Beyond Housing – The Full Spectrum of Women’s Services Programs: Wynona’s Recovery

Life took a dark turn for Wynona when her two children grew up and moved out a few years back. To fill the void and escape unaddressed trauma from her past, Wynona ended up becoming dependent on drugs, grew apart from her boys, and lost both her job and her home. That’s what brought her to the Catherine McAuley Center in early 2022. 

“Before I got here, there was still a lot of helplessness and hopelessness,” she remembers. “Quite a bit of despair.” But Wynona saw where the sorrow was leading and took the initiative to change course. She reached out to the Catherine McAuley Center herself, and though there wasn’t an immediate opening available, she persisted in calling for weeks on end till there was.

Now, thanks to hard work, self-discipline, and assistance from both staff and other CMC Women’s Services residents, Wynona feels happier, healthier, and more energetic than she has in years.

“I came to CMC to try to establish independence again,” says Wynona. “Today I’m 16-months in recovery time.” Wynona now works two jobs and, in her free time, volunteers at both the Catherine McAuley Center and at CRUSH of Iowa community recovery center.

We asked her what she wishes more women in crisis knew about CMC. “They don’t visualize it out there as what it really is here. It’s visualized quite a bit as just a shelter here. And that is not at all what it is,” she explains. “They offered classes for me to help with mindfulness. Encouraged my recovery. Made sure I met my needs with my doctor—my mental health, my physical health. And then gave me some leeway to get myself on a financial plan.” 

“That’s really what brought me here more than anything,” she continues, “To help me get my life back together. Or get it in a different space than what it was. I had a plan. But I kept kind of running from the plan because I didn’t have the proper stability, the proper resources, the proper support that I really needed. So, coming here really helped with that. They’re there to help you if you need extra assistance. They’re there if things happen and there’s emergencies … But the compassion that comes from staff understanding—they care about us, too. We care about them. Like it’s a very mutual, family-like setting.”

Post Author: Shawn Hammond

Women find a safe, comforting place to call home at the Center

While ideas of the comforts of home can change from person to person and culture to culture, most want to feel the same feelings when going home. In the words of feminist and author, Maya Angelou, “Home is a refuge not only from the world but a refuge from my worries, my troubles, my concerns.”

Through the support of community members, volunteers, and partners, such a welcoming place has been made more possible for women like Desiree, a client of the Catherine McAuley Center’s Supportive and Transitional Housing programs.

“Your safety, your security—it’s everything! The world is unsafe, and it should be safe at home,” Desiree explains.

The Catherine McAuley Center has a history of supporting those who face significant barriers to maintaining safe and stable housing through its Women’s Services programs.

Supportive Housing, added to CMC’s programming in February of 2020 (and expanded by an additional housing unit in 2021), offers women who have passed through the Transitional Housing Program a next step in a home environment. One with more independence that still grants access to the CMC supports residents have been able to lean on in the past. Most importantly, the program is lease-based, allowing women to build positive rental history before pursuing public housing.

Like many trauma survivors, home has not always been a safe place for Desiree. Someone who values family and connection, Desiree lives with other survivors who have also struggled with substance abuse, codependent relationships, and long-standing trauma. Residents at CMC maintain a communal home with others and continue strengthening group and individual decision-making skills. “Making my home at CMC has been interesting. I’ve been mindful and respectful of other residents’ routines, and we do very well with respecting each other. I love the staff, and their willingness to be human and share their struggles. It makes me feel closer to them,” Desiree explained.

When describing her home at CMC, Desiree says, “I’m a girly girl at home! I love my house to smell good. I have my area rugs, my photos of family to look at on my walls, and I love my Christmas lights and my home to look festive around the holidays.”

Community supporters help residents feel comfort at home 
Thanks to a recent upgrade to CMC’s housing spaces, women who find safety and support through Women’s Services can feel even more at home with items that bring comfort and hope. To spruce up the resident bedrooms and shared living spaces in the Center’s housing programs, Central Furniture Rescue and volunteers from Xavier High School moved in a variety of upgraded furnishings and decor – along with brand new mattresses and bedding generously donated by the Lions Club!

