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

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.


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!

Tutor With Me!

by Mary Young, tutor

Tutor Mary Young and Student

 Imagine being a welcoming committee – an ambassador – a guide to understanding – a smiling face – a friend.

There are people in our community that are currently isolated and without a voice to communicate.  They desperately want to learn what it means to live in the United States, to speak, read and write English, and to become a citizen.  You can help them. My morning at the McAuley Center is a gem in my life and I take every opportunity to tell others about my experience as a tutor.

When I decided to start tutoring at CMC, many asked me, “Do you speak all those languages?” The answer is, no, I only speak English and I am not a teacher.  Your goal as a tutor at the McAuley Center is to help your student learn conversational English: to be able to ask “Where is the rice?”; “How much are the potatoes?”; and “How is my child doing in school?”  

As a tutor, you get the experience of an international friendship. I have learned of the different areas of China; about harvesting ginseng in Northern China; where French Guiana is; about Burundi, Mexico and Vietnam. I have helped a student prepare for the citizenship test and would have not passed the test myself prior to studying with my student.  It was a very moving experience for me when she was sworn in as a U.S. citizen. 

Being a tutor at the McAuley Center has given me a deeper appreciation and understanding of the world.  There are currently more than 70 students waiting for a guide to help them communicate and find their way.  Consider giving an hour or more of your week. I think that you will find, as I did, that you gain far more from being a tutor than you give.

 Read more of our FY13 Annual Report.

Hear more about students and tutors at CMC in this Gazette article!

Record Volunteer Service Hours in FY13

“Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to
play. Every individual makes a difference. And we have a
choice: What sort of difference do we want to make?” ~Jane Goodall


Value of Volunteer Service Graph

AR13 Volunteer Overview



CMC services would not be possible without the amazing volunteers who dedicate so many service hours to our mission. The Cedar Rapids community gave more than 11,000 volunteer service hours in FY13.

 Volunteer Maintenance Projects

Cornell Service LearnersRead more of our FY13 Annual Report

Check out more great volunteer photos on our Facebook page.

Educating the Heart: Service Learning at CMC

 “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” ~Aristotle

Service Learning in FY13

Mount Mercy Service Learners

Mount Mercy service learners clean toys for the Education Program’s childcare room.

 Each year, we engage students from middle school through college in the CMC mission through service. “Across several experiences with individual students and the courses I teach, we have been able to experience the spirit of Mercy by assisting in the delivery of programs and services dedicated to helping those in need. Our bond, forged because of the courageous work of the Sisters of Mercy, has enabled my students to experience service and the impact it can make on the lives of so many,” says Anne King, associate professor of marketing at Mount Mercy University.

Some students do their service learning off-site. Eva and Sean Deegan held a lemonade sale over their summer break to raise money for CMC programs.

Some students do their service learning off-site. Eva and Sean Deegan held a lemonade sale over their summer break to raise money for CMC programs.


Students are able to help CMC accomplish necessary tasks and learn important skills. Katie Pahlas, Grant Wood Area Education school social worker explains, “Our students who volunteer at CMC are students with severe autism. This opportunity to learn job related skills (i.e., putting away food, cleaning, and organizing shelves) not only helps CMC, but allows these students to strengthen skills which may someday transfer to the real world of work.”  Learning through service is both memorable and rewarding. Katie says, “The experience of lending their hands to help others is naturally gratifying. The relationship our students have with CMC is a perfect example of the importance of promoting the well being and dignity of every individual.”


 Read more of our FY13 Annual Report.


Check out more great volunteer photos on our Facebook page.


100 Hours of Volunteer Service in FY13

A special thank you to these amazing volunteers who each served more than 100 hours this year. The did everything from tutoring to graphic design, maintenance, and serve on a committee or the board. Together they served more than 3300 hours!

CMC Volunteers “100 Hours Club”

  • Amber Bohlen
  • Lalisa Brown
  • Deb Cave
  • John Chaimov
  • Lauren T. Duvall
  • Sara Elahi
  • Kimberly Gardner
  • Kristi Heiderscheid
  • Sr. Rita Heires
  • Rose Mary Kerschenske
  • Del LaGrange
  • Jennifer L. Mackey
  • Betty Mallie
  • Jennifer L. Reierson Mims
  • Melissa Pence
  • Floyd Sandford
  • Ann Sullivan
  • Robert Yeats
  • Beth Wallace
  • Gabrielle Watkins
  • Sarah Watson

 Gabby WatkinsOur PR volunteer, Gabby Watkins, dedicated more than 180 hours at CMC last fiscal year.

“I first began volunteering at the Center during an internship over the summer 2012 to finish my degree at Kirkwood. Once the internship was done, I was gone for only two months before I missed it too much and had to return. I am often asked why I volunteered so much at CMC and it’s really very simple: it made me feel like I was actually doing something to improve my community. The love the staff has for their work is infectious, as are the smiles of those they are helping. I know that my service really helps improve lives and, perhaps most importantly, has helped me grow as an individual.”

 Read more about our dedicated volunteers

Seeds of Change: A Recipe for Empowerment

Transitional Housing Kitchen Remodel Project

Can You Help.png

Transitional Housing Program strives to continuously assess and improve services that address the current and most pressing needs of residents. First and foremost is the need for a secure and healthy home. Over the past several years, through community grants, CMC has been able to make much needed improvements to our housing program facilities, keeping them safe and functional. But our facilities are also an important part of programming outside the need for shelter. A recent partnership with the Cedar Rapids Soroptimist Clu

b has opened an opportunity to dream a little bigger for our facilities and the programming that we can offer.

