MUSCATINE, Iowa–On March 1, 2001, a new non-profit organization, the Diversity Service Center of Iowa, opened its doors to help immigrants for the very first time. Originally the Multicultural Center at Muscatine Center for Social Action, Director Rosa Mendoza saw that as it expanded to offer more and more services it would need to operate as its own independent group. “We decided since we were growing so fast we should start our own organization,” she remembers. Mendoza received certification through the Department of Justice to help those working through the immigration process and got to work assisting people through the Diversity Service Center.
In response to the large number of immigrants working at area meat packing plants seeking help gaining citizenship in the early 2000s, the Diversity Service Center of Iowa created its educational outreach program. Diversity Service Center staff began offering consultations to immigrants to help understand their needs, provided help with immigration forms, led case investigations when applications went astray, and provided representation for clients at the immigration office but not in immigration court.
More recently, the Diversity Service Center partnered with Ascentra Credit Union to provide low interest mini-loans to help pay for the cost of immigration applications in a more timely manner. Since starting the mini-loan program in 2014, the Diversity Service Center has provided these small, short term loans to 86 people and continues to offer them.
As time went on, the Diversity Service Center found that many immigrant senior citizens struggled to navigate the community services and retirement benefits available to them because they spoke or read very little English. To address this growing need, the Diversity Service Center began adding senior programming tailored to their needs. These included helping seniors navigate applying for social security benefits, accessing affordably priced senior living apartments, renewing immigration documents when necessary, and even helping interpret for doctors when requested. The Diversity Service Center also collaborates with the Milestones Area Agency on Aging to provide a meal site designed to reach minority seniors, which continues to operate twice a month.
Looking back over the past 20 years, Mendoza feels grateful for the work that the Diversity Service Center has done for immigrants in Muscatine County: “We not only help individuals, but we help the community. When you’re part of transforming or improving someone’s life, it’s just so rewarding.”
Mendoza also thanked her staff as well as members of the community who have donated to keep the Diversity Service Center of Iowa’s services available to those who need them. “I’m just so proud to have a great staff; I am glad that we have great donors that have supported our mission over the years,” she said.
In honor of their first 20 years in the community, Mendoza encourages anyone interested in supporting the Diversity Service Center to do so by donating $20. Anyone interested in contributing should call (563) 264-8883 and ask for additional information.