Q & A with Sarah Blakeney

We’re excited to welcome Sarah Blakeney, as the Employment Services Coordinator to the Catherine McAuley Center team! Get to know Sarah and the employment services CMC has to
offer!

Q: Sarah, tell us a bit about your background.

A: I am originally from Virginia and moved to Cedar Rapids right after Thanksgiving of last year (2018). Before that, I served in the Peace Corps in Morocco for two years. While there I was also working on my Master’s in Public Anthropology, conducting research on experiences accessing healthcare in several small towns and villages in the southeastern part of the country. My service also included doing pretty much whatever my community needed help with, including English clubs and classes and job readiness.

Q: What was it that drew you to this position at CMC? Why help with employment?

A: I was drawn to CMC because I knew I wanted to work with a non-profit. I had taken a class about the refugee experience and conducted a needs-based analysis with Nepali Bhutanese refugees during undergrad, so being able to serve that population was a big draw. I believe employment is such an important part of becoming self-sufficient and can give people a sense of freedom as well as inclusion into a new society and culture.

Q: How do you go about supporting refugees and immigrants in their employment goals?

A: My job involves everything from meeting with employers to teaching clients what the
American workforce looks like. I meet one-on-one with clients to talk about what their
employment goals are, create an email address and resume, and identify job opportunities that fit their needs. I also work with clients enrolled in the Matching Grant program, which serves refugees who have arrived within the past 30 days with extra employment support in order for them to reach self-sufficiency by 120-180 days after their arrival. Additionally, I hold Job Club every Friday, which is a 5-week program that discusses many different aspects of the American workforce. I meet with employers’ HR or recruiting teams to get a better understanding of their hiring needs and ways we can support them and overcome any barriers that might prevent our clients from being able to successfully work there.

Q: What are some highlights from your interactions with employers so far? What other types of employers would you like to work with?

A: So far, I have really enjoyed working with Kirkwood Community College, The Hotel at
Kirkwood, and Raining Rose. These and other employers have been very open and welcoming to our clients and motivated to find ways to break down employment barriers. I am open to developing and strengthening relationships with area employers but finding organizations in Iowa City and Waterloo in order to better serve the clients we resettle there is at the top of my list.

Q: What benefits do refugees and immigrants bring to the table as employees?

A: Refugees and immigrants are resilient and motivated to provide for their families. If they were living in refugee camps, they might not have had the opportunity to work and support themselves and overall, they just want to become self-reliant. Most of our clients also speak multiple languages and are able to find ways to communicate and problem solve cross-culturally. They have had to adapt to a whole new culture and that experience can help them be successful in any work environment.

 

From the Director’s Desk: Letter to the Editor of the Corridor Business Journal

As the only refugee resettlement agency in the Corridor, the Catherine McAuley Center (CMC) values the partnerships with the Gateways for Growth initiative with the City of Cedar Rapids, and the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance. Working with hundreds of refugees and immigrants each year, CMC understands the unique barriers confronting these newcomers as they seek opportunities to contribute and connect to their new community and achieve self-sufficiency, the ultimate goal of the U.S. refugee resettlement program.

While immediately eligible to work, our highly motivated refugee newcomers often experience cultural and language barriers that can be overcome through education and skill-building. For instance, CMC’s Job Club helps refugees and immigrants understand how to be successfully employed in the U.S. by explaining things like the importance of being on time, a concept that is not a part of some African cultures. Similarly, understanding paychecks, benefits and taxes is a foreign concept to many.

But client education is just one piece of the puzzle. By working directly with local employers, we are able to address the unique barriers to accessing employment at companies who are in need of a committed and capable workforce. CMC offers tangible and concrete suggestions and information. When local businesses hire someone, they are hiring a person, not a demographic. We invite local employers to reach out to us to help facilitate that understanding with their diverse workforce!

From helping women become registered in-home child-care businesses, to breaking down language and cultural barriers, to partnering with local employers, CMC can only bolster the efforts of initiatives put forth by the City of Cedar Rapids, Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance and other groups in our community. We see both challenges and successes of our clients, we watch them grow, and understand their needs on a personal level, and continue to identify ways to address them. CMC offers a place of welcome and appreciates the many individuals and organizations who recognize the great value and benefit of a diverse and inclusive community.

Sincerely,
Paula Land
Executive Director
Catherine McAuley Center

You can read the published Letter to the Editor in the August 19-25, 2019 edition of the Corridor Business Journal.

Muriyo Talks about Somalia

We’re glad you’re a student at CMC, Muriyo! Thanks for telling us about your native country.

Question: What is your favorite food from your country?

