Public Health during a Pandemic

by Mary Jonas, Engaged Citizen Corps Member

If you would have told me one year ago that I’d be an AmeriCorps Member, completing a 300-hour service internship in my first year of college, and working directly with my state’s public health association during a global pandemic, I wouldn’t have believed you.

My name is Mary Jonas. I am a Freshman at Drake University participating in the Engaged Citizen Corps. I am majoring in Biochemistry Cell, and Molecular Biology, minoring in Chinese, and planning to pursue a career in medicine. Through the Engaged Citizen Corps program, I was connected to the Iowa Public Health Association (IPHA). IPHA is a state affiliate of the American Public Health Association. IPHA has 3 main objectives:

  • The first is to serve their members through providing advocacy and educational resources.
  • The second is to connect public health leaders, professionals, and allies to form a powerful network of people with shared goals.
  • The third is to advance a public health agenda for Iowans through education and advocacy.

Throughout everything, IPHA’s primary focus is health equity. Health equity is ensuring that everyone has the resources and education they need to live long healthy lives. Health equity is affected by the social determinates of health, for example, education, access to health care, race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, living environment, and public safety. IPHA works towards achieving health equity by taking action on the social determinants of health. Because public health is a huge field IPHA chose 4 subtopics to focus on, Vaccines, Health Equity, Public Health Infrastructure, and the Public Health Workforce.

My main role at IPHA is to increase student engagement with the organization. I’ve done this by planning and implementing several student engagement activities. Along the way I have also picked up several other responsibilities within the organization, for example, social media planning, website content creation and design, webinar video editing, media coverage tracking, and archiving past content. In general, my work has gone towards creating more awareness about IPHA, and therefore creating more awareness about public health issues.

Public health is complicated, especially during a global pandemic in a politically divided country. Public health by nature is interdisciplinary. Health equity is connected to almost all central social justice issues. There are many root causes of the issues IPHA is trying to alleviate. Health disparities stem from the systematic oppression of socially marginalized groups. Besides these causes, one of the main barriers to progress in public health is the lack of prioritization and funding from local government. Fortunately, and unfortunately, this is beginning to change now that the health disparities and lack of public health infrastructure are being highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The largest change IPHA has experienced since the pandemic started was the increase in publicity. IPHA went from having no media coverage in 2019 to being quoted several times each month and featured on several news outlets like CNN in 2020.

My experience at IPHA has taught me a lot.

  • I’ve learned a lot about the field of public health and explored a potential career opportunity.
  • I’ve gained confidence communicating and working in a professional environment.
  • I’ve learned that change comes with commitment. If issues like health disparities could be solved overnight they would have been fixed already. I have a great appreciation for people like my site supervisor and other people working for non-profits who devote their careers to these issues. 
  • I’ve learned that I feel the most fulfilled when I am an actively engaged member of my community!

As an out-of-state student originating from Houston, Texas, I was worried about feeling “at home” in this community. Serving as an Engaged Citizen Corps member has allowed me to find a network of people who I feel connected to and a unique perspective on the state I’m now living in.

All of IPHA’s work is driven by their members. While not everyone is in every meeting or every discussion, just showing support by being a part of the community has allowed IPHA to grow and connect more people. You can support our cause by:

  • Going to IPHA’s website and becoming a member
  • Registering for our 2021 Public Health Conference of Iowa
  • Following us on Facebook, Twitter, and/or LinkedIn!

Drake receives almost $60,000 award from Iowa Campus Compact

Drake University has received an award totaling $59,921 from Iowa & Minnesota Campus Compact to support the Campus Compact AmeriCorps Program and Engaged Citizen Corps Program at Drake. The award represents the largest award Drake has received from Iowa Campus Compact to date and will allow the university to continue growing its AmeriCorps service program.

“Through this award, we are able to educate more Drake students about community engagement and social justice, while building the capacity of more nonprofits around Des Moines,” said Amanda Martin, Assistant Director of Community Engaged Learning and manager of the Engaged Citizen Corps program. “We are so grateful to Iowa Campus Compact and the Campus Compact AmeriCorps Program for their support and partnership.”

The Engaged Citizen Corps Program is a year-long program for first-year students at Drake who take 9 credits together and serve a 300-hour service internship with a local nonprofit, such as Eat Greater Des Moines, Home, INC., and IMPACT Community Action Partnership. The award includes an AmeriCorps education award that the participants receive to offset costs of higher education, in addition to helping to provide funding for a staff position who works with the AmeriCorps members on a regular basis. The funding will also allow students to participate in regional conferences dedicated to education and service.

“This program puts first-year students on an accelerated path to developing professional skills and to becoming civically-engaged citizens and professionals,” said Martin. “Alums of the program have gone on to leadership roles around campus and many have continued in internships and jobs at the local nonprofits.”

Last Spring, when Covid-19 forced the closure of Drake’s campus, the Engaged Citizen AmeriCorps members were able to continue their service to the non-profit sites remotely.  One member pivoted her service to support her local Iowa community’s food bank and with distributing meals to school-aged children and their families.

Emily Shields, Executive Director of Iowa & Minnesota Campus Compact said, “We highly value our partnership with Drake University and look forward to another year of leveraging AmeriCorps resources to positively impact students and the larger Drake community.”

For more information about the Engaged Citizen Corps Program at Drake University visit


Iowa & Minnesota Campus Compact strengthens the capacity of colleges and universities to fulfill the public purposes of higher education through its network of 58 campuses. IAMNCC creates partnership opportunities, supports quality programming through professional development, and promotes the importance of the civic mission. This includes Campus Compact AmeriCorps, which catalyzes partnerships that transform higher education, people, and communities. For more information visit

Making an IMPACT

Zoe McWell, Engaged Citizen Corps Member

With being in the Engaged Citizen Corps and being paired with the non-profit Impact Community Action Partnership, I’ve gained first-hand experience with service learning. Through these experiences, along with taking the Toxic Charity First-Year Seminar class, I have gained new knowledge about the world of charity and how to make it beneficial for both parties. I have gained new insights that I had never thought about previously. 

While working at Impact I have learned how much people value and appreciate the work the staff at Impact does for the community. Although I felt like my work wasn’t making a huge difference, I realized the small things do have an impact on the community. Impact specializes in energy assistance as well as operating a food pantry. I focus on the newsletter, entering information into the computer, and helping at the food pantry. While working with Impact I have seen the Des Moines community and have learned more about the people that are in the Drake community and that not everyone is experiencing the Drake neighborhood like me.


Something I have learned since working at Impact is that you don’t have to be upfront and hands-on working with the people in need. Like I stated before I have been working on the newsletter. Although it is not hands-on working with people, it is still important because it is informing the people who need to know what is happening at Impact as well as other non-profits. With a newsletter, we can spread the word about what is going on at Impact to the people that need our services and volunteers. When I am in the food pantry, it is more hands-on and I get to see and interact with the people who come for food. How I know that what we do at Impact is positive is reflected through the feedback cards that I enter. Much of the feedback we receive is super positive and it demonstrates just how much of an impact Impact makes on the community of Des Moines.

When I got paired with Impact I had no clue what to expect. It was a whole new experience I wasn’t used to, being from a privileged upbringing. It made me check my privilege and realize that there are people who can’t and don’t have the things I do. Being part of the ECC has connected me to an eye-opening experience with the people who I have always aimed to help in life. Working with Impact has made a huge impact on my life by allowing me to work and help people like I plan to do in life. Because of my service learning, I have realized how much I as a person can do to serve those who need it the most and how much I can do even behind the scenes. 

I have learned so much since being a part of this program. I have been able to have a first-hand experience that I can bring with me into my major of psychology. I plan to be a clinical psychologist who will be helping those who need mental help. Witnessing first-hand how mental illness plays a part in the people who go through the food pantry of Impact has given me a better reason to pursue my career as a psychologist.

Home is Everything

Hunter Jimenez, Engaged Citizen Corps Member

My name is Hunter Jimenez and I am originally from Gilbert, Arizona. I came to Iowa to start college at Drake University last fall. I am a Political Science and International Relations double major.  I continue to receive a lot of questions on why I traded palm trees and a forever summer for the land of corn and caucuses. Well, because it is “First In The Nation!” in electing the President and I was impressed with Drake’s reputation as an institution and Iowa’s political environment.

I originally applied to the Engaged Citizen Corps because in high school, I served my community and it made sense to continue doing that in college. Through the ECC, however, I learned that my understanding of service was very superficial. The program made me realize that in the past I was more focused on counting hours than making measurable real change. The ECC taught me that being engaged with any community is about fellowship. Hearing what people need instead of telling them what they need, and creating sustainable solutions for long- term problems instead of shortsighted ones.

Photo Submitted by Hunter Jimenez

A few weeks into the semester, I began my internship with Anawim Housing and it has been a joy since. Anawim is a nonprofit in the Des Moines community that specializes in helping people experiencing homelessness housed through their Permanent Housing Program.

I have always been a proponent of social justice which is a symptom of my culminating experience in high school as an Anti-Defamation peer trainer. In addition to that, I also love to learn more about issues that I am not completely knowledgeable about. The political culture today tells us that homelessness and people experiencing homelessness are a threat. Popular opinion says that people experiencing homelessness are facing those circumstances because of their own choices.

In the short time I have been with Anawim, I’ve learned that poverty is more precarious than what most people believe. Some of the institutional mechanisms that are supposed to bring people out of homelessness may be keeping them there. If you’re someone who was born into the bottom 10% of earners, you are almost 20 times more likely to be incarcerated than people born into the top 10%. Essentially, “too poor to pay” legislation has criminalized vulnerable communities and especially housing insecure people. Imagine that anywhere you try to sit down, you are threatened to be arrested if you do so. In some ways, this is how people experiencing homelessness are treated by municipalities. We want our cities to look nice but at the expense of excluding those most disenfranchised by pushing them further and further outside our borders.

Joining Anawim has invited me into the process of reconciling these grievances by transitioning people into a home of their own. My favorite part has been the process after someone is housed by being a part of Full Circle. Full Circle is a peer-mentorship program Anawim offers to its tenants and in addition to that, we also invite speakers to come in and share information about a broad variety of topics that will benefit our tenants. I could write a book of anecdotes about all the experiences I have had being able to engage with our tenants. 

Most of what I do is volunteer coordinating. It requires reaching out to community partners and inviting them to engage with our nonprofit. As someone who is not familiar with Des Moines, this has helped me network with different organizations in the area and connect our clients with leaders in the community.

Collectively, we’ve shared our lived experiences, heartbreaks, and greatest victories. I feel a lot of pride to be welcomed into such a personal environment where empowerment of each other takes place.

Serving at CFUM

Scout Neely, Engaged Citizen Corps member

For the past six months, I have been lucky enough to serve as an Engaged Citizen Corps intern at Children and Family Urban Movement, known more popularly as CFUM. As our website states “The mission of CFUM is to create a community that supports the potential of children, youth, and families through educational success, healthy living, and community engagement.” 

Photo submitted by Scout Neely

Currently, my role at CFUM is split between office work and working directly with the children.  In the office, the majority of my job is to relieve some of the extremely heavy workload nonprofits endure. This includes acknowledgment letters, data entry, volunteer hours entry, and more. The other half of the time I am lucky enough to work with the kids in “The Haven” program.  

CFUM has three programs during the school year designed to give kids a safe place to grow in academics and make friends before and after school. The Breakfast Club, which was started in 1968 by the Black Panthers, provides a safe and consistent environment, welcoming and nurturing relationships with adults and peers, a nutritious meal, and a variety of purposeful activities. Kids who attend the Breakfast Club start their day off right with a healthy and delicious meal paired with a safe and nurturing environment. The second is The Haven, afterschool programming for children in grades K – 5 focused on literacy, leadership, and building the skills, attitudes, knowledge, and experience that prepare students for the present and the future. On Fridays, my role at The Haven is to help the staff members and to coordinate crafts for the kids, providing a creative output to those who are interested. CFUM likes to give the kids a slight break from school and other responsibilities by making Fridays “Fun Fridays.” The kids usually get an option of the game room, crafts, and a movie. The third program, Supper Club, is not limited to the kids enrolled at CFUM but also welcomes any members of the community. Supper Club provides a welcoming environment with a healthy meal five days a week to anyone, any age. 

For some of the kids, our little space in the basement of Trinity Las Americas is the only safe and enriching environment they have. Not to mention, there is always plenty of food. When the Black Panther Party started the Breakfast Club they understood that a hungry child cannot learn and that many working families can’t afford afterschool programs and need a safe place to take their kids in the morning. 

A huge component of The Haven, and even Breakfast Club, is helping kids retain learning from school. Monday through Thursday after school programming begins with academic time, mainly centered around reading, followed by some recreational time. Up until third grade you are learning to read, after that, you should be reading to learn. It is vital to make sure kids get to that level so they can keep up with their peers. This is something CFUM focuses on heavily. Data from the 2011-12 school year showed that 50% of Moulton Elementary School students were reading at grade level while 80% of the CFUM kids were. This shows the clear results the work at CFUM does to literacy. 

One of the greatest things I have learned from CFUM is the mechanics behind non-profits. Non-profits are all around us and can be found in almost every community. They serve as the somewhat silent backbone of society. Working in the office at CFUM alongside some amazing community leaders has taught me how non-profits do the amazing work they do. Donations from a wide array of people and organizations work together with government grants and regulations to keep it afloat. Along with this, my internship has trained me in simple office tasks such as filing, data entry, organization, letter writing, mailing and so much more. These are skills that are needed when entering the workforce. 

However, I think the most important thing I’ve realized while working at CFUM is the need for role models who are consistent and look like the kids. One staff member, Terrione, is a great example of this. The kids all look up to him and see him as an example to live up to. Members of Drake’s Coalition of Black Students are also great volunteers. These are students not just in college for athletics but to receive an education that will lead them to their career goals. I am also beginning to understand the importance of repeat volunteers, especially when it comes to our literacy program. At CFUM our goal is to give every kid a reading buddy, someone who comes any time of the week during The Haven and reads with the same child. This one-on-one mentorship allows that child to grow in academics and be nurtured by someone who is solely there for them. One-time volunteers are always helpful and we certainly need any volunteer we can get but it provides more service to the kid who needed it for a class than the student at CFUM. Consider being an ongoing volunteer, CFUM would love to have you!  

In all, my internship at CFUM has made my first year of college phenomenal. The people I work with and report to have been so welcoming and not only do I learn so much from them but I also look up to them, hoping one day I can follow in their footsteps as community leaders.

The Inside Scoop: Eat Greater Des Moines

Mya Pozzini, Engaged Citizen Corps member

Looking back a year ago, I was in my room filling out an application form for a program called Engaged Citizen Corps. I remember thinking that working with a non-profit during my first year of college would be a super cool way to get to know Des Moines, as well as help the community.

Boy, was I right!

You may have heard the familiar saying “there are people starving in Africa” when you fail to eat all of your dinner. Growing up, like every kid, I hated my veggies. Because of this, I would often hear this phrase said by my parents, which led me to believe that there were only starving people in Africa. Now that I am older, I understand that’s the farthest from the truth.

Food insecurity is not an issue that is unknown to the world. Many non-profits serve to solve this issue; one example being Feed My Starving Children

While most Americans know about world hunger, many Americans don’t know about the food insecurity issues in their own backyard.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) states that 1 in 8 Americans are suffering from food insecurity. In 2018, 37.2 million Americans were food insecure and of those 6 million were children. 

After learning these frightening statistics, you quickly realize food insecurity is no joke. So, where are the organizations that battle food insecurity locally?

I have the privilege to work for one of these organizations. Eat Greater Des Moines is a local nonprofit in downtown Des Moines that battles food insecurity and food waste. 

Last semester, I worked on revamping a food recovery program called Meals from the Market. This semester, I am working more on the backend of Eat Greater Des Moines’ food rescue programs by collecting, analyzing, and organizing data from the programs.

So what? What does Eat Greater Des Moines do?

Eat Greater Des Moines works with multiple food rescue programs, one of them being Meals from the Market.

Meals from the Market works with volunteers at the farmer’s market downtown starting in early May and ending in late October. The volunteers go from vendor to vendor at the end of the farmers market collecting left-over produce and food the vendors weren’t able to sell. All this food then gets distributed to food pantries and community buildings around the Des Moines area.

Other food rescue programs Eat Greater Des Moines works with have paid drivers pick up leftover food from certain Kum & Go stores and deliver the food to several community buildings such as public schools and churches. 

Eat Greater Des Moines also uses an app called ChowBank – a free service to the public- to tell locals to pick up the leftover food from catering companies. 

All of the data collected by these programs comes back to Eat Greater Des Moines where I analyze and organize it. Currently, I am working on creating a dashboard full of charts and tables expressing the progress of these programs.

Now you may be thinking, how does this help resolve food insecurity besides getting food to the food insecure?

The issue with food insecurity isn’t with the lack of food. In fact, the world over produces food. Most of the food produced doesn’t meet the grocery store standard of looking ‘perfect’ enough, so it’s thrown out. Additionally, people tend to overbuy food, resulting in good food rotting inside your pantry or fridge. 

So, Eat Greater Des Moines’ main role is to prevent food waste and raise awareness about how harmful food waste is. Which is what these food rescue programs are doing!

So now what? How has working with Eat Greater Des Moines changed me?

Through working with Eat Greater Des Moines I have undoubtedly gained a lot of knowledge about food insecurity and am much more knowledgeable about food waste. Because of this, I am more cautious about how much food I am wasting. 

I have worked with other companies and non-profits while working on the Meals from the Market program. This will help me in my future career because I now understand how to communicate and work with other people even if we don’t work for the same company. 

Although my career choices have not changed due to this experience, my choices on what to do in my spare time have changed. When I am settled in my career, and if I find extra time during my day, I might start working with nonprofits in my area. What I choose to do when I retire has also changed; after my career has wrapped up, I might find it appealing to start working at a non-profit instead of being cooped up in my house with my future cats.

Not only has working with Eat Greater Des Moines impacted my life, but it has also impacted my grandparents’. When I went home from fall break, I shared my experiences with them, and they were so inspired that they started volunteering at the local homeless shelter!

If you ever get the opportunity to work for a non-profit that specializes in an issue you are passionate about Take It!! You definitely won’t regret it; I know I didn’t.

Photo Submitted by Mya Pozzini

If you are curious about Eat Greater Des Moines check out their website here! If you are curious about food waste, check out my other blog post here!

Working with DMARC

Parfait Ouedraogo, Engaged Citizen Corps member

Photo Submitted by Parfait Ouedraogo

As an Engaged Citizen Corps member, I’m working with the Des Moines Area Religious Council. DMARC is an interfaith organization that manages a Food Pantry Network consisting of 14 separate partnering food pantry sites. Currently, my role at DMARC is working with the mobile food pantry and our interfaith program. We travel to different communities, educating people on food insecurity while providing services to those in need. Through DMARC, I have been able to learn about the crisis of food insecurity in Des Moines. Many people are not able to make ends meet with the Iowa minimum wage. Some of these individuals apply for SNAP benefits but it is not guaranteed for those individuals to receive these benefits. Recently, the Iowa legislature passed a law for people applying for SNAP benefits to apply at least 5 times in the year. DMARC strives to serve as many communities as possible but they try to provide the healthiest choices of food to the communities. Many engaged citizens have the right intentions for donating food, but some of the food donated does not meet DMARC’s food guidelines, therefore they are not good to distribute to the families in need. Due to these factors, DMARC tries to educate citizens on food insecurity through their Hunger Simulation.

This year, working with DMARC has helped me understand the importance of taking on an active citizen role. Initially, I believed that an active citizen is one that volunteers and gives back to the community, but it’s more than that. Sure, it’s about the service, but personally, it’s about the connection we make with the community we serve. Being an active citizen is more than the service hours we try to accomplish, it’s more about the long-term difference that we advocate for the benefit of those that are not able to advocate for themselves. 

Being in the ECC program has taught me communication skills, but most importantly, ECC has helped me focus on the skills that I’m good at rather than trying to acquire new skills. In other words, though it is important to learn various new skills, it is also important to be aware of the skills that we are good at and contribute those skills to our communities. For example, the Engaged Citizen Corps has helped me develop integrity and communication skills. It has helped me understand the importance of my service and how my community depends on me as an engaged citizen and other members to do our part in any way to help our communities/non-profits. In learning to contribute these skills to my community, my skills and the skills of other individuals will form this diversity of skills that will serve as a benefit to the community we serve.  I was also able to learn more about my identity, which helped better the way I interacted with everyone. Through the various trainings and service, I’ve done with the ECC program, it has enriched my knowledge and helped me grow as an individual. I feel very confident in myself and the skills that I have acquired and how I can utilize these skills to not only help myself but the communities that I serve.

Photo Submitted by Parfait Ouedraogo

I believe that DMARC’s interfaith engagement serves as a complement to my International business major. I’ve always had a passion for working with diverse nations. In going to different communities and learning about their cultures and the people, it has shown me that relationships can be developed through effort. By putting in the effort to learn about these communities, it has helped DMARC and I form this relationship with the people in these communities, therefore DMARC can provide the resources these communities need to thrive. In connection to my career, inputting effort to learn about the different counties, it will contribute to a successful business world. My biggest takeaways are the people. Meeting new people and learning about different religions/cultures is by far the best experience I’ve ever had. Back in Chicago, I’ve never really taken the time to appreciate the different cultures that were around me, but through DMARC, I have been able to experience and appreciate these different cultures.

