Serving Siouxland: A 5-Part Series
Serving Siouxland: Center For Siouxland empowers financial freedom for Siouxlanders
The Center For Siouxland is a home for many Siouxlanders, providing financial help and literacy to people from all walks of life.
"So our mission is to help people empowering lives and building futures through providing self-sufficiency," said Executive Director, Jonette Spurlock. "Helping people provide financial stability, and that doesn't always mean giving them cash to help them that means giving them the tools to do it themselves, being a resource being here if they have questions."
Spurlock says they help people from all across Siouxland, and often, see them come back to utilize various services, or just to say hello. "We'd like to develop relationships with our clients, we don't want to be a one and done."
One of the biggest programs the Center For Siouxland is known for is the VITA program, or the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, which has been around in some form for about 40 years.
"The tax program really saves those households, anywhere between $250 and $400, per year," said Susan McGuire. "So that's money that they get to keep in their pockets."
VITA is completely volunteer-run and the need for the service has grown exponentially. McGuire, who helps oversee the program, said they helped more than 2,000 Siouxlanders last tax season.
"And there is so much more need," McGuire said, "I mean if we could get more volunteers and have, you know, more offices more times available. There are so many more families who could benefit from the service."
Alongside tax services, the Center For Siouxland also helps rebuild or rework finances for those who need a hand, from credit to mortgages and everything in between.
"Finances are a private thing, typically," said Lori Scott, who manages the financial arm of Center For Siouxland.
"People aren't typically just going out and telling all their friends, 'I'm struggling with making my payments'."Everything we do here is confidential," Scott said, "but our goal is just to let people know that we're here to help them and that they don't have to be alone."
She says the first and most important step for anyone in a financial struggle is asking for help.
"Typically, the most difficult part of this process is making the phone call originally, and then once the phone call is made, we get the ball rolling and help get them in as soon as possible," Scott said, "so that we can try to work with them and find a solution to their, their particular situation."
The Center for Siouxland also provides transitional housing with Bridges West, which celebrated 20 years in operation this year.
"We have 22 units of transitional housing for homeless families and individuals, and they can stay in our program for up to two years," McGuire said about Bridges West. "Our goal is to have them move through our program and exit to their own permanent housing within a year."
McGuire says while some at Bridges West are homeless, they come from different backgrounds and struggles. Some fleeing domestic violence or abuse, others have been evicted from their homes, or have just fallen on hard times. Each of them has a goal and a plan to get back on their feet.
"While they're in our program, folks work with our case managers to develop goals to help them with income, employment, education," she explained.
At Center For Siouxland, their mission is to help people navigate the crazy and ever-changing world we live in. Because helping one person, can change the entire course of their life.
To learn more about Center For Siouxland and its programs, visit their website here.
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Serving Siouxland: Boys and Girls Clubs teach kids to be the best they can be
The Boys and Girls Clubs of Siouxland have been a staple in the community for decades, helping Siouxland youth from all walks of life be the best humans they can be.
"You've actually been here for 53 years now in Siouxland and we have tremendous support within our community," said Kalynn Sortino.
"We're an after-school program," Jen Williams, "and so our mission is to have productive caring, responsible citizens."
Jen Williams is the Director of Operations at the Clubs and has spent many years within the national organization.
"We're not just you know, babysitting," Williams said. "We're an after-school program. We teach the kids different things that they might not get at school, and different life skills and social skills here at the club."
She's seen firsthand the positive impact a non-profit like the Boys and Girls Clubs of Siouxland can have on local kids.
"Some of the kids, when I first started, are graduating high school, going to college. Some of them are currently working for the club, so I get to see how they've gone through school, starting college their first jobs, maybe their first jobs here and they want to give back to the community," Williams said. "So that's just the thing that sticks out the most is just making the relationships with the kids."
The Boys and Girls Clubs of Siouxland offers something for everyone. From homework help to sports, reading and theater, there are activities that every kid can enjoy while building relationships that can last a lifetime.
"I think the biggest thing though is just for them to have a safe place to go after school, where they can truly be a kid." And it isn't just that, the team at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Siouxland are there for whatever the kids need, even if that's just lending an ear.
"If they're having something that they're dealing with at home or personally, and that they want to try to overcome, all of our staff is willing to listen and that is, I think, the best thing that we can provide for any child," said Sortino, the Resource Development Director at the Clubs.
Sortino says that while there is a fee to join, the Club makes sure their services, including after-school transportation, are available to anyone.
"We always have openings for families," Sortino said. "It is $10 to attend our club for the school year. So it's financially possible for any family to participate."
The staff and volunteers at the Club have created a nurturing environment where kids can be kids, each and every day.
To learn more about the Boys and Girls Clubs of Siouxland, visit their website here.
