Earth Day at CMC

April 22nd is Earth Day, a day to honor our connection to the planet we live on and make sure we’re doing our best to help rather than harm our Earth community. Our staff, residents, and clients have a lot to say about why the Earth is important and what we can do to help.

The Earth matters to us because, in the words of a student, “we live on this world and we get everything we need to live from Earth.” This is the home for all people, and where all of our food and water comes from. “It sustains all life,” adds a resident, reminding us of the diversity of creatures that share their home with us. And what we do to Earth is what we do to ourselves, since, as Kristin from Womens’ Services observes “we don’t have another […] home to go to.”

What are We Doing?

On Earth Day it’s important to  “inspect what you’re doing,” says Kristin. How are your actions and the actions of the people and institutions around you helping or harming our patch of Earth? Many residents note that disposing of waste by recycling or composting it instead of littering can reduce harmful pollution. In addition, doing our best to use and create systems of transportation, farming, and building that use renewable resources instead of fossil fuels is an important project to keep the climate from becoming even more unstable. To one student, the most important thing is that “the Earth should be a safe place” to live, work, and play.

To observe and celebrate the holiday, one resident has organized the One Bag Challenge, a time to help remove litter from the CMC neighborhood. Staff, residents, and clients will be helping on Earth Day afternoon. This will help “be part of the solution, not the problem” by keeping toxic plastics out of the soil and water where they can harm plants and animals. Others plan to garden and plant trees to help Cedar Rapids’ plant community recover from the derecho. What are you going to do this Earth Day?


Words to Know:

Diversity – Many different types of people, animals, plants, or other things

Pollution – Things people make that go into the air, water, or soil and can hurt living things

Transportation – The ways we move from place to place

Renewable Resource – Something from the Earth that grows back and keeps the land safe

Fossil Fuel – Coal, natural gas, oil, and other things that people burn to make machines work.

Climate – The types of weather that happen often in a place

Earth Critical Concern Community Feature: Rachael Murtaugh’s Goals for a More Sustainable World

This Women’s History Month, CMC would like to highlight the stories of women in our community doing work in the areas of the Sisters of Mercy Critical Concerns. This week, CMC is focusing on the critical concern of earth. We reached out to Rachael Murtaugh, Director of Sustainability at Mount Mercy University, to dive deep into issues of sustainability, environmental justice, and local efforts to take care of our planet.

What is your role at Mount Mercy University, and how does your work relate to the critical concern of Earth?

I am Mount Mercy University’s Director of Sustainability and Stewardship, so that’s really just focusing on that critical concern and care of the earth. We do a lot of work with the curriculum at Mount Mercy, getting care of the earth linked with a lot of our classes, as well as sustainability as a whole. Sometimes when people think about sustainability, they go to recycling or green energy and that’s kind of where the conversation stops. We really look at sustainability from a holistic view. You really can consider all 5 of the critical concerns under that umbrella of sustainability because we look at it through the lens of the United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals, which include earth topics like: climate change, life on land, life below water, clean water, and sanitation. But it also includes social justice issues like poverty, hunger, gender equality, peace and justice, sustainable city, economics, and more. There is a lot of education that we do on our campus showing that. one of my current goals has been helping students understand that no matter their major, their background, their interests, they have a role in sustainability and as they leave college and go on to their careers. Their career is going to have an impact on one or more of these goals and they have the choice of whether they are going to help move these goals forward or whether they are going to contribute to negative impacts. It’s helping people understand that everyone has a role and a stake in sustainability — and our earth, for that matter.

How does the critical concern of earth and sustainability resonate with you or impact you personally?

