Resettling in Iowa: Helping Refugees Get On Their Feet

Jan 19, 2017

Around 1,000 refugees resettled in Iowa in 2016. Most of them arrive in the state with nothing to their name and have three months of support to learn a new language, get a job and find a place to live. During this hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with representatives from organizations that help refugees get settled and work with them after other services to help them expire. 

Global Greens, a project of Lutheran Services in Iowa, is helping refugees find land to farm, and is helping people to learn the business of farming. 

"We got started in 2011. We took a group of refugees on a road trip that took us through rural Iowa, and their first questions were about 'how do we get some of this land?' So, now we have community gardens, and we have a farm site where people can learn about business development. This is the second year we're going to be doing a CSA, and we run a farmer's market as well," says Hilary Burbank, Program Supervisor for Global Greens. 

Dr. William Story, who is an assistant professor in the department of community and behavioral health at the College of Public Health at the University of Iowa just wrapped up a fundraising campaign to help Congolese refugees get connected to pre-natal heath care

"Most of my work happens outside the United States, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. I do a lot of work related to maternal-child health and helping moms and kids get access to health care. Then I realized there are people in our own community, here in Johnson county, who are struggling to get access to health care who are coming from some of these countries from which I work," he says. 

The Children's Clothes Closet, a grassroots organization in rural, west central Iowa operates a donation based exchange where families in need can get clothes and shoes for school ages children.

"We started in 2002 because we heard from school nurses that kids were coming to school without good boots or winter coats. Since then, we've grown and grown. We served 1050 children last year, including families from Guthrie, Greene, Dallas and Adair counties.  We don't ask questions. We ask 'can we help your kids?'" says Waneta Scott, who is a co-founder for the clothes closet. 

Ethnic Minorities of Burma and Advocacy and Resource Center, better known as EMBARC, is helping refugees from Burma, Iowa's largest refugee group. 

"We do many different programs. Our biggest program is a partnership with AmeriCorps, called Refugee Rise. That is a program that helps refugees find places like DMACC or service providers like Iowa Legal Aid, all with the goal of providing economic opportunities such as job training, job skills, or higher education. If someone wants to get a better job or wants to get a high school equivalency—how can they do that if their English skills aren’t quite up to par, we try to connect them with those resources. We also run a community-based ESL, which are ESL classes for refugees, but instead of just one teacher who probably doesn’t speak their native language, we do co-taught classes: one American, one refugee teacher who also speaks the language of Burma," says Amy Doyle, who is director of advocacy and programs at EMBARC. 

Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County is trying to help refugee families get acclimated to their new communities and connect children with education. 

"Our Broadway Neighborhood Center sees a lot of of refugees coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo. We have been able to develop some services to serve those refugee populations. We do early childhood programming in schools. We do some community development - bringing neighbors together to meet neighbors and then we have our family support programming, which is where we have really been able to help refugees," says Andy Coghill-Behrends, who is family support director for the centers.