What inspired these efforts?
Executive Director of Central Furniture Rescue (CFR), Susan Johnston, says, “We live in an amazing community. Everyone wants to help, they just don’t know how. CFR becomes a conduit between people, their items and people who have a need. When touring the [transitional housing program for women] at Catherine McAuley, we saw a need to help warm up the rooms with headboards, rugs, pillows, wall art, and other items.”

When a new resident arrives, her bedroom is furnished with necessities like a bed, table and chairs, and a desk, along with bedding and a welcome basket stocked with personal care products. With a group of volunteers helping to move in furnishings, it was also a good time to replace mattresses and stock up on new bedding, and the Lions Club helped make it happen with a donation of $1,000! “The Cedar Rapids Lions are pleased to support the work of the Catherine MacCauley Center. We share a common goal in supporting the welfare of individuals in need,” said Mary Doyle.

Women are able to decorate their bedrooms to their own preference and comfort, and now, CMC can offer more of the elements that help make a space feel extra cozy! “We want help to make the room ‘home’ for the person staying there. We believe that having a safe comfortable home helps with mental and emotional health,” Susan explains.

Desiree is nearly 2 years into recovery and finds the structures provided at CMC to be a needed balance to her new life. “I came here 6 months sober, but I wanted to do baby steps. I had to have more freedom, but needed structure.” Committed to her sobriety, she finds the curfew, the checking in, and the supportive safety to be key elements in maintaining her health and her journey towards financial independence.

Through Supportive housing, residents gain an understanding of their rights and responsibilities as renters through monthly rental payments they are required to pay while rebuilding (or building) their credit history. “I’m focusing on my financial wellness; I’ve been able to save money and work on myself,” she says. “This place gave me the freedom to live my life sober.”

At the Catherine McAuley Center, women find more than just housing, they find a safe place to call ‘home’ and the support of a community that inspires hope.

Staff Picks: Learn more about refugees

Would you like to learn more about what refugees experience?  Are you looking for materials to help others understand why millions around the globe have been forced to flee their homes?  Please check out this list of educational and informational resources compiled from CMC staff.



First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung

God Sleeps in Rwanda: A Journey of Transformation by Joseph Sebarenzi with Laura Ann Mullane

*Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

*Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata

Learning America: One Woman’s Fight for Educational Justice for Refugee Children by Luma Mufleh

The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story by Hyeonseo Lee

The Middle of Everywhere: Helping Refugees Enter the American Community by Mary Pipher & Susan Cohen

They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan by Benson Deng, Alephonsion Deng, and Benjamin Ajak with Judy A. Bernstein

*Young adult novels



First They Killed My Father (2017)  (Available to stream on Netflix)

Flee (2021) (Available to stream on Hulu)


Short videos:

Who is a Refugee?

A Refugee’s Journey

Temple by Thao and the Get Down Stay Down (music video)
You can also watch an interview with the artist about this song here.

Don’t feel sorry for refugees — believe in them, Luma Mufleh

What it’s like to be a parent in a war zone, Aala El-Khani

World Refugee Day Virtual Panel: New Beginnings


Other Resources:

Finding Home (app for iPhones) This app turns your phone into a refugee’s phone, simulating the experience of a refugee as they flee from their home.

“The ungrateful refugee: We have no debt to repay” by Dina Nayeri

Announcement: Completion of A Place of Welcome Capital Campaign

Dear Friends of Catherine McAuley Center,

Through the challenges and changes of the past several years, community members like you have given us reasons to celebrate time and time again:

  • For years, volunteer tutors squeezed into a room filled with as many study spaces as possible to teach and encourage adult learners.
  • Caring neighbors brought welcome signs and balloons to greet refugee newcomers at the airport, and offered support as job coaches as the Center expanded refugee resettlement and support services.
  • Catherine McAuley Center supporters helped us pack up more than two decades of history from our former building and move into our new space! 
  • Local citizens got to work to launch a temporary shelter for refugees displaced from their apartments after the derecho, and ensured everyone was relocated to permanent housing within 60 days, while pitching in to mitigate damages to the new facility we’d moved into just one month before.
  • Volunteers of all kinds shifted to teaching online, while others stepped in to provide lunch to young English learners who navigated online learning in the one undamaged wing of the Catherine McAuley Center’s new facility.
  • Staff and community collaborators worked to expand services for more than 100 unhoused individuals right here in Cedar Rapids as homelessness counts reached record highs in summer 2021.
  • With open arms, our community welcomed 249 Afghans who quickly fled their home country for safety in the matter of just five months, making for more refugee arrivals in a single period of time than CMC had ever seen!

