Empowering Others Through Financial Literacy

by Cayden Anderson

I remember the excitement of receiving my first paycheck. I also remember the confusion of what to do with my newly earned funds. Should I open a checking account? Or maybe, a savings account? Should I invest? I started thinking about what would happen when I had bills to pay. Will my income be enough to cover my expenses? How do I create a budget? Will I be able to make ends meet?

Financial literacy skills are not commonly taught in high school. The result – many individuals lack an understanding of what to do. That is where the Financial Empowerment Center at the Evelyn K Davis Center for Working Families comes in. My name is Cayden Anderson. I am a first-year student at Drake University pursuing majors in International Relations and Law, Politics, and Society. While researching colleges I discovered Drake University’s Engaged Citizen Corps program. This program cemented my interest in Drake. I was grateful to be accepted into the program and excited to be aligned with the Financial Empowerment Center.

What is the Financial Empowerment Center?

The Financial Empowerment Center (FEC) helps people by providing personal financial coaching, as well as business and nonprofit development. The FEC is centered around empowering individuals through developing their financial skills and financial stability. FEC recognizes individuals with improved financial literacy can start to make other aspects of their lives better. Many things make finances difficult, including:

  • Institutions may hide helpful programs.
  • Numerous (small print) details in contracts for opening banking accounts.
  • Lack of financial education provided by schools.
  • Confusing setup and options of financial institutions.

The free, confidential business and financial coaching provided by FEC allows their clients to become knowledgeable about finances, helping them make improvements that can be life changing.

The Covid pandemic impacted the FEC’s ability to provide in-person coaching. The staff adapted to providing online classes and individual coaching over the phone. While there are benefits to in-person training, having a virtual option provided less risk of Covid exposure for clients and staff. Remote options also save their clients time and money as they do not need to travel to the center. When you are struggling to make ends meet, every dollar counts.

The FEC staff is small, but mighty. Their coaches are empowering their clients. My role within the program was to empower the coaches. I worked ‘behind the scenes’ doing the hidden, yet necessary tasks such as data entry, research, and backing up files onto their computer system. Every task I completed for the coaches allowed them more time to focus on their clients. That’s right – even the work I was doing impacted their clients. Now that is pretty rewarding for a first-year college student – impacting the lives and success of others!

What I Learned

I learned a person can learn a lot from data entry. I gained a solid understanding of finances and the way its institutions operate. A better understanding of finances and their instructions is helpful because everybody deals with them at some point in their life. I discovered the answers to the questions I had back when I received my first paycheck. Going forward I will be a better steward of the common good by understanding the challenges financial institutions pose. Financial institutions can look different for different people. By reading Toxic Charity I understand the importance of learning what people are really struggling with and not making assumptions about what I think are the common problems. I also learned that while I am extremely grateful for the experience, I do not want to work in the financial sector. Finance was a career I considered in the past. However, through real world experience in this sector I no longer feel it is the place for me. During my time in Engaged Citizen Corps and the FEC, I also learned:

  • Professional communication skills – Working in a professional environment, good oral and written communication skills are essential.
  • Time management – Earning good grades, having an internship, and being a student-athlete made this required.
  • Everyone can make a difference – The biggest takeaway I learned was that even though the work I did seemed small, it empowered others. This taught me the tasks I feel are small can still make a tremendous impact.

Overall, I now understand the importance of being an active citizen. This year helped me define that understanding as I connected with my new home community of Des Moines, Iowa. I learned about the community, its needs, and gained new perspectives and experiences. I learned everyone can be active in a community and make a difference.  

How You Can Get Involved

Given the confidential nature of the work at the FEC, they do not have a lot of available volunteer opportunities. However, the Evelyn K Davis Center does. The Center is always looking for volunteers for their after-school homework program. As a Homework Coach, you could help an at-risk student succeed in school and in life. Learn more at https://www.evelynkdaviscenter.org/Pages/tutor-heroes.aspx.

If you want to learn more about the FEC, please visit their Facebook page or their website at www.empowermoney.org.

A story of STEM: How Jewels Academy taught me more than just algebra.

by Erica Copeland

My name is Erica Copeland, and I am a first-year student at Drake University. I am majoring in Journalism and Mass Communications, with a minor in Rhetoric, Media, and Social Change. Through my Engaged Citizen Corps placement this year, I interned with Jewels Academy. Jewels is a STEM program for underrepresented young women in grades k-12. I help run the social media accounts, write newsletters, and create different graphics for our program.