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Serving Siouxland: Mary J. Treglia Community House helps immigrants create a new home
"I came out of my office just for a break, and I walked out and there were five different conversations happening in this room, in five different languages. And that to me is incredible."
Becky Carlson is the Executive Director of the Mary J. Treglia Community House and her office sits right off of the lobby of the Jennings Street building.
"It's a community house," she said, describing the place the community house has called home for decades. "It's like the place you go when you need something, but also to socialize and to get integrated into your community."
The Mary J. Treglia Community House celebrated 100 years this year, a century of service helping generations of new Americans create a home in Siouxland.
"Sioux City is kind of a small town when you think about it," Carlson said, "like Chicago and different places like that, but we are a big community because we have so many different cultures here." Sioux City is one of the most diverse communities in Iowa and a big reason why is because of the community house. One of their biggest services is English classes, teaching non-native speakers the basics of the language.
"Some of them are non-speaking English at all, zero," said Halima Osman, the ESL instructor at the Community House. "Some can't even say hi."
She teaches basic English, two levels of courses, to Siouxlanders to help them navigate this new city and for many, this new country.
"I focus more on level one where "Hi my name is so and so", "I am from", just the very basics of what your name is, how old are you, what is your birthday."
Osman is also learning right along with her students, too. She says they teach her something new in each class.
The Community House continues to spread the message of the woman who shares their name, Mary J. Treglia dedicated her life to serving Siouxland's immigrant population.
"I mean, I can't imagine going to a foreign place and not really having somebody to go to for any needs that you have," said Mercedes Dimas, "and for them to come back and say hey, like, I know that you'll help me, that's just a great feeling.
The community house helps many in the Spanish-speaking community and that's where Dimas comes in as the Family Services Coordinator. She also helps refugees who now call Siouxland home.
Our primary goal and like what we focus on is really just empowering people that are coming in and hopefully," Dimas said, "with that empowerment, we're encouraging even more people to come into our communities." Andrea Paret has two main roles within the Community House. She's their accredited representative for the Department of Justice and works with those seeking American citizenship.
"The immigration system right now is very, very complicated and chaotic, and we have to explain to a lot of our clients now the wait times are very, very long, especially with COVID," Paret said. "But it is expensive and you have to bring a lot of documents and make sure you have everything correct and from now your whole immigration history. So they really look very, very strict into everything, if you're really eligible."
"They want to make sure you are entitled to citizenship, with all the responsibilities and advantages that come with it." She helps Siouxlanders through the process of becoming American citizens.
"There are a lot of requirements, and one of them is that you need to speak and write and understand English," Paret said, "So we also do offer English classes. But we're excited to help and encourage people who are eligible to apply for naturalization."
Along with citizenship services, Paret also teaches preschool at the Community House, which offers a DHS-licensed school to Siouxland kids.
"Currently we have children in our preschool from several different countries including Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Marshall Islands, Mexico, El Salvador and the United States," Paret said, speaking of her class. "70% of communication is by body language and virtual and that was that preschool if you use a lot of visuals no pictures about everything you have like the daily routine and you have pictures, everybody's going on the circle or a book that's being read or, so that helps a lot."
In a preschool class with so much diversity, the students are immersed in a world different from their own, learning every day that their friends come from all over the world.
"And I think it helps children just from a young age to just to learn that it's okay if we come from different places if we wear different clothing. If we have different customs and it's just a given and fun to learn about each other," Paret said.
The Mary J. Treglia Community House offers so much to so many, with programming as diverse as the community they serve.
"Like this community, this entire country is really just made up of so many immigrants and it's so fascinating that we have all these cultures, right, like available for us to learn from," Dimas said.
"It's easy to forget that if you stay in your little bubbles," Carlson reflected back on all of the people she's met during her time at the Community House. "But if you open up and are able to like, get to know other people or the community you'll see there are some really amazing things that are happening from all different cultures."
If you'd like to learn about the services offered at the Mary J. Treglia Community House, visit their website marytreglia.org.
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Serving Siouxland: Girls Inc. shows girls that perfection is just being who you truly are
For young girls, the pressure to be perfect can be overwhelming, but there is one place in Siouxland girls can go where they can be themselves without those impossible standards.
"We know for example that girls are really impacted by perfectionism that they put on themselves or that maybe is from the outside, the influence of peers, and that is a big pressure in their lives. And then people-pleasing so all of those add up to really impossible standards to meet and can impact self-esteem."
Mandy Engel-Cartie is the Executive Director at Girls Inc., a local organization that has taught girls that being perfect is just being true to who you are.
"We want them to know it's okay to put a little bit of pressure on yourself to succeed to try harder to achieve, but that doesn't have to be the end of the story," Engel-Cartie said.