Photo Submitted by Parfait Ouedraogo

Navigating Social Justice as an Engaged Citizen

Hannah Skarstad, Engaged Citizen Corps member

Hello, my name is Hannah Skarstad. I am a current freshman in the Engaged Citizen Corps (ECC), majoring in Computer Science and English. The site I got partnered with for ECC is the Center for Social Ministry. The Center for Social Ministry provides poverty awareness and social justice education programs. They serve as a key resource to help individuals connect to programs, volunteer opportunities, and advocacy efforts.

The Center for Social Ministry administers programs rooted in Christianity using the curriculum of JustFaith Ministries. The Center was founded with the mission to bring these programs and teachings to the Greater Des Moines area.

Some of the social justice issues these programs focus on are:

  • Poverty
  • Racial and Economic Justice
  • Environmental Stewardship
  • Faith and Racial Equity
  • Migration
  • Food Insecurity

The JustFaith curriculum is offered to participants in two formats – JustFaith and JustMatters programs. JustMatters allows small groups to give sustained attention to a specific area of social concern or social ministry, culminating in a call to engaged action.

Another main component of the Center for Social Ministry is Rethink Poverty Simulations. Rethink Poverty Simulations are based on resources provided by the Missouri Association for Community Action. The simulation allows people to think about the harsh realities of poverty and to talk about how communities can address the problem. Poverty is often portrayed as a stand-alone issue but this simulation changes that thinking. It allows individuals to walk a month in the shoes of someone who is facing poverty and realize how complex and interconnected issues of poverty really are. The goal of the simulation is to increase awareness of the hardships that people facing poverty battle daily. The simulation was designed to spark conversations about large social justice issues like poverty and break them down into manageable action steps. 

Throughout my year working with the Center for Social Ministry, I have accumulated a lot of knowledge concerning non-profit sectors and social justice issues. How I have learned about each of these subjects has varied greatly. I have learned about the non-profit sector through observation and experience. On the other hand, learning about social justice issues has come in a more direct format. I have started reading books that focus on these issues. These books are also read by the participants enrolled at the Center for Social Ministry. The amount of knowledge I have gained, simply from reading about these topics, is significant. Simply being exposed to literature pertaining to these issues has helped me to understand the work my site does, while simultaneously igniting my own passion for the work we do. 

Throughout my year, I have learned a lot about professionalism and the non-profit sector. The main way I have been able to grow these skills is through my tasks completed at my site. The work I complete at my site consists of:

  • Creating social media content.
  • Helping with our database transfer.
  • Recruiting and managing volunteers.

These tasks were completely new to me. Thankfully, the ECC program prepared me to take on these projects and many others. I was also able to gain experience at the Center for Social Ministry office. My site supervisor has been willing to help me understand the processes that encompass all the work we do and cater my work to areas I specifically want to work in. 

Photo Submitted by Hannah Skarstad

My favorite part of this experience has been interacting with the Center for Social Ministry’s community. The photo above was taken not long after I began working at my site. This was a chance for me to get out of the office and increase both awareness of my site and understanding of our community. In this time, I was able to have conversations with a multitude of people. I learned about social justice issues that were still new concepts for me to investigate. I learned about social justice programs and work happening within the Drake community. Overall, the ECC program was a great stepping stone to increase my efforts as an engaged citizen and connect with the Greater Des Moines community.

Empowering Iowans Through Education

McKenna Tingle, Engaged Citizen Corps member

Through the Engaged Citizen Corp Program, I have been given the opportunity to serve at Polk County Iowa State Extension and 4-H. Iowa State Extension is an amazing non-profit organization that works to engage Iowans across the state in research, education, and extension experiences. The goal of this is to not only educate Iowans but to also provide them with the resources they need to address the challenges that they see emerging in everyday life. Rather than trying to fix problems for the people, Iowa State Extension teaches others how to fix problems themselves, and then empowers those individuals to teach others! 

Photo submitted by McKenna Tingle

What I do at Iowa State Extension:

  • Programming at Monroe Elementary School:
    • Each week I teach lessons to two elementary groups. These lessons are centered around the four key 4-H focus areas: STEM, Civic Engagement and Leadership, Healthy Living, and Communications and the Arts!
  • 4-H Food and Supply Drive Competition:
    • I organized a Food and Supply Drive in which all of our 56 Polk County 4-H Clubs competed to donate the most items. We had such an amazing turnout and were able to donate over 1,500 items to the Iowa Homeless Youth Center! 
  • Social Media Content Creating:
    • I’ve been working to expand ISU Extension and Polk County 4-H’s social media by creating new content. Having frequent and engaging social media posts helps nonprofits to gain more support for their cause. One idea I have come up with is impact stories to showcase the positive impact that 4-H is having on youth and families!

