Author: Amanda Martin (Page 1 of 2)

Interning is not all name tags and spinny chairs

By Reagan Gerry

As a kid, when I imagined what my first internship would be like, wheely chairs were the first thing to come to mind. You know the ones, the office chairs that have the child fascinating power to spin. As an adult however, I saw my internship as a good opportunity to gain office experience, though getting a spinning char was still a key highlight of my internship.

Children & Families of Iowa (the non-profit I intern with) is my first real professional “job.” As such, this is my first real work experience and the skills I am building by working for this organization is what will become the foundation my skills in my professional career. Not only that, but my site is also impacting the way I view the world. Being able to see the impact that Children and Families of Iowa is having on their community is one thing, but being a direct part of that impact, personally having the chance to change lives changes one’s whole world view.

 What is Children & Families of Iowa?

Children & Families of Iowa (or CFI for short) is a nonprofit organization that works to improve the lives of families and children throughout Iowa with their different service programs. These service areas are Mental Health, Domestic Violence, Substance Abuse, Early Childhood Development, and Family Support. Each of these areas has a number of different service programs affiliated with them. These services range from awareness programs like their Prime for Life Substance Abuse Diversion program for teens, therapy programs such as their Child-Parent Psychotherapy, and assistance programs including their Financial Management Services program. With all these different programs, CFI is able to serve a wide variety of community needs. CFI is also given a plethora of In-Kind donations. These donations range from paper products, toiletries, food donations, and more recently handmade face masks. Our organization then organizes these supplies, and uses them either in accordance with one of their programs or gives them out in a supply drive. During a supply drive, supplies are organized into categories and distributed to those waiting. All in all they are a non-profit that aims to improve the lives of children and families through Iowa.

What is it I actually do?

Well, the projects that I have been working on mostly involve either manual labor, sorting physical donations or file updating. By making phone calls, updating files, and arranging manuals, I am actively working to build the organization. Children & Families of Iowa is an older organization; it has outdated policies, files, and programs. Through my work, I am working to bring the organization up to speed and build it up. My administrative work actively builds company information, event attendees, and organizational material.

And of course, as any cliche movie shows, I have my own cubical complete with spinning chair, outdated phone, family photos that are not mine, and a copying machine that allows me to constantly interact with staff. Though I do note we don’t have a communal blue plastic water fountain.

Did you gain anything from interning there?

Yes, I have. Not only has CFI expanded my definition of what it means to do non-profit work, but it also allowed me to gain some useful skills. Need more proof? Here are some of the skills I gained as part of my internship experience:

  • My newfound Microsoft EXCEL abilities (I am now capable of making a graph without the help of YouTube)
  • My Self Discipline has improved as I now schedule out when I’m going to work on my project, clear everything off my desk to avoid distractions, put on some power music and get to work
  • Calling people on the mailing list and giving them my thirty second speech has also turned down my anxiety towards social interaction and rapidly improved my communication skills

What is the point of these skills? The skills I have developed as a result of my internship will help me be a steward of the common good in the more behind the scenes ways. I’m not a fan of the spotlight (which seems counterintuitive since I’m writing a blog), and while I do love to work hands on with students and volunteers, I also enjoy working on the administrative side of things. One of the main things I gained from CFI was an expansion of my idea of non-profit work. When people think of volunteer or community work, they often think of the smiling faces of volunteers handing out supplies that have direct contact with those they are serving. Most forget that in order to run a successful non-profit organization or plan a community event, there needs to be someone taking care of the behind the scenes tasks. These involve planning meetings, spreadsheet data, manual event set up, social media alerts, flyer set up, and countless phone calls to gather material donations. While my new EXCEL and self-discipline skills might not be overly helpful in the hand-to-hand service, I can make great use of them in helping run the events or organization. See, the skills I’ve learned from my internship are helpful!

How CFI changed my life?

Through my experience of working with CFI I have learned much about not only myself but non-profit work as a whole. While I still fully intend on becoming a history teacher, I now plan to become more involved in my community and become an active volunteer in my local non-profit’s. With my spinny chair as my steed, I will continue to work to help CFI make an impact on the lives of children and families across Iowa.

