. That led to teaching English Language Acquisition at Kirkwood Community College. Katie joined CMC in January 2016 and is excited to be part of an organization that empowers students by building their knowledge and skills. In her free time, Katie plays bass guitar, sings, and volunteers as a sound tech at Legion Arts’ CSPS Hall.
Amanda Weeks, Education Development Coordinator
Amanda has a B.A. from the University of Iowa in Health and Sport Sciences and a M.A. in Teaching from Drake University with an endorsement in all sciences. She taught Environmental Science, Astronomy, Geology, and Biology at Waukee High School and taught Biology, Botany/Zoology, Environmental Science, and Field Biology at Marion High School. She also planned and directed KICK summer camps at Kirkwood Community College. Amanda is passionate about helping others and providing engaging learning experiences. In her free time, she likes to spend time with her friends and family and her pets. She loves kayaking in warm weather, taking care of her gardens, and playing trivia.
Andrew “Fern” Fernicola graduated from Saint Joseph’s University in 2018. There he learned the Jesuit values of service as an exchange and developed a passion to educate the whole person. He began volunteering as an ESL instructor in the fall of 2019. He is very excited for the opportunity to work at the Catherine McAuley Center as he feels the other staff appreciate similar values as himself. In his free time he enjoys hiking, reading, and playing Dungeons and Dragons.
Marimer became a U.S. citizen in 2019 and she wants to serve her new home by building a stronger country. She believes in working little by little to make an impact in the lives of others in the community. Marimer started out as a student at CMC and after passing the citizenship exam, she became a tutor! Now, she is joining the Education team as an AmeriCorps Education Coordinator and she loves the environment and people at the Center.
“Eriq Tshhims” on social media, Eriq is a lawyer from the Democratic Republic of Congo and the CEO of a legal organization that he created named “Bonjour Maitre” which means “Hello Attorney” or “Hello Master.” This organization is devoted to promoting social-legal values. Eriq left Congo for the U.S. in 2016 because of political reasons and insecurity. His path crossed CMC during his search for help and stability in the U.S. and that changed his life significantly. He started learning English at CMC and Kirkwood Community College, but says CMC helped in beyond just learning English. Eriq says he has 3 goals in his life in the U.S.: becoming a writer, leaving his factory/warehouse job, and getting a master’s degree in law and practice as an attorney. Thanks to CMC, he has reached the first 2 goals and is working towards the third. He is most proud of his organization, Bonjour Maitre, and its work in bringing a young Congolese girl to the U.S. to study at Southern Utah University.
Ben has volunteered as an English tutor for CMC for over 2 years. He is excited to be a part of the Catherine McAuley team, where he will help teach, and prepare students and tutors for learning and teaching online. In his free time, Ben loves to draw, play the violin, read, practice archery, and cook recipes from all over the world. As a nature lover, he also likes to garden and take hikes. Most of all, Ben is passionate about learning about people’s stories and experiences, and giving everyone space to live as their best selves.
Refugee & Immigrant Services Staff
After obtaining a B.A. in International Relations and Religion from Wartburg College and a M.A. in Intercultural Service, Leadership and Management from SIT Graduate Institute, Sara has dedicated her career to providing and leading supportive services to refugees as they work to find stability and safety in their new communities. In her role as the Director of Refugee & Immigrant Services, Sara is committed to ensuring that community members, partners, and local employers have the information and resources necessary to work effectively with diverse populations.
Jacques is from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He left the Congo in 2007 and went to Zimbabwe where he lived as a refugee until moving to the USA in 2017. He’s currently a student at Kirkwood Community College, majoring in Human Services. He has a great passion for inspiring people to do well in their lives, which pushed him to volunteer in any possible way to help people. From 2016 to 2017, Jacques was helping to make uniforms for high school students in his refugee camp in Zimbabwe. He’s always been proud to see people progressing in their lives. That’s the only thing that makes him happy.
From September to November 2018, Sarah served as a Community Service Specialist for Peace Corps Morocco, where she worked with her community to plan and implement various projects. During this time, she was also working towards her Masters of Arts in Public Anthropology from American University. She is originally from Northern Virginia, but moved to Cedar Rapids after her Peace Corps service. She was looking to work in a nonprofit field because she always found helping people to be the most fulfilling. She is excited to be able to help people new to our country navigate through a new culture and way of doing things, like so many people who helped her when she moved to Morocco. In her free time, she likes reading, watching TV and movies, and snuggling with her cat, Mazel Tov.