The Healthy Women’s Series, a group learning and treatment model, often addresses issues of health and wellness. Many women in poverty lack the resources or know-how to prepare healthy meals. Through our partnership with the Soroptimists and other community

support, we hope to remodel and transform the current kitchen space in our main building to provide a functional, classroom-style kitchen for residents. The current kitchen has limited workspace that is not conducive to group learning and has outdated appliances and cabinetry. The kitchen space is so limited that only two women at a time can use it comfortably. These confining conditions can be a trigger for survivors of violence. Our new kitchen design takes into account best practices for dealing with trauma and will allow all of the women to feel safe in the space as they cook for themselves and learn as a group.


Can You Help?

We’ve dreamed, we’ve planned, and now we need your help!

To achieve our dream and build a better, more efficient and accommodating kitchen, we continue to rely on grants and community partners. Our dream is big and comes at a cost of more than $50,000. We hope to cover much of this cost through donated labor, appliances, materials, and funds. We’d like you, your organization, or your business to be our partner in making this dream a reality. Please consider contributing to our project in some way. Every partnership is another vital ingredient in this recipe for empowerment.

For more information on how you can help click here to read our complete Kitchen-Project-Proposal!

Seeds of Hope: Tutors Make A Difference

by Monica Soto

Click Here to see Monica deliver this speech at the United Way Volunteer Breakfast.

Monica Soto Byline PhotoHave you ever felt lost, alone, without hope? Have you ever thought that some divine power put someone in your life to help you?

When I arrived in the U.S., I felt like an intruder. I couldn’t speak or understand. Not just the language…the white, tall, blonde people. When I moved to my first apartment, all the white people in the building waved to me and smiled. I always ran the other way, with the fear that they would speak to me and I would have to answer with one of the few sentences that I had learned in English – “I don’t speak English.” I promised myself that I will learn English no matter what so I can say hello back to the kind people who waved to a stranger in the hallway.

Someone told me about Catherine McAuley Center, a place where you can go and get an English tutor. I said “That sound very expensive.” She answered, “It’s free. The people volunteer their time.” I said to myself, “If it’s free, why not try it?”

As soon as I stepped through the door, they welcomed me as a friend. They interviewed me in my own language and gave me a tutor, as they called them. For me it was more than that. It was a teacher. A light in the tunnel. It was funny how we both got excited when I started mumbling the words that sounded like the ones they were trying to teach me. When I saw their genuine concern about my frustration and we shared with happiness my achievements, I never saw them as the white, tall, blonde people again. They were my friends

I’m profoundly thankful to my tutors. For giving me my voice back so I can share my experiences. For teaching me how to survive in this country. But most important of all, for giving me hope when I felt lost. For giving me the hand that I needed to stand up every time that I fell.

If you never considered being a tutor because you feel you’re not a teacher, let me tell you that you can make a difference in someone’s life. You can be that friend that we desperately need. You can be that hand that they’re trying to reach, but no one grabs. You can be the inspiration that they’re looking for to overcome the fear of saying hello to a stranger. You can make them feel at home and not an intruder. To them. To my tutors who share their time, their knowledge, and their experience. To my friends, my respect, my appreciation. From the bottom of my heart, thank you!

April Showers Bring May…Volunteers?

by Brianna Schwenk

Cargill front page

With the help of a generous grant from their corporate office, Cargill employees were able to transform our empty flower beds into beautiful, welcoming landscaping, designed by expert gardener, Dana Land with The Personal Gardener.

In the past few weeks, there’s been an exciting buzz of energy around the Catherine McAuley Center. Spring has finally arrived, and with it, came groups of committed, generous, and eager volunteers who were ready to tackle big projects and make a difference in the community. In just three days, volunteers logged over 430 hours of service – that’s $9542.34 in volunteer labor! Together, the May groups contributed over $2,000 in supplies and monetary donations. Check out more photos of our projects and the great volunteers who contributed on our Facebook page at

We  would like to extend a huge, heartfelt thank you to all of the volunteers who have shared their time and skills with us this May. Without support from groups like these, we would not be able to offer the welcoming, quality services we are committed to developing and maintaining at the Center. It takes a lot of heart and many hands to keep CMC running. Our volunteer coordinator, Brianna Schwenk, is available to schedule and design a group volunteer experience for anyone who is interested in making a difference. If you or your organization is looking for a volunteer opportunity that builds teamwork, creates memories, and has a definite impact on our community, please contact our volunteer coordinator at 319-363-4993 or e-mail

A crew from GE Capital took care of our many spring cleaning projects such as: cleaning shelves, organizing our food pantry, shampooing the carpet, and creating a great working space for our office volunteers.

A crew from GE Capital took care of our many spring cleaning projects such as: cleaning shelves, organizing our food pantry, shampooing the carpet, and creating a great working space for our office volunteers.

The group from Toyota Financial undertook the massive project of getting our community garden ready for planting. Thanks to their volunteer labor and materials donation, we were able to paint the fence, till and plant the garden, paint our deck, power wash our houses, and make more space in our garage for storage.

The group from Toyota Financial undertook the massive project of getting our community garden ready for planting. Thanks to their volunteer labor and materials donation, we were able to paint the fence, till and plant the garden, paint our deck, power wash our houses, and make more space in our garage for storage.