Ai Talks about Japan

Japan factsWe’re glad you’re a student at CMC, Ai!  Thanks for telling us about your native country.

Question: Where are you from?

Answer: I was born in Osaka, but I moved to Tokyo when I was young.

Question: If I went to Japan, what places should I visit?

Answer: You should visit Kyoto, the old capital.  It has Buddhist temples and many old buildings.  Hot springs are also a good place to visit, especially on Hokkaido.  Hokkaido is the big island above the main island of Japan.  It’s a lot like Iowa: it is more open and has a mix of farms and cities.

Question: What do you want people to know about Japan?

Answer: Japan has good customer service.  We have no tipping system, but the service is very good.  In Japan, people always apologize for mistakes, even if it isn’t their fault, because the customer has the right.  Also, I want people to know Japanese restaurants here are not really Japanese.  For example, we don’t put cream cheese or avocado in sushi rolls.


Silvia talks about Guatemala

Infographic about Guatemala. 21 CMC students are from Guatemala.We’re glad you’re a student at CMC, Silvia! Thanks for telling us about your native  country.

Q: Where are you from?

A: I was born in Guatemala City, but my family is originally from San Marcos.

Q: What’s your favorite food from Guatemala?

A: Tamales are a traditional food in San Marcos. They are very different from Mexican tamales. My grandmother made tamales with rice, not corn. We’ve tried to make them here, but it’s hard to find the ingredients, and they take a long time to make.

Q: What do you want people to know about Guatemala?

A: I don’t want people to say, “Where is that?” I want all people from all walks of life to know that yes, Guatemala is a country with honest people, proud, heartwarming, welcoming and, most of all, hardworking people to make a significant impact on the world. I want others to know that we are a country just like the U.S. full of diversity in ethnicity, religion, and age.

When people make a voyage to Guatemala, it’s to see the Mayans, but they are also in a country that holds many more wonders yet to be seen.


Davood talks about Iran

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

Q: Where are you from?

A: I was born in Tehran, the capital city.

Q: What’s your favorite food from Iran?

A: Meat kabobs.

Q: What was your job in Iran?

A: I went to college and studied auto mechanics. Then, I worked for a car company doing customer service and car repairs. I also worked at my father’s bakery, where we made bread by hand in a brick oven.

Q: What do you want people to know about Iran?

A: Iran is a very old country with very old religious traditions. The New Year is a special holiday in Iran celebrating the spring. Spring is the best time to visit Iran because the world is waking up and everyone is happy and kind.


Lesa: On Being Female and Homeless

A speech from the Transitional Housing Program’s 2017 Women’s Equality Day Celebration.

Imagine ghosts in the darkness, darting into the shadows to avoid being spotted by police driving by.

Imagine when night falls, the daunting realization that you have nowhere to go. There is no place you call home.

Imagine the overwhelming feeling that you belong nowhere.

This is what it feels like to be homeless. In my mind, belonging nowhere meant I was nothing, I was nobody. Insignificant, less than zero.

What would Cedar Rapids be like with no homeless women and children? Imagine a city where domestic violence is an isolated incident, not the norm. Imagine if enough support existed for women to break free of the violence and oppression; break free of the prison that domestic violence is.

Poverty, despair, hopelessness, learned helplessness. These are just a few of the characteristics women experience as they live with an abuse- and leaving frequently means homelessness.

We celebrate women’s equality. The right to walk down the street without being assaulted or threatened. The right to vote. The right to be a homeowner. The right to be your own person. The right to NOT be punched, kicked, slapped, pushed, sexually assaulted or any of the abusive behaviors that take place every day to women among you. Where are they to go?

Women need safe housing, equal pay, medical services, and transportation. Survivors of domestic violence turn to homeless service programs because they lack the economic resources to obtain housing after leaving an abusive relationship. These women need supportive services that can help them heal from the trauma of abuse and improve their financial security and well-being.