Behind all of this, an incredible team of fundraising volunteers, steering committee members, and staff pressed on with A Place of Welcome: The Campaign to Expand the Catherine McAuley Center to ensure the Center’s location would not just meet the current needs, but would be a place where our neighbors could find hope and opportunity for years to come.

Admittedly, the Place of Welcome campaign was paused a few times to focus staff efforts on critical services for our clients in the face of the global and local crises mentioned above. But today, we are pleased to announce that we have raised $5 million and are celebrating the completion of the campaign! 

Thank you to every volunteer and contributor who helped create our new Place of Welcome. Your support has already provided countless opportunities for the Center to meet the needs of our time in ways that there was simply no space for prior to July 2020. Just watch Jacques’ story for one example of the hope people find through the educational & supportive services at the Catherine McAuley Center!


Kelsey Steines
Director of Development & Communications


National Internship Day!

It’s National Internship Day! Meet Anna Butz–a bilingual, a parent, an Iowan, an educator, and once again, a student!  Her robust love of learning and discovery led to her obtaining her Master’s in Education, but she’s not stopping there. Anna shared her talents as a Women’s Services Intern at Catherine McAuley Center in conjunction with her pursuit of a degree in Human services. Read on to learn more about Anna’s experiences and accomplishments!

Where are you from, and what is your background? 

My name is Anna, I’m 30 years old, and a single mom. I went to high school in Mt. Vernon, and went on to gain my Master’s in Education in 2018 from DePauw University. As part of my education I spent 6 months in Colombia, and have worked in higher education at Cornell College since graduating. 

In January I began taking coursework pursuing a Human services degree. 

What was your first experience with volunteering your time to an organization or a cause you cared about?

I grew up in an agricultural  background, did 4H, and when I was in highschool I volunteered at the Democratic caucus. When I was in college I volunteered as an English Tutor at the Center, did an internship with Justice for Our Neighbors. 

What drew you to become an intern at CMC? 

Field experiences are a required part of my Human Services coursework over a summer, and this was a way to make that happen. My family is from Cedar Rapids and had connections to the Center, so we reached out to Paula and Katie via email wanting to do field placement, and I was directed to Women’s Services.

 I just loved it! I really enjoy working with women and adults. I’ve taught kids, teens, adults, so I’ve had a lot of experience, but I found that I love working with women and adults the most. I’m interested in getting my certified drug and alcohol counseling certificate. 

What is your favorite thing about serving and working with the community that you do? 

I just loved it, I loved the people I worked with, and I am figuring this out at 30. I really enjoy the women being honest, and I really like that. I like being real with them. I’ve experienced a little bit of, and I have an ability to relate to them at some levels. I really enjoy talking about substance abuse, and started a support group for friends of family of people facing substance abuse challenges.  

I think that I hadn’t had a lot of experience working with homelessness, and that was really great to have experience with that. I like being able to sit down and talk about things with the women. I was able to practice a trauma informed approach, even if I had only taken one semester of coursework. I was able to apply what I had learned, and I loved that my internship was so hands-on. The WS team had me talking to the women who lived there, I did room checks, stuff that probably 10 years ago would have intimidated me, so I just loved it! I spent time doing what needed to be done, and I learned a ton.

What were some of your highs and lows during your internship? 

People stepping into leadership roles and getting the chance to watch team members practice case management as fantastic social workers. I got to observe them talking with clients and building relationships, learn more about how the Center does things and the role that it has in the community. I just learned so much. 

Working in the Transitional Housing program, and getting that unique experience and social work setting. In individual case management, you are also trying to make sure people get along and it really allows you to have a deeper relationship with them. 

