Birthday Blessings

Transparent quote buildingTwo incredible young ladies have graciously supported the Catherine McAuley Center this week by asking that friends and family donate to the Center in honor of their birthdays.

Rizzo poses with the big haul of supplies donated for her 7th birthday.

Rizzo poses with the big haul of supplies donated for her 7th birthday.

Rizzo, 7, asked the friends she invited to her dance studio birthday party to bring an item that she could donate to the women in CMC’s Transitional Housing Program. Her selflessness provided CMC with baskets full of paper goods, bedding items, and many other supplies that are always on our wish list.

Ella at the 2015 Women's Equality Day celebration

Ella and her mother, Jennifer, at the 2015 Women’s Equality Day celebration

Ella, also age 7, revived the “Ice Bucket Challenge” with her friends to benefit CMC. She donated a portion of her own savings to the Center, which was then matched by Ella’s mother. Ella’s support of CMC is ongoing, as she has attended the Transitional Housing Program’s Women’s Equality Day celebration for the past 5 years!

Please join us in wishing a cheerful “happy birthday!” to these girls who have embodied Catherine McAuley’s charge that “our charity must be in our hearts and from our hearts.”

Especially for You Race Against Breast Cancer 5K

Especially for YouThe Catherine McAuley Center is looking for individuals to join the CMC team for the 25th Annual Especially for You Race Against Breast Cancer 5K Run/Walk! The event will be held on the morning of Sunday, October 4, and CMC is hoping to have a 25+ member team in honor of the walk’s anniversary!

In the past, CMC clients have received free mammograms resulting from the funds raised through the walk, and we are excited to continue showing our gratitude and support!

If you are interested in joining our team or would like more information, please contact Tina at Registration is $30 for adults and $20 for youth 15 or younger, and forms are due to CMC by September 8.

If you are unable to participate, you can also sponsor a CMC client to participate with the CMC team! Contact Tina or visit the Especially for You Facebook page for more information.


Celebrating the Sisters of Mercy

Former CMC Executive Director, Sr. Shari Sutherland, RSM, in front of CMC's current building shortly after it was purchased in 1993.

Former CMC Executive Director, Sr. Shari Sutherland, RSM, in front of CMC’s current building shortly after it was purchased in 1993.

In yesterday’s issue of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, three local leaders, including CMC Executive Director, Paula Land, reflected on the impact the Sisters of Mercy have had on the Cedar Rapids community since they began their ministry here 140 years ago this month. Here at CMC, the Sisters have been instrumental in helping to build the Center into a welcoming and inclusive community dedicated to transforming lives since its founding in 1989, when a small group of Mercy Sisters established the Catherine McAuley Center for Women to help “economically disadvantaged women in need of help with basic skills to complete their GED.” The Sisters named CMC after the foundress of the Sisters of Mercy, Catherine McAuley, who believed that education was the ultimate answer to the struggles of those in poverty.

Since the first year when the Center helped 16 women to improve basic skills, CMC has grown to serve a larger population through two programs: Transitional Housing and Adult Basic Education. To date, Transitional Housing has provided safe housing and skill building to more than 600 women, and Adult Basic Education serves over 350 men and women from over 50 countries annually who come to CMC for basic skills, English as a Second Language, and assistance with preparation for the U.S. Citizenship exam.

The Sisters of Mercy were the first volunteers who shared the Vision of what the Catherine McAuley Center could be, engaging the community, serving on committees and the Board of Directors, and more. The Sisters have consistently provided financial support, naming CMC as one of their sponsored works, and have demonstrated great creativity in fundraising through events including a Spelling Bee, Quilt Sale, Catherine’s Tea and even a business called Catherine’s Comfortable Tea. Why tea? Catherine McAuley reportedly offered this deathbed declaration in 1841: “Be sure you have a comfortable cup of tea for them when I am gone.”

On behalf of the clients and staff of CMC, we thank the Sisters of Mercy for their vision, leadership and nurturing support over these past 26 years!

Space Constraints Bring New Partnership

This May, 12 new students eagerly began participating in group English classes, thanks to a new partnership between the Catherine McAuley Center and First Lutheran Church. These students, all originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DCR), are motivated to learn English to communicate in daily life situations and feel more at home here in Cedar Rapids.

