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

Staff Chat: Tutors

In honor of National Volunteer Week, we sat down to chat with Anne, Katie, and Leeann from our Education staff team to hear about the impact they see volunteer tutors make every day! 

Tutor OrientationWhat are some of your favorite moments or memories of working with tutors?

Anne: [Tom] is just outstanding.

Katie: He’s just a very lovely, gentle human being.

Leeann: Tom comes for three hours every Saturday. He comes a half hour early and does language study of Spanish on his own in the space, and then he just hangs out, and if the students cancel he’s totally fine. He’s there as a resource.

Anne: Yeah, he’s not just coming for the students, he’s coming for the staff as well. He’s kind of fantastic.

Leeann: He doesn’t ask for anything, but comes here for opportunities to learn and grow which is really fun to watch. He asks a lot of good questions, like if there’s a grammar concept he doesn’t know, he really likes to learn from us. So he hangs out, does his own thing. And he’s really lovely with the students and can work with anyone. And then… he brings us food. It is so nice!

Anne: There’s always Dennis, and the jokes.

Katie: A lot of folk songs as well.

Anne: After every session, everybody wants him as a teacher.

Katie: He also just jumps in and does anything that needs to be done. One morning there was a tutor orientation and we were totally slammed, and he was greeting the new volunteers and showing them down to the basement without anyone asking him to do that! He was just like, “People need to know where to go.”

Anne: Duronda just came back from her winter travels. The whole time she has been sending postcards and letters to her students. And I know Linda wrote and sent e-mails while she was gone. We laugh that we lose so many tutors during the winter, but they really do stay in contact, even if they don’t have the same student when they come back. They’re still connected even while they’re away on vacation or for longer periods. It’s pretty amazing!

And I just talked to Elias about his [former] Citizenship tutor, Matt. I wrote to Matt and asked if I could give Elias his phone number. He wrote back that Elias, his integrity and his will to learn is the reason that they continue to support the Center. I think all of the tutors are affected as well as the students.

Leeann: I think Citizenship brings a lot of engagement from tutors, too. I’m thinking about Wes. Back in March Sahrakef’s ceremony was in Davenport and he drove over for the ceremony.

Anne: Citizenship ceremonies—every time we go the tutor is there. That’s not uncommon.

 

What is the most inspiring thing about the volunteers you work with?

Anne: Honestly, on any given day, while we may be swamped because of all the people in here and everything that’s happening, the fact is the place runs because of them. We don’t have a job, we don’t have the opportunity to help or the opportunity to engage to this degree without the greased wheel of communication through tutors. What they’re offering to us is pretty impressive.

And when I tell people we have 350 volunteer tutors, I always hear this audible gasp. This is happening all the time, every day, in the middle of Cedar Rapids. It’s just amazing to me!

Katie: It’s really cool, too, at orientations when we ask people why they’re here, how many say, “Because my friend told me” or “because my mom comes here” and how that word of mouth spreads from person to person. I think that’s a testament to how the tutors are not only serving us here in the building. They also reach out into the broader community.

Anne: I really hope they know that every time we write a thank you, send an e-mail, put it on the board, put it on the wonderful birthday cards we love to do, I hope they understand how deeply that it’s meant. There’s no doubt about that.

Anne: We like ‘em.

Katie: We’ll keep ‘em.

Leeann: We like ‘em, we’ll keep ‘em. (laughs)

 

To all volunteer tutors, thank you for the time, knowledge, and skills you share with your study partners. Your commitment is noticed and your compassion is appreciated!

Volunteers Build Connections

Interview groupBy Jennifer Tibbetts

Volunteers are an integral part of the rebuilding of hope, sense of self, and connections that we do at CMC. Volunteer groups are interwoven throughout the housing program at CMC and offer educational and social opportunities for residents. Through volunteer interactions, women build skills to then become engaged in the community through their own acts of volunteerism.

One of my more recent favorite memories is when the Mount Mercy University Enactus group hosted a mock job fair for residents, which was the finale of a series of employment skill-building sessions. The group arranged for several local business leaders to volunteer their time to conduct interviews with women in the housing program to practice their new interview and employment skills.

Mock interviewThe night of the mock interviews, it turned out that all of the volunteer business leaders were female. Seeing an opportunity for connection, I decided to ask the volunteers to share a little about their journey to where they are today. This started a truly powerful discussion as the female businesswomen shared their successes and struggles, building bridges with residents’ stories. You could see that the residents connected to their stories which were helping residents to regain a sense of hope for their own lives. These volunteers had a larger impact than their original “assignment.”

Many other volunteers and groups help build the same sense of hope and connection in the Transitional Housing program through their service. The Soroptimists cook and share a weekly meal with residents, and a group of Master Gardeners teach valuable skills in garden preparation, care, and harvesting.

If you want to learn more about ways to support skill-building and connection in the Transitional Housing Program, please contact volunteer@cmc-cr.org.

Jennifer TibbettsJennifer is the Transitional Housing Program Manager and has used her 18 years of experience in social services to implement female-responsive programming at CMC. Jennifer is proud to be a part of a mission-driven organization like the Catherine McAuley Center and feels privileged to be in a role in which she can help create a safe and supportive environment that allows women to realize their own potential. In her free time Jennifer finds creative ways to be an advocate for women throughout the state, and organizes community groups and female-led initiatives that allow women to connect and find their voice.

Protecting and Building Communities in Cedar Rapids

Last week at the Cedar Rapids Public Library the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission hosted the event, “Forum on Protecting Arab, Muslim, Sikh, and South Asian Communities.” This educational program focused on the definition of “hate crimes,” and included presentations and panels discussing the legislative processes, local resources, and opportunities to assist affected communities.

The Catherine McAuley Center (CMC) consistently works with diverse, and oftentimes marginalized, groups. In 2016 the Adult Basic Education Program alone had 404 students representing 49 countries from around the world. Taking opportunities like this forum to learn how to advocate and protect members of our CMC community aligns with our values– supporting inclusive communities that welcome, respect, and support a diversity of individuals and ideas. Communication and Administrative Intern, Madison Clark, attended the event due to her belief in this tenet, and to share this valuable information with a wider audience!

What is a hate crime?

Representatives from the U.S. Department of Justice, the Iowa Department of Human Rights, and the Anti-Defamation League of the Plains States Region explained that hate crimes are difficult to prosecute due to their nature. Unlike most other crimes, the prosecutor is expected to prove the motive of the defendants instead of simply proving the crime happened. 

A hate crime can include, but is not limited to:

  • Violent acts enacted on a person, their property, or a place of worship,
  • Threats of violence,
  • Attempts to intimidate or interfere with living
  • Obstruction of free exercise
  • Conspiracy against rights
  • Trespassing

Hate crimes are not common in Iowa, and are especially uncommon within the Cedar Rapids community. Knowing the scope of potential issues will simply help community members continue to protect the individual rights of everyone who call Cedar Rapids their home.

When and to whom should concerns be reported?

According to the law enforcement panel, hate crimes go tremendously under-reported. This means that the current data being worked from is not covering the full scope of issues being faced by marginalized communities. With this in mind, the representatives made it overwhelmingly clear that individuals should report any concerns to their local law enforcement, even if it’s only a suspicion, and that they should be reported right away.

The panel explained that the possibility of something being a hate crime, regardless of whether or not it’s prosecuted that way, is always noted. This is so future incidents might have better evidence behind them that could enable victims receive justice. Basically, if it looks and feels like a hate crime, law enforcement will respond to it as such.

If there’s been an incident that could potentially be a hate crime, call the non-emergency number, or 911, depending on the urgency of the situation.

How can we address the growing tensions?

The community panel, including representatives from the Eastern Iowa Islam, Sikh, and Hindu communities, followed the law enforcement panel. This group spent time discussing how recent political tensions have increased the threat of hate crimes towards their communities, as well as what others might be able to do to help.

Overwhelmingly, the community members agreed that what would have the greatest effect would be getting the Cedar Rapids community involved in education sessions about each group. They felt that educating and increasing community awareness would lead to a more enriched community through diversity and new perspectives. Each group’s community center offers trainings, tours, and will welcome anyone interested in learning more. They also expressed a willingness to collaborate with other community groups, businesses, or schools on events ranging from volunteering to positive media campaigns supporting diversity.

When a crime motivated by bias occurs, it reverberates throughout all communities. This forum aimed to say, “You are not alone,” to the people of many diverse perspectives and practices who call Cedar Rapids their home. Many groups have started to see a rise in threats and tensions over the last few years, and it’s the responsibility of Cedar Rapids residents to create a safe and inviting community for everyone. CMC aims to supports this effort, and believes everyone has, and should continue to have, the potential to create and live a purposeful and fulfilling life.

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.

100+ Corridor Women Who Care- about CMC!

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We are very excited to announce that the Catherine McAuley Center has received a generous donation from the 100+ Corridor Women Who Care organization. 100+ Corridor Women is an organization of women who support the growth of our local community by pooling resources to make focused, effective contributions to local charities. The mission is to bring together 100 or more women, each willing to contribute $100 four times a year to help the community and local charities.

The generous donation on behalf of 100+ Corridor Women Who Care will go to support the needs of the growing Adult Basic Education program, which proudly serves more than 400 adult learners who are working hard to brighten their outlook for the future by learning English, studying for the U.S. citizenship exam, or improving other basic academic skills. Many thanks to Kim Hillyard, CMC board member and volunteer tutor, for sharing about the CMC mission with the 100 Plus Corridor Women Who Care!

Because we were selected as the beneficiary of this quarter’s 100+ gifts, CMC will receive 40% of proceeds of the products sold through the 100+ Corridor Women’s One Mission fundraising campaign!  One Mission is a local business based in Mount Vernon devoted to “changing the world, one mission at a time”. Browse their online shop for soaps, candles, graphic prints, apparel, home décor and more—and be sure to click “Support this Cause” on the 100+ Corridor Women Who Care page so that your purchase benefits the students of the Adult Basic Education program!

one mission

Library Reaches Out to Refugees

Bhutanese classBy Erin Zaputil of the Hiawatha Public Library

The Hiawatha Public Library has been a proud partner with the Catherine McAuley Center since 2014 to provide English language classes for a group of Bhutanese refugees. Since August 3, 41 Bhutanese students have studied 1,217 hours at the library.

These refugees, who speak Nepali, were forced to flee Bhutan due to violence and persecution stemming from religious, cultural and political issues. Many have spent decades living in camps in Nepal without sufficient food, clothes, health care, shelter and education.

Many of the students live within walking distance of the Hiawatha Public Library, and do not have transportation to travel to another destination. Katie Lanius, Education Program Coordinator at the Catherine McAuley Center states that if they didn’t have the space at the library “they would never be able to get downtown to the Center, they would never have an opportunity to work on their language skills.”

library giving treeProviding space for English language classes is an important part of library’s long-range service plan. Library Director Jeaneal Weeks says, “This is really important to me personally because I believe that our community is a welcoming one. We hear so much about immigration in the news these days. I’d like to focus on what we all have in common, which is striving for a good life. Our Bhutanese patrons are eager to learn English and to learn how to function here. We should welcome that initiative and hard work. These people are part of our community, we will try to serve them and meet their information needs just as we do for all in our community.”

Many of the refugees come to their new homes with very little, and many are ill-prepared for the coming winter. The Hiawatha Public Library is hosting a “Giving Tree” to gather donations of needed items for the students and their families. If you would like to participate please stop by the library, take a leaf from the tree, and bring the donated item back to the library. If you are unable to stop by please call the library for a list of needed items. Thank you for your thoughtful consideration!

This post first appeared on the Hiawatha Public Library’s Facebook page and was published here with permission of the author. Please show your support of their partnership with CMC by liking their page!

Emma, 10, Donates Birthday Money to CMC

Emma McCormick

The Catherine McAuley Center thrives on the graciousness of our community who contribute to our mission through volunteerism and donations.This month we were surprised by a young lady who is a CMC volunteer and, now, a donor– and she’s just 10 years old!

What did you ask for on your 10th birthday?

Thank You, Emma!

Emma McCormick volunteered in the CMC food pantry with her mom and the Cedar Rapids Roller Girls in January. She thought so much of her experience that she wanted to do more, but a 9 year old has limited resources.  Of course, that didn’t stop her. When Emma’s 10th birthday rolled around, she made a big decision. Instead of asking for gifts, she asked her friends and family to donate money.

All together, she received $130. A girl could do a lot with that much money, but chose not to buy anything for herself. Emma donated the money she received to the Catherine McAuley Center!

The Catherine McAuley Center can purchase half a month's worth of food (600 pounds!) with the money she donated.

The Catherine McAuley Center can purchase half a month’s worth of food (600 pounds!) with the money she donated.

We get far more than a financial benefit from her gift. Emma demonstrates the kind of empathy and advocacy that are necessary to help us keep doing what we do. She saw a need, found a way to help and through her efforts more people learned about our mission.

CMC staff celebrate with Emma.

CMC staff celebrate with Emma.

We transform lives by building, embracing and serving our community. As Emma clearly knows, we can only do it together.

Thank you, Emma!