Those sorts of groups where we can talk about our lived experiences, and hey, we’re all different, but we’ve been through this. So finding those commonalities and lived experiences, the challenges of homelessness, all of that is helpful and making for a cohesive group. 

It’s great that the WS team has found ways that the women can connect over a focus of healing, healthy relationships, resume building, etc. 

A few times clients had to leave the program, and that was so difficult. We formed relationships and it can be hard when someone has to go. It was so good to be around during those times of transition, and learn more how to manage a work-life balance. We can’t take it all on.

All of these things were a very useful and usable experience. 

What is your hope for the long term impact of your role and work?

 I would love to work at CMC when I am able to, I really enjoyed it. I worked 10-20 hours a week, in addition to my regular job and being a single parent. Going there did not feel like going to work. I would look forward to it just because I wanted to be there. 

I would like to do more drug and alcohol counseling, and I did some of that. This internship will prepare me to do that work in the future, and learn the challenges, the strengths, the resources available.The Women’s Services team works so hard, deal with a lot, they are on-call outside of work hours, and they deserve to be recognized from their work. By being women-centered and available to the residents during the day, the Center provides something that isn’t available everywhere, and staff are constantly educating themselves to better their services. I think that work that Women’s Services is doing is so important.

Afghan Resettlement – Ways to Help & Other Resources

The Catherine McAuley Center has welcomed 250 Afghans to Eastern Iowa over the last year. As these newcomers make their homes in Cedar Rapids, we will share updates and opportunities to support resettlement efforts here: 

Ways To Support Resettlement

  • Offer Information on Housing Resources – One of the greatest current needs is for permanent housing. We welcome landlords or others with connections to housing, to share those opportunities with staff. Please contact us at 319-363-4993 or email
  • Donate – One of the best ways to help is by donating unrestricted funding. As we seek new support through case management, and as various needs come up during the resettlement process, unrestricted funding allows CMC to best meet the needs of the communities we serve.
  • Supply items from our wish list to stock our food pantry or setup welcoming homes for new arrivals.
  • Contact Congress – Join CMC in calling on representatives to pass an Afghan Adjustment Act to provide at-risk Afghans a permanent legal pathway to safety. Follow these quick steps to tell your Congress Representatives: Afghans deserve safety that lasts.

Additional Information & Resources:

Mental Health First Aid

Have you or someone you cared about ever experienced a panic attack, and you didn’t know what to do? Most people will experience a time in their lives where life has become overwhelming, and the body and mind begin to respond in ways that can be confusing for both the individual experiencing the symptoms, but also for those of us who care about the individual who is struggling. 

Many have gone through CPR training or first aid training to help someone in physical danger or injury, but what should we do when someone is having a mental health crisis? What signs and symptoms should you look for? 

To further develop their expertise in supporting individuals with mental health and substance abuse concerns, Women’s Services Case Managers at CMC, Bella Burns and Lucia McNeal, completed the Mental Health First Aid training at the Abbe Mental Health Center

Through this training, Bella and Lucia learned tips on what to do when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis, and also gained tips on what not to do. Below, they share some of the key takeaways from the training that have helped inform their work as case managers, as well as helpful tips for anyone who may be experiencing or responding to a mental health crisis. 

The first tip is to remember the acronym ALGEE. Mental Health First Aid teaches participants a five-step action plan, ALGEE, “to use when providing support to someone who may be experiencing a distressing situation, just as you would if you were administering first aid for a fall.”

What are everyday signs that someone, including ourselves, is in struggle with their mental health? 

A person may be struggling with disordered eating, like not eating for hours or unable to stop eating, sleep disturbance, anger that doesn’t match a given situation, missed deadlines, and lack of concentration. Another person may be experiencing withdrawn behavior, emotional outbursts, lack of personal hygiene, and no interest in their usual activities. Sometimes these changes can be subtle and can look different from person to person. It is important to always respond to others and ourselves with compassion and understanding, and to look at the person, and the reasons why they may be struggling.

How do we recognize someone is in crisis? 

