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.

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.

 

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!

Education through Community Support

The Catherine McAuley Center’s (CMC) Adult Basic Education Program tutored over four hundred active students last year and while we have a committed group of more than 250 volunteer tutors, more than 100 individuals remain on the wait-list to receive tutoring. Conflicts with scheduling, tutor availability and transportation all pose obstacles to a student’s participation in the program. Because of these conflicts, CMC began offering classes at off-site satellite locations. The introduction of these locations allow CMC to reach more people and better meet the needs of students who face some of the challenges listed above.

Currently, CMC has three satellite locations: the Hiawatha Public Library, St. Jude’s Catholic Church and the Seventh Day Adventist Church of Cedar Rapids. The spaces and commitment of the volunteers at these locations are invaluable to the Adult Basic Education Program and CMC. CMC would like to thank those involved and highlight the growth and commitment of these important community partners.

Hiawatha

Students and tutors pose for a picture at our Hiawatha location

CMC’s partnership with the Hiawatha public Library began in 2014 out of the need to reach individuals living in Hiawatha experiencing problems with transportation to Cedar Rapids. Courses are split evenly between literacy and ESL, and U.S. citizenship exam preparation and led by CMC’s curriculum specialist Katie Rosenberger. The Hiawatha library director Jeaneal Weeks says, “It is gratifying to know that we are providing a needed service, and that the students feel welcome in the library.”

We are extremely grateful for the things the Hiawatha public Library has been able to achieve and the work they do in collaboration with CMC. As our first satellite location, the Hiawatha public library allowed CMC to lay the groundwork for further endeavors to reach those who may have been difficult to reach before.

Last year, through our partnership with the Hiawatha Public Library:

  • 16 volunteers tutored in various subjects.
  • We established weekly classes on Mondays and Wednesdays from 11am – 1pm.
  • We offered tutoring in ESL, literacy and U.S. Citizenship exam preparation.
  • 33 students worked to achieve their education goals.
  • Students and tutors studied for a combined 1873 hours!
  • We hosted students from 2 countries: Bhutan and Burundi.

St. Jude’s

St. Jude’s Catholic Church in Cedar Rapids

Seeing the need within their own parish for English tutors, St. Jude’s Catholic Church originally approached CMC with the prospect of creating a satellite location for Adult Basic Education. They had individuals within the parish with both the desire to learn English and the desire to teach it. Our partnership began in the autumn of 2016 and we look forward to its continuation!

Mari Hunt Wassink from CMC leads the classes held at St. Jude’s and expressed thanks and gratitude for the help they’ve provided, “it’s encouraging to witness the progress students make each week toward their goals, including learning English to become a registered nurse, achieve U.S. citizenship, talk with their children’s teachers, attend college and make a friend.”

Last year, through our partnership with St. Jude’s:

  • 33 people volunteered their time to tutor.
  • 47 adults received tutoring.
  • We offered classes in ESL, literacy and U.S. citizenship exam preparation.
  • Classes were held on Tuesdays from 9am – 12pm.
  • Students and tutors studied for 750 hours!
  • We hosted students from 7 different countries: Angola, Burkina Faso, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Togo and Vietnam.

Seventh-Day Adventist

Seventh Day Adventist Church in Cedar Rapids

In January 2017, the Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA) and the Catherine McAuley Center (CMC) launched a partnership to provide free tutoring services to adults in the community in an alternative location for students and volunteer tutors.

The Catherine McAuley Center is grateful for the welcome that the Seventh-day Adventist Church has extended to each of the students, tutors, and CMC staff. The church has generously shared its facilities to help provide a safe educational space. In addition, many members have given their time and talents to volunteer as tutors. As we continue this collaboration, we look forward to offering another year of hope and opportunity together. Thank you!