I’ve grown up appreciating, enjoying, and being out in our natural world. I grew up in a strong, faith-based family that spent as much time as possible outside. My dad often went fishing and hunting. Even before I could walk we were out in the woods learning about the various plants and animals. My dad is also an avid arrowhead hunter, so connecting the current land with the history of people that were historically there… has helped develop this ingrained love of the natural world. As I got into college, learning more about the fragility of our systems and the fragility of this planet and how much we were having an impact helped me see that I needed to have a career that helped educate and helped people realize that we have a choice in what legacy we leave on this earth. That’s been my goal for my current career and wherever my career leads me.

Tell me a little bit about your perspective on the impact that non-sustainable practices have had on indigenous communities/first nation people.

I have always been really interested in Native American history, and my dad was always intentional in educating me about which indigenous tribes were on the land we were exploring. I’ve noticed more and more frequently this idea of land acknowledgment and not sugarcoating the past. The atrocities that happened in the past are connected to our current day. We can’t go back and change the past, but we can acknowledge what happened and begin to respect that history and own that history. That conversation has been happening a lot more recently at higher education institutions. Oftentimes when I am having these conversations, we are looking at it from the scope of the concept of sustainability and where it comes from. It is so interesting because the word and idea (of sustainability) is a very western term. For many cultures, and first people/first nation cultures, they didn’t need to think about it because it was ingrained into their way of life. It was only until we started to be unsustainable and impacting our environment to such a degree that we had to name this concept in order for us to make a shift. For many cultures, that shift doesn’t have to happen. So, it’s interesting to have those conversations and talk about why we have to talk about these things because for so long we were not living by those principles. I’ve also noticed more and more classes at Mount Mercy wanting to include native voices and perceptions and I think that’s really exciting.

Looking at things from a gender lens, what is your experience like as a woman in your field and how are women specifically impacted by issues relating to care of the earth?

There are so many things we could talk about. My educational background is in conservation biology and ecology, that kind of field. Although the field is changing, it is still a very male-dominated field. That can be detrimental, for sure. I have definitely had opportunities impacted by the fact that I was a woman. At one point, it was deemed an inconvenience and uncomfortable to be working with an all-male team in a remote setting. And so, there are definitely still barriers for women in this field, but you are seeing more and more of that start to change, which is exciting. You are seeing more women and girls being encouraged to take STEM and STEAM courses, women are getting into all of these different fields which is what we need to do because when we have a diversity of people in any field means that we are going to have a diversity in ideas and that means that we are going to have better ideas overall, so I think that is really exciting.

When it comes to sustainability and specifically climate change/environmental stewardship, women have a unique potential for impact, and also a unique potential for being impacted. I think a great example a lot of times in our culture and other cultures, women are seen as stewards of resources. Whether it is the care of the home, or tending to the land in agriculture/gathering, women are often seen as caretakers/caregivers. More and more I am very happy to say that that role is being shared in cultures, but there is kind of this ingrained cultural view of women. So, on one hand, women have this unique opportunity to become better stewards of environmental resources, and to be a voice for that stewardship, and to make changes and educate their community. On the other hand, as we continue through climate change and begin to deal with more and more of its impact, women are at a greater risk of being harmed by resource shortages like water and food. Women are often more likely to be victimized if they are refugees, like climate refugees fleeing a climate-related disaster. Women and girls who need to travel a distance to get water, or firewood — as those resources become more scarce— may have to travel further. Sometimes, girls will be pulled out of school to help their mothers to obtain resources. Even just traveling long distances puts them at a greater risk for sexual violence and physical violence. According to the UN, especially in countries where women do not have equal access to economic benefits, they are much more likely to be severely injured or even die than their male counterparts due to climate-related disasters; this is for a slew of reasons. I am happy to see that there is a rise in gender equality in these fields and in climate action, and I think that for a lot of cultures, women have a unique opportunity to have a positive impact… while they also have a greater risk if we don’t take action.

What is the local community doing to help save the earth and implement sustainable practices? What should we be asking our community to do to help the planet?