Living in darkness and fear causes brokenness and low self-worth to the women who face domestic violence and homelessness. It is baffling and terrifying to escape the clutches of the one who hurts you, yet claims to love you. These toxic relationships damage the victims, heart, soul, mind, and psyche.

We must celebrate women. Embrace their challenges, get involved, reach out. Invest in women. Yes, we have achieved equality in many areas. But there is still lack of shelter, services, and funding in comparison to the need.

Equality for women isn’t a women’s issue. When women fulfill their potential, society as a whole benefits.

Celebrate women, those who are successful, as well as those who are struggling.

Women’s equality means NO MORE FEAR!

Find additional Women’s Equality Day speeches from Ann and Carly on our blog. 

20 Instances of Community: A Reflection

The Catherine McAuley Center celebrated communi-TEA at the 20th Annual Catherine’s Tea on Sunday, October 2, 2016. In honor of this 20th anniversary, Laurie, a resident peer leader at CMC, shared 20 ways that she and other residents see their community actively working in their lives. Find the full transcript below!

Laurie shared 20 ways that the residents in the Transitional Housing Program see their CMC community at work in their lives.

Laurie shared 20 ways that the residents in the Transitional Housing Program see their CMC community at work in their lives.

Good afternoon, my name is Laurie Cramberg and I am the senior peer in the Catherine McAuley Transitional Housing Program.

I’ve been at CMC since February 2015. I came to CMC after substance abuse treatment. I was homeless afterwards and needed guidance on how to live my life as a productive, healthy, responsible adult. My needs were not only housing, but also a safe place to live and grow in my sobriety and mental well-being.

I am now sober over 2 years with the help and grace of God, lots of prayers, and of course the community and help of the Transitional Housing Program.

About 6 months ago the housing program manager Jennifer came to me with the proposition of becoming the senior peer at CMC. I accepted and now I help the other women in the program build a strong community.

As a senior peer I’ve been given the opportunity and challenge to lead a group in our program. This is a group we have named “Community.” In our group we plan times to spend together as a community as well as time to give back to CMC and Cedar Rapids.

In honor of this being the 20th anniversary of the Catherine’s Tea, the ladies in the housing program, staff, and I would like to share with you 20 ways we see our CMC community in action in our lives:

As you all know, last week Cedar Rapids prepared for the flood. In this sad and frightening time, we saw how our CMC community comes together.

  1. Last weekend, one woman at CMC organized a group of women to help at the sandbagging stations.
  2. We welcomed five women who needed to be evacuated into the program. One of the current residents has been a gracious host for the evacuated women—sharing her living space and has helped show them where things are at in the house and helped them get settled in.
  3. One the first night of evacuation, one CMC resident prepared quite the feast for the evacuees with us. She made homemade spaghetti, garlic bread, and a salad with items from the garden. We had great conversation and full bellies that night!
  4. One resident led a group meditation on Saturday night. The response from the women was so appreciative, and it really seemed to help make everyone feel more safe and calm.
  5. And on Sunday, the women who moved into CMC after evacuating made dinner for all of us. It was so awesome seeing everyone work together and being so giving.
  6. Many of us have worked hard in our community garden all summer. We have had an abundance of produce to share. During the flood, we used some of the produce from our garden to make meals together with those who were evacuated from their homes.

The flood is a strong example of our CMC community, but I’d like to share with you some other ways we can see our CMC community in action in our lives throughout the year

7. This past spring we invited our neighbors, students, tutors, and family to a Garden Party in our community garden to celebrate our pollinator garden where we share not only in the beauty of the flowers we’ve planted but the hope for an increase in the population of the Monarch butterfly.

8. Which reminds me of the CMC picnic where we share in fellowship with the students, teachers, staff and family members.

9. During cooking groups at the Center, we share recipes, mistakes, and successes that’s the food, of course—and laughter and fun.

10. We share in fellowship cooking out in our back yard. It’s not always just a cook out. On National Night Out in August, we stayed out to play games as part of a national protest against violence in our community and to encourage our neighbors to help us create a safe neighborhood.