Last year, through our Partnership with Seventh-day Adventist Church:

  • 14 people volunteered to teach English, literacy and citizenship.
  • 21 adult students received free tutoring.
  • Classes took place on Thursdays from 4pm – 7pm.
  • We offered courses in ESL, literacy and U.S. citizenship exam preparation.
  • Students and tutors studied for a combined 352 hours!
  • We hosted students from 7 different countries: Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Honduras, Peru, Rwanda and Vietnam.

Tutor with Us

The collaboration between satellite locations and CMC has become a crucial resource for people striving to achieve their educational goals. Together, we continue to serve and empower students to build a better future.

CMC would like to express our gratitude towards those parishioners and community members who volunteered to tutor and instill hope in individuals. CMC is always looking forward to continuing our partnership with satellite locations and being able to help those who want help!

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer tutor, whether at a satellite location or at CMC’s main center, sign up for a tutor orientation at www.cmc-cr/volunteer.

Growing Hope

Garden and food pantry collageThis growing season, Daniel and Rachel are finding belonging and hope in the Catherine McAuley Center’s (CMC) community garden, where they will work side by side with other students, residents, and refugee newcomers to grow produce for their families and CMC’s food pantry.

“I want to garden because I like nature, and it’s in my nature to work, to dig,” says Daniel from Uganda. Rachel, a resident who will be tending to the CMC garden for a second season knows that making the garden a community effort is rewarding, “At the garden, we work as part of a team. We all enjoy reaping the produce and then cooking it together. It tastes better because we’ve grown it!”

Daniel and Rachel’s work in the garden is a great example of the inclusive community that is nourished at the Catherine McAuley Center—one where neighbors work together and embrace opportunities to not only better themselves and their families, but the whole community.

With a monthly gift of $20, you can provide the tools and opportunities needed for hope to grow inside and outside the garden:

  • Eight weeks of case management to help a resident reach her unique goals
  • Job coaching for one newcomer as they pursue new or better employment
  • A six-week class for students preparing for U.S. citizenship.

Your pledge of monthly support to the Catherine McAuley Center as a Mustard Seed giver will sprout into abundant opportunities for our neighbors to find belonging and hope. Will you help us branch out to help our neighbors thrive in new ways?

Making Sense of Border Policy

Family outside detention facility

A family outside the GEO Group-run Northwest Detention Center in Washington State. Photo by Seattle Globalist/Flickr

“I don’t understand the news about what’s happening at the border.”

“I am saddened and sickened by all of this.”

“I am ready to help!”

Abundant thanks to the many community members who have reached out to the Catherine McAuley Center (CMC) over the last week out of concern for our neighbors affected by the current border policy.

At CMC, we believe in the dignity of every individual and that our future depends on inclusive communities that welcome, respect, and support a diversity of individuals and ideas. Like our partners at the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), we stand for a border policy that protects children and respects the rights of persons seeking asylum.

Who are asylum seekers?

So are the asylum seekers in the news the same people CMC is serving? We know a lot of Eastern Iowans are asking this as they eagerly look for ways to be part of the solution.

To answer that question, it’s necessary to understand the difference between immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers first. This video explains it well:

Put simply:

  • Immigrants have moved to another country by choice, often for economic reasons.
  • Refugees have fled persecution in their home country and apply for refugee status overseas. They complete a rigorous vetting process before arriving in the U.S., where a resettlement agency like CMC provides comprehensive support for their first 90 days here.
  • Asylum seekers are also fleeing persecution in their home country, but arrive in the U.S. or at the border before applying for protection. International law grants them the right to apply for asylum in another country.
  • A series of short videos from UNHCR further describes the journeys of these migrant groups as they make their way to their new homes.
Welcoming refugees

CMC volunteers welcome a member of a refugee family at the airport

CMC encounters people from each of these groups through our Adult Basic Education, Resource Navigation, and Employment Support services, all of whom are coming to CMC for opportunities to build skills, find stability, and make meaningful connections with the community. Only people with refugee status (those who applied for protection while overseas) are eligible for CMC’s resettlement program, which is conducted according to strict specifications from the U.S. State Department.