Let’s start small and then expand. At Mount Mercy, we have been doing a lot of energy conversions. Our facilities crew have, whenever possible, replaced old systems with high-efficiency systems. We’ve been switching to LED lights. We’ve done two huge lighting projects that together are saving over 149 tons of carbon every year just in switching out lightbulbs, which is really cool. We’ve also been introducing native plants on campus. We have two pollinator gardens and two rain gardens. Those rain gardens are also helping to improve water quality by infiltrating stormwater instead of it flooding out into our streets. COVID has shifted some things a bit but once we are out of the woods of the pandemic we will be going back to more environmentally-friendly cleaning supplies. We have a very robust waste system, trying to recycle as much as possible. That being said, we are also doing a lot of education on waste reduction as a place to start. So often, people focus on recycling, when that is simply waste management. What we really should be focusing on is waste prevention. How can we stop producing so much garbage in the first place instead of trying to figure out where to put it. Our facilities have done an amazing job trying to reduce our waste. In our kitchens and cafeteria, the director of the cafeteria is very waste-oriented. He keeps very meticulous data about what students are eating and how much they are eating. He is very careful to only prepare what he thinks students will consume, rather than creating extra food waste.

If we open that up to Cedar Rapids, I am personally very proud of the work that Cedar Rapids has done toward sustainability. They just redid the zoning laws to allow for more sustainable structures and more renewable energies in the city. They’ve been implementing a lot of stormwater management systems. Through the stormwater program, there are cost-shares so that residents and businesses can implement stormwater infrastructure with an incentive. We have a whole sustainability division for the city that does amazing work. Even our solid waste agency does a great job, such as the yardies for yard waste. In my house, we compost our food waste and paper towels. What is so unique about that is that I can go to the solid waste agency to get free compost and free mulch! You don’t see that in a lot of cities. It is a wonderful service to reduce waste going to landfills, which then reduces our carbon output. Cedar Rapids, in many ways, has been very forward-thinking. Post-derecho, we lost so much of our canopy, they are still calculating how many trees we’ve lost. They are starting this relief plan that is a very long-term project— taking years, possibly decades— to rebuild our canopy, and (the plan is) very impressive. They are not just going fast and planting trees; they are looking at how we can build an urban forest, how we can make the trees functional, how we can improve air quality. We are even looking at how we can make trees an equity issue in our city: How can we reduce food deserts? or how can we increase wildlife? So, they are thinking very holistically about the trees and our city as a whole. They aren’t just looking at it as a bunch of buildings with people in it, but looking at it as this living, functioning system, and I think that is really unique. Lastly, Linn County just hired its first sustainability coordinator, one of the few in the state, so Linn county is jumping right into climate action, in both urban and rural communities. Locally, I think that we are moving in the right direction.

Who is your favorite Herstory figure and why?

Ada Lovelace. She lived in a time where women were not accepted in positions of innovation or power. It’s just amazing that so often we see computer science as a male-dominated field, and yet the birth of computer science was created by this noblewoman. There were no other expectations for her life beyond getting married and having children. In the face of those expectations, she became the foundress of this field that our entire world is now based on, and I find that pretty cool. 


We would like to thank Rachael for taking the time to share her expertise and experience with the critical concern of earth. We learned a lot from her, and hope you have as well. To learn more about how CMC is playing our part to be environmental stewards, tune in to our Earth Facebook Live Q&A airing on Thursday, March 18th at Noon.

Immigration Critical Concern Community Feature: Sister Kathy’s Experience at the Southern Border


sisters of mercy representatives sitting on the ground advocating for immigrant rights holding pink and purple signs

This Women’s History Month, CMC would like to highlight the stories of women in our community doing work in the areas of the Sisters of Mercy Critical Concerns. With this week’s focus on immigration, we spoke with Sister Kathy Thill, a local member of the Sisters of Mercy, about her experiences with immigrants at the southern border of Texas and the unheard stories of asylum seekers pursuing a better life. Sr. Kathy’s journey to the border examines the need for the general public to understand what is happening to immigrants in our country today.