Jewels Academy was founded to bridge the inequality women face when entering a STEM field. We highlight underrepresented women at Jewels precisely due to the challenges they face. This includes women of color, women with disabilities, and women below the poverty line. The root cause of these hardships is that higher education is usually financially unattainable and that male-dominated fields tend not to allow women to participate. This program is dedicated to uplifting young women. They receive opportunities they do not always receive in a public school setting. We have recently been working with the University of Iowa and the Jacobsen Institute for BIZ and STEM innovator courses, which earn students three college credits, respectively, and allow students to participate in an academically vigorous and competitive setting.

Jewels Academy has become a hybrid program, with most of our courses and tutoring sessions being taught from behind the screen. However, we do host field trip events! Our move to the internet has been beneficial; not only do we have more students showing up consistently from their homes, but we have also been able to expand our courses beyond state lines! One major trip was to the Hyvee Center of Technology, where students met with engineers and participate in a Q/A!

The biggest lesson I’ve learned from interning at Jewels is that there is always room to grow and to be successful and that we must collaborate. Even when I think a new post is perfect, opening it up for discussion with other employees, I find that there are always minor tweaks that I can make. Collaboration also allows for more than one perspective, and when working toward a common goal, it is best to embrace your team’s suggestions because they also want this plan to work. Working with Jewels has also allowed me to understand what I want out of my future. I love writing newsletters and communicating with our following, so I know that the path I am on with journalism is the right choice.

The most significant impact that Jewels has had on me is to look beyond what I know and to be able to back up my opinions with facts. Before Jewels, I would argue with just my opinion and books that I have read. Now I am interested in the numbers as well. Creating posts and finding statistics has shown me that if I am passionate about a topic, finding numbers to solidify my ideas should be a part of my decision-making process. This has helped me in school and my day-to-day life as an active community member. If we are passionate about a subject, we should first look at it from all sorts of angles.

If you are interested in Jewels Academy, please look at our website: jewelsacademy.org or our social media accounts: Ig and FB, @jewelsacademy LinkedIn, jewelsacademy1. Giving us a like and a follow will help spread our mission of equality in STEM. 

Restoring Hope. Building Futures. Changing Lives.

by Carina Oelkers

Hello! I am Carina Oelkers (she/her/hers) and I am from a small town in Minnesota. I am currently a first-year student studying environmental science. I am a part of the Engaged Citizen Corps at Drake University and am partnered with Children and Families of Iowa and am serving as their intern for the academic year.

What is Children and Families of Iowa?

Children and Families of Iowa is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of the children and families in Iowa. CFI is a place for people to come to when they have nowhere else to turn to and if they feel lost and need guidance. CFI has a multitude of services like domestic violence prevention and intervention, teen, young adult, and adult programs, family programs, early childhood development, mental health, and substance abuse.

What Does CFI Do?

Children and Families of Iowa is working to solve children and families in crisis. There are many reasons as to why this problem exists. Some of them include, tough economic times, those who live in poverty, mental illness, substance abuse, and family issues. These problems can be difficult to navigate and get out of without the right resources which is why Children and Families of Iowa is always finding ways to help those families in need. Volunteers are always welcome at Children and Families of Iowa. CFI uses about 1,000 volunteers a year. If someone wants to get involved with volunteering they can go to https://cfiowa.org/get-involved/ or contact volunteer@cfiowa.org or call 515-697-7968.

My Takeaway

My biggest takeaway is learning that doing charity work is not always direct service. My previous experiences of volunteering have always been direct service. For example, going to Feed My Starving Children. My tasks at CFI have been office tasks and sorting in-kind donations. I have gained a multitude of skills while at CFI. I have enhanced my communication skills, learned what goes into nonprofit work, and even learned more technology skills like navigating Microsoft Excel. I have also started to really understand my role as an active citizen. From my time at CFI I have learned that being an active citizen means to get involved in your community. Being an active citizen includes being educated and educating others, challenging existing structures, and to take the initiative to create change.