Answer: We eat a lot of rice, pasta, meat, and milk. I think we have more animals than other African countries. Somalia has a long Ocean border, so there is a lot of fish, but most of us prefer other meat. We also have anjero. It is kind of like a spongy pancake, we eat it with meat or sweet with sugar or honey.

Question: Tell me about a tradition or holiday in Somalia.

Answer: We are 100% Muslim, so we celebrate all of the Muslim holidays. We also celebrate Independence Day. It is July 1st. There are many big celebrations in the Somali communities here in the U.S., too, with dancing and parties.

Question: What do you want other people to know about your country?

Answer: The Somali people are very friendly. There was a long civil war, so we need to be compassionate and helpful to each other. Also, there are many Somali people all over the world! China, Australia, London, and many other places have big Somali communities.

 

Volunteer Appreciation: Deb and Stacey

The two individuals we’re introducing today use the skills and passions they’ve developed throughout their lives in behind-the-scenes roles at CMC to contribute to a more inclusive community. Meet Deb and Stacey Frank!

Their relationship with CMC started around five years ago, but their relationship with each other was founded upon a propensity to help others for much longer; Deb and Stacey met while volunteering at the Relay for Life event in 1998! Deb was serving as the head of the food committee and Stacey, who had been volunteering to provide education to children with cancer, was helping out wherever he could at that year’s event. After meeting and dating for two years, the two married and would continue their lives of kindness and generosity together.

Though both had full-time jobs, Stacey as a machinist and Deb as a judicial assistant, they continued to volunteer when they could find the time. It wasn’t until around five years ago that Deb began volunteering at CMC, knowing she “wanted to reach out and do something more.” Since then she has worked the front desk (while it was still there), performed data entry and monitored data integrity, transcribed videos, and performed numerous other tasks each week.

Stacey began volunteering when CMC was in desperate need of someone to maintain the grounds. When asked to help by former Volunteer Coordinator, Kristin, Stacey gladly took up the offer and has helped keep our building and grounds as welcoming as the people inside ever since.

Now that both have retired, Deb and Stacey spend their time fishing, reading, and visiting their eleven grandchildren across the country when they’re not volunteering. Luckily for us, both are regulars at the Center. Deb shared, “I just really like the variety and the flexibility and people are so nice and so appreciative. It keeps me coming back and it’s a great organization.” Stacey stated it’s “the appreciation that’s shown and the friendliness of the people.”

Deb and Stacey have had no small part in the growth of CMC over the past few years. We sincerely thank both of them for the compassion they show to CMC, the time they devote to their fellow community members, and the kindness they display on a daily basis. Both are familiar faces, so if you see them around the Center, don’t hesitate to say hi!

Volunteer Appreciation: Jane & Theo

So much of CMC’s mission to offer hope and opportunity depends on dedicated and kind volunteers who lend their skills in areas ranging from administration to grounds-keeping. Without such dedicated and kind volunteers we wouldn’t be able to serve the community in such a profound way. So, over the coming months we will be sharing stories of various volunteers as just one way to show our appreciation. Join us as we get to know some of the hundreds of people who dedicate their time to CMC.

Jane Carlson has tutored at CMC for eight years. In that time, she’s gained more than just the satisfaction that comes with volunteering: Jane has made new friends, kept up with long-time friends, and ushered an individual through some of the most significant points in his life, all while developing some new perspectives of the world around her.

Jane has been a resident of Iowa for 39 years and spent 28 of those years managing the accounting department at DC Taylor Co. in Cedar Rapids before retiring in 2009. With her new-found spare time, Jane began volunteering. Following another volunteer experience that proved more stressful than fulfilling, she was in the market for a new opportunity. She came to CMC in 2011 after reading about the Adult Basic Education Program in the newspaper.

Throughout her time here, Jane has worked with a multitude of adult learners in English and helped one particular student prepare for the U.S. Citizenship Exam. Jane first met Theo when she stepped in as a substitute for Theo’s usual volunteer English tutor. But by what seems now to be serendipity, the two were later matched for weekly lessons, where Theo gained confidence in his English skills. According to Jane, “his English got so good that other things became higher priorities for him.” After spending some time placing more focus on his love of farming, he later contacted Jane in 2017 to request tutoring in U.S. Citizenship Exam preparation. After working diligently for some time, practicing the 100 questions with Jane and watching films on U.S. history that she recommended, Theo passed his citizenship exam and invited Jane to attend his naturalization ceremony.

The tutoring experience is certainly rewarding, if for no other reason than to watch someone grow as they work towards their goals. But as Jane found out, the satisfaction doesn’t have to be limited one reason. Jane has been able to make friends with other volunteers and maintain friendships from her own community of Mt. Vernon with people who also volunteer at CMC.

