I cannot believe it is finally time to sit down and write my first quarterly report! Part of me is really excited about documenting my experience on paper, but the other part is nervous because I have not written anything since the last day of school! Well, here I go and I hope you all enjoy chapter one of my life as a Grinnell Corps Fellow in Grinnell!!
I will begin by answering the three most commonly asked questions about my fellowship: 1) What is MICA? 2) Where is it located? 3) What are your duties there?
1) Mid-Iowa Community Action (MICA) is a non profit organization that provides various services for low-income families in five counties in central Iowa (Poweshiek, Marshall, Hardin, Story, and Tama). I am working at MICA in Grinnell, which is part of Poweshiek County. MICA was founded in 1965 as a result of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964. Over the years MICA has provided aid to families in areas of child/family development, housing, and health. Some of the programs that MICA runs are an Emergency Food Shelf, Weatherization, Early Head Start, Head Start, Energy Assistance, Homeless Funds, Project Home Mission, Project Assist, Information and Referrals, Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and Family Development. I will attempt to provide more details about each program as I learn more about them during my fellowship. Currently, I vaguely know about each program based on what I have read about them. Therefore, I would prefer to talk about them in more detail once I have hands on experience with each program.
2) MICA is conveniently located in downtown Grinnell, in the basement of the Veterans Memorial Building on Broad Street.
3) General duties for now: Help run the local food pantry, serve as a translator for Spanish speaking families, receptionist work, maintain the office tidy, assist all of the social workers and the county director with whatever they need, help families apply for energy assistance (program begins in the fall), refer families to other resources useful to them in the community, issue out vouchers from a Ministerial fund, and assist coordinators hosting MICA events.
Work at MICA so far
I have been fortunate enough to do a wide range of tasks within the first month and a half of being at MICA! So far I have worked with the following programs: Information and Referrals, Emergency Food Shelf, Early Head Start, and Family Development. One of the first projects I took on during my first week of work was Information and Referrals. I decided to start with this program because I was doing receptionist work and I wanted to be prepared to refer people to other resources available in the community. Preparation entailed reading, organizing, and updating all of the brochures we have in our office. I currently feel very confident about referring people to various resources in the community.
The next program I have become very familiar with is the Emergency Food Shelf. This program provides families with a three day supply of food items from our local food pantry. I am in charge of stocking, cleaning, organizing the food pantry. I also weigh, record, and shelve food donations. Additionally, I prepare food boxes for families who come in to utilize our services. Recently, the Grinnell Cultivating Community and other farmers in the community have kindly been donating fresh produce for MICA families! My job has been to make sure we distribute all of the produce that is donated to us before it goes bad. So far, I have successfully managed to give out all of the fresh vegetables before the end of the week!
Another program I have recently become familiar with is Early Head Start, which is a program designed to support families with children 0-3 years. Early Head Start strives to educate parents about child development, nutrition, and the importance interacting with their infants/toddler at a young age. One of the activities I have been involved with through Early Head Start is "Playtime," a socialization event held twice a month for parents and their children. I am required to attend all of the Playtime events because I am the official Spanish speaking translator for MICA in Poweshiek County. I also use my bilingual skills to translate any flyers, invitations, or handouts distributed at the event.
Lastly, I have been involved in Family Development through a program called Family Connections. This program assists families with children ages 0-5 by helping families improve their health and well-being. Family Connections provides families with a Family Development Specialist (FDS) who visits them regularly at their home to discuss goals and conflicts they may be experiencing. Essentially, the FDS aspires to provide families with the tools necessary to become better problem solvers and to empower families to habitually set goals in order improve their well-being. So now you must be asking how I am involved. Well, one of the FDS at the office has been kind enough to let me become part of this wonderful program by taking me on home visits with her. During those visits I serve as a translator for Spanish speaking families. Going on home visits is always a rewarding experience. I love being able to meet great families who are working hard to improve their lives. I am really looking forward to seeing how these families develop over the next few months.
Life in Grinnell
Surprisingly, Grinnell summers are very relaxing, exciting, and full of community activities! I found myself doing more than I expected and learning more about the beauties of Grinnell. For instance, I recently discovered that there is a beautiful Lake located near Washington and Park Street, Lake Nyanza. When I first saw Lake Nyanza at Miller Park, I fell in love. Sitting by Lake Nyanza brought peace and tranquility to my mind, body and soul. I still cannot believe I have been in Grinnell for four years and I never knew about Lake Nyanza. You should definitely try to check it out if you are in town because the park and lake are a gorgeous combination.
So what do I do with my spare time? My weekly routine consist of working, volunteering, biking and running, attending community events, shopping at the Farmers Market, attending community meals at Davis elementary, hanging out with friends, and enjoying Iowa's unpredictable weather. One of my favorite memories of this summer was when I came home from work one Friday afternoon and there was a block party, funded by the Grinnell Chamber of Commerce, on the street I live on!! There was music, people (lots of them), food, vendors, children, children riding unicycles, and genuine happiness in the air!!! Everyone was having a great time, so I definitely joined the party! That evening I met new people in the community and I learned more about Midwestern culture! Everyone was very friendly, polite, and respectful. By the end of the night I was very happy to find out that there would be another block party the following month, same time, same place. Speaking of Midwestern culture, I am going to attend the Iowa State Fair this week and I am very excited about seeing farm animals, giant turkey legs, people eating giant turkey legs, fried foods on sticks, and of course world famous Butter Sculptures!!!! I will definitely have to share my experiences with you on my next report. Interestingly, I attended the Iowa State fair in 2005 and 2006 but I was not very impressed. However, that was when I was nothing more than a snobbish city girl. Fortunately, I have blossomed into an Iowa loving woman, so I am really looking forward to attending the fair!!!!!
After working at MICA for month in a half I feel like I have learned a lot about Iowa, MICA, the Grinnell community and myself. I only hope to learn more and more as my journey continues. Until next time!!!!