The work I am doing falls under the indirect service category. It took me some time to change my mentality when it comes to service work. I always thought direct service was the only way to help the community but now I realized direct service would not be possible without indirect service. Indirect service may include sitting behind a desk and doing office tasks but if it was not for those who do indirect service those tasks would not get done. Through my time at CFI I have a new appreciation for the work I do and the work others do. I have gained a new perspective on what service looks like because it is not always the stereotypical idea many have in their head.

Expect the Unexpected When Doing Nonprofit Work

by Julia Cash

Hey! I am Julia and in my first-year at Drake. I am double majoring in Multimedia Journalism and Strategic Political Communications with a minor in Marketing.

I have been very involved with nonprofit work for many years. My first experience started when I was 12. My family and I started a nonprofit organization that teaches immigrants and refugees English in Nashville, TN. As this was not something that you would expect a “normal” 12-year-old to be doing, I was more than happy to do it. It set a good foundation for what I wanted to do for the rest of my life which is to help others. Throughout my teenage years, while my peers and friends went out on the weekends, I chose to volunteer. I wanted to make a difference in my community, and I think that is very vital in having a well-rounded community.  

I am currently in the Engaged Citizen Corps (ECC) program here at Drake which allows me to continue nonprofit work at Polk County 4-H. Polk County 4-H is an organization for youth, inspiring them to reach their full potential. In other words, they aim to develop leaders and responsible citizens through experiential learning programs. The four major project areas are healthy living, communications and arts, STEM, and leadership and civic engagement. I help on the media side of the organization. Some things I have done and am working on currently are creating social media posts and videos and taking photographs. Polk County 4-H is currently working on making the organization more diverse in their programs and students.

What I have learned from being an ECC member and serving at Polk County 4-H is to expect the unexpected. Your purpose is to be there to help, so anything can get thrown at you at any time. The key to being an active steward for the common good is to be adaptable. Going into nonprofit work, I would say you are more likely going to do what you did not expect you would be doing than doing what you expected. When it involves helping others, you will learn a lot about people themselves, your community, and organizations.

An example of something unexpected happening is COVID-19, the year when everything had to go virtual. For nonprofits, they had to find a way to make what they were doing virtual. This was a struggle because it is hard to help others from a distance. For nonprofits teaching classes, they moved the classes online which was not an easy transition, but it was doable. What about those nonprofits trying to get food for people in need of providing a home for people? It was hard for those nonprofits also to make accommodations from COVID. Being in nonprofit work, you must be able to take what is thrown at you and figure out a way to overcome it.

As an active citizen, you must understand that you may not be able to change the world on your own all at once, but you can make a change in your community and someone’s life. People may have a set goal to change the world all at once, but it turns out to be not as they thought. If I have learned anything through this experience, is that the small acts matter just as much as the big ones. Changing just one person’s life still makes a massive difference.

I know it sounds scary at first, but I promise you, it is not a scary thing. Nonprofit work is an amazing thing to do, and I highly encourage you to take a step forward and do it! If you have a passion for change, investigate volunteering or even start your own nonprofit organization! Get involved in your community! Nonprofits are advocating for a better world, and we can get there a lot faster if we work together!

Together, anything is possible.

The Reward of a Lifetime

by Adowek Ajoung

My name is Adowek Ajoung and I am a first-year student at Drake University. I am a Biology and Psychology double major. This year, I’ve had the privilege of interning at the Evelyn K. Davis Center for Working Families. The Evelyn K. Davis Center, or EKDC, serves low-income individuals in the Des Moines community. They provide a plethora of services. Employing the individuals served is of utmost importance for the center. To achieve this goal, career coaching and resume building help these individuals to build the connections necessary for success. The Center also provides services such as financial coaching, a men’s clothing closet with formal attire, and youth services. My work is primarily done with the youth. My main focus for this year has been to help in building the Youth ExCL program. This was previously a summer program where youth could be employed with community partners and learn more about the workforce. This year-long program is somewhat of a precursor for the summer. The workshops and activities that I assist in developing are intended to set up these students for tremendous success.

Why is this work important?