Someone may be at a breaking point, feeling hopeless, experiencing dark thoughts that nothing will ever get better, or any number of things. But it’s helpful to know what symptoms to look for that can be seen from the outside as clues that someone may be in crisis, such as:

  • Agitated behavior
  • Panic attacks
  • Shortness of breath
  • Paranoia, feelings of surveillance
  • Irritability, rage attacks, anger outbursts
  • Sentences that don’t make sense and are hard to follow
  • Unaware of what day or year it is
  • Unable to use logic to think through what they are experiencing
  • Acting in ways they would not usually act, and unable to calm themselves down
You’ve identified that someone is in crisis –now what? 

Bella and Lucia shared from professional experience, strategies that could be both helpful and unhelpful to someone in crisis. While it’s difficult to plan for every situation, here are some tips they shared: 

  • Keep your cool 
  • Try to look at the person with empathy
  • Listen to what that person is saying
  • Monitor yourself and how you are doing
  • Be aware of what your resources are
  • Stay with them while they are in distress
  • If you must leave, ask if they are comfortable with you contacting someone for them, and remain with them until someone else can come help if it’s safe to do so 
  • Speak in calm tones
  • Realize that now is not the time to try to be relatable
  • Understand that saying things like “it’s going to be okay” can be unhelpful
  • Better things to say are “I’m here, I’m listening, I care about how you’re feeling and what you’re going through.”
What are some ways our community can support mental health first responders?

Being a mental health first responder is both exhausting and rewarding, and has the capability to save lives. But how can we help ‘the helpers’? “I wish people knew more about secondary trauma and how it is different than burnout,” Lucia shared. “Being a crisis responder, the situations replay over and over in your head, just like anyone doing front line work. Just because first responders know how to do this work does not mean we are invincible.”

Social workers and case managers are only human, after all, but they play a very important role in the work at CMC. Take time out to thank a provider, a friend, or someone you know who supports others! Care for yourself, and find ways you can prepare to help someone else. We can help share the burden of care by educating ourselves, taking action, and being prepared! 

Mental Health First Aid is a nationally acclaimed program, available through the National Council for Mental Wellbeing and the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Folks who are interested in becoming an instructor can find more information here

Ukraine Updates

As always, the Catherine McAuley Center stands ready and willing to resettle any displaced person when called upon to do so by our D.C. partners, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI). We believe that every person has the right to safety and freedom from violence and persecution, and we are proud to help refugee newcomers make their new homes in Eastern Iowa.

The U.S. response to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine is subject to change quickly. Check back to this post for updates regarding U.S. resettlement of Ukrainians as new information becomes available!

Latest Updates

April 21, 2022: The Biden administration announced news of Uniting for Ukraine, a parole program allowing Ukrainians with familial, community or organizational sponsors, to apply for temporary refuge in the United States for a period of up to two years. To qualify, Ukrainians must have a sponsor in the U.S. who agrees to provide them with financial support for the duration of their stay.

Ukrainians approved via this process will be authorized to travel to the U.S. and be considered for parole, on a case-by-case basis. Once paroled through this process, Ukrainians will be eligible for work authorization. At this time, the Uniting for Ukraine program does not authorize resettlement benefits or federal public benefits, such as refugee cash assistance or Medicaid, nor does it provide a clear pathway to permanent residency for those who desire to stay in the U.S. long-term.

For more information, or to apply for sponsorship, please see the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) website. Please note: the Iowa Bureau of Refugee Services is coordinating this program for the state of Iowa. Though resettlement agencies like CMC are not conducting these resettlement efforts, CMC remains available to support the needs of any immigrant or refugee looking for support to navigate community resources and pursue employment goals.

March 24, 2022: President Biden announced that the U.S. will admit up to 100,000 Ukrainians, presumably over the next year and a half, though the exact pace of resettlement is uncertain. For comparison, 75,000 Afghans were resettled nationwide between September 2021 and February 2022.

It is uncertain what immigration statuses the 100,000 Ukrainians may arrive with, though it may be a mix of humanitarian parole, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and refugees.

