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 or contact 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.