As the center primarily serves those with low incomes, the main priority of all the programs they facilitate is to empower and give people knowledge. An extreme limiting factor towards success is the deprivation of knowledge. EKDC knows this, and that is why a lot of their programs involve education. In my position, building these students up in knowledge in order to go back to their own communities is extremely important. This is knowledge that they wouldn’t receive otherwise, empowering them to grow and not become limited by their background. The main reason of a lack of access to resources stems from historical racism and redlining. These individuals in the Des Moines area have been subject to redlining, keeping poor individuals poor. The absence of funds being flooded into schools, infrastructure, banks, etc., places them in such an unfortunate situation. The Evelyn K. Davis Center uses its staff to bridge the gap for its clients. A gap that was not a fault of their own.

How has this program overcome difficulties with the pandemic, and other extenuating factors?

Many nonprofits have been impacted, by Covid-19, primarily to their disadvantage. Some clients may not seek out the help they are seeking because of health concerns and other confounding issues. The lack of in-person interaction puts the clients at a disadvantage. With the Youth Excel program, or Y-ExCL, students who have expressed interest are not able to attend. This can be because of school commitments, family commitments, travel problems and more. These factors seem to have been exacerbated through the pandemic. The solution that my work has prided itself on is making the learning self-paced. Through a series of videos, reflection questions and online activities, students are able to receive the same knowledge they would have received in person. Becoming adaptable in various circumstances is one thing the EKDC does tremendously well.

What have I learned?

In my time spent at the center, I have grown in my communication skills and in my creative thinking. Coming up with workshop content that will enrich these kids in a meaningful way has been such a rewarding task. I’ve learned to not assume, but to ask and inquire about the needs of whom I am serving. This has also become one of my biggest takeaways. Assumptions lead to distress when it comes to service. Keeping the focal point on those we serve is fundamental in any service area, and is something I will absolutely keep in mind for future endeavors. In terms of future career paths, I want to keep the same theme of helping the underserved. I want to continue down a career in healthcare, where these same individuals can not only receive knowledge, but receive help that can set them up for a better life. This internship has allowed me to appreciate non-profit work in an enormous way.

What are valuable lessons one could take away from this work?

As we all strive to be active citizens, I have understood that equipping those with knowledge and life essentials can help drastically. What we take as little and insignificant, can change the trajectory of someone else’s life forever. The diligent and beautiful work that EKDC does for the Des Moines community is so inspiring. I am encouraged to go out into my community and do what I can in order to improve the live’s of others. I have also learned that being an active citizen means educating yourself on your own biases, and actively fixing those when conducting service. Being aware of where you are personally, and how that could affect those who you serve is essential. Being wary of overstepping and allowing yourself to be the student fares far more better for the community you serve. It’s not about you, it’s about who you are serving and why. That is what service us all about! This year has absolutely defined my understanding of what it means to be an active and contributing citizen.

If you want to learn more or get involved with the work done at the Evelyn K. Davis Center, please visit the website: https://www.evelynkdaviscenter.org/Pages/welcome.aspx. There are plenty of ways to get in contact with and conduct rewarding service through this program! It is truly the reward of a lifetime.

More Than a House

by Ethan Williams

Hello, my name is Ethan Williams and I am from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This year I have been partnered with HOME, Inc. an affordable housing non-profit based in Des Moines, Iowa, with Drake’s Engaged Citizen Corps program. HOME, Inc.’s goal is to provide quality, affordable housing for every resident of Des Moines by creating housing opportunities. Homeownership is more than owning property, it is a place where love can prosper. 

My main responsibility at HOME, Inc. is creating content for social media and blog posts to be shared on our website. HOME, Inc. provides multiple services and resources concerning housing and homeownership. We have on-site counselors who give guidance to clients about money management, legal questions, and homeownership. The majority of our clients are lower to working class. Across the United States housing inequality has become more common due to the price of housing increasing faster than household income. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic HOME, Inc. went completely virtual and took on the giant task of managing and distributing the Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG) for the city of Des Moines and State of Iowa. The ESG funds came largely from the federal government to ensure that evictions and rent could be stopped and paid. HOME, Inc. dispersed almost $1 million dollars to 515 households around the Des Moines community. 

I have done my best to showcase the amazing work HOME, Inc. does in the content I create for them. I often write success story blogs about the amazing work our counselors do to support families who are on their way to becoming homeowners. I also try to represent the impact HOME, Inc. has made over the past two years by researching and citing the number of families we have helped on their housing journeys. HOME, Inc. answered over 3,580 calls in 2020-2021, 2,117 were from new clients due to the pandemic. 

Working with HOME, Inc. has taught me housing is a right not a privilege. The inequality that encompasses housing is unjust and unamerican. No matter your socioeconomic status, in Iowa you should be able to not spend over 30% of your net income on housing. To be a true engaged citizen means to stand up for what you believe in especially when no one is talking about it. Going forward affordable housing is something I will take with me to the ballot and to my other service endeavors. 

To learn more about the amazing work HOME, Inc. does visit our website https://www.homeincdsm.org  or visit our Facebook page @homeincdsm

Hands of the Immigrant: from the field to your plate

by Orlando Fuentes

Orlando Fuentes is a first-year college student from the Des Moines area, majoring in Law Politics and Society and music performance. He is a member of the Engaged Citizen Corps Program (ECC) at Drake where he serves with Proteus, Inc.

Proteus, Inc.

Proteus, Inc. is an Iowa-based private, 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that has been serving migrant and seasonal farmworkers, immigrants, and others since 1979.

The work: As a nonprofit, Proteus specializes in providing migrant agricultural workers and their family with affordable healthcare, education assistance, and job training. They operate off a vision to better the lives of these migrant farmworkers. They achieve this through several programs in Iowa, Nebraska, and Indiana. During my time working with them and learning more about the organization and the community they serve, it has become apparent to me that the root cause is the lack of affordable healthcare. That is something that can have a great impact in the everyday lives of these migrant agricultural workers. This is currently the main focal point of the work of Proteus; they help combat this by providing affordable clinics for migrant workers. But that’s not all they do; they work hard to ensure they can reach as many farmworkers as possible. If someone cannot come into one of the clinics, Proteus takes the clinic to them, by providing mobile health care. This helps give access to affordable healthcare to many more migrant farmworkers. Along with providing affordable healthcare, Proteus also provides health and job safety training so farmworkers are able to safely work and look after their health, thus decreasing potential health risks.

Adapting to Covid-19: During the pandemic, like many other organizations, Proteus learned to adapt and grow. They started provided Covid-19 safety training for their farmworkers. And when Proteus started seeing that the pandemic was not only affecting the health of the migrant farmworkers, but it was also affecting the financial stability of the farmworkers, they partnered with a handful of other nonprofits to create a fund to help Latinx families who would not receive financial help from the government. This fund helped families with housing payments and time sensitive bills that were vital to the livelihoods of these families. Not only has Proteus evolved on the front lines of their work but also in the office space. They have evolved to make the workplace as safe of a place as they can make it to ensure they can continue to work and serve the communities in a healthy and safe manner. They do this by offering a hybrid work schedule that allows employees to work form home and in the office

What have I learned? During my time in ECC cohort I have learned how to really be more reflective with the work I do. I oftentimes am so busy that I finish an assignment and turn it in, and when I revise, I look at the spelling errors and grammar mistakes, but I rarely think of the intention and affect my work will have. Through conversations I have with my ECC cohort I am able to reflect on what I did and what impact it will have on the community I am trying to serve, and due to this I have learned the importance of self-reflection and self-examination when you are doing work within a community.

My role as an active citizen: Although this year has not had an impact on my understanding of my role is as an active citizen, I understand that I am in a position to create change. I can do that by voting, bringing awareness to situations that need to be addressed, and getting into positions that allow me to create policies that leave a good impact on the community I work for. But most importantly by living my life as an ally to the communities I work for. I will be able to do this by providing opportunities to other Latinx students, supporting Latino-owned business, and supporting organizations that work for the betterment of the life and education of Latinx students.

How can you help Proteus? Proteus holds long-sleeve shirt drives to give protection to farmworkers from the elements while they are working. Proteus also has a food pantry where you can donate items that these farmworkers can use for cooking. Learn more at https://www.proteusinc.net/.

The radical act of playing with Legos: CFUM’s youth-centered impact on the River Bend Neighborhood

by Candace Carr

My name is Candace Carr, I am a first-year Multimedia Journalism major with a Rhetoric, Media & Social Change minor and I am a member of the Engaged Citizen Corps (ECC) cohort. From the moment I read about the ECC program my senior year, I knew I wanted to give it a try. Now, five months and nearly 170 hours served completed, this program has provided me robust opportunities to critically think, gain meaningful action items for community service, and get to know the Des Moines community for myself.

This year, I have had the incredible opportunity to be partnered with Children & Family Urban Movement (CFUM). CFUM is a non-profit organization that seeks to improve educational accessibility, minimize food insecurity, and bolster family support through a variety of programming and direct services in the River Bend neighborhood. 

At CFUM, I serve as the Youth Program Coordinator where I create and implement weekly club programming for the K-5 students we serve. In my position, I have learned and (continue to learn) about the students’ many interests, connect with other organizations and hold enrichment clubs for the CFUM students. As we all continue to confront our “new normal”, I have regularly run into the national shift in short staffing in a host of fields. At times, it has been difficult to connect with outside groups, yet the incredible staff at CFUM have been so supportive of my many ideas and my impromptu hallway dance parties with the kindergarten and first graders. 

Additionally, I provide another set of hands for site leaders of each grade-level group after school and on full-program days, occasionally set up daily snacks, work on organizational social media and help clean up at the end of each night. While I take on a host of responsibilities at my service site, I enjoy every little moment of classroom noise, playing frisbee or tag with the students during recess, and watching students enjoy just being kids. CFUM in all its facets runs so well because each staff member holds an understanding that these students simply deserve a space that is not only theirsbut a space where they feel safe to be the best version of themselves.

As noted prior: CFUM’s mission of empowering youth and family is best accomplished through the following programs:

The Haven (K-5 Afterschool): Here, I get to spend time with students, provide the weekly club programming, and help with anything staff members need. CFUM’s strategic afterschool programming meets a host of needs from the families of the Moulton Extended Learning Center community. 

  • Safety: CFUM takes place inside the Moulton building and next door in Trinity Church.
  • Accessible hours: Haven programming takes place from school dismissal to 5:30 p.m. Allowing parents to pick up their children at hours in alignment with their work schedules
  • Tackling any food insecurity: Students receive snacks and dinner every day

Breakfast and Supper Clubs: External volunteers primarily lead the preparation of breakfast and dinner. Here, CFUM families can drop off their students earlier in the mornings, where their students receive a nourishing breakfast and are walked next door to begin their school day. The same process happens each evening as students are winding down their days during Haven programming.

  • Des Moines Networking: Daily and weekly donations from local businesses and organizations (i.e., HyVee, Target, etc.)
  • Neighborhood Connection: All members of the neighborhood (not solely CFUM families) are welcome to receive breakfast and dinner

Awesome Summer Days: CFUM also provides all-day programming for grades K-6 during the summer session. Students are once again provided with snacks, meals, field trips, and themed weeklong enrichment activities.

Many of the social issues CFUM seeks to approach and directly address come from communities lacking a fundamental understanding of the intersectional issues families face.

  • Racial or ethnic discrimination
  • Socioeconomic barriers
  • Language barriers
  • Lack of access to childcare
  • Living within food deserts

These families deserve a good quality of life for themselves and their families (objectively so). By providing food support, afterschool and summer programming, families have fewer items on their already full plates. For children in various marginalized communities, so much of their childhood may be robbed from them because of issues far beyond their control. Through CFUM creating and cultivating intentional spaces, students can focus on things in their control like finding the perfect lego to complete one of their masterful tower creations.

From my time in the ECC, I have grown a deeper understanding the Social Change Ecosystem Map and a greater appreciation for the city of Des Moines. Our communities are rich in narratives and experiences that are deserving engagement. 

  • Community organizing should never compete. We need all these communities:
    • Mutual Aid
    • Nonprofit Organizations
    • Other Grassroots Efforts
  • “What I’m speaking of is our ability to hold space for one another, to empathize, to make time for connection, to care for another, to be part of one’s another’s lives.” (How We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship, and Community, Mia Birdsong, 20).
  • Des Moines Area Regional Transit (DART Buses): An incredible way to get to know Des Moines and those that call it home

CFUM is a place I will carry in my activism, educational experience, and beyond. 

            For more information on CFUM’s work and mission:

  • Website: https://cfum.org
  • Instagram & Twitter: @cfum_dsm 
  • Facebook: Children & Family Urban Movement

From awestruck to outreach

by Rylee Beardsworth

Have you ever been splashed by an orca during a show at Sea World? In the third grade, I had the amazing opportunity to do this in San Diego, California and I have been hooked on the aquatic sciences ever since.

Hi, my name is Rylee Beardsworth, and I am a first-year student at Drake University, studying Environmental Science. I grew up going through the Catholic School system, so service has been an important value in my life since I was younger. Due to this, the Engaged Citizen Corps program stood out to me and was a huge reason I chose to attend Drake University. Going into college I knew I wanted to continue participating in service, but I was lost on where to start. This program is a wonderful way to get your start as it gives you structure and, in my case, allowed me to do it in a field I have always dreamed of being apart of.

Who is Iowa Rivers Revival?

The site I was paired with through this program is Iowa Rivers Revival (IRR). It is a statewide nonprofit leading Iowans to protect, restore, and enjoy our rivers. We envision healthy, free-flowing rivers that connect Iowa’s communities and provide access for all to use and enjoy. We work toward this vision through many priorities such as:

  • education and advocacy programs
  • being nonpartisan
  • inclusive and collaborative
  • increasing free-flowing, healthy rivers for recreation opportunities and safe drinking water

IRR has been a nonprofit since 2009 and they have been doing wonderful work toward their vision, but they have been constrained in their work due to scarce awareness of the organization. This shortage is where I come into play! I have worked closely with our new Executive Director, Luke Hoffman, to rebrand the company to be more recognizable, redo our website to be more mobile friendly, participate in outreach work by designing social media posts, and assisting in planning river cleanups.

What does IRR do?

IRR and the priorities I mentioned earlier are needed due to Iowa’s agricultural economy.  To grow the agriculture industry, farmers began to change the natural land of Iowa to better sustain farming, create irrigation systems, and use greater amounts of fertilizer on the land. The change in the natural land of Iowa has caused streambank destabilization. The irrigation systems and fertilizers have caused a multitude of pollution problems. A lot of the rivers here in Iowa are not safe for people to recreate in or drink out of due to the major pollution that has dirtied the water. This pollution, however, does not stop in Iowa, making its way to the Gulf of Mexico.

IRR addresses these issues through programs and legislation. We have partnered with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) to host the Iowa River Restoration Toolbox. This is to assist Iowa designers and reviewers of stream stabilization and restoration projects by providing proven techniques that incorporate natural materials, such as logs, rocks and live plantings. These trainings will prevent the installation of practices that are unsuccessful and destructive to the stability of river ecosystems. Another program is the river clean-ups we host and collaborate on. In these, people row kayaks or canoes while picking up trash. We also focus on providing a unified voice to speak up for our rivers since they do not have a voice. We do this by staying nonpartisan and using an outside lobbying firm.

Since most of IRR’s programs are outside, our quest in abolishing these problems were not halted due to COVID. They were slowed down as fewer people wanted to meet in a large group of strangers, but in the last few months, more people have been signing up for clean-ups and the Toolbox.

What this experience has done for me

This internship has been my first real-world job experience as I only tutored in high school, so this experience has truly been a life-changing one. Through the different projects I have been given (some of which were out of my comfort zone), I have developed the following useful skills:

  • Communication – learning to ask questions and communicate when I do not understand something has been a pivotal point of this internship.
  • Time management – balancing 16.5 credits and 10 hours of this internship seemed very daunting in the beginning, but my improved time management skills have made it possible for me to do this.
  • Confidence – as I said some of these projects were out of my comfort zone, but in getting finished projects approved, my confidence has increased significantly, and I can now stand in front of our board without nerves.

These skills will not only help me in my future profession, but also in my role as an active citizen or someone who is worried about the needs of others not just their own. My improved communication skills and confidence will allow me to ask more questions about global issues happening in the world. I no longer feel awkward to ask about subjects I know nothing about. Also, my time management skills will allow me to devote the time and energy needed to my job, but also grant me time to serve the less fortunate in my community.

My biggest takeaway from this experience has been that while I have enjoyed working on more of these behind-the-scenes projects, in my future career, I would like to participate in hands-on research that leads to solving the environmental issues that IRR cares about.    

If you would like to learn more about IRR or how to get involved, visit www.iowarivers.org and be on the lookout for event registrations.