If you want to know more about CFI or see how you can get involved, check out their website link here: https://cfiowa.org/

Food for Thought: How my experience at Eat Greater Des Moines has made my time more meaningful

DJ Henson, Engaged Citizen Corps Member

Hi! I’m DJ Henson (she/her/hers). I am studying Physics, Astronomy and Mathematics at Drake, and I am highly involved on the Drake campus through the Engaged Citizen Corps, Student Alumni Association, Honors Executive Council and Interfaith at Drake!

I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with Eat Greater Des Moines (EGDM) the past few months, helping to create a more equitable and quality food system for all. While EGDM addresses food insecurity through three main approaches—double-up food bucks, community garden support and food rescue—my team and I have been tasked with creating a new initiative that will allow passionate individuals in our community to engage in food rescue programs with the Central Iowa Food Recovery Network!

What is food rescue?

To put it simply, food rescue (also known as food recovery) is the act of obtaining edible, but unsellable, food from businesses in order to redistribute it in the emergency or supplemental food system so it is put to use instead of wasted.

However, the reality is that food rescue is much more complex than this. Many businesses would prefer to throw out their unsellable foods—even though waste removal costs a considerable sum of money—rather than risk potential lawsuits for injuries related to their donated food. This fear, however, is entirely unfounded for two reasons:

  1. The dating system used on foods is based on quality, not safety.
  2. Federal law and Iowa state law protect donor businesses who participate in food rescue in good faith.

Now, what does that mean? It means that once that tub of yogurt on the store shelf reaches its printed date, it is still entirely safe to consume, so long as there are no signs of obvious spoilage. It also means that the same tub of yogurt past its date can be safely rescued and put in a community fridge or food bank with no possibility of legal trouble for the donating business, so long as there are no observable signs of tampering or spoiling.

So why aren’t more businesses participating in food rescue? I can assure you, I had never heard the term “food rescue” before partnering with EGDM, much less observed it in action. The more research I did on the topic, the more I discovered the clear benefits of food rescue for donor businesses, food rescue services and emergency food infrastructure alike. Donor businesses can not only save on waste disposal costs, but can also claim their donations as a tax write-off, saving millions of dollars annually for regular donors. Food rescue services, like EGDM, employ delivery drivers and rescue coordinators, providing jobs for the community. Food pantries receive quality, wholesome food on a regular and consistent basis, which allows for a more nutritious and stable emergency food system for the food insecure. All of these contribute to a thriving community. And yet, so much edible food ends up in landfills every year. The issue here is a lack of understanding and awareness.

This is where my team comes in. We have set out to create a more informed public, which can in turn encourage local businesses to participate in food rescue initiatives. Teaming up with local high schools and the Central Iowa Food Recovery Network, we are creating a Food Rescue Ambassador Program that will allow the leaders of tomorrow to create change in our food system today. We believe in the power of young voices and fresh perspectives, and we know that our local students will become great agents of change for our city.

What does food rescue look like?

Truthfully, I do not know what food rescue normally looks like. I have only ever experienced it in the midst of a global pandemic—which, from my perspective, has not only exacerbated the need for a quality food system, but highlighted the need for reformation of an already strained emergency food network.

How have operations changed? I have yet to step foot inside a pantry or community fridge since working with EGDM. Though I have, on several occasions, stood outside of one in the rain or the beaming sun, arms full of donated day-old Kum & Go sandwiches, waiting for someone to pop their head in the window to acknowledge the arrival of their rescued food. Almost all food rescue operations have shifted to being contactless in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Masks are worn at all times, even when not in contact with anyone else. Safety is of utmost importance for EGDM, so our operations rapidly shifted to meet the growing demand for safety.

How has need changed? During my site orientation (over Zoom, back in early September) my supervisor mentioned that Eat Greater Des Moines had already moved over double the food at that point than they had in the entire year before—and there were still three months left in 2020. That only goes to show that the Coronavirus pandemic has created a deeper need for food in our city. More people than ever rely on the emergency food system to survive these incredibly trying times, and EGDM has been working nonstop to create a bountiful supply of quality food. To learn more about Eat Greater Des Moines and how you can get involved, visit https://www.eatgreaterdesmoines.org/.

Where do I fit in?

This experience has been life-changing for me. I have always considered myself a “foodie,” but now I see food in a whole new light, and creating food equity has become one of my greatest passions, and most exciting opportunity professionally. As a STEM major, particularly a mathematics and logic-based STEM major, my skillset that I develop in the classroom lends itself perfectly for thinking outside the box to create meaningful and long-lasting change in the world.