In the year 2000, Sister Kathy ventured down to Southern Texas to work with immigrants from Mexico with an organization by the name of ARISE. ARISE is a nonprofit founded in 1987 by Sr. Gerrie Naughton (also a member of the Sisters of Mercy), and is now operated and led by the immigrant community on the southern border. 

At the border of Texas and Mexico, Sr. Kathy came to know the families of immigrants coming to America for a better life. She learned of their struggles and the discrimination that they faced, while at the same time learning of their strength, resilience, and their innate capabilities to become leaders in their communities. In particular, she saw the strength of the women who were there. Sr. Kathy explained that “the women are very strong and very courageous. Imagine going to a new country, all of the hardships you’ve faced, only to be met with new obstacles at the border. They’re just trying to build a better life for their children.” This experience motivated Sr. Kathy to continue working for immigrant communities in whatever way that she could. 

Sr. Kathy returned to Waterloo, Iowa in 2005, but continued to work with immigrants by volunteering at a small non-profit agency. In May of 2008, the nonprofit that Sr. Kathy worked with was made aware that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was planning a raid at Agriprocessors, Inc. On May 12, 2008, the raid had begun, and Sr. Kathy was notified.  She immediately went to spend several days assisting immigrants and their families. This was a clear example of the inhumane and unjust treatment being given to our immigrant communities. On May 20th of that same year, Sr. Kathy was invited to speak at a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C. about the impact of the raid on children and families in the community.

Sr. Kathy’s continuing concern for immigrants motivated her to jump at the chance to join a Mercy delegation to El Paso, TX  in November 2018. This border witness experience was sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy Justice Office and was offered in conjunction with Annunciation House which offers hospitality to immigrants and refugees in the border region of El Paso. Visits were made to the Diocesan Office of Migrant and Refugee Services, US Border Patrol. Her delegation participated in a demonstration and interfaith prayer service outside of a detention center for children in Tornillo, TX. In 2019, she returned to ARISE in Alamo, Texas to learn about the individuals who are seeking asylum in America.  Both of these trips provided opportunities to have conversations with border patrol officers, and a variety of agencies serving the immigrants seeking asylum. During both of these visits, Sr. Kathy’s days were filled with powerful experiences and learnings that left her heart heavy and at times, hopeless. She was left wondering what can be done to change the heartless and inhumane policies and practices against innocent women, men, and children who are just trying to survive– who want a better life for themselves and their children. It was apparent that the general public needed to understand what was specifically happening to asylum seekers and immigrants at the southern border.

After learning what life and conditions are like on the border today, Sr. Kathy used the information and stories gathered from the trips to educate the local community on what people seeking asylum have gone through. She has presented at Mount Mercy University, as well as shared her experience with the board of Catherine McAuley Center and various individuals– ultimately aiming to educate people about the U.S. immigration system and spur action in our community. “Most of the response (from the audiences of my presentations) was very supportive and understanding… but also shocked. A lot of people had no idea of what people were experiencing. There’s no way – how would people know unless you go there and see it? We’re removed from asylum seekers and immigrants and we don’t really know how the laws put in place have affected their lives.”

At the end of our conversation with Sr. Kathy, we asked her a simple question for a complicated issue: what can we do? Sr. Kathy responded, stating “I think we need to pay attention to what’s happening. There are going to be changes to immigration laws, new laws proposed on how we can deal with immigration and the needs of these people at our borders seeking asylum… a lot will be happening. Listen to the news, listen to stories of people’s experiences, and take advantage of opportunities and different ways to get involved.”

We thank Sr. Kathy for taking the time to speak with us about the vital topic of immigration as a critical concern. If we have one takeaway from our conversation with Sr. Kathy, it is this: Pay attention. Listen to stories. Get involved.

