Volunteer Spotlight: Louren

Meet Louren, who served as a RefugeeRISE member this past summer with the LIFE (Learning is for Everyone) Program. Read on to learn more about academic support programming CMC is providing for refugee youth, and how you can get involved!

How did you learn about the Catherine McAuley Center ?

While in college at the University of Northern Iowa, I was introduced to the AmeriCorps RefugeeRise program through EMBARC Waterloo. My perspective on the world and education was transformed through my experiences there. When I moved to Cedar Rapids, a friend of mine was interning at CMC. He invited me to collaborate with the Catherine McAuley Center to create a summer learning curriculum for the inaugural summer of the LIFE program. Even through Zoom, I was drawn to the strength and passion of the people who make up CMC. I was excited and honored to be on that team this past summer.

What is your role, and what do you do?

Over the summer, I served as an AmeriCorps RefugeeRISE member with the LIFE Program at the Catherine McAuley Center. I collaborated with a team of AmeriCorps members and CMC staff to plan, prepare, and lead a summer learning program for high school students in the refugee and immigrant community.

What did a typical day in your role look like?

For me, a typical day in the LIFE program included arriving at the center, greeting students trickling in for the day’s programming, putting together breakfast, and playing Uno as more students arrived. No matter what other games were introduced, the students wanted to play Uno … and only Uno! I had time to connect with my team and review plans for the day, pack our CMC vans, and depart for programming.

Some days this programming took place at Bever Park, where I led conversational games with the students and facilitated literacy rotations. At the park, we would engage in a movement activity where I was the reason for a great number of losses suffered by my teams. We wrote and shared writing, ate some good snacks, and often, would take a field trip to offer the students the opportunity to explore their community. We took students bowling, we were able to volunteer, and create art.

Other days, our students separated into small groups around Cedar Rapids. Partnering with community organizations, we were able to offer students courses in a variety of areas including soccer, photography, cooking, and personal fitness. These enrichments became tools students used to connect with their peers, using language in a meaningful way to drive learning tailored to their passions.

What have you gained so far from this experience?

My time with the Catherine McAuley Center has made me better. I am slower to judge, more aware of those around me, and more at peace because of my time at CMC. I have been inspired by the commitment of the staff at CMC and my heart has been changed by the students I have met there.

What are you planning to do after you finish your AmeriCorps service?

Since my term of service has ended, I have continued on in education at LaSalle Catholic Middle School where I teach middle school religion and lead campus ministry. I am excited to reconnect with the LIFE after school program this fall!

What are your long-term goals?

I have so many dreams for the future, but I am learning more and more that I simply desire to be who God has created me to be, loving the person He has placed in front of me.

Would you like to help refugee and immigrant youth navigate their education and learn more about their community?  We are currently seeking volunteers to assist with various roles related to the LIFE Program:

ESL Tutor on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4-6pm (open to high schooler or adults)

Mentors on Wednesdays from 4-6pm (adults only)

Chaperones on Fridays from 1:30-5pm or Saturdays 9am-12:30pm (high need for Friday availability)

Please email volunteer@cmc-cr.org to learn more.

Volunteer Spotlight: Paula and Elena

For Paula and Elena, volunteering at CMC is something they enjoy doing together.  The mother and daughter team have been helping out in the food pantry for about 6 months.

Prior to that, Paula had been a volunteer in the early 2000’s, for about a year.  When her and her husband moved to West Liberty, she stopped volunteering.  Needless to say, a lot has changed since then!  “CMC has always been a great place of support for many in our community who are trying to improve themselves, make a good life, and find support with each other. Coming back many years later, this has not changed and only been enhanced! The biggest most recent change is, of course, to the new building. When my daughter and I started coming to help with the food pantry last fall things were in transition! It is so wonderful to see everything start to take shape.  All of the cooler and freezer space available for the pantry is very helpful! Families are able to access more fresh, nutritious foods they can enjoy,” says Paula.

In the interim years between volunteering, Paula and her family moved to Guatemala – and she experienced the other side of the coin – from what refugees experience here.  “Some of my time in Guatemala was spent with people who had been refugees or internally displaced due to the 36-year civil war in that country. I want my community to be a welcoming place and to give support to those who need it, especially when people have lived through trauma and violence whether that has happened right here in Iowa or anywhere else. As a foreigner and immigrant in these countries I was welcomed by most people in most places I traveled or lived. If I stumbled with a terrible accent in Spanish or when I said or did things in a strange way because I came from another culture and way of life, people were patient and kind with me; they were forgiving and helped me learn. I hope that through CMC, I can help create a place in the community where people are given the opportunity to learn and grow and experience kindness and patience,” says Paula.  Elena says she enjoyed bringing food to the people in need.

For both mother and daughter, the highlight to volunteering was seeing the smiles of delight on children’s and parent’s faces when they delivered food boxes.  Paula sums it up when she says she “wanted to help reduce food insecurity in the community.”  Paula and Elena have enjoyed the opportunity to help CMC further its outreach in the community.