My biggest takeaway from my experience at Eat Greater Des Moines and through the Engaged Citizen Corps is a saying I have heard ever since I was young: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Looking past the questionable grammar, this phrase has deep meaning in community-based work. Struggling communities rarely benefit in the long-term from hand-outs and outside help alone. If a community is struggling consistently for long periods of time, it is because the community does not have the capacity to help itself—yet. It is important to use existing infrastructure and local expertise to create a truly meaningful system of escaping poverty—not just handing over the things that we may perceive the community in question needs.

In closing, it is important to remember that everyone from all walks of life and all types of skillsets can engage in meaningful work for the betterment of our communities, nations and our world. Finding where you fit in—and where you’re better off letting someone else take over—is the most challenging and the most necessary step to creating change. If you’re unsure of what that step may look like, I encourage you to reflect on your experiences, your failures, your triumphs and your dreams, and look to those around you with similar backgrounds and aspirations. Those are the people who will help you change the world.

Howdy, Center for Social Ministry

By Brian Orellana

Howdy! My name is Brian Orellana, and I am from the great state of Texas. I am a current freshman in the Engaged Citizen Corps (ECC),  studying Secondary Education and Math Education with a concentration in Math 5-12 and Social Justice in Urban Education.

As a Texan, community service is rooted in my veins to help people in different ways through food banks, blood donations, and disaster relief. As I was looking to come to Iowa, the Engaged Citizen Corps allowed me to continue to fulfill my community service mission by partnering with a local non-profit in the city of Des Moines.

I am currently partnered with The Center for Social Ministry with the mission to provide poverty awareness and social justice education that transforms and empowers to drive change. The Center for Social Ministry is a Christian-based organization that uses the love of Jesus to help the community. The Center for Social Ministry (CSM) addresses poverty, racial injustice, homelessness, and immigration by educating the community through programs offered by JustFaith Ministries, book clubs, and small group discussions. Some of the work I do at CSM includes improving our social media platforms, creating book programs to address difficult topics, and having the opportunity to be involved in discussions through our programming.

Poverty, racial injustice, homelessness, and immigration are some of the issues we are trying to address in our community through education. Education is essential to invest in people to create a better world for everyone. First, The Center for Social Ministry offers different programming through JustFaith Ministries such as Faith and Racial Healing: Embracing Truth, Justice, and Restoration; Faith and Racial Equity: Exploring Power and Privilege, and Hunger for Change that allows small groups to reflect on certain injustices happening in our community. Our goal is to help move towards a more just world, but some of these issues like poverty and racial injustice are caused by our community’s lack of awareness.

The Center for Social Ministry uses our social media platforms to address these issues in our community by posting articles and creating a diverse platform with posts about Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, and honoring essential events for our neighbors.

Furthermore, another critical event we provide is Beyond the Book, which is a way for our community to read a book about important issues like poverty, racial injustice, and more. After reading the chosen book, our community meets to discuss the important themes addressed in the book and bring discussion about how we can work together to create a more just society for our neighbors, invest ourselves to be an ally, and move forward in our work of creating a better world.

As COVID-19 continues to disrupt our world, there have been many ways the Center for Social Ministry has continued to do our work in our community. We have moved most of our programming to virtual spaces on Zoom, sent out surveys to our community for check-ins on their well-being, and continue to use our social media platforms to expand our mission to bring poverty awareness and social justice.

ECC has helped me gain valuable skills that will be useful for my future career as an educator. I have learned how to manage my time well, especially in a virtual setting, to be present in my organization. I have continued to learn valuable time management skills that have allowed me to be successful in many projects in my organization, such as planning out my week ahead, asking for help if necessary, and always taking care of my health.

When I started my academic career at Drake, I began as a Political Science major, which quickly changed to the Education field because I learned through ECC and The Center for Social Ministry that impact is made through investments. As a person of color, my purpose is to allow students of color to fulfill their dreams and to see themselves in me. I continue to bring my vision of equity in service and education to my organization and the ECC program.