Girls Inc. has been a part of Siouxland for 35 years, helping hundreds of young girls find their true potential throughout the last three decades.
"That's kind of my role around here is to make sure that the girls' environment is positive, is always responding to whatever their needs may be, both within the organization, and outside in the world that they face, and also to make sure that we give them any kind of hand up that they might need," Engle-Cartie said as we sat in their science lab.
Girls Inc. is more than just an after-school or summer program. They give young girls the space and freedom to discover who they are in the presence of their friends, and mentors who help them along the way.
"I love Girls Inc. because they're able to assist kids not only with school and personal matters but pretty much in every aspect and however they need help, we're able to service them," said Program Director Olivia Ray.
Inside Girls Inc., girls are able to learn about things they otherwise wouldn't in school, like how taxes work and what to expect from their first job.
"This financial literacy course teaches kids about taxes, why we have to pay taxes and what that tax money is used for," said Ray. "They also learn how to fill out a W-4 form, and how to read their pay stub."
They also have a computer lab and a science lab, where the girls have a chance to create, make mistakes and learn along the way.
Engel-Cartie says science is a perfect example of how being perfect, isn't always the way to go. "We know science is not about perfection."
"Science is about experimenting and getting things wrong and then thinking how can I do that again and get it right, so you're focused more on what's going to happen and what you want to happen, and less on your failures." The staff at Girls Inc. lead by example, stepping out of their own comfort zones to show the girls that making mistakes and looking silly is not a bad thing.
"A big part of our mission here is saying to girls, we don't care if we look silly doing this for the first time or the 50th time," Engel-Cartie said. "The point is we're all in this together. We're all supporting each other and we don't want you to give up.
And many staff, like Ray, continue this work outside the walls of Girls Inc. Ray also works in the juvenile detention center, teaching critical skills needed in the outside world and an opportunity to learn from past mistakes.
"It gives them a chance to reflect on the decisions they made and also gives them time to move forward and make better decisions in the future." Ray teaches fitness at the detention center, and also a financial literacy class.
Back at Girls Inc., it's all about creating an environment where these young women can feel safe and empowered away from the pressures of social media.
"Body Dysmorphia is a huge problem with girls," Engel-Cartie said. "They're self-conscious very often about how they look because of the messages that they've received in their lives and we really want you to know that being a girl means that you have wonderful strengths, and you have an amazing future, and we want to be here to help you go the direction that you want to go."
More than three decades after the first girls walked through their doors, Girls Inc. continues to be a place where they can thrive.
"We want to learn to know that after 35 years, we believe in girls. We're the expert in girls, and we want your girls to come here, learn about themselves and be part of the supportive environment," Engel-Cartie said.
If you want to learn more about Girls Inc. or enroll your child visit their website at girlsincofsiouxcity.org.
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Serving Siouxland: Bigs & Littles come together at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Siouxland
Having a big brother or big sister is something many kids dream of. One Siouxland organization is helping them have that experience thanks to some generous volunteers.
"I hope to get close to him, you know, see him grown up and see what he becomes and just be there for him and know that he can count on me for anything they can needs."
Jesus Jimenez is a big brother to Tristan, but not in the way you may think. They are part of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Siouxland, an organization paring adults, or bigs, with local kids, or littles. It's a mentoring program that's created everlasting bonds.
"So it's been great just hearing all the success that our matches have had." Kristen Langel is the Program Director at Big Brothers Big Sisters and was a Big Sister herself. She knows firsthand how this program can change the lives of those involved.
"It's just having that extra person that a child can reach out to, can talk to," Langel said. "You know kind of share things that they don't have that quote-unquote big brother or big sister at home who they can share problems that they're dealing with friendships or school or their siblings bugging them, just kind of thing and get that one-on-one quality time with somebody else."
Matches are made based on interests, preferences, and commonalities.
"We make sure we find a big, who you know is interested in the same activities as a child, maybe has those same experiences, and we match them that way," Langel said.
Bigs are required to set up at least two outings a month with their littles, but many go above and beyond that. And those meetings can be anything from a movie day to a trip to the ballpark.
Jesus has a fun way to create memories with Tristan. "I met with Tristan and his grandma and we kind of thought of ideas to do, and I jotted them down on popsicle sticks and every week that I go visit him, he draws one out and see what we're doing."
Jesus and Tristan are a great pair and were heading to a picnic after our interview. Kristen says they are always looking for bigs and little with many on both sides waiting for that perfect match.
"I think it's just those connections, and especially in the last 18 months between children being out of school and virtual learning at home and through the pandemic, just the importance of having that person," Langel said.
If you'd like to volunteer to be a Big, or if you have a child who could benefit from being a little to someone in Siouxland, you can contact Big Brothers Big Sisters of Siouxland.
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