new iowansOVERVIEW

The New Iowans work group focuses on changing systems to address poverty faced by newcomers to our country, including refugees and immigrants. Many members of this work group are also involved with RACI (Refugee Alliance of Central Iowa) and bring personal experience as a newcomer or experience working with New Iowans through their organizations. The common thread for this group is a desire to improve the lives of New Iowans by removing barriers to earning a living wage to support their families.

This work group seeks to coordinate efforts to be more effective and efficient in providing support to newcomers, hile enhancing their ability to be recognized as productive members of the central Iowa community. We also strive to collect helpful data for our efforts and make connections to community-based ethnic groups and nonprofits working to help refugees and immigrants.


Whether Iowa is their community of initial resettlement or they came to Iowa as secondary migrants from other states, New Iowans today face greater challenges than ever before. 

Refugees and immigrants, including those for whom status is not clear, face challenges that prevent them from moving out of poverty. Many of these challenges are being addressed by other OpportUNITY work groups—housing, food insecurity, transportation, lack of education, and job training. In addition, many New Iowans face prejudice, racism, limited support upon arrival, and difficulty finding employment because they lack education or struggle with English-language skills.



Increase the diversity of the individuals
involved in implementing action steps for
New Iowans.
  • Involved bilingual community members who represent New Iowans in this work.
Address the needs of Dallas and Warren Counties.
  • Held a meeting in Dallas County to learn about the specific needs of New Iowans in that county and to increase communication.
  • Collected and reviewed data for Dallas and Warren Counties that may connect to work with New Iowans.
Increase the community’s coordination efforts to support New Iowans by 50% as indicated on a survey of program leaders.
  • Held a summit on refugee issues and their struggles and opportunities in central Iowa for educators, employers, nonprofit staff, and community.
  • Held a daylong summit for the refugee
    community to offer health screenings, along with information about employment and education opportunities, networking, and resources.
  • Surveyed the community through listening and learning conversations to collect data.
  • Collaborated with DART and regional
    transportation providers to address barriers New Iowans face with using public
Increase the quality and accessibility of English as Second Language opportunities for adults in central Iowa with consideration for how language progresses (listening, speaking, reading, writing).
  • Collaborated with local ESL providers to develop a standards-based ESL teacher academy to increase teacher skills, which led to implementing a Train-the-Trainer model and follow-up.
  • Defended state funding for community-based ESL programs.
Increase the percentage of New Iowans in central Iowa with a high school equivalency diploma to 8% (from 3%).
  • Transitioned this goal to the Bridges to Success initiative.
Make Iowa a welcoming community for refugees and immigrants through community efforts, including employer-led projects and nonprofit programs.
  • Transitioned this goal to various community efforts.




1. Address housing needs for refugees and immigrants.

1a. Address New Iowans’ barriers to housing stability by creating resources to enhance tenant/landlord communication and increase New Iowan housing navigation.

  • Formed a subgroup between the New Iowans work group and the Housing work group to create a translation tool to help
    landlords and tenants better communicate to avoid problems.
  • Develop interpreter hotline, magnet, and translation stickers.
  • Pilot toolkit to 3-4 landlords and collect feedback.
  • Finalize housing navigator proposal and
    submit funding request(s).
2. Support developing and marketing pre-apprenticeships and career pathways.
  • The Pre-Apprenticeship Strategic Team (PAST) will analyze the feasibility and utility of a pre-apprenticeship program to help New Iowans explore and connect to career-track jobs with progression, including industry-recognized, portable credentials.
  • Identify any interim credentials New Iowans lack that are required by Iowa apprenticeships, identify strategies for New Iowans to attain those interim credentials, and determine how best to coordinate with Iowa’s apprenticeships to improve New Iowan candidates’ access.
  • From the analysis, determine the resources needed to give New Iowans the skills and credentials they need to access career-track jobs.

3. Address the health/mental health issues faced by refugees and immigrants.

3a. Update list of bilingual/culturally sensitive mental health and health care providers.

3b. Develop training to help New Iowans cope with everyday stressors.

3c. Train interpreters on mental health/health concepts.

  • Formed subgroups to work on this issue.
  • Reach out to communities via churches, etc., to find champions/leaders.
  • Create document or website that can easily be updated.
  • Develop mental health first aid trainings.
  • Hold community trainings.
  • Find champions/leaders in each ethnic community.
  • Meet with Polk County Crisis and Advocacy Center to develop stressors training for New Iowans.
  • Offer mental health first aid training to leaders and champions.
  • Present stressor training to each ethnic community.
  • Set up meeting with DMACC interpreter program to incorporate health and mental health training into curriculum or CEUs.
  • Discuss with DMACC Interpreter staff/medical assistant program to see if there is a medical terminology course to add to program.
  • Start training for DMACC Interpreter Board – mental health first aid.
  • Add medical terminology class to interpreter curriculum or CEUs.