11. On Women’s Equality Day, we take time to remember the women who won our right to vote and honor three women in our community who we feel are an example of courage, commitment, and service.

12. Being engaged in activism and social issues is an important part of our community. We invited a representative from both the Democratic and Republican party to teach us how to caucus and other ways to use our voices to make a difference.

13. We like to find ways to build community in greater Cedar Rapids too, like taking opportunities to volunteer at our local food banks.

14. During our weekly Community Groups where we not only share a reading to help us reflect on our lives. We share our successes and challenges with each other. And we brainstorm for upcoming events.

15. In the future we plan to have a baby shower for one of our alumnae, and who doesn’t love babies or a reason for cake?

16. This upcoming Tuesday night we are planning a board game night with a dose of homemade nachos on the side.

17. We each have an opportunity to share and maintain our communal living areas. Different residents add decorations or do projects to improve the spaces and help create a comfortable home.

18. We listen to each other and help each other whenever we can. We help carry groceries in for each other and help people move in and out of the houses. I am grateful for one woman in particular for helping me when I am in need—cat sitting.

19. Our support for each other is especially important around the holidays. We have dinners together on Thanksgiving and Christmas and celebrate together.

20. Our fall retreat—where we are offered the opportunity to explore who we are, our needs, or just plain regroup—is one of my favorite times we have been blessed to share.

So what is community? The dictionary says that community is “bonds of harmony and brotherly love.” And that’s the kind of community we strive to be at CMC.

Thank you.

Community: José’s Story

In celebration of communi-TEA, José shared stories of how he first relied on others when he came to the United States and how he now helps his friends and community thanks to skills he learned at the Center.

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. My name is José Hermosillo, I’m originally from a small town in Jalisco, near of Guadalajara, Mexico. In Mexico, I studied animal science, and my family and I ran a farm there. Many of my ancestors were farmers.

I would like to introduce my family: my wife, Margarita, my daughter, Fernanda, and my son, Christopher. Right now, Fernanda is a sophomore at Xavier High School, and Christopher is attending 5th grade at St. Joe’s in Marion.

I first came to the US because I needed to work back in 2003. When I first came everything was difficult. For example, at that time I had a car. I knew how to do maintenance and some repairs, but I don’t have the knowledge to order brake pads. To get the pads I need to have a friend to go with me to the auto parts store. He ordered the parts for me. I was always asking for his help when I needed something.

Later another friend of mine recommended to come to the CMC to enroll in the English classes. I decided to come to CMC because I needed to learn English and be more independent and self-sufficient.

When you first start learning a different language you are afraid to do some things. People might start laughing on you, and you are afraid to ask some things. The community at CMC is very helpful and friendly. My teacher Linda back in 2003 invited me to dinner at her house. She is from Wisconsin and her husband is from Brazil. We had a good dinner. We started a friendship. CMC also helps me with other issues like immigration, health insurance questions, and other concerns.

José reflected on how learning English at CMC has empowered him to live more self-sufficiently and help his friends do the same.

José reflected on how learning English at CMC has empowered him to live more self-sufficiently and help his friends do the same.

I started work at a dairy farm in Marion in 2003. When you work on a farm you don’t need high level English. But back then if I don’t know some word, I asked my boss with a translator or a white board to write the word and tell me how it sounds. That way I learned a lot too.

Now things are more easy than back in the past.

I have met different people from other countries at the CMC, and now they are my friends. They are from Brazil, Congo, Vietnam, Syria, and my actual tutor is from the UK. Over the years, I’ve also worked with different tutors and several staff members. I have nearly completed 4 books. Learning English at CMC has given me much more confidence in my daily living in this country.

Now I’m helping other immigrants to find a job, taking them to apply or to interviews, look for a car or apartment. I help them with the same problems I had in the beginning. And all these things thanks to the English I learned here at CMC.

I want to say thank you to all the community at the CMC for the great job they’re doing transforming lives one at a time.

Retreat Encourages Self-Discovery


The annual THP retreat is a time for residents to self-reflect, connect with nature, and build bonds with other program participants.