The new partnership developed as a result of space constraints at CMC’s main building. Wendy Arnold-Rodriguez, Education Program Manager, explains that while one-on-one tutoring is ideal, there is simply not enough room at CMC to host more tutor-students pairs on busy mornings. A phone call to First Lutheran revealed that the church was happy to provide a room for a group class to help meet this need. Demand for CMC’s tutoring services has been rapidly growing in recent years; the program served 343 students last year, a 17% increase from the year before, and is on track to exceed that number this year. More than 50 students are on the program’s waitlist. As CMC attempts to meet demand, staff have become more creative in finding space to host student-tutor pairs, resorting to using the Center’s kitchen, basement, and childcare room for tutoring.

Katie Lanius, Education Program Coordinator, is teaching the new class twice weekly through the summer. She explains that common threads among the students make group teaching more feasible, as they all are at a similar language level, work similar schedules at the Tyson’s plant in Waterloo and speak French and Ngala, allowing her to incorporate French into the class when it helps facilitate learning.

The class is scheduled to be held at First Lutheran Church throughout the summer months. The class location next fall has yet to be solidified.


From the Director’s Desk

Paula LandThis past month we’ve been celebrating those who’ve made a difference in their own or someone else’s life. Appropriately, we recently have had the great opportunity to celebrate the Sisters of Mercy, our founders, who have made a difference in our lives and those who’ve come through the Catherine McAuley Center doors for more than 25 years. Little did I know that over four years ago I would be introduced to some of the most inspiring women in my life. It has been our privilege to recognize this group of women that has dedicated themselves to address their Critical Concerns. At CMC, this means meeting the needs of immigrants and women by acknowledging the dignity of each person and believing that everyone has the right to a decent home, livelihood, education and healthcare.

In April, I accompanied some staff and board members to Des Moines to see the Sisters honored with the Governor’s Volunteer Hall of Fame Award. Then in May the Sisters of Mercy were recognized in Ovation 2015 – A Tribute to Iowa Women and Girls (a publication by the Iowa Women’s Foundation) for their 140 years of contribution to the Cedar Rapids community, where they were described as “quiet heroes, women whose deep faith empowers them to work tirelessly and courageously to improve the lives of people in need.” This July we will join with many in our community to celebrate their 140th anniversary with several events where we will acknowledge their local accomplishments, with Mercy Medical Center, Mount Mercy University, and Catherine McAuley Center. We will also look to the present day and future and how the Sisters continue to advocate for social justice for those in need both locally and around the world. I am so proud to be associated with these strong, dedicated women. Helping lead an organization to which they gave life and nurtured to grow is an honor that I share with our dedicated staff and board.

Paula Land, Catherine McAuley Center Executive Director

New Crowd Gets Movin’ for McAuley

Saturday, May 2nd, marked the first ever Movin’ for McAuley Kickball Tournament, which raises funds for CMC’s Adult Basic Education and Transitional Housing programs. This is the 12th year that CMC has hosted a Movin’ for McAuley event, which had been previously formatted as a Mall Walk until the 2014 demolition of Westdale Mall. Though we’ve broken the Mall Walk tradition, kickball proved to be a fun change of pace that widened the audience engaged in CMC’s mission, as 76% of this year’s kickball particiapnts were new to CMC involvement!

Eleven teams made up of more than 120 players competed in the tournament. GoDaddy was named champion after a competitive championship game against the Rockin’ Realtors, a team comprised of employees from Coldwell Bankers Hedges Realty. Together, our Top Individual and Team Fundraisers, Sister Lucy Frein and TrueNorth, raised approximately $3,000 for CMC Programs.

Great thanks to everyone who got Movin’ for McAuley–your support matters!

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Outstanding CMC Volunteer Groups Honored

The Catherine McAuley Center proudly recognizes the service of its founders, the Sisters of Mercy, and a key group of volunteers, the Cedar Rapids Rollergirls. Both the Rollergirls and the Sisters were recognized this April for their service to the Center and to the wider Cedar Rapids community.

Sisters of Mercy representatives stand with Governor Terry Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds following the group’s induction into the Iowa Volunteer Hall of Fame.

Sisters of Mercy representatives stand with Governor Terry Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds following the group’s induction into the Iowa Volunteer Hall of Fame.

On Tuesday, April 14, 2015, the Sisters of Mercy were inducted into the Iowa Volunteer Hall of Fame during a ceremony in Des Moines at the State Capitol. The recognition is the most prestigious state-level honor that a volunteer group can receive, and acknowledges people who have forever changed their community, state, nation, and world through volunteer service. Names of those inducted into the Iowa Volunteer Hall of Fame are engraved on a plaque that is on permanent display in the State Historic Museum.

The Sisters founded the Catherine McAuley Center in 1989 to fill a need for adult education in the Cedar Rapids community. Since then, the Center has grown to serve over 350 clients per year by providing basic education for adults and transitional housing for women.