Abby holds a bachelors and a masters degree in Social Work and has 13 years of experience in the field. She completed two internships, working with refugees and immigrants in Chicago and Des Moines. She started her social work career in Des Moines at an emergency homeless shelter for adults, and also worked in a group home serving adults with intellectual disabilities. She moved to Iowa City in 2013 and continued working with those populations, but has long wished to work with refugees and immigrants, again. She is thrilled to join the team at CMC and help connect people with the resources they need. She loves experiencing other cultures, and is looking forward to working with people from many different countries and cultures. When she’s not working, she enjoys spending time with her husband and son, as well as their extended family and friends.
In February 2018, Caleb came to CMC to work with and advocate for refugees and immigrants. Caleb began working with refugees in 2011 and previously worked with refugees under Catholic Charities here in Cedar Rapids and in Louisville, KY. Caleb graduated from Faith Baptist Bible College with a B.A. in Biblical Studies/Spanish and from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with his Masters of Divinity. Caleb studied abroad in Peru, Ecuador, and Japan. He enjoys time with his wife and keeping up with his 4 children. Caleb’s interests are eclectic – ranging from languages and cultures, history, politics, literature, science, ethics, and philosophy. He applauds CMC’s mission to welcome and empower our society’s most vulnerable. At CMC, Caleb works with new refugee families, gives refugees and immigrants a platform to speak, and brings people of disparate backgrounds together. Caleb is currently learning French and Swahili to better serve our clients!
Lisa earned her B.A. in Social Work from Luther College and is currently completing coursework for her MSW through the University of Northern Iowa. She has 14 years of social service experience working with people around housing and mental health issues. Lisa came to CMC as an Intern through her master’s program and joined the CMC staff in December 2017. She is inspired by the passion of the CMC staff and the success clients find as they are supported and empowered by the intentional community environment at CMC. Outside of CMC, Lisa enjoys spending time with her family, exploring the outdoors and learning!
Rosa Kombwa, Refugee Child Care Business Development Program Manager
Rosa graduated from North Central College with a Bachelor of Arts in International Business Administration and a Master’s in Leadership Studies with a focus on Social Entrepreneurship. She is excited to join CMC as the Refugee Child Care Business Development Program Coordinator. In her spare time, Rosa enjoys spending time with her family and friends.
Bonnie obtained her Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing at Coe College in 2006 and has worked as a Registered Nurse for the past 13 years at Unity Point, St. Luke’s Emergency Department. Prior to that, she volunteered in Lakeside Montana for twelve years with Youth With a Mission, a non-denominational, international missions organization holding such positions such as a Ministry Team Member, Preschool Manager, and coordinator of travel and booking for various performing artists. Valuable interaction with multicultural individuals began to form the foundation for her present work at CMC. Bonnie spent the Fall of 2018 at CMC as an intern for her masters in Community and Public Health Nursing. She is excited to use both of her previous job experiences to advocate for the health disparities of the vulnerable refugee and immigrant population, working to assist with their navigation of our complicated healthcare system.
Rex is from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He arrived in the U.S. in 2013. He has a bachelor’s degree in Network & Systems Administration from DRC and an associate’s degree in IT from Kirkwood Community College. He is also a Member Manager of his own company called World Development, LLC. He has 3 kids, 1 boy and 2 girls. In his free time, he likes to spend quality time with his wife, go swimming with his kids and walk his dog. Rex is thrilled to join the team at CMC and help people find the resources they need.
Celestin came to the U.S. from Rwanda in March of 1996, after spending 2 years in different refugee camps in Congo and Zaire. Celestin settled in Nashville, TN with his family. As communicating was the main barrier upon his arrival, he entered Nashville State Community College to learn English and earned an Associate’s degree of Applied Sciences in Computers in 2003. In 2019, he earned his Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Tennessee State University. In addition to his studies, Celestin worked as a nurse assistant and sometimes worked multiple jobs, so he could help people back in Africa, especially his native Rwanda. In 2000, he began helping the Agency and Metro social service in Nashville resettle refugees from Burundi. That experience led him to connect with the Catherine McAuley Center. In his free time, Celestin likes to socialize with family and friends and talk to his extended family in Africa.
