By Gabby Lara, Engaged Citizen Corps Member
Who would have thought that little ol Gabby from big ol Milwaukee would help change lives in only 7-8 months of being in college? I for sure didn’t think so until I came across the Engaged Citizens Corps one day and decided to take the chance of applying. With the most surprise, I had gotten a phone call in the middle of work saying that I had been accepted into the program.
My name is Gabby Lara and I am a first-year student at Drake University majoring in Kinesiology with a chiropractic track. This year, I am so grateful to be partnered with IMPACT Community Action Partnership to further my engagement in the Drake area! For some who are not familiar with this organization, IMPACT is a nonprofit in the state of Iowa that is committed to helping low-income families meet their basic needs, whether it’s through providing programs and necessities or finding the much-needed resources so they can become self-sufficient. While their biggest program is their housing assistance, they offer food, rent, energy, hygiene, and local assistance year-round. Although IMPACT is located in only a handful of counties, they are truly one of the most complex non-profits in the state of Iowa. Last year, IMPACT served a total of 19,301 families and 13,757 total visits to the 3 food pantries.
As COVID-19 has and continues to impact us all in unimaginable ways, IMPACT has been working day and night to keep the families of Iowa safe and supported. In response to the pandemic, they have put in place several precautions which include over-the-phone appointments for new clients, contactless pre-packaged meals in our food pantry, and even a new food delivery system currently in the works to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Furthermore, IMPACT was able to receive a heavy amount of relief funding for rent and mortgage assistance which we are thankfully able to assist not only the applicants during this time but up until the next applicant season later in the year.
In my short time with this non-profit, I have gained a different definition of change and community engagement as my original view was all based on my high school experience which involved giving food at local soup kitchens and cleaning up public recreational areas. While both are a step in the right direction, I have learned through the very insightful training and embedded class curriculum that they are not always long-term solutions that will tackle poverty. My role as an ECC member is to advocate for IMPACT and the community that I serve, whether it’s through projects to familiarize with the community or researching and compiling local resource lists for families who may need a different type of assistance. I was also fortunate to participate in numerous poverty simulations to develop a deeper understanding of how low-income families budget and sacrifice daily.
Not only have I been able to gain a better understanding of the program itself, but I have also gained a better insight into the social issues we continuously see in our current day. Some of the key social issues that IMPACT has been addressing for years are food insecurity, housing discrimination, and the overall effects of poverty on one’s mental, physical, and emotional health. While these issues have been prevalent for decades, it doesn’t stop IMPACT from coming up with new and innovative ideas to tackle these injustices.
Some of the biggest lessons I have learned through my experience with IMPACT revolved around one theme: Connection. Since day 1 of working in the Engaged Citizen Corps and with IMPACT, I immediately felt a connection to not only the program but the people and community around me. As I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I have seen families with food insecurities, unsuitable living situations, and individuals who weren’t able to make ends meet, resorting to different and heartbreaking methods to put food on the table for their family. With this, the connection between my personal experiences and my work has kept me passionate about what I do. One of the key lessons I have learned is it is all about the community. Change starts from the ground up and being able to actively listen and foster a close connection to the community will ultimately lead to some heavy positive outcomes.
While this is only my first year of college, the skills, knowledge, and lifelong friendships I have gained through this experience will stay close to my heart for life. IMPACT has some of the most passionate and inspiring individuals I have ever met and to work for them has been the best privilege I have had in my lifetime. Being an active citizen means empathizing and uplifting the surrounding community to potentially create a better tomorrow for everyone. ECC has shown me the ways I can do just that, and I will continue to apply this knowledge to not only the Des Moines community but the future communities I will be fortunate enough to engage with and connect with. While this experience is life-changing, this is not the end of my journey both with IMPACT and community engagement.
To learn more info about IMPACT and our services, visit https://www.impactcap.org. You can also find ways to help through donations and volunteering on our website as well. IMPACT has now opened up its volunteering services to the public.