As I continue to finish my term in ECC at The Center for Social Ministry, I have learned to be an active citizen in my community to pursue a better world because a better world is possible through service, through community organizing, equity, and inclusion in our neighborhoods. I have learned to help my community in any way, shape, or form through activism, social media, and speaking out when necessary. I learned this year about making an organization execute its full potential through the teaching of Robert Lupton in Toxic Charity. Furthermore, one of the lessons I learned from Toxic Charity was an investment in people. The Center for Social Ministry accomplishes that through its education programs, people become educated on poverty, racial injustice, homelessness, and immigration.

The Center for Social Ministry can be reached through social media on Instagram and Facebook as Center for Social Ministry. We can also be found at centerforsocialministry.org with full descriptions of the programs we offer, Beyond the Book, and more!

A better world is possible.

Empowering Youth is Our Future

Avi Newman, Engaged Citizen Corps Member

My name is Avi Newman, and I am a first-year student studying International Business and Spanish. I am a part of the Drake Engaged Citizen Corps interning at the Polk County Iowa State Extension and Outreach 4-H. 4-H is a non-profit organization across the United States that bases out of different state universities and works to educate and empower the youth that they reach. At the Iowa State Polk County Extension and Outreach 4-H, we focus on reaching the youth in Iowa communities and giving them resources to learn and be able to grow in many areas of their life.

What are the main roles I have at Iowa State Extension 4-H?

  • Create and Plan Virtual Programs
  • Pack Program Kits
  • Work on a 21-day Awareness Program

Creating and Planning Virtual Programs:
Every week, I teach lessons virtually to a group of elementary aged youth. The lessons consist of different program focuses such as STEM, Healthy Living, Leadership and Civic Engagement, and Communication and the Arts. The programs are cross-disciplinary where each of the virtual lessons that I plan lead the youth to learning different skills.

Packing Program Kits:
When preparing the programs, there is a variety of items needed to be able to carry out each week. Some examples of the different programs that I have prepared and taught are Coat of Arms, Stunning Sculptures, and Healthy Hearts. Each of those had different materials needed so that the youth could fully participate in the virtual setting.

Working on a 21-Day Awareness Program:
One of my tasks this year was to create and implement an awareness program that I would be passionate about and dedicated to. The project I created was a 21-Day Poverty Awareness program that is to be implemented in March of 2021. This will consist of 21 days of facts, challenges and resources surrounding poverty. I believe that poverty is a very important topic to address and spread awareness for every member of the community, and especially through COVID-19, it is important to inform youth about the difficulties of poverty.

Social Challenges and COVID-19 Impact:
There are many challenges that youth in Iowa communities face every day. Prior to COVID-19, youth faced challenges with insecurities, problems at home, drama at school, and more. Now, during COVID-19, youth have had to overcome the challenges of virtual schooling, isolation at home, enflamed family struggles, and the uncertainty of the future in a seemingly chaotic world. Through working at a non-profit, I have seen firsthand the complications that a community faces, both before COVID-19 and after. Polk County 4-H is working to continue to support their youth and deliver the same quality of life as before. The community is affected by a number of things, and I desire to create awareness surrounding the difficulties that every individual may face, young and old.

What have I learned?

  • There is value in empowering the youth of our communities.
  • I can strengthen the voices of these youth by taking time to listen and teach.
  • Non-profits have many purposes and different people they serve.
  • Education is valuable and change begins in our youth.
  • We can come together as a community through this pandemic.

First, empowering youth in our community is extremely valuable. Every week, I see the amazing faces of my 4-H kids virtually. Each one has a story and an opportunity to share their voice. Through teaching lessons that give them tools to go out in their life, I can give the youth that I reach the gift of empowerment. By teaching but also listening, I want to create an environment that gives each child the integrity to speak. At 4-H, we structure each virtual lesson with this model: Do, Reflect, Apply. We first “Do” the activity such as creating a journal, dancing to music, or learning how to make a rocket. Then, we “Reflect” and give our 4-H kids time to process what they have learned. During this time, we ask for volunteers and really try to affirm each individual answer. Finally, we “Apply” by also taking time to use what we learned to discuss what we can do going forward.

Next, non-profits are a lot more complex than I had imagined prior to being in the Engaged Citizen Corps (ECC). Through speaking with my other ECC members, I have learned a lot. Non-profits cover a range of social issues such as housing, food, social justice, youth, and many other things. At the non-profit that I serve, 4-H has opened my eyes to learning that children need to be poured into so they can create change in the future. That leads into another lesson I have learned: education is a valuable way to create change in our youth. Educating and giving children the tools that they then use throughout their lives is the greatest way to assure change in the future. I also like to give each child the opportunity to have their own diverse thought because I want to give them the space to feel free to share.