Important information to note:

  • Refugee resettlement agencies like CMC are contracted to provide comprehensive support for a refugee’s first 90 days in the U.S. and have a full picture of a refugee’s history, needs, and progress toward self-sufficiency (see more on the resettlement process). We ask that community members and partner agencies who may develop connections with our newest neighbors coordinate with us in this work.
  • Refugee resettlement is a federal process. While legislators, state officials, other nonprofits, and community members may be able to support additional resources for refugee families, only refugee resettlement agencies can conduct resettlement.
  • To-date, no special pathways (like Special Immigrant Visas or Humanitarian Parole, statuses available to Afghans) have been created for Ukrainians, meaning they will have to follow the traditional refugee resettlement process, which can be a lengthy process of up to two-years.

What you can do:

While the humanitarian crises in Ukraine and Afghanistan are especially prominent in current media coverage, the reality is that people across the globe have been displaced from their homes due to humanitarian crises. The Catherine McAuley Center also resettles refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burma, and other locations throughout the year.

Regardless of the status of Ukrainian resettlement, you can help refugees from across the world feel welcomed in Eastern Iowa in the following ways:

  • Volunteer on a Saturday to help set up a new home for refugees as a moving volunteer.
  • Donate furniture, household items, or other supplies on our wish list to meet the basic needs of our newest neighbors. You can also ship items from our Amazon wish list directly to CMC.
  • Teach English or sign up for another volunteer role at the Catherine McAuley Center.
  • Donate at Unrestricted donations are the most helpful in responding to new or quickly-developing needs.
  • Share leads on housing available for rent (full apartments or homes are preferred to shared spaces with other families) by contacting or 319-363-4993.

National Garden Meditation Day

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and while everyone’s experiences are unique, maintaining a healthy mind is an important part of our overall health and well-being, as it affects how we think, feel, and act. Taking care of mental health can look different for everyone, whether it involves spending more time with friends and family, forming a new hobby, exercising more, or speaking with a counselor – there are many tools to help build positive mental health. One of the strategies for better management of stress or trauma recovery can be awareness of self, and reflecting on inner emotions that are experienced throughout the day.

“Inside every one of us is a garden, and every practitioner has to go back to their garden and take care of it”Buddhist monk and mindfulness teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh

One way to tend your inner garden is to tend to a physical one! Today is National Garden Meditation Day, celebrated every year on May 3. It is the practice of taking time out from one’s hectic routine and going to a garden, picking a nice spot, and then meditating to relax your mind and body. 

At the Catherine McAuley Center, the Community Garden creates opportunities to learn new skills, practice self-care, and form meaningful connections. Clients, residents, and community members can learn about and grow their own plots of produce, and take time to relax in nature. 

Garden groups at CMC: Q & A with Kristin Bratton, Director of Women’s Services 

Helping residents and clients access nature in a hands-on and inclusive way, Director of Women’s Services, Kristin Bratton shares about the programs at CMC that encourage women, adult learners, and refugees and immigrants to enjoy gardening and reconnecting with themselves and nature. Kristin, a longtime gardener and Master Gardener intern, loves Gerber daisies, carrots and potatoes, but has yet to grow a zucchini that she’s satisfied with.  

What is your personal experience with gardening? 

I started gardening as a tiny tot with my mother and grandmother. It has been in my family on a small scale of backyard gardening. I’ve grown my own garden for close to a decade, but CMC was able to provide professional development for me to become an intern as a Master Gardener. Master Gardeners utilize and rely heavily on the sciences like botany and other sciences, and apply researched knowledge to gardening. I’ve been able to share that knowledge with my clients so they can accomplish their goals in gardening. 

How did the garden program get started?

It started over 5 years ago, first focusing on helping clients and residents become more food secure. Now things have shifted to take on more of a therapeutic approach toward gardening, and with the help of the Master Gardeners program, CMC was able to install raised beds for residents and clients. We currently have 7 women who are set to participate this year!


What are the benefits of therapeutic gardening programs?

Physical activity creates endorphins, getting Vitamin D from sunlight, and the grounding aspects of the grass, soil, the trees. Having our hands in the soil exposes us to good kinds of microbiology. Gardening lowers blood pressure and when you’re gardening, you can focus on the now rather than the future or past goals. You’re helping life and you are seeing it first hand! 

What is your hope for the gardening group? 