Hilaire came to the U.S. via South Africa, but he is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo. When he arrived here, life was not easy. He had to adapt from speaking French to English, and overcome financial obstacles to education. He did not give up because he had a dream to fulfill. He started at Kirkwood Community College in the spring of 2015. He struggled through the first few weeks, needing help, but having no idea where to turn. He never lost hope. Hilaire now attends Mount Mercy University, and his goal is to become a social worker to help people dream of success and become self-reliant. He is always working hard so that one day he can say he has fulfilled his dreams. He believes that in the United States, we can all succeed, no matter where we come from. He is looking forward to being a part of the Catherine McAuley Center team.
Nicky went to Kirkwood Community College and started off studying ESL. She switched to studying social work because it is her dream to work for the United Nations. By nature, she loves helping those who need help and says that being a social worker is a part of her. She says CMC is giving her the opportunity to share what she has learned in school. Many people from different cultures come to CMC for help and as an immigrant herself, she knows how it feels to be new somewhere. Nicky is proud of the associate’s degree she recently earned. She enjoys spending time with her daughter.
Victoria Conoan, RefugeeRISE AmeriCorps Employment Services Coordinator
Victoria graduated from Des Moines Area Community College in 2016 with an Associate’s Degree in Liberal Arts. She worked several corporate jobs before becoming intereste4d in volunteering with EMBARC in the Des Moines Metro. This was how she came to learn about RefugeeRISE AmeriCorps and the organization’s partners, such as the Catherine McAuley Center. Victoria was so impressed with CMC’s goals and organization that she moved to Cedar Rapids to join the team. She spends most of her free time reading, writing, or “aunting” to an ever-growing collection of nieces and nephews. Victoria is excited for this opportunity to directly engage and serve her community and the larger family to which she belongs.
Laurent was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He left Congo and moved to Zambia with his mother, where he spent most of his childhood as a refugee. He arrived in America, (specifically Greensboro, NC) in 2018. He moved to Iowa in 2020 and attended Jefferson High School. After graduating, Laurent decided to take a gap year and volunteer to work with refugees. Helping other people and making their lives a little easier makes him feel good about himself. When he finishes his AmeriCorps term, Laurent will attend Kirkwood Community College but hasn’t yet decided on a major. In his spare time, Laurent enjoys playing soccer.
Women’s Services Staff
Jennifer Tibbetts, Director of Women’s Services
Jennifer joined the Catherine McAuley Center as Housing Program Manager in 2008, and has used her 18 years of experience in social services to implement Female-Responsive programming in CMC housing services. Jennifer is proud to be a part of a mission-driven organization like the Catherine McAuley Center and feels privileged to be in a role in which she can help create a safe and supportive environment that allows women to realize their own potential. In her free time Jennifer finds creative ways to be an advocate for women throughout the state, and organizes community groups and female-led initiatives that allow women to connect and find their voice.
Bella got her degree in Social Work from Loras College, during which she worked as a community trainer providing direct community and home-based support to people with intellectual disabilities. She finished her degree by interning with Friends of the Family in assisting survivors with fleeing domestic violence and locate housing. After she graduated she worked as an IHH case manager through the Abbe Center and was promoted to the PATH homeless outreach position, during which she worked with many women with, not only the trauma of homelessness, but with several incidents of sexual assault, domestic violence, and substance use. She decided that she would hone her skills of advocacy and connections to resources towards the Catherine McAuley Center, so she could continue to serve the women within her community to support them on their journey.
Kristin graduated from the University of Iowa with a B.A. in Gender, Women, & Sexuality Studies and Spanish. She began working for the Transitional Housing program after volunteering in the Education program since 2015. She is excited to support CMC’s mission by empowering women with education and resources. In her free time, she enjoys supporting her bonus children, being outdoors, and playing with her two cats.
Lucia has a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from the University of Iowa and has experience working with victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Lucia supports the mission of CMC because she values kindness, justice, and mutual support in our community. In her free time, Lucia loves spending time with her partner and their two cats, and listening to music and traveling with her friends. Lucia is excited to be a part of CMC!
Bailey graduated from Iowa State University with a Bachelor of Science in Sociology. While at Iowa State, she worked as a Peer Wellness Educator, implementing programs around mental health and violence prevention, and empowering her peers to take action in their own lives. After graduating, she spent her time volunteering with causes she cares about in her home community of Pella before joining the Women’s Services team at Catherine McAuley Center. Her passion for understanding social inequalities and barriers faced by marginalized communities brought her to her role as Race, Gender, and Homelessness VISTA. She looks forward to seeing future programming and resources built from the research she does in her role at CMC.