Finally, we can come together through these hard times of COVID-19. It is so difficult watching the way we interact with each other go almost completely virtual, and the realities of loneliness, fear, and frustration creep into our lives even more. I desire to strengthen and allow the children the feel the emotions that these times are bringing, while also giving them tools to be able to move forward in stride.

Empowering youth is our future. I have seen firsthand the effectiveness of doing this through Iowa State 4-H. When looking forward to what we want our futures to look like, we need to focus on our youth. These are the people who will make change and create a better world to live in. As I continue forward, in the present in college working at 4-H, and into my future jobs, I want to use what I have learned to impact the people around me, especially the youth.

If you would like to get involved with volunteering or learning more about the Iowa State 4-H community, visit https://www.extension.iastate.edu/4h/.  

Making an Impact with IMPACT

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. 

Farmworkers: The Original Essential Workers

Hello! My name is Lesly Velazquez. I am a first-generation college student at Drake University. I am a first-year student majoring in Secondary Education with an English endorsement. When I was accepted into the Engaged Citizen Corps program, I was so ecstatic that I couldn’t wait to be on campus. I found out that I had been accepted to the program while we were in quarantine back in March. I had hoped the pandemic would soon be over but alas here we are. We’re almost a year in and I’ve still been able to learn so much even though most of the work is virtual.

Through the Engaged Citizen Corps program, I am able to work with Proteus, Inc. whose mission is to provide agricultural workers and their families with affordable health care, education assistance, and job training. Proteus serves immigrant, minority and low-income populations to make their dream of a brighter tomorrow a reality by helping them overcome language and cultural barriers in order to better provide for their families. Everything that I have learned so far has allowed me to grow and I can’t wait to see where this takes me.

Have you ever wondered how the food on your table gets there? It’s a really long process and at the very beginning of that process are farmworkers. Farmworkers aren’t given nearly enough credit for all they do for us. They have to work no matter what the circumstances are whether it be harsh weather conditions, health concerns, and even a global pandemic. Farmworkers are heroes, and they should be treated as such, but they unfortunately are not. Proteus recognizes that this is an issue which is why they provide farmworkers and their families with affordable health care, since they are unable to receive health insurance most of the time. Proteus and AFOP conduct health and safety training about heat stroke and ways to stay safe.

Proteus has offices in Iowa, Indiana, and Nebraska. The locations out of state focus primarily on the National Farm Workers Jobs Program (NFJP), which helps farmworkers look for different career paths. Through the NFJP program, Proteus is able to help farmworkers get their GED, enroll in community college, among so many other things. When the pandemic began there were so many unanswered questions and there still continue to be. Like most of the world farmworkers were concerned about their safety and how to make ends meet; on top of all their concerns they had to continue to put food on everyone’s tables. Proteus stepped in to help farmworkers during the pandemic in April by creating a campaign called “Face Masks for Farmworkers”. The demand for face masks was increasing as COVID-19 continued to spread. Essential workers all over the world needed to have face masks in order to keep working and farmworkers were no exception. 15,000 face masks were donated to Proteus and our team was able to distribute the donations to farmworkers across Iowa, Indiana, and Nebraska. Another way that Proteus has continued to support farmworkers throughout the pandemic was through the Iowa Immigrant community fund. Proteus received $750,000 dollars which Proteus was able to distribute to farmworkers and meat processing workers that faced significant challenges as a result of the pandemic. This grant allowed Proteus to help with financial assistance that helped cover things like rent, utilities, and medicine for Iowans.

My site supervisor is Josefina Lopez and she is the Marketing and Communications Coordinator at Proteus. When I first started, she had also recently started working at Proteus; we worked together to establish a routine and she has helped me learn so much. I had some experience working with Canva (a platform to create graphics to post on social media) and as my time at Proteus continues, I have developed even more skills. I have assisted her with some of the graphics posted on social media. In the past, I had never used Excel before and I was very unfamiliar with the program. Over my time at Proteus, I’ve become more comfortable while using it. There are so many icons and different features that can be intimidating at times, but I know that I will benefit from knowing how to use Excel in the future.