Having the opportunity to lead a program at Monroe Elementary, create and direct programs like the food and supply drive, and manage the social media content has taught me many lessons. At Monroe, I’ve been able to see how much of an impact Iowa State Extension can make through education and empowerment. I’ve been able to form positive relationships with many of the children in my program, and I’ve seen how those relationships can make a huge difference in the lives of these kids. 

J’s Story:

In one of my sessions, I worked with a child who had been labeled by some as a “problem child”. This child (who I am going to refer to as J for privacy reasons) walked into my program on the first day and refused to do anything but glare at me for the entire hour. The next day he walked in angry because of a confrontation with a teacher and chose to throw his backpack across the room. Instead of getting angry, I told J that we would love to have both him and his backpack join us at the table as soon as he chose to pick it up. Clearly surprised by my calm reaction, J reluctantly picked it up and sat down. As the program went on that day, I made an effort to get to know J, and his entire attitude shifted. As the weeks continued, J began to get excited to come to the program, and even cried one day when he was unable to come to the program. By investing in each child and consciously working to form a relationship, a child who was previously given the label of having “behavioral problems” is provided with an opportunity to show a different side of themselves. 

A’s Story:

In another program that I lead I have a child named A. Every day that I lead program, we begin by saying a rose, which is a good thing that happened during our day, and a thorn, which is a bad thing that happened during our day. This provides the children with an opportunity to vent about any negative things that happened during their days while also helping them to see that even during bad days we still have good things that happen. When it got around to A’s turn, the other little girls quickly informed me that A doesn’t speak. As A lowered her head looking embarrassed, a staff member informed me that she chooses to not speak at school. I told A that she didn’t have to share, and we continued on. Throughout the rest of the program that day, I noticed that A didn’t appear to be having fun or interacting with the other children because they were all talking. The next week, I decided to lead an activity that A would enjoy participating in. We worked on pantomiming, which is telling a story or showing emotions without speaking. This put A in a position where she was able to engage with her peers without feeling left out or embarrassed, while also showing the other children that speaking isn’t the only form of communication. 

What I’ve learned during my internship and ECC: 

  • The importance of relationships should never be underestimated:
    • Not only does ISU Extension excel at forming relationships within the programs that we lead, but ISU Extension also works to connect Iowans. 
  • Many nonprofits are overworked and understaffed:
    • Coming in as an ECC student I was able to see many opportunities where I could make a huge impact. Every staff member at my non-profit is working extensively and passionately, but an extra team member coming in allows the non-profit to function so much more efficiently.
    • Independence and Interdependence are intermixed: During my internship, I learned to be both independent and interdependent. While many view these terms to be opposites, I quickly learned that in a workplace you need to be both of these things. My supervisor and coworkers have a lot to do already, so they don’t have time to constantly guide me. Instead, I learned to be independent in coming up with and completing work that would help Iowa State Extension. However, while doing this work, I have to be conscious to ensure that what I am doing aligns with and helps my coworkers. In these ways, it became clear to me that professional workers need to be both independent and interdependent. 
  • Education and Empowerment can be just as beneficial as direct service, if not more:
    • Oftentimes, when people think of service they think of direct service because you can see more of an immediate impact. However, through my work at Iowa State Extension I have been able to see that although education and empowerment don’t show immediate effects, the lasting impact that they have on society is extremely important. Educated and empowered people have the resources, motivation, and knowledge to go out and change society. By educating and empowering Iowans, we are creating a chain reaction to help solve problems all over the world. 

How the Engaged Citizen Corp and ISU Extension have prepared me for the future:

  • Fueled my passion for social justice:
    • By providing me with an opportunity to see different social justice issues and form relationships with people who come from different backgrounds than mine, my passion for social justice has significantly grown. This has encouraged me to continue my service differently after my college education. I plan to continue onto law school, and then I am going to become a social justice lawyer to help improve some of the problems that I have witnessed during my internship.
  • Provided me with skills to work in a professional setting:
    • Not only am I able to confidently create and direct my projects without needing guidance, but I have learned other skills that are crucial to working in a professional setting. For example, I have learned skills such as how to better communicate, whether that be in an office setting, over email, or during a presentation. I have also learned the importance of individual responsibility. If one person in the office doesn’t fulfill their responsibilities, it can make the entire office run less efficiently. 
  • I’ve learned how to be a positive, impactful, active member of my community:
    • I’ve learned this through both ECC classes and my internship. Seeing first-hand the impact that non-profits can make, as well as all of the people that need assistance, has encouraged me to be an active member of my community. ECC classes have provided me with the knowledge of how to do that effectively. For example, during our Toxic Charity class, we had the opportunity to learn that not all charity is good, and how to avoid unintentionally harming the people you are serving. 

