Author: Liza Vinyon

Engaged at EKD

Melannie Mayca, Engaged Citizen Corps member

About Me

Hello everyone! My name is Melannie Mayca and I am a freshman double majoring in Health Sciences and Spanish Language and Culture. I hope to move to medical school after I have completed my undergraduate degree and become a doctor in emergency services. This summer, while applying to Drake, I was fortunate enough to be one of the 12 accepted into the Engaged Citizen Corps (ECC) program. 

As an Engaged Citizen Corps member, it is our job to be hands-on and gain experiences that will impact the Des Moines community through our non-profit partners. Already, I have been able to be part of some memorable events and activities. I look forward to being part of many more.

Evelyn K. David Center

My partner site is the Evelyn K. Davis Center for Working Families (EKD). At EKD, our goal is to help families and individuals improve their financial position while helping them reach career and life goals. The Center helps individuals and families achieve success. We do this through education, targeting skills training, real work experiences, and connections to employment opportunities. 

My role at EKD is small, but it is very important and impactful. I have learned that no matter how small the job, each one is required to keep EKD running. Part of our job as ECC members is to help relieve the load of our non-profit or focus on tasks that they could not focus on if it were for us. I have been tasked with heading the Tutor Heroes homework help program, but I also create guidebooks for clients EKD serves. My site aims to help the underserved population of Des Moines, specifically people of color. 

I think of myself as the assistant to the Assistant Director. Joy, my supervisor and the Assistant Director of EKD, has made my experience at the site so much better. Her thoroughness and kind personality have allowed me to adjust to the high priority of the program. Working at EKD has taught me many things. It is very important that work is completed on time because people are relying on the work I complete. I have also learned the importance of communication. It is important to learn how to communicate with those you are working with. If you are going to be late to the site for whatever reason, send your supervisor a text/email. If you have a question, try to catch them, etc. Make use of the time you have with your supervisor because they are busy people. 

Tutor Heroes

Tutor Heroes is a great program for students in seventh to twelfth grade. We are dedicated to helping the younger students and generations of Des Moines achieve higher education and success. Our program opens them up to tutors/volunteers from different universities around Des Moines (Grand View University, DMACC, Drake, and Mercy College of Health Sciences) so if they may have any questions about the college route, they feel welcomed to ask. 

Working with Tutor Heroes has exposed me to many different scenarios. I have had to come out of my shell and take a position of authority over the students when things got out of hand. I have learned to be patient and more understanding of certain situations. The students I work with come from various backgrounds and I have learned to work with all of them. Relationships need to be formed. Our work only becomes impactful when we get positively involved in the lives of the people we serve. This does not just mean understanding their life story but understanding the struggles they face every day.

Tutor Heroes and EKD have opened me to the concept of “working with what is strong, not wrong.” We find the strengths in ourselves and others and work with that instead of trying to “fix” our problems. This has been especially true when working with my students at Tutor Heroes. Many times, I see them beating themselves up about not understanding their work, but it all comes along with patience and practice. It will get better, you will succeed. As they grow, I grow. 

Tutor Heroes has taught me much more than working with students of our younger generations. I have also learned how to manage and recruit volunteers. Upstarting Tutor Heroes was a very difficult task. I have had to send out multiple emails to staff members of the Des Moines Public School district, while also emailing the heads of volunteer activity at universities and colleges. Professionalism is key! If anyone is interested in volunteering with EKD, please shoot me an email at for more information.

Final Thoughts

Working at EKD and being a member of ECC has shown me how important service is. Showing someone that they are important or that someone cares by simply working with them goes a long way. Be an active member of the community. Remember, no matter how small your role, your participation is important!

Three Life-Lessons I’ve Learned as an Engaged Citizen Corps Member

By: Kirby Nelson

Over the past couple of months, I have had the opportunity to dive headfirst into the non-profit world—spending time making connections in the community, working with a variety of unique individuals, and learning more about myself and my abilities. At the John R. Grubb Community YMCA, I’ve had the chance to observe the intentional servitude that happens each day in their vibrant community. Each Thursday, I work with students in our GRIT (Grubb Role Models in Training) Achievers program. We provide an empowering space for youth to have important conversations about their future. Besides this youth development, I’m also actively creating, maintaining, and strengthening ties to several outside organizations within the Des Moines community. These partnerships are essential to the success of the John R. Grubb Community YMCA’s youth programs by providing snacks, resources, and support.

As I’ve continued to get involved at the John R. Grubb Community YMCA, I’ve had the opportunity to learn some critical life-lessons that I will remember for the rest of my life. So, below, I present the three most meaningful things I’ve learned thus far as an Engaged Citizen Corps member.