For current information on immigration laws in the United States and across the globe, visit

Volunteer Spotlight: AmeriCorps Members

This month’s volunteer spotlight is on AmeriCorps members, who have been an integral part of the Catherine McAuley Center’s expanded capacity in recent years. AmeriCorps is a voluntary civil service program under the Corporation for National and Community Service in which members serve limited terms and receive a living stipend.  Currently, CMC has seven full time AmeriCorps members serving through the RefugeeRISE and VISTA programs, who help to build and refine processes, allowing us to better serve the community.  In honor of National AmeriCorps Week (March 7-13), we asked a few questions of members Evelyn Berryhill, Kelly Johnson and Walt Wagner-Hecht about their experience of serving at CMC.

Evelyn works with students and tutors adapting to remote learning

What is your role, and what do you do?       

Kelly: My role is as the Donations and Volunteer Coordinator. My main goals are to properly set an inventory and organizational system for in-kind donations and help establish a group of volunteers for the Refugee & Immigrant Services department.

Walt:  I am an Educational Services VISTA. I help expand our curriculum beyond one-on-one tutoring and connect students to tutors and resources.

Evelyn:  I’m the Distance Learning Coach for Education Services. My primary focus is supporting the online tutoring program that was implemented in mid-2020. I help tutors learn to use Zoom and similar platforms for tutoring, connect them with online students, and assist tutors and students in solving online learning issues they may encounter.

What made you decide to participate in an AmeriCorps term of service?

Kelly: With the outbreak of COVID-19, I decided to put my graduate studies on hold for a year and was looking for an opportunity to continue growing my experience in the public/nonprofit sector. I saw the AmeriCorps place at CMC and jumped at the chance!

Walt:  I decided to participate in this AmeriCorps term because it was a way to help the community during the pandemic. I had graduated college but was mostly just sitting at home trying to find jobs that I could do, were helpful, and didn’t require me moving during such a strange time.

Kelly works with donations and volunteers for Refugee & Immigrant Services

What does a typical day in your role look like?

Kelly: Usually in the morning, I begin by trying to check messages (I also have receptionist duties). Then depending on what is happening I will help get incoming volunteers into their roles. The rest of the day can be a mix of getting paperwork or appointments sorted for incoming clients or working on various other projects such as helping our after-school program with middle school and high school students.

Walt: I have had very few typical days during my service so far. The constantly changing status of the pandemic as well as a derecho during my second week have meant that I have shifted between working at the building and from home often, and various projects have stopped and started up again. I am on the computer quite a bit, working on spreadsheets, lesson plans, and Zoom/Google Meet meetings.

Evelyn:  On any given day, I teach English online and work on curriculum projects (AKA, lesson planning). I also connect students with tutors for online classes, and I field a lot of questions from tutors about the best ways to tutor online. This happens either by email or on Zoom during our office hours. Additionally, I keep track of how often students and tutors are studying together online.

What have you gained so far from this experience?

Kelly: I have gained a wealth of experience in understanding more about the journey a refugee takes to come to the US, and that will help me in my future goals of working in international development. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t include the wonderful friendships and opportunities to connect with a wide variety of people!

Walt:  So far during this experience I have gained a greater awareness of the diversity of people in our community, a better understanding of how education can work, and experience working with a team.

Evelyn: I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about the education field than I ever expected to, by teaching and tutoring, and learning how curriculum is developed. I’ve had hands-on experience managing and creating education programs and gained a greater sense of community in Cedar Rapids by getting to know staff members at CMC as well as the students and other volunteers.

Walt builds curriculum for Education Services

What are you planning to do after you finish your AmeriCorps service – any long-term goals?

Kelly: Hopefully, I will begin my graduate studies and receive a Master of Public Administration degree.  I love to travel and study languages, so my long-term goals are to grow my knowledge of public policy and public management so that I can work in international development, ideally abroad and possibly with refugees.

