Our Power in Partnership series highlights our national and regional community-based organization (CBO) partners and the work they do to build healthier communities.
Tell us more about your organization.
The Catherine McAuley Center (CMC) is a nonprofit organization in Cedar Rapids, Iowa serving refugees and immigrants, adult learners, and women healing from trauma. CMC’s mission is to offer hope and opportunity through educational and supportive services that promote stability, skill-building, and connection. While CMC’s programs serve distinct populations, services are united by a common purpose of promoting the well-being and dignity of those in need and empowering individuals to achieve greater stability, self-sufficiency, community inclusion, and improved quality of life for themselves, their families, and the community as a whole.
What are the greatest needs of the individuals and families you serve?
CMC has been serving refugees and immigrants for more than two decades, and now serves more than 700 people from over 50 countries each year, including substantial populations from Central Africa, Latin America, East Asia, and Afghanistan. For newcomers seeking a better life for themselves and their families, some of the greatest obstacles involve unfamiliarity with complex U.S. systems; transportation constraints; difficulty finding housing, child care, and employment; and the ongoing complexities of cultural differences and learning to navigate a new community. Compounding all of this is the language barrier that makes it even more challenging to adjust to life in the United States and connect to community resources. Despite these obstacles, refugees and immigrants are resilient and resourceful, and the Catherine McAuley Center’s doors are always open to welcome newcomers and walk alongside them on their journey to a brighter future.
What are the main programs or offerings that your organization provides?
For over 30 years, the Catherine McAuley Center has been a place of welcome where our neighbors find the safety and support to learn and grow. Consisting of several programs, CMC offers three core service areas: Education Services; Refugee & Immigrant Services; and Women’s Services.
Through its Education Services and Refugee & Immigrant Services programming, CMC provides a wide range of services for refugees and immigrants, including refugee resettlement, English tutoring and group classes, employment and career readiness, child care business training, U.S. citizenship and civics classes, and cultural orientation. CMC also assists newcomers in navigating complex community resources such as housing, health care, transportation, public benefits, and financial services, ensuring that families can access the critical resources they need to make progress towards economic self-sufficiency.
Women’s Services provides transitional and supportive housing, aftercare, and a day center, all uniquely tailored to the needs of women experiencing homelessness, recovering from substance abuse, and healing from trauma. The goal of the program is to help women access safe housing, therapeutic services, basic needs, and to build the skills to maintain long-term mental health, housing, and financial stability.
Initially founded in 1989 to provide education to women pursuing their general education diploma, CMC quickly incorporated transitional housing for women and later added on-site mental health and substance abuse services. A few years later, CMC expanded its education program to include English classes, English as a Second Language tutoring, and U.S. citizenship exam preparation. As the demand for services grew, CMC launched additional programs for immigrants and refugees in 2017, becoming an affiliate resettlement site of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI). By 2018, CMC was serving more than 600 clients in a building that had far exceeded its capacity, leading to the launch of A Place of Welcome: The Campaign to Expand the Catherine McAuley Center.
Since moving into CMC’s current facility in 2020, offering four times the amount of space, CMC has introduced many new programs including the addition of online classes, an afterschool program for refugee and immigrant youth, onsite child care for clients accessing services, prenatal health classes, a supportive housing program and day center for women, and so much more.
How has working with Unite Us impacted the work that you do?
Unite Us provides an invaluable platform to securely receive and respond to referrals. It has greatly strengthened the way that community agencies and providers serve refugee and immigrant communities and non-native English speakers. With Unite Us, providers can utilize the Catherine McAuley Center as the go-to intermediary, facilitating communication and understanding between refugee and immigrant clients and other service providers.
As the only agency providing resettlement services in Eastern Iowa and the largest provider of services specifically oriented to the needs of refugees and immigrants in Linn County, providers often refer their clients to our services through the Unite Us Platform because our staff is multilingual and some share similar stories as those we serve. Providers know language barriers often hinder a client’s ability to access or understand how to access those services directly. With our staff team speaking more than 20 languages, many who also arrived in the U.S. as refugees or immigrants, CMC has translators, interpreters, and case managers readily available with the cultural understanding to effectively communicate with clients, understand their needs, and guide them through the steps to access the appropriate services, both at CMC and in the wider community. As a result, CMC has been bridging the gap between these individuals and the services they need.