Image submitted by Kirby Nelson

#1: Listen Closely to Everyone’s Story

One of the most important life-lesson I’ve learned is that everyone has something important to share. During my time at the John R. Grubb Community YMCA, I have experienced many situations where an individual simply wants to be heard. Sometimes it’s the middle school student who attends our after-school program to get away from home or school. Sometimes it’s this high school student who fails to see a future filled with success. Sometimes it’s the community leader who desires to inspire others. Regardless of their age, abilities, or goals, it has become extremely important to me to make time to sincerely listen. It’s just like reading a book: it’s easy to judge a book by its cover when you haven’t taken the time to read its pages. Just like books, we often have no real understanding of other’s situations. Without taking the time to listen, we often overlook the unseen factors—neglect, depression, or sickness. From now on, I will spend more time making people feel valued, understood, and most importantly, worth listening to. 

#2: Work with Intent & Meaning

Over the past semester, the John R. Grubb Community YMCA has allowed me to see the impact of my actions. Whether it is through my work within the community, strong relationships with our students, or honest self-reflection, I have learned that every single action should be intentional and meaningful. Without intent and meaning every action, unfortunately, seems like a waste of time. Honestly, at the beginning of first semester, I lacked this thoughtful approach. In turn, this led to dissatisfaction with the services I was providing the Grubb, Drake, and Des Moines communities. As I worked to find the meaning, purpose, and intent of my experiences, I started to feel passionate about the work I was doing. Going forward, I hope to find this type of motivation in every aspect of life. 

#3: Find Comfort in the Uncomfortable

Throughout the last semester, I have been encouraged to step outside of my comfort zones in many different ways. At times, it hasn’t been easy—I’ve had to answer the hard questions, confront my beliefs, and spend time honestly and deeply reflecting. However, as difficult as these experiences may have been, I’ve learned to find comfort in being different. 

Last semester, the Engaged Citizen Corps thoroughly explored the values, privileges, and identities that shape the way that we, as members, do service. Yet, as we continued to learn about ourselves, I struggled to apply these concepts to my work at the John R. Grubb Community YMCA. Within the last month, though, I’ve actively worked to incorporate my strengths and weaknesses into my work. More than anything else, this has allowed me to find comfort, even when I’m at my most uncomfortable. It has allowed me to open up to the YMCA’s students, staff, and community members. It has given me the chance to grow as an individual. In the future, I’m confident that this won’t be the end of uncomfortable experiences. Now, though, I’ve learned to embrace experiences that bring uncomfortable feelings. 

For the rest of my life, I will be grateful for the opportunities that the Engaged Citizen Corps, John R. Grubb Community YMCA, and Drake University have granted me. Without these experiences, I would have never understood the profound impact of listening, intentionality, and being okay with being uncomfortable.

Alumni Highlight – Jamie Willer

Throughout the years, students have made impactful changes on campus. During her time at Drake, Jamie Willer was one of these star students. A 2017 Drake graduate, she is currently working at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA and oversees their Office of Community Service. Through her role, she works to build and strengthen both co-curricular and curricular community engagement efforts in partnership with staff, faculty, students, and community partners.

Photo Submitted by Jamie Willer

While at Drake, Willer worked with the Office of Community Engaged Learning (CEL) as President and founding member of the Community Action Board (CAB). When she wasn’t leading her peers, she studied Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Justice in Urban Education. Following graduation, she worked at LSI and served as their Statewide Volunteer Coordinator. All this and more led Willer to pursue her Master’s degree in Community Engagement with a focus on Higher Education in Massachusetts. She has kept in touch with Drake’s Community Engaged Learning Office and has maintained a mutually beneficial relationship. Willer commented that CEL staff members Renee and Amanda helped shape her Master’s level research, and for the past two years, Willer has been invited back to Drake to facilitate conversations concerning her area of expertise in white savior complex.

When asked what advice she would give other students Willer said, “Value the incredible assets of the Drake Neighborhood and the surrounding community, particularly the expertise of community leaders of color. There are some incredible activists and educators in Des Moines who I’ve learned so much from about what it means to engage in communities, not from a savior mentality, but a place rooted in solidarity.” Willer modeled her advice while at Drake by attending Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI) meetings. These meetings are still held right here in the Drake neighborhood.

Late night community action board meetings and other Drake memories are still with Willer today. “We used to go get half-priced apps and chat for hours about the work we were doing and it was truly incredible to be surrounded by people who had the same visions and passions and cared just as deeply about the work.” Willer is proud to report that many of those people became some of her closest friends. She still catches up with them regularly. 

Our fabulous alumna left us with this quote, “I don’t believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is so vertical. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person. I have a lot to learn from other people.” – Eduardo Galeano.