The most important lessons, though, challenged her perspective. Jane says she kept “remembering how this is all new to the person, that they come here, and they might know about freedom or religious freedom, but they don’t really know the background and how we have to explain that.” Moments like these and the connections she’s been able to make are the reason why tutoring “is the highlight of [her] week.” Tutoring is challenge and as an accountant it requires, “using a whole other part of [her] brain.” There’s always something to learn here at CMC whether you’re a volunteer, staff or client. The amount of people and cultures that leave their mark is immense. Jane’s never stopped taking in all CMC has to offer plus “… to see all the people learning English from different countries interacting with each other [is] really great.”

Thank you, Jane for the part you play in our community of learners!

New: Refugee Child Care Program!

Twenty-three percent of all residents in Iowa live in a “child care desert” where there are three times as many children as there are open child care spots according to the Center for American Progress. This lack of child care can result in financial and personal instability as family members forgo employment to take care of their children or send their children to unlicensed child care facilities.

This has a particularly heavy impact on refugee and immigrant communities. Many child care facilities lack the appropriate cultural or linguistic training to provide comfort and understanding to parents of different backgrounds. making child care options for these families even fewer. CMC remains committed to ensuring we create an inclusive community where everyone has an equal opportunity to become independent and self-sufficient and is proud to be launching a new initiative to address the lack of child care and provide career opportunities for refugees, in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.

CMC is working with local partners like Iowa Child Care Resource and Referral, HACAP’s PACES to Quality Program, and 4Cs to guide refugees and immigrants through the training and DHS approval process and establish their own in-home child care businesses. This program is modeled after a similar program organized by Lutheran Services of Iowa in Des Moines that has had great success.

Hannah Miles, Refugee Child Care Program Coordinator

Hannah Miles, Refugee Child Care Program Coordinator, was hired to direct the program thanks to a federal grant from the Office of Refugee Resettlement. CMC is one of eight organizations in the nation that was selected for this funding. As the coordinating agency, CMC strives to not only increase the amount of culturally and linguistically appropriate child care, but also to help participants become more financially stable and self-sufficient by providing potential career opportunities and more accessible child care.

 

ITC Midwest Gifts Grant to Adult Basic Education

CMC believes that independence is achieved through education. Learning allows our students to rely less on others and to discover how to impact the world around them. Through this independence an array of opportunities open up, allowing us to better serve those close to us and our community. This is the independence CMC hopes to give everyone in our community. By not only giving people the tools they need, but teaching how to use them, CMC provides a path to a sustainable future characterized by hope and fulfillment.

Right now there are over 300 volunteer tutors teaching over 450 students these valuable skills. While CMC remains astonished by this continual outpour of community support, none of this would be possible without the work and support of donors and grantees.

Being the largest and longest running program at CMC, Adult Basic Education requires a lot of effort and resources to continue its exceptional service to the community. Because of this, CMC is happy to announce that Adult Basic Education has been gifted a $10,000 grant by ITC Midwest through their Charitable Giving Program! This grant will be used to support the Catherine McAuley Center’s Adult Basic Education Program expenses, including educational materials, program coordination, and volunteer tutor training. It will also provide support for the more than 300 annual volunteers who provide one-on-one instruction to more than 450 students as they work toward their educational goals.

“ITC is pleased to provide this funding to the Catherine McAuley Center and its adult educational programs,” said ITC Midwest Local Government and Community Affairs Regional Manager, Troy Weary. “The greater Cedar Rapids community has been highly supportive of ITC’s efforts to improve the regional electric transmission system. We’re pleased to give back to the community and support educational programming at the Catherine McAuley Center.”

Through the ITC Charitable Giving Program, ITC Midwest makes contributions to local nonprofits as part of the company’s commitment to the many communities it serves. ITC supports qualified nonprofit organizations whose programs and projects emphasize the company’s focus on education, environmental stewardship, social services, and health and wellness.

CMC’s Executive Director, Paula Land, stated, “We are thrilled to have the support from ITC so that hundreds of people in our community can use their new and improved communication skills to make stronger connections and live more purposeful lives.” It is truly an honor to be given an opportunity to help maintain and improve the quality of services offered by Adult Basic Education. To have community partners who understand the significance of education in a person’s life is a blessing and we’re thankful for ITC Midwest’s support for the Catherine McAuley Center and their support for education.

From the Director’s Desk: 12-Step Programs

Did you read my recent letter highlighting a few students, residents and clients of the Catherine McAuley Center (CMC)? If so, you’ve read about Anna, a resident who demonstrated leadership by initiating an official AA group at CMC with the help of recovery community representatives so others in the Transitional Housing Program and throughout the community could access the benefits of a 12-Step program. 

Thanks to those of you who commented on Anna’s and others’ accomplishments through programming at CMC. It’s great to know that they have the support of this generous community.

