It’s hard to believe that it was just over two months ago that I sat in training with all of the 2010-2011 Grinnell Corps Fellows. As a Corps, we discussed possible challenges for the upcoming year, how we expected to overcome such obstacles, and goals we hoped to accomplish. At every meal, we would squeeze all eleven of us (Doug included) around a dinner table set for five and bond over uncertainties about the upcoming year. Did any of us feel confident that we really knew exactly what our jobs would entail? For multiple reasons, those few days of orientation that we spent in meetings and playing outside or around the campfire seem like they happened ages ago. For one, I haven’t seen the other fellows since the end of May. Instead, I now look at pictures online of David, Nathan, and Kaitlin as they establish their new lives in Africa, where they will be serving in Namibia and Lesotho. Secondly, I have settled into my position here in Grinnell at MICA and have learned an enormous amount about the resources this organization provides to local families in need. Thanks to the patience of all the women with whom I work (and the extensive training provided by Daisy, the previous Grinnell Corps Fellow), I am really starting to become comfortable with my duties here at MICA. So, now you are probably wondering:
What is MICA?
The acronym “MICA” stands for Mid Iowa Community Action. This nonprofit organization was established in 1964 with the goal of decreasing the number of families living in poverty and ensuring that those who do live in such conditions, have a path out. MICA’s motto is “Helping families. Changing lives. Building communities.” and the organization works hard to fulfill these lofty goals. MICA independently runs a variety of programs to serve local low-income families, while also working alongside other community action agencies in the area. If MICA is not able to assist a family in need, we are almost always aware of another agency in town to which we can refer the family for help. Before I get into describing the multitude of services that MICA offers local residents, let me tell you a bit more about the organization as a whole. A board of directors governs Mid Iowa Community Action. To better serve the entire community, this board is made up of 1/3 low income individuals, 1/3 elected representatives, and 1/3 private sector representatives. MICA receives funding from federal, state, and local sources. I have been very impressed with the huge amount of local support for our agency. We receive great food and monetary donations from local residents, as well as steady funds from the Ministerial Association (comprised of local churches). MICA’s central office can be found in Marshalltown, with Family Development offices (like the one where I work) located in Ames, Grinnell, Iowa Falls, Marshalltown, and Tama. As an agency, MICA serves five core counties: Poweshiek, Hardin, Story, Marshall, and Tama. And now, at long last, a list of the services that we provide here at the MICA office in Grinnell:
Families may receive food assistance every two weeks here in Grinnell. Food boxes are very complete, with an assortment of dry and canned food, as well as fresh produce (when available) and vouchers for bread and milk at local supermarkets. We give families enough food to last for three full days. Diapers, toiletries, and cleaning supplies are usually on hand as well for families to request.
Families that income-qualify can receive free preschool for their children through Head Start! Amanda is always open to speaking to families with four year olds in order to determine if they are eligible for this wonderful service!
Early Head Start
Before children are old enough to attend preschool outside of the home, families who income-qualify can receive home visits by Roma. Roma educates parents about healthy child development and activities to boost a child’s mental, physical, and emotional development.
This program is available for families with children ages zero to five. Kelly uses a “Parents as Teachers” curriculum to educate families about child development, health, and wellness.
Homeless Prevention Program
Kelly financially assists families who are currently homeless or in danger of becoming so in the near future. Families in this program receive long term budget counseling to help prevent future financial problems.
Family Development and Self-Sufficiency Program (FaDSS)
Mindy heads up FaDSS. She goes to the homes of families who are on FIP (welfare) and works with them on issues ranging from obtaining a job to improving physical and mental health. The goal of this program is to help individuals become self sufficient.
Crisis Assistance for Utilities
During the summer, many local families are unable to pay their utility bills and run the risk of having their electricity shut off. MICA is able to help individuals financially in order to avoid disconnect. The amount of assistance a family is eligible for is based on the number of payments they have made to their electricity bill over the last six months.
If someone has a doctor’s appointment, job interview, or other obligation outside of Grinnell but is unable to pay for gas, MICA can use ministerial funds to assist the individual in keeping their appointment.
What do I do at MICA?
My favorite responsibility here at MICA is that of translating for Spanish-speaking families when our family development workers visit them in their homes. I really enjoy the challenge of improving and maintaining my Spanish while watching local families grow and learn with the help of our specialists. In the beginning I was a little nervous about my ability to effectively act as a translator, but I am grateful to the patience and understanding of my coworkers and the families that I serve. I now feel much more comfortable and look forward to these visits every week. For the past two months, I have learned the basics of running the office here in Grinnell. There have been multiple days when I even took on this task by myself! I serve families who come in to use the food pantry, as well as accept, weigh, organize, and shelve food donations brought to MICA. When we moved to our new building, I advocated for ensuring that the refrigerator was moved as well so that we could continue to receive fresh produce donated by vendors at the farmers’ market and other local gardeners. The list of office duties continues. I can qualify families for energy assistance and pledge money to help them avoid having their electricity disconnected. As an extension to my translating for Spanish speakers in their homes, I do some of that in the office as well. I translate flyers, brochures, and signs for our family development workers to help them better serve their Spanish speaking families, and I handle all phone communication in Spanish. Finally, working in the office requires one to be very familiar with a variety of other nonprofit organizations and community resources available to families that they can use if for some reason MICA can’t help them meet their needs. I regularly refer individuals to the Campbell Fund, Poweshiek Community Services, the Department of Human Services, Section 8 Housing, and Second Mile for additional assistance.
Final Thoughts on Life in Grinnell
I have thoroughly enjoyed my first summer here in Grinnell! My experience at MICA has so far been very rewarding, and the laid back pace of small town life without the stress of class work has been amazing. Some of my favorite activities this summer include swimming at the new water park, visiting the Drake library, Summerama activities in Central Park, multiple block parties and outdoor concerts downtown, the farmer’s market, Community Meal, and painting on the community mural. I think that it has yet to fully hit me that I am no longer a college student and won’t be returning to classes this Fall. I am, however, very excited about the rest of my year here at MICA, and I am sure that by the next time I write, I will have learned even more about this organization and the Grinnell community at large!