My name is Kate Gallinero, and I am a first-year student studying prepharmacy at Drake. This year I was blessed with the opportunity to work with Genesis Youth Foundation, where I was an intern through Drake’s Engaged Citizen Corps program. Genesis is a grassroots nonprofit in Des Moines whose goal is to give opportunities to and empower immigrant and refugee youth. They hold after school arts and soccer programs as well as academic enrichment and tutoring to build up the youth and connect them to a community that is welcoming and intended to aid in their personal growth. At the heart of this nonprofit is the CEO and founder of Genesis, Sam Gabriel. From the moment I met Sam, I knew that Genesis was something he was immensely passionate about and it was incredibly infectious. As an immigrant myself, I know the importance of giving opportunities to immigrant and refugee youth. I know the struggle to not have your parents walk you through paperwork before college; to have to translate during parent-teacher conferences; to not be able to ask your parents for help on homework; to grow up in a world completely different from the world they grew up in. Growing up as a first generation American is an experience near and dear to the core to so many people and the opportunity to make it better for youth in the Des Moines Area has been something I hold close to my heart. Truthfully, as much as I came into this program wanting to improve Genesis Youth Foundation, I learned so much more from this experience than I ever could have imagined.
This year I worked with data analytics and ways to improve the programs within Genesis. Some of my projects this year included creating tutoring curriculums for Genesis youth programs, and working with the Salesforce system for nonprofits to hold and keep track of data. Something new implemented with Genesis this year is their structure which now involves sign-ups for sessions throughout the year with pre and post assessments to measure the growth of the students. I also worked with creating guidebooks for new coaches and volunteers. While a lot of what I did was behind the scenes work, I knew that the work I did allowed others to do things that helped Genesis to grow. Although some of the things I did felt like office work and I was not always directly working with the kids, I learned to understand that my work was part of something bigger. I learned that behind the scenes work is just as crucial as being on the front lines of the nonprofit so to speak.
In the immigrant community, food is an important cornerstone to relationships and community. Food brings people together, says “welcome” better than words ever could, and most importantly, should never be denied when offered. I recall meeting Sam and having him ask me how comfortable I was trying new foods, to which I responded that I was fairly comfortable. Being an immigrant myself I knew that food is a way to open up your culture, little did I know that besides the food, there would be such an overwhelming sense of ease with the kids and other volunteers. The unique thing about Genesis is the sense of home and family that you receive. The sense of comfort and safety at Genesis is almost palpable, which makes it so important to the community. Being able to build those relationships and provide a space to feel understood and valued, like they have somewhere to be heard and somewhere to grow. Especially in a climate that is increasingly unkind to those from immigrant and refugee background, the importance of embracing culture and differences is becoming more and more apparent. Through the community building and programming, the goal of Genesis is to help level the playing field for these immigrant and refugee youth, and give them the tools to succeed.
Truthfully, this organization has become so much closer to my heart than I imagined. The sense of family and community that Genesis brings is truly so unique and needed in Des Moines. Even as a first-year student, in a new state, and new city, I found a home away from home not only at Drake, but in this organization. Because of my service learning, I am capable of understanding and analyzing the needs of a community before addressing what I judged to be their needs. I have learned so much more than my personal experience has given me. I learned the importance of community building as well as capacity building in the nonprofit world. I learned that there is a difference between reaching out to the community as an outsider and being a part of the community.