Read more about the Iowa Volunteer Hall of Fame 2015 ceremony from the Cedar Rapids Gazette and from Volunteer Iowa.

Representatives of the Cedar Rapids Rollergirls (accompanied by CMC staff) attended the United Way of East Central Iowa’s breakfast where they were honored as one of three finalists for the Outstanding Volunteer Group award.

Representatives of the Cedar Rapids Rollergirls (accompanied by CMC staff) attended the United Way of East Central Iowa’s breakfast where they were honored as one of three finalists for the Outstanding Volunteer Group award.

Also nominated by CMC for their incredible service are the Cedar Rapids Rollergirls for the United Way Outstanding Group Volunteer Award. Paula Land (CMC Executive Director), Jennifer Tibbetts (Housing Program Manager), and Tina Gossman (Volunteer Coordinator) accompanied representatives of the Rollergirls team to a breakfast in honor of all nominees on Thursday, April 23, 2015. The Rollergirls were one of the top three finalists out of nine total nominations. The Center thanks the Rollergirls for serving as strong female role models to the Housing Program residents by giving haircuts, helping to maintain the CMC garden, and planning community and relationship-building activities.

The generosity of the Sisters of Mercy and the Cedar Rapids Rollergirls, along with our wide network of volunteers, helps us accomplish our mission of offering hope and opportunity to individuals throughout our community. You can join us on this journey by volunteering today!

Great Attendance at Volunteer Reception

On the afternoon of April 8th the Catherine McAuley Center hosted its annual Volunteer Reception, an event that celebrates the dedication and contribution of all CMC volunteers.

Guests enjoyed cake and refreshments and had the opportunity to peruse scrapbooks filled with 25 years of CMC history. A slideshow in the childcare room featured photos of each tutor & student pair, as well as many of our other volunteers who work at the front desk, do yardwork and maintain facilities, and assist at CMC events.

Over 90 people, including volunteers and their guests, attended the reception. One guest was even inspired to start volunteering herself and filled out a volunteer application that day! Moments like these remind of the great importance of our volunteers, who spread CMC’s vision to see people embrace opportunities to better themselves, their family, and community.

To all of our volunteers, thank you for your work to transform our community. You are appreciated.

If you would like to join CMC and over 600 volunteers in offering hope and opportunity to those in need, call Tina at 319-731-0446 or e-mail

Wish List

Every day, every year, we need your support. Whether you can contribute to our immediate and seasonal wish list or our ongoing needs, we’ll love you for it!

Download a printable list here.

Remembering Sher and a Life Lived for Others


Sher with her CMC student, 2010

Sher with her CMC student, 2010

We celebrate the life of Sher Jasperse  tutor, grant writer, board/committee member of the Catherine McAuley Center for 20 years. Most importantly, we are incredibly blessed to have called her our friend. We miss her dearly, but her generous spirit remains alive here at CMC. Last year, Sher was honored with the Governor’s Volunteer Award, to which she said, “I’m humbled with this award as there are so many worthy volunteers at CMC”.

Her incredible gift for empathy is conveyed in this poem she penned about the Catherine McAuley Center in 2012.For the Catherine McAuley Center Through the vortex of violence, displacement and refugee camps, she waited long years with her children, unknowing, and came at last to this place. With no possible future, he hugged his parents and followed his cousins north across the border, riding for days in the back of a truck, unknowing, until he came to this place. Her sentence served and addictions at bay, she stepped out, hopeful, unknowing. “This time will be different,” she said, “if I can find my place.” The voices of students and tutors weave a cocoon of sanctuary on a forbidding December day. In this place, said the foundress, “Be sure to give them a cup of tea.” Teach. Shelter. Transform.

It was Sher’s gift of words conveyed through numerous grants and articles that helped the us be where we are today. Her open, embracing nature created an extensive network of friends. “Sher is so open and loving and has faith in the good in people–all people. The way she talked to them, looked at them; she is so accepting of everybody. That is what made her who she is,” says former CMC staff member and friend, Amelia Waddle.

Sher, you carried out the Catherine McAuley Center mission in so many ways, and you touched our lives and the lives of so many. Thank you for giving so much of yourself and showing us the way to live our lives for others. 

Please click on the following links to learn more about Sher’s amazing life, her dedication to our community and the ways she shared so freely of her time, her gifts, and her love.

“All About Giving”– The Gazette

In Her Own Words– Obituary, The Gazette

“Sher Joins Heavenly Writing Team Now”– Metro Sports Report