Thank you, Jamie, for all you do. You have a knack for inspiring others. Thank you for showing the world that #DrakeServes.

Alumni Highlight – Jasmine Barr

Drake University elevates the talents and passions of students daily. We had the chance to catch up with a recent Drake grad and learn about how she turned her passions into a career. Jasmine Barr, who was a Service Learning Ambassador in the Office of Community Engaged Learning 2016-2017, is currently a Chapter Consultant at Alpha Phi Omega National Service Fraternity. In her position, Barr gets the opportunity to volunteer with students on various campuses throughout the United States on a myriad projects. Last September she even helped students in Georgia register to vote in an upcoming election.

Photo Submitted by Jasmine Barr

Barr credits her Drake experience with introducing her to her fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega, also known on campus as APO. She pledged the service fraternity during her sophomore year. Barr’s experience as an active member inspired her to think about communities beyond those she was immediately part of. She says her experience, “helped me begin thinking about shared connections and building a better world.” Along with growing professionally and intellectually alongside her fraternity brothers, Barr also created fond memories she thinks of today. She reminisced about two particular service-based events saying, “Particularly Sack Lunch Buddies at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and Night Eyes at the Blank Park Zoo. Each of these projects is focused on child well-being to some degree and therefore hold special places in my heart. Sack Lunch Buddies was one of my favorite service projects because it provides after school and weekend snacks to students on free or reduced lunch in various Des Moines public schools. Night Eyes was an opportunity to don a costume and pass out candy to younger kids who preferred a merry not scary approach to Halloween.”

Barr also offered up some advice for current students. “Besides drink water and take a nap, I would encourage Drake students to dive into campus life. This could be done by attending a theatre show, hanging out in the office of STIIL more often, attending more SAB programs, or joining a new student org; without overwhelming your schedule of course! Getting involved gives students an extra opportunity to create a collection of positive experiences.”

Barr encourages students to get involved off-campus as well. She is a big advocate for the administrative offices at Drake and their ability to connect students to the Drake community. “I would encourage all Bulldogs to start building shared connections with the people of Des Moines to build towards calling Drake a true home away from home.”

You can find Barr on Facebook and Linkedin cheering on her Drake peers. She loves seeing what her classmates are up to after graduation. With real Drake spirit, she says, “There’s no greater sense of Bulldog pride than seeing my peers succeed in their fields well beyond the classroom. To paraphrase Issa Rae, “I’m rooting for everybody [at Drake]!” We are rooting for you too, Jasmine! Thank you for taking the time to catch up with us here at Drake’s Office of Community Engaged Learning. We are proud to see you working hard to inspire generations of bulldogs to come. #DrakeServes

Alumni Highlight – Lainie Fickau

Drake University along with the Office of Community Engaged Learning does its best to prepare students for meaningful personal lives, fulfilling professional lives, and responsible global citizenship. The students who graduate from Drake are changemakers in their community and we have been lucky enough to reconnect with some of our phenomenal alumni.

Lainie Fickau graduated from Drake in 2018 and earned herself a position with the Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa. She is a Community Troop Manager and leads eight Girl Scout troops across four school districts located around or within the Des Moines Metro. Fickau has the unique opportunity to work with girls in underserved communities who may not otherwise experience Girl Scouts due to a lack of volunteers in their area. On average she sees 150 Girl Scouts every two weeks for troop meetings, field trips, and service projects.

While deciding what she wanted to do post-grad, Fickau knew she enjoyed working with kids but didn’t want to pursue a traditional teaching profession. The Drake grad reflected on her time volunteering and interning as a student which led her down a path she wanted to follow. Fickau realized she was passionate about working with non-profits that addressed after-school needs. “Girl Scouts offer girls an opportunity to form friendships, learn new skills, and share unique experiences that can’t be found in a classroom setting.”

Fickau had the opportunity to attend the IMPACT Conference in 2017 through her job in Drake’s Community Engaged Learning Office as a Service Learning Ambassador. Fickau continues to use the tips and tricks she learned at the conference, and encourages other Drake students to attend.

When asked what other advice she would give Drake students she said, “Two BIG things! First, apply for that job/internship/scholarship. Even if you think you’re underqualified, not ready for the next step, or lack connections. The worst thing that can happen is that they say no. If you don’t, you tell yourself no. Second, ask your mentor/boss/professor questions about what they did to get to where they are. It only costs you your time and possibly the price of coffee! My dad always reminds me that it never hurts to ask.”

Thank you Lainie Fickau for your time and we wish you the best of luck in the future. You truly live out our favorite hashtag #DrakeServes