Energetic. Dedicated. A blessing.
Those are just some of the words of praise about Metropolitan Community College work-study students from the director of a local enterprise focused on helping refugee families.
MCC’s work-study program seeks to match a student’s financial needs with an environment that allows them to earn a paycheck while enhancing their educational experience. One of the most successful environments for such an experience in the last 14 years has been at the Somali Center of Kansas City.
Three MCC students are currently helping at the center in a variety of capacities.
“They have proven energetic and dedicated in offering their assistance to our youth program, no matter what the task,” says center director Abdinassir Ali, adding that students “have enriched the lives of many young refugee children through their tutoring, camp organizing and counseling, and all the other wonderful things they’ve done.”
The center is open seven days a week, and a typical Saturday finds the classrooms teeming with hundreds of elementary school-aged children. MCC students are part of the current Saturday team helping to channel their exuberance.
“Working at the Somali Center has been a testing but rewarding experience,” says Rukiya Yusuf, who will graduate from MCC at the end of the Fall 2017 semester with an associate in arts degree.
Yusuf, who reads with the children, recommends college students who want to work at the center be bilingual, preferably in speaking Somali. The job, she says, is for those who have a lot of patience with children. The center’s young student population is near 300.
Yusuf was born in the United States. Her parents are from Ethiopia. “Knowing that I helped them and taught them the things that will help them outside the center is very gratifying,” she says.
She hopes to continue her education ultimately in medical school and become a doctor.
The Somali Center is more than classrooms. It also serves as both a masjid (mosque) and a community center, offering a range of services including social events and family affairs. It opened its doors in 2003 (the same year the partnership with MCC began) and now is a resource for more than 5,000 Muslim immigrants, the majority of whom are Somalian and Sudanese refugees.
The center’s youth programs also provide a forum for discussions tackling the difficult and daily relevant topics of terrorism and hate crimes. Leaders organize group dialogues among youth with the goal of giving them an opportunity to know the consequences of engaging in violent extremism and to discourage involvement in violence anywhere.
Maggie Garcia, career services coordinator for the MCC-Penn Valley campus, matches students like Yusuf to the best work-study fit. Employment at the Somali Center qualifies as community service work.
“Through our federal work-study program, students are able to serve local nonprofit agencies while earning a paycheck,” says Garcia. “They are able to gain real-world work experience while making a positive impact in our community. Our partnership with the Somali Center is a great example of MCC’s mission in action.”
People come to the center every day for help understanding utility bills, medical information and legal documents. The center also helps with translation and transportation.
Aisha Ahmed also works at the center on Saturdays. It’s her first year at MCC, and she just started as an employee this semester.
For Ahmed, her job is a way of giving back. “It means a lot working at the center. I grew up in the center and everyone is extremely nice and welcoming,” says Ahmed, who like Yusuf was born in the U.S., but her family is from Somalia.
Ahmed’s path includes graduation from MCC in May 2018. She hopes to become an ultrasound technician.
Center director Ali, an MCC-Penn Valley alum himself, says there are many opportunities for work-study students to make a difference at the Somali Center.
“Work-study is not necessarily all work. It is a lot of fun, and a sense of achievement, too,” says Ali. Outside of the classroom tutoring situations, MCC students have helped plan a youth camp and took the younger children to a lake for a swim party.
“Center staff and patrons are grateful for the help MCC has provided by assigning work-study students to our center,” Ali says. “It has been a great blessing.”
More about the Somali Center of Kansas City: Its central location, just east of downtown and easily accessible from the interstate system, has made the center a convenient place for the East African community to worship and hold ceremonies for their cultures.
More about MCC’s work-study program: Federal work-study lets students work part time and earn at least federal minimum wage to help pay for education expenses. Learn more here.