Oakridge Resident Becomes US Citizen

Oakridge Resident Becomes US Citizen

During a time of heightened anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies, more than 14,000 immigrants across the country became America’s newest citizens. One of the 14,000 immigrants is 18 year old, Cicilia Awa, an Oakridge Neighborhood resident.

Awa came to the states in 2006 with her family, just a year after the Second Sudanese Civil War had ended, at the age of six. Little did she know that would be the last time she would see her grandmother and other extended family members for 12 years.

Like most refugees and immigrants, