Volunteer Appreciation: Rose Mary

Through all stages of life, the conventional wisdom is to make a plan and follow it carefully. Whether it be college, a career, a big move, even a vacation – take calculated steps to get there. While this is usually very sound advice, in some cases not having a plan can end up leading you to the right place. This was the case for Rose Mary, a long time CMC volunteer that has been involved at the Center since 2008. 

“They always said ‘Before you’re retired you should be sure you know what you want to do,’” Rose Mary said, “Well I retired and I didn’t know what I wanted to do!” 

After retiring from Rockwell Collins and trying to find a way to fill her days, Rose Mary took a chance on a program that pointed retirees towards volunteer opportunities, and she eventually decided on the Catherine McAuley Center. Rose Mary has volunteered all over the Center since she first started, helping out with things such as filing, stuffing letters, preparing our event invitations for mailing, and managing CMC’s scrapbooks that are viewed at our Annual Celebration. Some of her jobs, like preparing tea bags, are a testament to how long she’s been helping out. 

“I started as a tea lady, did you know they used to sell a lot of tea?” she asked, before discussing some of the highlights from her first years at CMC.

“It was a whole group of us around the table in the sunroom. We had to tear these little bags apart and put a teaspoon of tea in there and iron them shut. I did that for a couple years, and that was fun because we always said ‘Whatever’s said in the tea room stays in the tea room!’”

Rose Mary has seen plenty of change during her years at the Center, most notably the increasing amount of people and the decreasing amount of free space as we approach the long-awaited move into a larger building. 

“We just keep getting more and more people!” she said as we discussed the move this summer, “The basement used to just be the basement, but they had to fix that up to make room for more people, so it just keeps growing.”

Besides the ever-growing need for space, one of the most common talking points about the Catherine McAuley Center is the feeling of welcome when you step inside. There are friendly faces around every corner, which plays a large role in keeping volunteers like Rose Mary coming back for so many years. 

“Everyone always says thank you. I feel like I put smiles on people’s faces. That’s what’s kept me coming back– the people. I don’t remember ever leaving in a bad mood, I’ve always felt better.”

Volunteer Appreciation: Myrna

A sense of community is something to be cherished. As people, we seek out those connections and interactions that make us feel truly human and more in tune with the people around us. Volunteer tutor Myrna Loehrlein, who has enjoyed tutoring at CMC for the past eleven years, shared that the connections she’s made through working with students is high on the list of reasons that she’s stayed with us for so long!

Myrna teaches basic learning skills to adults at the Center as a volunteer tutor. Some of these students are learning how to read for the first time in any language, and others are learning English. No matter a student’s background, Myrna’s ability to teach is bolstered by her remarkable background in child education. While teaching itself can be infinitely rewarding, Myrna says one of her favorite aspects of tutoring and being at CMC is the interactions that she gets to have. Myrna states that she feels “not only appreciated, but respected,” and has “never had a student who was grumpy!” According to Myrna, seeing students achieve their goals is always something to be celebrated, but it is the connection between student and tutor forged in the hours of study that is most meaningful. “The things that are really most encouraging aren’t necessarily student achievements but a sense that even if there isn’t a really an identifiable student achievement, there’s something important going on. You know that all of us here are complete people,” she continues, “We want to be serious and we want to learn but we understand that the heart of us needs to be taken care of.”  And that is exactly what Myrna, and the hundreds of other volunteers at CMC, do each day. 

The community at CMC is one that is built on connection. It is a place that places a premium on respect and understanding of one another. Each person, whether entering our doors as a compassionate teacher or an eager learner, is appreciated for the unique strengths they bring to our community. At CMC, all will find that the passion to connect with and care for others is shared among our staff and volunteers; a passion we believe to be truly exceptional. Thank you, Myrna – for a great conversation, all of the work you do here, and contributing to the good spirit of the Center!

We began this series on our volunteers to shine a light on just some of the hundreds of people that give their time and talents to contribute to CMC.  Follow along to get to know more of our volunteers who are working together for an inclusive community at CMC!

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!

ITC Midwest Gifts Grant to Adult Basic Education

CMC believes that independence is achieved through education. Learning allows our students to rely less on others and to discover how to impact the world around them. Through this independence an array of opportunities open up, allowing us to better serve those close to us and our community. This is the independence CMC hopes to give everyone in our community. By not only giving people the tools they need, but teaching how to use them, CMC provides a path to a sustainable future characterized by hope and fulfillment.

Right now there are over 300 volunteer tutors teaching over 450 students these valuable skills. While CMC remains astonished by this continual outpour of community support, none of this would be possible without the work and support of donors and grantees.

Being the largest and longest running program at CMC, Adult Basic Education requires a lot of effort and resources to continue its exceptional service to the community. Because of this, CMC is happy to announce that Adult Basic Education has been gifted a $10,000 grant by ITC Midwest through their Charitable Giving Program! This grant will be used to support the Catherine McAuley Center’s Adult Basic Education Program expenses, including educational materials, program coordination, and volunteer tutor training. It will also provide support for the more than 300 annual volunteers who provide one-on-one instruction to more than 450 students as they work toward their educational goals.

“ITC is pleased to provide this funding to the Catherine McAuley Center and its adult educational programs,” said ITC Midwest Local Government and Community Affairs Regional Manager, Troy Weary. “The greater Cedar Rapids community has been highly supportive of ITC’s efforts to improve the regional electric transmission system. We’re pleased to give back to the community and support educational programming at the Catherine McAuley Center.”

Through the ITC Charitable Giving Program, ITC Midwest makes contributions to local nonprofits as part of the company’s commitment to the many communities it serves. ITC supports qualified nonprofit organizations whose programs and projects emphasize the company’s focus on education, environmental stewardship, social services, and health and wellness.

CMC’s Executive Director, Paula Land, stated, “We are thrilled to have the support from ITC so that hundreds of people in our community can use their new and improved communication skills to make stronger connections and live more purposeful lives.” It is truly an honor to be given an opportunity to help maintain and improve the quality of services offered by Adult Basic Education. To have community partners who understand the significance of education in a person’s life is a blessing and we’re thankful for ITC Midwest’s support for the Catherine McAuley Center and their support for education.

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.

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.

Enactus Continues Career-Readiness Initiatives for Residents

Career prepMount Mercy Enactus, a local chapter of a worldwide student entrepreneurship club, has renewed and expanded their partnership with the Transtional Housing Program (THP) at the Catherine McAuley Center (CMC) through a series of workshops on employment skills for residents . Enactus has been building relationships over the course of several years with the women of THP, who come to CMC in need of a stable environment in which they can overcome the barriers like mental health and substance abuse that led to their homelessness. This year these career-readiness initiatives have been funded by a grant from Wal-Mart.

Earlier this year, Enactus members worked with residents to develop  résumés they can use as they apply for jobs. Each resident was given a flash drive on which they can store their résumé for future updates. Most recently, Macy Demeulenaere and Kelsey Kuester, two Enactus students, accompanied the women of THP on a shopping trip to Kohl’s in search of professional clothing.

Shopping

A resident of the Transitional Housing Program prepares to check out at Kohls with her new professional attire

Each woman was given a budget of $100 to spend on clothing that would be appropriate for a future interview or current job. “Our goal was to help the women find something that they would feel confident in. Feeling good about your appearance is an important part of the interview process, and we want the ladies to be confident and prepared,” said Kelsey. The Enactus team gave guidance on outfits that would be appropriate for each resident’s career goals and helped the women to find great deals. “Whether they needed new jeans, shoes, socks, or blouses, we wanted to be sure they could purchase anything they needed to be successful,” explained Macy.

The women will don their new clothing in a mock-interview seminar Enactus will host in January. Residents will dress the part in their new professional attire as they participate in a mock-interview with an Enactus member targeted toward her unique career goals. Jennifer Tibbetts, THP Manager, explains that the Enactus students are uniquely positioned to work with the women in such a capacity. “Enactus students have a skill set that allows them to critique performance to help prepare the women, but to communicate non-judgmentally.”

The compassion the Enactus students have for the women of the Transitional Housing Program and the wider community is evident as they share about the Enactus-CMC partnership. “Everything we do with CMC… has helped us get in touch with the community,” said Macy. Of her hopes for the women for the remainder of this year’s partnership Kelsey remarked, “I want them to enjoy going to work and to do something that they love.” The Catherine McAuley Center extends our deepest thanks to Mount Mercy Enactus for their long-time support of the Transitional Housing Program as a whole and for the care they have shown to each individual resident!