One of the biggest takeaways that I have gained from this experience is that I have decided that I want to serve my community by becoming an educator. I was always interested in teaching because of the teachers that have helped me get to where I am today. Working at Proteus has made me realize that I want to continue giving back to my community. I have realized how passionate I am about helping my community grow and succeed. The best way for me to do this is by educating the next generation of students. Over break I took a J-Term course (a 3-week course in January) which is another requirement for the ECC program. I interviewed my high school principal and did a lot of research on what it means to be an educator. I learned so much about my personality in another course we were required to take was the Toxic Charity course; I am now able to identify my strengths and weaknesses. After learning so much about myself and service in our First Year Seminar, ECC seminar, J-Term, and my time at Proteus so far, I have decided that I am passionate about learning and I want to help others learn by becoming an educator.

All in all, over this past year I have been able to fix any misconceptions that I had previously had about service. I now know what effective service looks like and how to engage others to be an active citizen in their community. This program has allowed me to grow and connect with the Des Moines community which is everything that I ever wanted. If you would like to learn more about Proteus, you can follow us on all our social media where you will get all the latest updates. Our social media handle for Instagram and Twitter is @Proteus_inc; you can find us on Facebook as Proteus, Inc. and you can also sign up for our monthly  newsletter, https://mailchi.mp/proteusinc/news. I am very grateful for this experience so far, everyone who I’ve met, and all the learning that will continue to help me grow.

HOME, (Inc.), is Where the Heart Is

By Nadia Treichel

My name is Nadia Treichel, and I am honored to represent both the Engaged Citizen Corps as well as Home Opportunities Made Easy, Incorporated (HOME, Inc.) I am from a small northeast Iowa town, and coming to Des Moines was a culture shock for me. I am a first-year student majoring in International Relations, double minoring in Spanish and Human Rights, and concentrating in Women & Gender Studies. After Drake, I hope to move on to graduate school and continue to foster my passion for volunteering in my community, as well as working with non-profit agencies. 

HOME, Inc. works to empower our clients to obtain and retain affordable housing, and their housing status. We have several housing counseling programs, as well as a homeless prevention program that works to stabilize families and individuals with affordable housing. According to HOME, Inc.’s 2019-2020 annual report:

  • 77% clients in our Homebuyer Education program were low-income households
    •  33% of the clients in that program are minorities
  • 100% of our Homeownership Readiness & Pre-Purchase Counseling clients are from low-income households
    • 94% of which are minorities
    • 91% are families with children

This means that the biggest social issues that we face at HOME, Inc. are homelessness, poverty, and racial equality within sustainable housing. These issues are plaguing the nation, but we are truly feeling the full force of their impact in Des Moines.

According to the Greater Des Moines Partnership, Des Moines is the #5 best place to live in the United States and is #11 in the most affordable city to buy a house – for white Iowans. However, according to Iowa Public Radio, Iowa has one of the biggest racial homeownership gaps in the country – one that is wider now than 50 years ago. This disenfranchisement and lack of affordable housing is contributing to the wealth gap and rising poverty levels across our state.

Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, our counselors and staff members have been working extra hard, and from home. The need is great throughout the country, and Des Moines is not immune. Many individuals have lost their jobs, had their hours shortened, and experienced housing instability as a result. Before COVID, our counselors were receiving 150-200 calls per month, now we experience this many calls over the course of a few days. When our rental assistance opened in the month of January, we received 300 calls in that day alone. Unfortunately, we do not have enough funding to help every person that calls, especially because the need is currently so large. Thankfully, there are other non-profits in the Des Moines area that have shifted to also offer rental/mortgage assistance due to COVID-19, so we have more resources to share with our clients.

The Engaged Citizen Corps has opened my mind to many career paths that I was not previously aware of such as the housing disparity in Des Moines. I am thankful for the leadership training, professional development, and team building skills that I have gained as a result of the ECC program. Thus far, my biggest take-aways have been the through the professional experience I have gained, such as learning to interact professionally through an online setting via email and Zoom meetings. Additionally, I have learned important time management and independent work from home skills that serve me not only within HOME, Inc., but also with online classes.

 Partnering with HOME, Inc. has shown me how necessary stable housing programs are, and how important the right to housing truly is for the citizens of Des Moines, but also around the globe. Career-wise, I hope to continue to work with non-profits in the future and find my place in the Des Moines community. Additionally, participating in ECC has grown my passion for human rights, and showed me that there are many ways to get involved and advocate for others.

