The Cedar Valley Refugee Newcomer Services (CVRNS) helps immigrants who move to Iowa.
They’re partnered with Operation Threshold, an organization serving Black Hawk, Buchanan and Grundy Counties. They used to be the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), but federal aid ran out and they started operating locally earlier this summer under this name.
Ann Grove, program coordinator and special programs manager for Operation Threshold, says the CVRNS helps with all the needs refugees face. One in particular deals with communication problems.
CVRNS is fighting this issue by holding free English classes weekly at the First United Methodist Church in Waterloo. It’s helping people like La Wei learn the language and find more confidence in her new home.
“When we go out, the main issue is that we don’t speak English,” Wei said. “But being able to go to these classes makes us very happy.”
Back in her home country, she couldn’t afford to school.
“Burma didn’t have free public education the way we do here,” Grove said.
Wei said she’s happy because even though she’s an adult, she can keep learning. It’s something she never got to do as a kid.
“Being able to get an education is what we like,” she said. “We’re older, so we don’t get to go back to school, but here, we can still get an education and take classes.”
Grove is the main instructor and works with her interpreter, Liberata Aung. They both hold these classes because they want to ultimately help the Burmese break language barriers and cultural differences.
“One of the challenges is that a significant portion of our population speaks Karrenni or one of the Chin dialects or one of the other dialects,” Grove said.
She’s working with them through the 5 Ws — who, what, when, where and why. She’s also working with them on how to handle talking to authorities when they need help. These are things they’re not quite used to just yet.
“The needs run the gamut from just more education about how to be comfortable and confident in America to needs for help making appointments, to help them figure out their car insurance, if they need to change their car insurance because the letters aren’t clear,” she said. “We like to hold at least one class a week.”
Grove loves working with the refugees, and she hopes that people like La Wei and their families can fully adjust to everything here. She also wants to teach them enough English so they can also find jobs outside of meatpacking, even though that’s helping them right now.
“We also want to work with people on employment options,” she said. “And we’ll be doing some of that because right now, most families have someone at Tyson and it’s good pay, and folks are doing really well there and Tyson has some good things for their people, but we’d like to open that up, so part of our job is going to be continuing to talk with other businesses in the community to encourage them to give people a chance.”
If you’re interested in helping out Cedar Valley Refugee Newcomer Services, you can send a check to Operation Threshold, with CVRNS in the memo line. Their address is:
Black Hawk County Office
PO Box 4120
Waterloo, IA 50704