Though the people seeking Catherine McAuley Center services may not be the exact faces you see on the news coverage of the detention facilities along the border, many of the people we serve also came to the United States in search of safety or greater opportunities for their families. Each gesture of welcome toward them is creating an inclusive, engaged community that will continue to advocate for our neighbors at home and abroad.

Supporting a welcoming community

To support a welcoming community here in Eastern Iowa, you can:

Volunteer
Become a tutor for one of the 100+ adult learners on our waiting list or share your time and skills with CMC in another way.

Give
We appreciate donations of any of the items on our wishlist that stock our food and hygiene pantry or are used to set up a newly-arrived refugee family’s home. You can even host a food or supply drive with your place of worship, employer, or other social group!

We also rely on donations from individuals to support our mission of offering hope and opportunity to our neighbors. Monetary gifts allow us to continue pursuing new opportunities to better serve our neighbors!

Spread the word
Follow us on Facebook or Twitter for the latest updates, and let your friends know how they can get involved! And as you learn more about the issues you care about like border policy, consider sharing your concerns with your federal elected officials.

Thanks for working together with us for an inclusive community!

Remembering Lynsey

Lynsey Brown, globe, and study materials collageSo often here at the Center we get caught up in the schedule and the hectic rush of tutors and students. We sometimes forget to give a heartfelt “Hello, how are you?” or we think we’ll check in next time/next week. This past week we lost a dear member of our extended family of learners and educators.

Lynsey Brown came to tutor twice a week for almost three years. She gave her time and she gave her knowledge of educating others to her students, to staff, and to other tutors. We often had our new tutors observe her teaching – we knew she did a stellar job and could give each new tutor-learner a good idea of how to make a real and lasting connection with their student. She had a smile that caused a reciprocal smile back, every time. Education staff heard her and her students laughing down the hall and knew learning was being done and that it was fun!

Every moment she spent here was cherished by her students, Hector and José. Hector told us this past week, “She taught me good things. We laugh a lot because I don’t know any friends—she was good American to talk to and a friend.”  Staff commented all week that she was giving, open, and truly a gem to have in our tutoring family.  Leeann remembered her as “kind, gentle, and filled with good intentions” and Katie remembered her as “a gifted teacher who was ready to help any student. Staff and students alike always seemed so comfortable in her presence.”

Lynsey asked her family to be sure Catherine McAuley Center received her furniture as donation for refugee and immigrant families as they begin new lives here in Eastern Iowa. Her kindness, thoughtfulness, and truly wonderful spirit will be greatly missed here at the Center. We know that the Center is now imbued with Lynsey’s energy of goodwill and her delightful laughter. She’s helped us to remember that the moment it takes to wish someone well, or check in with each other, can and should be taken—nothing is more important than the connections we continue to make with one another.

Anne and the CMC Education team

May Update: Refugee Resettlement

Refugee resettlement is up and running at the Catherine McAuley Center! April brought the arrival of two siblings from Iraq and a young man from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with a Burmese family resettled the first week of May. RefugeeRISE Americorps members, Clark Cunningham-White and Leya Neema, share an update on exciting program milestones and the program’s greatest needs moving forward below.


Welcome hug

After executive orders caused a delay in resettlement, Jacques, a young man from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was reunited with his aunt at the Eastern Iowa Airport in late April.

We announced the resettlement program in January, but the first arrival wasn’t until April. What caused the delay and what have you and other Resettlement staff been working on in the meantime?

Clark: There was a series of executive orders that limited the ability of USCRI, our parent resettlement agency, to resettle. We weren’t sure when the first arrivals would occur.

Leya: Also we never really know exactly when a new case will arrive until the last minute. USCRI sends us assurance forms, we assure (take responsibility for) them, then when all the checkpoints are ready to go they could come at any time.