Walt:  It is hard to tell what comes next since I don’t know when different things will be possible again. I may go to graduate school, do another year of service, or find another job.  My long-term goals are to help create sustainable and welcoming communities and reform the systems that make that difficult currently.

Evelyn:   I plan to earn a graduate degree in a field that will help me to improve other people’s lives. There are so many people, including immigrants, refugees, and linguistically and culturally diverse individuals, who are structurally disadvantaged in U.S. society by no fault of their own. I want to work towards dismantling these unjust structures while also helping people gain the tools and opportunities to do this work themselves. I believe education (for myself, as well as others) is one of the best ways to do so.

CMC is seeking qualified and passionate applicants for upcoming summer and fall (year-long) opportunities.  Visit our careers page at or email to learn more!





Volunteer Spotlight: Harry & Stephanie

Harry and Stephanie Phillips may have only been volunteering for a few years with the Catherine McAuley Center, but they have over sixty years of combined experience as teachers.  Stephanie taught elementary and secondary schools in Iowa City and specialized in English as a Second Language (ESL) for new students arriving from other countries.  Eventually, Stephanie went on to become a principal in the school district. “I taught secondary language arts,” says Harry.  “For the last 13 years of my 32 years in education I taught a year-long course in writing and expressive language, a requirement for all 7th graders in the Iowa City schools.”

After retiring, the couple were looking for opportunities to volunteer, when Stephanie saw an advertisement in the local paper.  The tutoring role and their background with teaching English seemed a logical choice.  “We always enjoyed our work, enjoyed our interactions and learned so much about our world from the students we taught.  We’ve known for a long time about the good work done by the Catherine McAuley Center, so it just seemed to fit.”

Harry and Stephanie find it satisfying when they can help a person from a foreign culture navigate complicated systems or help them find necessities.  They have helped students with everything from writing a resume, to understanding daycare policies, to buying a car or navigating the internet.  They find each session memorable in small ways and view education as a reciprocal agreement – they teach, but they learn from their students as well.  “Without exception, the students we have worked with have been grateful and kind and I feel we learn as much in a session as they do,” Harry says.

Although they haven’t been able to meet with students in person due to the pandemic, Harry and Stephanie look forward to being able to volunteer in the spacious new facility.  And they encourage others to give it a try.  From their perspective, with things being so polarized – it’s always a good thing to meet people from around the globe.  It helps develop common understandings – and that’s something we could all use a little more of.


Volunteer Spotlight: Michelle

We would like to take this opportunity to welcome Michelle, a CMC volunteer who will be taking on the role of writing our monthly Volunteer Spotlights going forward! Michelle has been involved at the Catherine McAuley Center for close to two years, primarily helping with the food pantry and the lengthy process of moving into our new building this past year.

“For the last year or so, I have mainly been transporting food from HACAP to the CMC building to stock the food pantry, but that was put on hold due to COVID earlier this year,” Michelle said. “I enjoy having a chance to interact with the staff, and I helped during the move to the new facility by power washing the building, washing windows and cleaning the kitchen.”

Michelle initially became familiar with the Catherine McAuley Center when she wrote an article about it around the time of its founding in 1989. “I first heard of CMC back in 1989, when they first opened,” Michelle explained, “I wrote an article about the Center for a local publication called Today’s Woman. Joyce Klimek was the Director at the time, and it made the front page of the paper.”  (You can view the original story here!)

Years later, when Michelle’s schedule had more flexibility for volunteering, and she was looking for a way to get involved in her community, the Catherine McAuley Center came to mind.

“I was drawn to CMC for several reasons – the first is because of their association with the Sisters of Mercy, and the fact that the organization is named after the Sisters’ founder, Catherine McAuley,” Michelle said, “I was also drawn to it because of my prior experience writing about the Center when it opened and because the mission of helping women resonates deeply with me.”