Through this streamlined process, case managers and resource navigators can act swiftly to connect with clients. Depending on their unique situations, they can enroll in CMC’s long-term supportive programs, healthcare navigation, employment services, English classes, or other appropriate services within the organization; and CMC can help them get connected to additional services in the community, ensuring that interpreters and transportation will be available.
The Unite Us Platform has been instrumental in enhancing collaboration between CMC’s case managers and the community’s extensive network.
How does collaborating with other community-based organizations play a role in your work?
Nearly every aspect of the Catherine McAuley Center’s mission relies on strong collaboration with other community organizations and partners. To develop and improve programming, coordinate services, and identify and develop solutions for larger systemic issues faced by refugees, immigrants, and those living in poverty, CMC actively partners with a large network of partners, including other nonprofits and government agencies, community groups, employers, healthcare and mental health providers, social services agencies, public transportation providers, housing agencies, education programs, and many others.
CMC coordinates the Refugee Alliance of Linn County, which provides a forum for immigrants, refugees, service providers, health and human services agencies, and city government to meet regularly and collaborate to build a more welcoming, supportive community for refugees and immigrants. Additionally, CMC coordinates the monthly Immigrant Concerns Group that connects refugees and immigrants to a variety of social services, resources, and programs available throughout the community.
For needs specific to women experiencing homelessness, CMC participates in the Iowa Council on Homelessness, the Linn County Continuum of Care (CoC), and in several CoC subcommittees—through which homeless service providers communicate, collaborate, and work cooperatively to meet the needs of the local homeless community, fill gaps in resources, and avoid duplication of services.
What’s next for The Catherine McAuley Center?
The Catherine McAuley Center has experienced rapid growth and an increased demand for services in the last several years due to both global crises and local events. To meet this need, CMC seeks insight from the communities we serve about the challenges they’re facing and the types of solutions or support that would reduce those barriers. Current needs help shape new services, programs, and collaboration with other community providers.
Of the many new and upcoming initiatives we are excited about, CMC’s Education Services program has started to implement its Community Orientation & Engagement classes—a series of nine classes and community-based learning opportunities to deepen refugees’ and immigrants’ understanding of and connection to community and public services. Recognizing that newcomers often feel overwhelmed during their initial resettlement period, the program expands on CMC’s existing cultural orientation provided to refugees within their first 90 days of arrival.
Through interactive group learning sessions and off-site visits to community agencies—such as public safety departments, city offices, educational agencies, employment readiness programs, healthcare providers, and financial institutions—the goal is to foster stronger relationships between service providers and refugee and immigrant communities, promoting cross-cultural dialogue, building trust, increasing the utilization of essential services, and encouraging civic participation.
Classes include Cultural Adjustment, Employment, Transportation, Parenting & Family, Education, Housing, Health & Hygiene, and U.S. Laws & Immigration. Developed based on client and partner feedback and extensive experience with refugee populations, this initiative hopes to empower newcomers to use their voices and experiences to shape decision-making processes and become actively engaged members of the Greater Cedar Rapids community.
What are some exciting achievements you’re proud of?
Since utilizing Unite Us to receive referrals, case managers can easily connect with clients to learn about their needs and develop a service plan outlining the supports they need to receive at the Center, and the resources to get connected to in the wider community. This typically involves a combination of services, though CMC’s English classes are consistently the most requested. We have enrolled many English language learners in our one-on-one tutoring and small group classes after receiving referrals through Unite Us.
After increasing class offerings and adding more drop-in group English classes, CMC recently reached a historical milestone. More than 500 adult learners are currently enrolled in classes—the highest number of active students in CMC’s history!
CMC is grateful for the support of our community, partners, volunteers, and staff who are always stepping up to ensure that our programs are easily accessible to the communities we serve.
Interested in learning more about how to bring Unite Us to your organization?
About Unite Us
Unite Us is the nation’s leading software company bringing sectors together to improve the health and well-being of communities. We drive the collaboration to identify, deliver, and pay for services that impact whole-person health. Through Unite Us’ national network and software, community-based organizations, government agencies, and healthcare organizations are all connected to better collaborate to meet the needs of the individuals in their communities.