Clark: While we were waiting, we decided to plan wrap-around services for existing students and refugees in our community. We surveyed current students about what kinds of services they would be interested in that CMC doesn’t currently offer. We also looked at other organizations to see what other kinds of volunteer roles could support students.

Leya: We were also working on employment, a lot of intakes, helping students with applications, going on job shadows.

 

How many refugees have arrived through CMC’s Resettlement Program so far?

Clark: Six people from three families, and we just got travel notifications this morning for a family of fourteen. That’s a lot of fufu (a staple food in parts of western and central Africa)!

 

What has the past month looked like for these newcomers since arriving in the U.S.?

Welcome handshake

CMC volunteers welcome a mother and her two grown daughters from Burma at the Eastern Iowa airport

Leya: They’re doing well. We have been assisting them in applying for social security cards, medical insurance, and temporary benefits and cash assistance. We’ve taken them to their initial health screening and two of them have already been to see their new family doctor.

Clark: We’ve also assured that they have a stable household or stable apartment to make sure that where they’re living is safe and that they understand different amenities within their living space.

Leya: They’re also enrolling in schools—whether it’s an ESL program for adults or K-12 education for the one minor we’ve worked with.

 

How many more refugees are expected to be resettled by CMC this year?

Leya: Originally we had 29 assured before the family of 14. Out of that we’ve resettled six. The rest of those could arrive at any time.

 

What kinds of physical items are needed for a new refugee family, and why do we have a lot of very specific items on our wishlist? What impact do those donations have?

Clark: USCRI provides us a list of required goods we have to make sure that the family receives. Everything from food and cleaning supplies to furniture is needed.

Leya: Some of these are items seem oddly specific to us, but if we’re giving a family canned goods, they’re certainly going to need a can opener, too. They’re things the family won’t really be used to or know to ask for.

Clark: It’s also really important because if we did not get these items from an in-kind donation, that cost would come from the limited funds for the refugee. You’re lessening the financial burden for the refugee as well through these donations. We’re really grateful for all the donors who have supported this program so far.

Leya: (Looking at wish list) We’re really in need of these items. The family of fourteen will be arriving on May 26th, so the bigger items like beds and dressers are needed now and faster than ever.

Clark: We’ll also need car seats for this family. We haven’t worked with children in these first few cases but a lot of baby items are actually needed now.

 

How can someone get involved to support this program?

Leya: Well, for example, for the family of fourteen, there will be two to three apartments that will need to be set up. So apart from donating all of these wonderful items, we’ll also need help setting up the house.

Most adults we are resettling are employable, so having someone volunteer to be a job coach is needed as well. And for anyone who has a business and is willing to hire a refugee, contact us.

Clark: Yes, we can make suggestions about going through the orientation to make it easier for the employer to have refugees as employees.

Leya: We can always work with the employer–

Clark: –to have a mutually beneficial relationship.

May 3 Arrival


A Note from Kristin, Volunteer Coordinator:

There are many ways to support the resettlement program. As Leya said, there is a need to help get refugees moved into their new homes. We are looking for volunteers to help with everything from heavy lifting of furniture to unpacking boxes!  We also have identified the need for a few new and exciting volunteer opportunities which are listed below.

  • Friendship Exchange: Be a friend to a refugee or immigrant family by sharing meals, celebrating holidays together, or helping with answers to questions as they navigate a new culture.
  • Job Coach: Help create resumes, access employment services, and complete online applications.
  • Interpreter: Offer interpretation services to refugee families who are struggling to connect to resources due to a language barrier.
  • Transportation volunteer: Provide a ride to important appointments and meetings for immigrant and refugee families who don’t have transportation.

Each of these new roles will require attending a two hour orientation and completing a volunteer interview.  Our next orientation will be Thursday, May 18th, at 6pm at the main center located at 866 4th Ave SE.  Interested volunteers can register for this orientation by emailing me at kristin@cmc-cr.org.