Michelle has developed a unique perspective after seeing CMC move from the original location on 10th St SE to our second location at 4th Ave SE, and now to our current location, which is the largest yet. She has witnessed the growth and the consistent dedication of CMC staff to their mission and vision of an inclusive community that serves those who need it most.

Michelle’s writing skills paired with her involvement with the Center and long-time understanding of CMC’s history, mission, and work in Eastern Iowa made her a natural fit to approach when staff were exploring a new volunteer need.

Through volunteering, Michelle enjoys meeting people who are like-minded and service-oriented, and it gives her a chance to focus on caring for others’ needs. In her new role, Michelle looks forward to getting to know more of CMC’s volunteer community. She says “taking on this new responsibility will certainly be a memorable highlight” of her service.

Volunteer Spotlight: Russell

For this month’s feature, we’d like to introduce Russell, who was the first new volunteer to join our purely-virtual tutoring program in the midst of COVID-19. Early on in the pandemic, Russell was looking for volunteer opportunities, so he decided to write a post on Facebook. “I like to give back to my community,” he says. From the post on Facebook, he received a comment from a staff member about the Catherine McAuley Center. Russell had heard of the organization from his wife and was familiar with the name. He was aware that it was a women’s center helping those who were homeless or needing shelter from domestic abuse, but he was not aware of the Center’s tutoring program. Now, Russell has been paying it forward since July by tutoring a client in English once a week.

Man and woman look at textbookRussell’s heart for serving his community stems back many years, to when he was on disability, and relied on help from community food banks to support his family.  He has volunteered with educational programs in the past, reading to first graders at Prairie.  With that experience, he enjoyed feeling like a grandfather figure to the children. He enjoys helping others learn, and tutoring through the Catherine McAuley Center has given him the chance to do just that.

Russell attends tutor meetings, which he says have been helpful, and there are also “office hours,” twice a week, where tutors meet to discuss different topics and create a supportive team. He says it has been helpful to hear from the staff as to what they expect from a tutor in the role, since he has never tutored before. Russell takes the responsibility seriously and wants to do his best. The tutoring program is a series of four books – his client is on book three. He has seen significant progress. Although the tutoring takes place through Zoom meetings right now, it still has been a positive experience, and a meaningful way to connect with the community.








Reflection – Communications and Outreach AmeriCorps VISTA Year 2

After spending the better part of a year writing about volunteers, coworkers, community members, and clients at the Catherine McAuley Center (CMC), it feels a little strange to sit down and write about myself. I applied for the Communications and Outreach VISTA position last November without much direction – I had a college degree, a tougher job market than I had hoped for, and the notion that I didn’t belong in corporate America. More specifically, I wanted to explore the communications field while working with an organization that was doing good in Eastern Iowa. By those standards, this VISTA position would give me exactly what I was looking for. Now that I’m less than two weeks away from completing my term, I can wholeheartedly confirm that it did. 

It has been a strange and challenging year. My plans – and I think I can safely speak for all my fellow CMC coworkers here as well – did not include an international pandemic and a derecho, not to mention the myriad of issues they brought with them (months of additional construction on our new Center, a lack of stable housing, and food insecurity throughout the community, just to name a few). Although at times I felt like I was trying to finish a bowl of soup with a fork, I’ve had unexpected crash courses in resilience, flexibility, and selflessness. I’ve seen these traits at work in the clients we serve at the Catherine McAuley Center, in my coworkers, and in the Cedar Rapids community. I sincerely hope that I carry these lessons with me into whatever I do next. 

Serving with the Catherine McAuley Center has offered me much more than the basic day-to-day communications tasks that I expected when I sent in my application – taking part in a long-awaited move, having a hand in the formation of an advocacy committee (sign up for our advocacy e-newsletter here!), coordinating a virtual celebration of World Refugee Day, weeks worth of all hands on deck recovery efforts, organizing voter transportation for the first time. These have all been valuable and often humbling experiences. I could tell after a tour of the building on my first day that I was going to be surrounded by a service-oriented team that was dedicated to making a difference in the lives of their clients. 

