Bringing the science of conservation to classrooms

The state of Iowa is blessed with attributes that combine to make it the top producer in the nation of food and commodities consumed across the country and around the world.

The challenge for Iowans is to protect the abundant natural resources of our state while limiting the damage to the environment the process of production can cause. Catholic teaching requires us to be good stewards of not only human resources but environmental ones as well, and efforts to do so have fundamental moral and ethical dimensions.

The relationship between Iowans and the water resources upon which we all rely is the focus of an award-winning Iowa State University Extension and Outreach campaign called WaterRocks!

Led by director Jacqueline Comito, the multi-media and multi-discipline program has teams that visit public and nonpublic K-12 classrooms across Iowa, at no charge, “teaching kids about water, natural resources and agriculture. Weaving science, technology, engineering and math — STEM — with the arts, students complete learning activities.”

The WaterRocks! team produced the nationally recognized computer game “Rock Your Watershed!” which teaches the effects of different agricultural land-use practices on the environment and water resources of Iowa. All of the videos, songs and the computer game can be found on the Water Rocks! website, www.waterrocks.org.

Preserving and protecting resources for future generations is an obligation of our faith. Our state is fortunate to have the talent and dedication of the many people dedicating their professional lives to helping take care of our world.

Religious Liberty: “It’s a claim about what a human being is”

The only way to insure respectful and flourishing human communities is to respect a notion of the human person that integrates all aspects of their humanity.

This year’s “Fortnight for Freedom: Witnesses to Freedom” will take place from June 21 to July 4, 2016.

The USCCB has published a video entitled “The Right to Religious Freedom” that explores the foundation of Church teaching on religious liberty. The video details the importance of a constitutional protection so basic to our understanding of the person and human freedom that we forget it can be eroded and diminished and our nation’s character altered unless we protect it.

The video highlights the contribution of the Second Vatican Council document, Dignitatis Humanae, in illuminating the issues at stake in the current Supreme Court challenge by the Little Sisters of the Poor. In interviews, the video details how a nations’ position on the right to religious freedom is the major test of how it interprets human rights and government authority.

According to Church teaching, the view of the person that denies the vital spiritual component of each individual denies their dignity and freedom by denying reality. When a government adopts the narrow view of the human person for its own ends, and its own authority, it can ultimately justify denying all individual freedoms.

ICC supports RefugeeRISE bill

(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.”