My hope is to practice hands-on mindfulness, for it to become an automatic practice to see nature as a grounding tool. I want clients to find pleasure not just from gardening, but from the food that they grow and prepare into satisfying and beautiful dishes. 

What are ways that anyone can experience more meditative peace in gardening?

You don’t even have to be actively gardening! Start by engaging your senses, smelling, touching and listening, becoming grounded and present.

Volunteer Spotlight: Bailey

Meet Bailey Wilson – a passionate volunteer who has a vision for where she’s headed and the work she wants to do along the way. Originally from Pella, Iowa, she came to CMC as a volunteer with AmeriCorps, and serves in the Women’s Services department of CMC. Her official title is Race, Gender, and Homelessness VISTA, and she hopes her research that she is conducting in the year of her service has a lasting impact at CMC. She has been volunteering consistently since finishing college, and hopes to continue her education by experience and by pursuing graduate school.


What was your first experience with volunteering?

Technically, it was involuntarily; I was a teenager, and a friend and I were pouring orange juice and milk for people at a pancake breakfast. Later on, after I was finished with college and during the pandemic I volunteered willingly! I volunteered with the food bank in my hometown of Pella, IA, and later with a volunteer campaign as well as with the ACLU. For me in general, it’s important to do work that aligns with my values. I was between work and college, and I needed to fill my time in a meaningful way. I found volunteering to be a good way to find fulfillment, build my resume, and stay connected.

How did you find out about the AmeriCorps program, and what drew you to this position?

I was unemployed, looking to grow my skill set and network, and volunteering to build my career path due to my interest in nonprofits. I had a friend in AmeriCorps in another state, and I was looking for a way to volunteer full-time, to be a paid volunteer. I saw it as something similar to an internship structure. I was really drawn to the social equity as well as the research aspect of the position, as I hope to pursue grad school in the future.

What are you working on currently?

In my role I’m conducting interviews with women and other gender minorities who have experienced any kind of homelessness, whether it’s living in transitional housing, doubling up, living in shelters, or completely unhoused. I’m focusing on listening to their stories; what are their needs in terms of resources? What are the gaps in the services they receive? I am focused on their voices; they know what they need and to lift up their voices and help them be heard. My work is person-centered, and driven by the community I serve.

What is your favorite thing about serving and working with the community that you do?

Being a listening ear to people, and seeing people able to speak to the gaps and shortcomings in the community. You get to see peoples’ humanity and to see them impact our work as providers. I really like hearing people express themselves so clearly and be ready to share what their needs are.

What is your hope for the long term impact of your role and work?

My hope is that providers are able to be more responsive to the needs of those they serve. I would love to see how what I’m doing within the agency impacts it, on both a small and large scale. I would love to see more agencies engaging around client feedback, for the clients to become part of the leadership, implementing change where the research shows it is necessary. I would like to see agencies able to ask for feedback anonymously about providers, what additional skill sets their providers could have that they as the client could benefit from. My hope is that [our community can] become more client-centered, and that they could share, “If I was in charge, this is how things would be.” I want to have the voices listened to and the changes to be implemented.

What surprised you about your role at CMC?

There was a lot of room within this project to redefine the scope, and a lot of freedom to define it on my own. Race, Gender, and Homelessness are very broad descriptors. I’ve been able to ask myself how we could tie in these things and narrow down the scope in a helpful way that results in capacity building.

What skills are you developing to use in your future career?

In a broader sense, communication skills. I’ve been able to better understand how to redirect, ask for what I need. I’ve been told I’m really good at boundaries. Specific to my project, I’m learning how to navigate and direct a conversation, and practice active listening. Within the interview, I’m finding out how to build rapport with a person in a short time frame, build trust, and try to make my interviewee more comfortable. I’m navigating sensitive research interview skills, and sensitive listening to focus on building that trust.

What do you hope to do after finishing your AmeriCorps term with CMC?

I would like to work with the CMC in the short term! Advocacy in service to the LGBTQ+ community, either through working with the ACLU or One Iowa is in the long term plan. I would like to leave the Midwest to pursue more education, and perhaps go into academia and research. I want the ability though to find that out and I feel like my experiences will guide me to what that looks like!