While the plans for this next year of my life are still up in the air, I’m deeply thankful to all the people that I’ve had the chance to work with here in Cedar Rapids. I look forward to spreading the word about the Catherine McAuley Center’s impact in Eastern Iowa, and I certainly hope to come back to see it again for myself when the time is right.

Although my term will end on December 7th, CMC will be welcoming a new Communications and Outreach VISTA in January to build on everything accomplished so far! Learn more and apply on our Careers page.

Garrett Frambach

A Statement on the Election from Education Services

Written by CMC Director of Education Services, Anne Dugger 

On Wednesday, November 5, the Education team hosted two tutor talks with the intention of focusing our work, no matter the results of this newest election. Our intent was to talk with our volunteer tutors about the work we will continue to do to help our students (and our tutors!) continue their learning. We were heartened to have tutors come to these talks and steer the conversation towards our ongoing commitment to the CMC mission and values. We certainly talked some politics, but with the understanding that we wanted to look forward as we navigate divisions within our own families and communities.

Despite our plans to dive into discussion on current events, the talk on Wednesday morning immediately began with a question about explaining present perfect tense! I was personally delighted to think about something that seems small but that created a space for all of us to think of our students and one of our favorite subjects – grammar! As we were talking, one of the participants expressed the idea that answering these questions about English grammar, cultural differences, and yes, the election, felt as important as our civic duty of voting. I realized we have all been focused for a very long time on this election and on making our voices heard, one side or the other. To have a chance to recognize the work we do each week with students as being just as important as the election renewed my own sense of focus and purpose to continue to help everyone in the CMC community reach towards progress and learning.

We have work to do. That work is important in the ways that voting is important – being a part of the community around us is a civic duty. It is a right we enjoy. It is a responsibility to our brothers and sisters around us. The work we do, as is stated in the CMC mission statement is “to offer hope and opportunity through educational and supportive services.” Every tutoring session, every hand reached out in service to others, every “small question” creates a mountain of moments that are significant. We can move forward, and we can progress if we continue to do our community-building work: not only voting, but answering grammar questions and connecting culturally. We don’t need an election to determine our focus or our commitment; we need each other – our staff, our students, our clients, our residents, and our volunteers. We create lasting changes as long as we continue our commitment to our community.

To help us continue our work, join our tutor orientations every first Thursday or Friday of the month. You can sign up at We look forward to meeting you!

Volunteer Spotlight: Don

This October we introduce you to Don Chizek, a volunteer for the past two years who has gotten more and more involved with the Catherine McAuley Center through our capital campaign and the move into our new building this past summer. Don, whose professional role is Vice President of Operations at Lil’ Drug Store Products, has also recently joined our board of directors!

“I have known about CMC for many years, but got more involved when Michele Brock (Place of Welcome Campaign steering committee member) called me and discussed the organization, its purpose and that CMC was looking to find a new home,” Don said, discussing his first involvement with the Center, “I signed on to be a volunteer for the capital campaign and the more I have learned about the organization, it is essential for our community.”

Don joined us at a pivotal time for CMC, as we were well into the process of relocating and expanding our services. 

“I have seen a lot of passion for the purpose of the organization and the focus on getting to the new location,” Don added, speaking to his impression of CMC over the past two years, “It has been fun to watch the passion that everyone has.”

Like many of our volunteers, Don has highlights from his volunteer experiences, but he is just as excited about his future with CMC as he is about past engagements. Working on the capital campaign has offered a unique perspective on the Center and its many partnerships and supporters in our Eastern Iowa community. 

“I am proud to be working on the capital campaign,” Don said,  “The many companies and individuals that I have had the chance to engage with and talk about CMC have been great. Everyone has really been passionate about ensuring that CMC’s future is bright. I am looking forward, as a new member of the board of directors, to assist in building the future of the organization.”