Iowa U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst made a stop in Webster City at All Cultures Equal on Saturday as a part of her 99 Counties Tour.
Ernst toured the center and then sat down with ACE staff and board members to hear an overview of the programs the non-profit offers and their future efforts to help people from more than 30 countries in North Central Iowa connect, communicate and live healthy, productive lives.
ACE offers English/Spanish classes, citizenship instruction, computer instruction, immigration help, translation, citizenship instruction and interpretation services. In addition, the center hosts a Language Lunch every Wednesday where foreign speakers can practice their English or Spanish.
ACE and Ashbury Methodist Church offers a Food Pantry on the second and fourth Thursday of each month at the center in west Webster City. The pantry provides canned goods, fresh fruit and vegetables, cleaning, household and personal hygiene items to approximately 150 individuals in 50 families. HyVee provides bread products to ACE for distribution each week.
ACE director Kathy Vaughn and board member John Boughton conducted the tour through the facility, showing Ernst the community kitchen which will soon be a licensed commercial facility that will be available to groups or individuals for rental as a one-night restaurant, catered event venue or a location for baking classes or fund-raisers.
It was a listening tour for Iowa’s junior senator to hear about the programs and events offered at ACE.
During the roundtable discussion, Vaughn spoke of the need for childcare in the area. Ernst told the group that throughout Iowa, the availability of licensed day care is needed. Ernst is partnering with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) to advance a bill which will help develop child care opportunities in Iowa.
“Iowa is considered a child care desert,” said Ernst, who noted that for every three children needing child care, there is only one vacancy at a licensed facility.
Asbury Methodist Church pastor. The Rev. Jeff Flagg spoke of the cultural blending which ACE provides. Laotians and Hispanics are the predominant ethnic groups served at ACE, but over 30 other nationalities are represented, he said. Sometimes differences come down to the simple question of diet and a preference of red versus black beans.
But rice is a staple for all nationalities, noted ACE staff member Chien Maikhio. Every month, Maikhio orders 60 pounds of rice for the center. She recently observed that shortages are beginning to be felt in the rice supply due to Covid19.
While the group noted its concern about the Coronavirus, they agree that following common sense measures such as washing hands often, not touching the face, covering a cough or sneeze and avoiding hand contact with others are the best forms of prevention.
Boughton cautioned against public hysteria in the wake of the nine deaths reported in the United States due to the Coronavirus because in comparison, last year over 19,000 people died from Influenza A.
“The flu takes thousands of lives annually so with Covid19, we need to take common sense precautions to thwart its spread,” said Ernst.
In addressing the high unemployment rate and the limited labor pool in the area, John Boughton told Ernst that area businesses have raised wages in order to attract and keep workers. He also applauded the US Senate’s EB3 visa legislation which permitted the entry of certified foreign medical staff into the United States.
“That has been a big boon for elder care,” said Boughton.
The group praised Hamilton County Supervisor Doug Bailey who worked to promote ACE’s creation and generous donors such as Dean Bowden, retired owner of Webster City Custom Meats and ACE board member, who have kept the organization running.
As the years roll by, the mission of ACE has changed.
“It seems like who we are and what we do is constantly evolving,” Flagg told Ernst.
Initially, ACE helped immigrants acclimate to the United States, but now it has refocused and is working with the second and third generation of children, said Kathy Vaughn. ACE offers a gardening program for youth and will offer classes this year in woodworking, butterfly observation, bee keeping, wildlife management, drone operation, cooking and pompom dance instruction.
“You really have developed a supportive environment,” Ernst applauded the board.
“We believe in a diversity of culture because it is our future,” responded Boughton.
“In the past, we have been seen as a place where immigrants get free stuff,” said Vaughn. “But in reality, we are a place where we connect people.”
At the conclusion of the roundtable, Ernst provided the center with her office contact information to help assist ACE in immigration, green card and citizenship efforts. If ACE does plan to develop a child care program, Ernst’s office can provide grant and funding information as well as steer them toward planning sources.
Before heading to the next stop on her schedule, Ernst addressed three issues that are on the minds of Iowans as she crosses the state.
“Child care, health care and bringing down the cost of prescription drugs – these are all issues that are important to Iowans,” said the senator.
While Iowans follow economic and ag issues, child care is a very big issue, especially in rural parts of the state, said Ernst. State economists estimate that over 40 percent of the qualified workers have left rural Iowa for urban centers due to the absence of reliable day care.
In addition to partnering with Klobuchar on her child care bill, Ernst is working with Sen. Jackie Rosen (D-NV) on a bill which would allow non-profit organizations to qualify for loans from the Small Business Administration.
View this article as it originally appeared in the Daily Freeman-Journal.