Home is Everything

by Abigail Axell, Drake Engaged Citizen Corps Member

About Me

Hello! My name is Abigail Axell, and I am a first-year student at Drake University. I am currently studying Pre-Pharmacy with a minor in Spanish in the Health & Medical Professions. I am a member of Drake’s Engaged Citizen Corps program, in partnership with Anawim Housing. Anawim Housing is a non-profit organization that provides permanent supportive housing to those in need. This may include individuals experiencing homelessness, living with a mental illness, fleeing domestic violence, and various other circumstances.

As for my work for Anawim Housing, I have major tasks as well as small, occasional tasks.

My main roles are:

  • Compiling Research on Best Practices, Policies, and Procedures
  • Formulating Research Documents on Various Topics/Issues
  • Creating Outreach Templates (social media, surveys, etc.)

Compiling Research on Best Practices, Policies, and Procedures:

At Anawim Housing, my main task is to compile research. This leads to consistent improvement of the organization. I coordinated and developed a literature review on the best practices for those formerly experiencing homelessness in a single site location. This mostly consisted of research on single site permanent supportive housing behavioral health disaster planning. Additionally, I coordinated and developed research for Medicaid billing within Iowa for both Mental Health and Substance Use outpatient treatment.

Formulating Research Documents on Various Topics/Issues:

I formulated many research documents to gain a better understanding of Anawim Housing. I gathered research on the HousingFirst approach and permanent supportive housing. I also formulated a document to find the comparative value between Anawim Housing and Iowa’s local shelter services & JOPPA. To truly understand the struggles that some of our tenants may face, I also gathered research on the issue of Methamphetamines.

Creating Outreach Templates (social media, surveys, etc.):

A task that I more recently began taking on is creating outreach templates. I have formulated a social media post for the awareness of Anawim Housing’s connection with Drake. It included the information that we were included in the CAB Craft & Learn Event and have a Drake Engaged Citizen Corps member. I have also created surveys to gather feedback about volunteering and outreach.

What I Have Learned by Being a Member of the Engaged Citizen Corps:

After completing my first semester, I already feel that I have learned significantly more from when I arrived at Drake University. I’ve learned about social issues, gained skills, and gotten some career direction.

Social Issues of Anawim Housing:

The social issues that Anawim faces and works to diminish are homelessness, racial inequity, poverty, and lack of affordable housing. I have learned that often these barriers for housing are solely based on the conditions someone was born into. This is complex because many people believe that people “chose” or “did something” to experience homelessness, but rather they could have aged out of foster care. The root causes of all these issues are the continual rising economy and redlining of the past, among other things. To address these issues, our site is continually working to provide more and more housing, as well as offer supportive services to get them out of systems built against them.


The ECC program has given me immense amounts of knowledge and developed many of my skills. I have improved my understanding on key core values when working with those experiencing homelessness, including self-sufficiency, person-first language (describes what a person is dealing with, not who a person is), and empathy. One skill it has developed is my researching abilities. I had never performed research that is so meticulous and always a work in progress, but it allowed my research to be rich and vibrant with important information. Another skill I have gained is not being afraid to ask questions. This experience is entirely a learning opportunity, and it is important to ask questions to grow. Lastly, I improved my time management skills significantly. I have managed to make time for both my nonprofit and my rigorous coursework. These skills and knowledge will help me to be an active steward by making me more well-rounded, knowledgeable, efficient, and effective in terms of service.

Career Reflection:

I have always known that I want a career in healthcare. I personally want to learn more about how drugs, healthcare, and medical necessities come into play with those who experience homelessness as a potential future pharmacist. I have learned that I do not prefer office work or behind-the-scenes work, as for a career. I would like to continue to volunteer at non-profits, but not necessarily work for one.


My biggest takeaways so far are home is extremely important, many are trapped in the system, and self-sufficiency is necessary in non-profit work. I will take this information moving forward to be more understanding of my future patients and understand why our systems are the way that they are. My role as an active citizen is to support those facing struggles/adversity and help them overcome. This year has helped define this understanding because it showed me a deeper look into non-profit work and the idea of toxic charity.

More on Anawim Housing:

People can learn more about our organization by checking out our social media or our website. This will include information on how to get involved with us and help our organization for the better.

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