Each year, the Transitional Housing Program (THP) at the Catherine McAuley Center hosts a retreat away from the Center’s main facility for program residents and THP alumni with the goal of providing a setting in which the women can contemplate their own lives without having to worry about the stressors of everyday life.  For the past four years, the retreat has been centered around a curriculum that focuses on creating this safe environment for self-discovery through artistic, musical, and interpersonal activities.

Pink figureHousing staff explained that because every person learns differently, these creative activities allow the women to use many techniques to explore their inner-selves. These techniques include writing in a journal throughout their time on the retreat, listening to music and then describing how the lyrics apply to their own lives, spending quiet time in meditation and reflection on nature, creating a “stress box” that contains coping mechanisms for handling stress, and creating their own “inner-goddesses”, which are physical models representing the positive characteristics each resident sees in herself.

One resident crafted a bright and lively pink figure, and explained how it was representative of herself by saying “I may seem dark on the outside, but on the inside, I’m tall and bright pink.” Another skillfully crafted a female Samurai warrior that represents strength, honor, and tradition. She explained that the figure was a “wise woman” with many different layers. She keeps the model in her room where she sees it each day as a reminder to not give up hope and noted that this is a particularly hard exercise to do because it requires you to “dig into yourself to find your inner being.”

CraftsAn agreed-upon highlight of the retreat occurred during an activity led by alumni who have graduated from the Transitional Housing Program and are now leading self-sufficient lives. Alumni asked each woman to write a poem about herself then read it aloud to the group. Though staff were present, it was the current and former residents who controlled the direction of the conversation and provided the overwhelming sense of openness and encouragement that resulted. This activity that is easily described as the most powerful experience of the retreat demonstrated the strength of current residents and the transformation that program alumni have experienced.

“The retreat is something that helps you redefine how you see yourself. Through activities that you are involved in you can just take a closer look at things that help you improve yourself,” noted one resident. The Catherine McAuley Center believes in dignity and empowerment, and that each person has the potential to create and live a purposeful and fulfilling life. We are overjoyed to see the women in our program beginning to believe those things about themselves.

My Life in Colors: Mu Ruo’s Journey to CMC

On Sunday, October 11, guests at the 19th Annual Catherine’s Tea were privileged to hear firsthand the words of Mu Ruo, a student from Burma who participates in CMC’s Adult Basic Education Program. In the video below, you, too, can hear her compelling narration that highlights the colors which have represented the various stages of her journey to the U.S.

Transcript below:

Hello! Nice to see you today. My name is Mu Ruo. Today I am going to use colors to tell you about my past life in Burma.

Green: the hills all around our village in Burma.
Beautiful Gold: the rice when it’s ready for harvest.
White, Blue, Red, Pink: the handwoven dresses we wore to church on Sundays. In those dresses we sang our colors to Jesus.
Green and tall: the bamboo in the forest and in village yards.
White and Brown: the chickens under our house with stilts.
Pink: the sticky rice cooked inside a banana leaf that we ate with a little sugar.

Dark Green: the soldiers’ uniforms who came to our village. All the same dark green.
Dark Gray: the guns the soldiers carried.
Red: the fire from our burning houses.
Gray: the smoke that rose up and spread out to block the sky.
Black: the ground after the fire when we returned to see what the soldiers had done.
Dark Black: the cave where we hid in the forest.

Dark Black: the 30 nights we walked to the refugee camp after we said goodbye to our village.
Golden: the bamboo houses of the refugee camp, my new village.
Clear Blue: the creek that flows through the camp.
White: the plastic bags of rice stacked under our house–rations from the UN.
Brown: the trails we walked in the camp, the same brown trails every day for 8 years.

White: the letter that said I could move to the United States.
I wish I could remember the color of the plane we rode in to the US, but we were so worried for our lives that I didn’t pay attention to the color!
Bright Colors: the first colors I saw in America.
White: the skin of so many Americans!
Yellow: the bus that now takes my kids to school.
Pink, Yellow, Red: the roses in my front yard in Cedar Rapids.
Green: the long beans I grow in my back yard.
Red, White, and Blue: the US flag that waves in front of our house.
Green: my Green Card!

