(Update: $300,000 in funding for RefugeeRISE made it into the state budget!)

The Iowa Catholic Conference supports SF 2298, a bill to support Iowa workforce needs and provide job readiness skills to refugees in Iowa. The legislation proposes collaboration between the Iowa Commission on Volunteer Services and the Iowa Department of Human Services to fund an innovative program within the current RefugeeRISE AmeriCorps partnership. It would be administered by EMBARC, an organization created in 2013 to assist Burmese refugees settling in the state of Iowa.

Currently, 17 AmeriCorps members serve in seven teams in Des Moines, Marshalltown and Waterloo. SF 2298 would expand the program to recruit new AmeriCorps members from within the refugee community to help individuals and families navigate the challenges in their new country.

Catholic Charities is one of over 100 Iowa organizations that serve the estimated 10,000 refugees that have made Iowa their home in the past five years. They see firsthand the benefit of the services provided to the newcomers that look to host organizations for support. Expanding the RefugeeRISE AmeriCorps program would advance the effort, creating a more coordinated and effective network of individuals help train, educate and generally assist refugees as they integrate into life in Iowa.

The RefugeeRISE program hires Americorps teams to build workforce skills and self-sufficiency in the refugee community by pairing one native English-speaking member with one refugee member to:

  • Increase access for refugees to existing workforce development programs.
  • Build skills through culturally and linguistically appropriate workshops.
  • Provide direct services in native languages.
  • Train AmeriCorps members who are seen as trusted “peer experts” in helping refugees access existing core services and resources.

Refugees are present in the U.S. legally. They are individuals who have fled their countries of origin and who meet the United Nations’ criteria of having a “well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”