Moving forward I will continue to hone these skills for both my professional career and potential graduate work. Being an active citizen means finding your passion within the community and using that to empower others. ECC has shaped my understanding of how and when to empower the voices and journeys of others, and the best ways to support my community.

Due to COVID-19 HOME, Inc. is currently not looking for volunteers, but head over to our social media, @homeincdsm on all platforms, to learn about HOME, Inc. and how to best support us through the COVID Pandemic.

Sustainable Future for Des Moines Residents and the Earth

Sydney Rottinghaus, Engaged Citizen Corps Member

A year ago, I decided to interview for the Engaged Citizen Corps (ECC) program at Drake. This decision has shaped my first year here to be more impactful than I would have ever thought. Within the Engaged Citizen Corps, I was very fortunate to be paired with St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP) this year. Alongside this experience, I am also involved in Women in STEM, Greek life, the Donald V. Adams Leadership Institute, and Student Alumni Association. In addition to my involvements, I am majoring in Environmental Sustainability and Mathematics on the Pre-Engineering track.

St. Vincent de Paul provides social services and educational support to “over 33,000 Iowans per year.” SVDP also has two thrift stores in Des Moines. Through their efforts, SVDP is working to build a more sustainable future for both those who receive support and the environment. They focus on supporting the community members in a way that benefits them in the long and short term. Also, through their thrift store they reduce the amount of textile waste that reaches landfills. My role as an ECC member is to support this organization in a variety of aspects. Through the first semester here, I have conducted research on best practices, aided in transitioning their educational program online, and analyzed data. In the coming months I am looking forward to seeing my work begin to be implemented to benefit the organization.

Through discussions at my site and in the course Toxic Charity, which runs alongside this program, I have been exposed to social issues in a new depth. The core social issues I have learned about are workforce barriers and food/clothing insecurity. In my work moving their programs online I was able to learn about SVDP’s Back 2 Work class. This program is in place to help those struggling to reenter the workplace. Through lessons like resume workshops and interview tips, participants are taught skills to help them prepare for a job. At the end of the program the goal is to have participants in an internship or job to lead to full employment. This program is designed to reduce some of the barriers that people face when entering the workplace. Access to technology can have a big influence on if people are able to find work. This barrier prevents certain socioeconomic classes from securing a job because most applications are online. Another challenge I have observed is finding transportation to work. Covid-19 has exacerbated these challenges due to many public resources, such as the library, being closed. Through the Back 2 Work program participants can gain support from SVDP to devise solutions for some of these challenges.

Alongside moving the educational programs online to ensure safety of all participants and administrators, Covid-19 has altered other services of SVDP. To reduce in store contact, they have required masks of all visitors and previously limited occupancy. Additionally, they have added curbside pickup of items from the food and clothing pantry. This means that employees/volunteers are packaging the items for the recipients and bringing it outside.

Working at SVDP has been both eye-opening and vital to the development of my workplace skills. Being aware of what is happening around me has become a bigger priority of mine due to this experience. My office work here has also expanded my skills in excel, virtual communication, and virtual educational programs. Outside of SVDP the ECC program has improved my critical thinking skills through the required courses. With these skills developed, my confidence has been raised and I feel more apt to take on challenges. The information I have learned regarding a vast variety of social issues will also prepare me to be a better steward for the common good. This knowledge will help me confront injustices that I see. While I am still planning on going into engineering, this experience has made me look at social issues within that field. I am now hoping to have a career that can help address some of the environmental injustices faced by certain communities. I think the knowledge gained in both ECC and in my major will prepare me to achieve this goal.

Reflecting on this experience makes me very excited to continue to push myself out of my comfort zone. Trying new things and focusing on other perspectives are the two main lessons I will take from this experience. While I feel more confident with my role, being aware of the areas I do not know about is vital to my overall success. Actively looking for other ideas that could expand my viewpoint and awareness is key to moving forward as an active citizen. The searching act is what has transitioned my role as a citizen from passive to active.

To learn more about the efforts of my organization visit http://svdpdsm.org/ . This website also includes information on how to volunteer and support the mission. Volunteers are placed based off their interests and skillsets.

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 www.drake.edu/engagedcitizen.

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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 iacampuscompact.org

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