Through this communication, we learned much more about how 12-Step groups operate and the importance of anonymity and the twelve traditions. To be clear: While this 12-Step recovery meeting is held at CMC, it is not affiliated with the Center, nor do we want to infer that your donation will financially support this meeting. Why are these important distinctions? We want to honor the long-standing steps and traditions that have been a cornerstone of this valuable program.

  • Tradition Six: An AA group ought never endorse, finance or lend the AA name to any facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary purpose (Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions, p. 155).
  • Tradition Seven: Every AA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions (Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions, p. 160). 

As we do not wish to jeopardize the AA tradition of anonymity by using the name of the specific group in press, radio, and other media, we will, in the future, always use the general term, “12-Step meeting.”  We are grateful for the opportunity to clarify this matter and to share with you our new awareness of these important tenants of this valuable program.

The Gazette Gives Back… New Tutors!

The volunteers at Catherine McAuley Center play a huge role in carrying out our mission with the community. We are forever thankful for the opportunities they grant to clients and for the hard work they put in daily. 

We recently spoke to new volunteer tutor, Janet O., who started volunteering after seeing an ad about volunteering at CMC in the Cedar Rapids Gazette. We spoke to Janet about her time so far at the Catherine McAuley Center.

Question: So, how did your session go today?

Answer: It went very well. [My student] was very appreciative, he catches on fast!

Question: Did you know about Catherine McAuley Center, the education program or volunteering opportunities that we offer before you saw the ad in the Gazette?

Answer: I had heard about the Center for several years and I knew they offered these programs.

Question: What was it that actually drove you to volunteer here then?

Answer: This is my second year in retirement and it’s winter, so I thought ‘It’s time I started volunteering.’ I’d always been interested in immigrants and international students, that sort of thing.

Question: What was it about the education aspect specifically that drew you to volunteering?

Answer: I am a retired teacher, so I thought I would enjoy it. Then I saw the ad in the newspaper and I thought the time was just right so it all came together!

Question: So far, what you say have been the most rewarding aspects of tutoring?

Answer: What I like is that [the students] are very motivated. I know the difficulties of the person I’m tutoring. This is his fourth or fifth language that he’s having to learn so he’s very motivated, he’s working hard and this is on top of the normal things that all of us have to do like work and take care of family! I empathize and I’m impressed by all of that.

Question: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Answer: Of course I am still pretty new at this, but I’m excited about it and as time allows and as I get more used to the program, I hope to volunteer more. To encourage other people– I think as the person tutoring you get so much out of it and it’s a good thing to do.

Like Janet, you can sign up for a new tutor orientation, which is offered twice monthly! Don’t forget to vote for the Catherine McAuley Center in the Gazette Gives Back by December 31!

The Violence Against Women Act

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was signed into law in 1994 in the wake of the Anita Hill hearing and with bi-partisan support. Since that point VAWA has existed as a living, breathing document, constantly changing and moving forward to address the issues of each generation. As of now VAWA continues to help communities provide invaluable services for women who survived and continue to experience violence as well as provide avenues for justice for them.

VAWA is up for re-authorization every five years, at which time lawmakers convene not only to re-approve the law but to amend it so it may properly serve those it was created to protect. In 2005 and 2013 VAWA was altered to include special protections for immigrant and indigenous women, respectively, while retaining the protections already included before 2005. VAWA, the funding it provides, and the legal provisions it supports is set to expire December 21, 2018. Considering recent developments like the Bret Kavanaugh hearing and the assault and murder of women in Iowa, policies like this remain indispensable in creating safe and welcoming communities here and across the country.

According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) VAWA provides funding for six important programs which include transitional housing, criminal justice improvements and training , and grants that sustain programs which provide domestic violence hotlines, counseling, and shelters for women experiencing sexual and domestic violence. Without re-authorization, regular funding for these valuable programs would no longer exist, impacting their sustainability. These programs and services could end slowly as they run out of money. In a time when more and more women are coming forward, telling their stories and seeking help, a situation like this would lead to the alienation of more and more women as the protections they were previously eligible for begin to break down.

The issue of violence against women, in all of its forms and incarnations is not a political one. These issues find their foundation in basic humanity, in the security of freedom, safety and justice. A place where women live in fear for their lives and their safety is not a free place. A place where women fear speaking out regarding the harm done to them because of the potential for retaliation or because they know justice will elude them is not a just place or a safe place. To live in a place where accountability, the health and safety of all people, and general decency are not valued is not something any of us desire.

If VAWA isn’t reauthorized, we face the prospect of, at best, remaining with the 2013 version for another five years or at worst, losing funding for these services. Standing still while everything else moves forward is surely a movement in the wrong direction.