Overall, my experience with the Engaged Citizen Corp program has allowed me to make a positive impact on the community around me while creating relationships with people from many different backgrounds. In addition, I have been provided with the motivation, knowledge, and resources to have a positive impact in the future. Iowa State Extension and Outreach not only greatly impacted my life, but continues to impact the lives of many by educating and empowering everyone they come in contact with!

HOME (Inc.) Away from Home

Amanda Smith, Engaged Citizen Corps member

 Hello! My name is Amanda Smith and I am a member of the Engaged Citizen Corps currently interning at HOME Inc. aka Home Opportunities Made Easy Incorporated. Moving my life from Denver, Colorado to Des Moines, Iowa was definitely a drastic change. I didn’t exactly know how drastic it was until I officially moved here, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Being an Engaged Citizen Corps member has truly been one of the greatest experiences and I will forever cherish it. I am so lucky to be able to work with HOME Inc. From creating content for social media to recruiting volunteers, this experience has given me a high leadership position that can end up being very useful in future possible careers. Being a Magazine Media and Graphic Design major, HOME Inc. and I are a perfect match. I’ve been able to create so many new things and cultivate more efficient ways of doing things—I even created a possible new tradition! Having the creativity trait has been very helpful to the organization which is something I thoroughly enjoy!

Creating content also means educating myself on affordable housing. I have gained a lot of knowledge of eviction issues with renting, landlords, and even just buying homes in general. Housing stability is a very complex issue, but it’s an area that simple education and action could turn around. It’s always so awesome to write success stories for blogs—hearing about how a family successfully bought their first home or how someone avoided eviction. It’s because of HOME Inc.’s counseling and education services that people can get out of scary situations. Social media is one way to promote all the good work that HOME Inc. is doing. It also brings awareness to a large audience in hopes of helping more people. Everyone knows about Habitat for Humanity but it’s time to spread the word on other non-profits too. There are so many resources to use, yet, people simply just don’t know about them. 

Photo submitted by Amanda Smith

HOME Inc. also does its best not to promote toxic charity—charity that ends up harming people more than helping them. In my first-year seminar class, we read “Toxic Charity” by Robert Lupton and learned about how important it is to promote stability instead of short-term fixes. The message of creating development over creating dependability was practically screaming at me! But that class truly gave me an entirely new perspective on how I look at service. It really opened my eyes and gave me the motivation to put an end to toxic charity. I finally realized that by providing the community with education and counseling opportunities, HOME Inc. clients are truly able to move towards stability and away from poverty. It’s such a beautiful thing to see.

Because of the Engaged Citizen Corps program, I am definitely more outspoken than I was. I used to be an introvert and would rarely find myself introducing myself to strangers. But now, I can proudly say I almost always want to socialize and build relationships with the community. As an engaged citizen, building relationships is vital to development especially within a non-profit. If you can’t communicate with your peers, how can you create development? 

Through this program, I also found out my five strengths were adaptability, thinking strategically, acting to include others, being a developer, and staying positive. It was so awesome to learn what my strengths are because they all are so prevalent in the work I do for HOME Inc. These strengths are also very useful in different work areas. It’s because of my strengths and communication that I am now an alternate Resident Assistant. That’s all thanks to the Engaged Citizen Corps program for allowing me to work with HOME Inc.—to further develop basic skills every organization needs. It’s because of that leadership position that I have the skills necessary to achieve bigger and better things. 

Overall, making a difference in the community—being an engaged citizen—should be a priority for everyone. Charity shouldn’t be looked at as a requirement. It should be looked at as a civic responsibility. It’s an amazing feeling when you create change within another’s life. But it’s an even more amazing feeling when you’re creating financial stability within a community of people. Being able to proudly move an entire community toward sustainable development and away from poverty is huge. That’s exactly what HOME Inc. has been working to do. I have never been prouder to be associated with such a great organization. They are my HOME away from home.

Love always,

Amanda Smith 🙂

I would not be doing my job if I didn’t advertise for HOME, Inc.! Follow their socials!

Instagram and Facebook: @homincdsm

Twitter: @homeinc3

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