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  • Writer's pictureAbby Fowler

The Role of NGOs and Volunteerism in Civil Society: A Project for the Western Hemisphere

Meeting with University of Iowa Dance Marathon and University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics volunteer services.

From September 21st to 27th, we hosted a group from Latin America (Chile, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, and Venezuela) in Eastern Iowa for a program titled “The Role of NGOs and Volunteerism in Civil Society.” This program aimed to examine the impact of volunteerism in U.S. communities, demonstrate best practices for volunteering, explore social media effectiveness in volunteer efforts, and allow participants to experience volunteering in the United States.

After arriving on the 21st, the delegation had their first evening free to explore Iowa City and gather their first impressions of the city.

Posing with Herky at the Pentacrest.

“[It was] a great experience. The city is really beautiful. Full of colors, of a lot of contrast,” said Venezuelan participant Lucelys Rodriguez Serrano.

On their first full day in Iowa, their morning began with a meeting with IC Compassion, a faith-based approach to seeking justice and empowering individuals and families to move beyond the limitations of their circumstances resulting from their immigration status. They met with Dayrin Lovan, coordinator of Jabez Café, in the Jabez Café, a dining space sponsored by IC Compassion that welcomes all people from all cultures.

In the evening, they attended a joint meeting with the University of Iowa Dance Marathon and volunteer services at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Abigail Buffalo, DEI director, and Aidan Buffalo, operations director, represented Dance Marathon and shared how the organization achieves its goals using social media fundraising. After, Jillna Claus, assistant director of volunteer services, and Grant Welk, 4th year University of Iowa Student and College Student Leader Board chair, discussed how the hospital trains its 1,300+ yearly volunteers to fit its needs.

Volunteering to harvest bell peppers with Grow: Johnson County.

The next day, the group woke up early for their first volunteer activity at the Iowa Valley Resource Conservation and Development’s program Grow: Johnson County. This organization's mission is to increase access to healthy food through educating people on food production, and the group helped out with the harvesting, washing, and packing of their freshly grown produce.

After a lunch break, they boarded a bus to Cedar Rapids for a meeting with the United Way of East Central Iowa. Angelica Vannatta, Karey Chase, and Patti Fields discussed the organization’s many volunteer programs such as youth and teen volunteering, group volunteering, and the Workforce Volunteer Council, as well as their multitude of volunteering resources.

The group finished the day at Pizza on the Farm, an outdoor venue in Wellman that serves fresh woodfired pizza alongside live music. They met the owners of the farm and learned more about their story before enjoying freshly woodfired pizza and live music.

The next morning, the delegation boarded a bus to Kalona for a tour of the Kalona Historical Society. They learned how the Amish Dairy Goat Farm operates, as well as the basic beliefs of the Mennonite faith. Following the guided tours, the delegation had free time to explore the offerings of the Kalona Fall Festival.

After returning to Iowa City around 1 p.m., the delegation had the rest of the day and the next day free to explore and attend the Iowa City Soul & Blues Festival, check out the newly opened Stanley Museum of Art, and attend a free yoga class hosted by Hothouse Yoga.

At a meeting in a University of Iowa building.

On Monday, the 26th, the delegation met with Stephanie Schrader of the Municipal Volunteer Program in Cedar Rapids. This organization provides several opportunities for citizens to volunteer in their communities, including at Animal Care and Control, CleanUpCR, the Cedar Rapids Public Library, and many others. After returning to Iowa City, they met with Daleta Thurness, Executive Director of Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of Johnson County. BBBS works to pair adult volunteers with children in need of a mentor as part of an effort to help struggling young people develop meaningful friendships and achieve their goals.

The delegation left the morning of Tuesday, the 27th and came away with great memories.

“Before my stay, I did [not] know anything about Iowa, the beautiful city, sustainable, clean, and tidy,” said Matías Donoso, a participant from Chile. “Now, [it] is my favorite city.”

“I felt at home, I’m pleased with the kindness we were shown. It’s a very beautiful city with a lot to offer,” said Honduran participant Rely Mencia.

“I’m coming away with lovely memories,” said Venezuelan participant Mauro Zambrano. “Out of all cities, this was the best we visited.”

Thank you to IC Compassion, University of Iowa Dance Marathon, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Volunteer Services, Grow: Johnson County, Pizza at the Farm, Municipal Volunteer Program in Cedar Rapids, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Johnson County for your participation as professional resources in this program!

We would also like to thank our volunteers Ken and Gayle Royar, Stephen Merkel-Hess, Cecilia Roudabush, Juan Barreto, Don Kirchner, Élie Nio, and Marlen Mendoza for volunteering to greet, guide, and host this group throughout their stay in Eastern Iowa. You truly made their time here special!

“The volunteers were phenomenal and I learned so much from their passion for what they do,” said Alejandro Kaffati, a participant from Honduras.

“The presence of volunteers welcoming them at the airport and helping to get them to the meetings was very helpful and made them feel very welcome,” seconded liaison Susana Martin.


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