Blue, Red, Green, and Orange:  the books I’ve worked through at the Catherine McAuley Center.
White: my teacher’s white pants. She has taught me since 2011. She is so kind and helps me with my English and also with my life.

At CMC I have found a community of people who share their friendship and knowledge with me.With the Center’s help I have learned all the questions on the citizenship test. I have done my fingerprinting in Des Moines, and I am ready to take the test and become a citizen!

The one-teacher-one-student system helps me learn because it gives me more opportunity to speak, write, and read.I want to thank the Education staff of the Catherine McAuley Center. Thanks to all of you here today for helping support the Center.


The Catherine McAuley Center would like to extend a special thanks to Mu Ruo for sharing her story and her smile with us, as well as each guest at Catherine’s Tea, who by attending the event, supported the CMC programs that help hundreds of other students just like Mu Ruo to integrate into the Cedar Rapids community.

You can directly impact the life of a CMC student by becoming a volunteer tutor. Tutors work one-on-one with a student through an English as a Second Language curriculum provided by CMC each week. Read more about tutoring or register for a tutor orientation.

Mei Hui Earns Citizenship with CMC Help

Contributed by Susan Liddell

Mei Hui and her tutor, Susan Liddell, at Mei's Citizenship Ceremony

Mei Hui and her tutor, Susan Liddell, at Mei’s Citizenship Ceremony

Mei Hui is an adult education student from Fujian, China who recently obtained her US citizenship after months of preparation.  She endlessly studied citizenship flash cards and worksheets with her tutor, Susan Liddell, until she was sure she knew them perfectly.  Mei was deeply committed to this goal because she wants to bring her parents to the US to live with her family.  Without her US citizenship, her parents would be unable to stay permanently.  Mei and her family are now eagerly awaiting the completion of the required paperwork and hope that her parents will be with them sometime this summer.

Mei is a waitress at Oyama Sushi.  She reports that many hours of studying both independently and at CMC have given her greater confidence in her conversational skills with customers.  As a result, she has also seen a significant increase in her tips.

84% of students report an increase in income since starting classes at CMC and 83% report an increase in community activities. All students surveyed say that have improved their ability to communicate in their daily lives.

If you are interested in becoming a CMC tutor and helping others like Mei Hui, click here! We need more than 100 new volunteers each year to keep up with demand, and you could be one of them!

A Success Story: Theo starts a new life in Iowa

My name is Bampamirurusa Theophile and this is a summary of my history.

Theo's card

Theo’s ID card. He was an “Extensionist Supervisor.” This role took him from the refugee camp and into the countryside and cities to teach people to make and use his new stove.

I was born in Burundi. I went to school in Burundi and I completed seventh grade in 1993 when I was 17.

That same year, Some Burundi generals assassinated the president and the people fought among themselves.

Stove Diagram 1

Theo and a coworker with one of Theo’s stoves.

In 1996, I ran to Tanzani and in December, I entered a refugee camp and it was a very hard life. While I was there, I discovered a way to cook food faster, so they made me a supervisor and I taught others in the camp how to cook and they also sent me out of the camp to teach others.

In 2005, an American immigration official came to the camp and gave everyone a health test and I passed. I got a visa to the United States. They sent me to Iowa in September 2006.

Theo and friend

Theo and a coworker with one of Theo’s stoves.

When I got here, I was very happy for three months. The government gave us everything we needed. After that, I had to get a job. I had to find a place live. I needed to learn the language. For me, English was hard. I could not speak or understand it. I was a chicken. In December 2006, I started at the Catherine McAuley Center.

Now, I am able to get along at my job and with other people. I need to thank many people who helped me, and all the staff who work here. Thanks to everybody and God bless you.


See photos of Theo’s life in Burundi and more stories from the Adult Basic Education program in the February/March Education Newsletter.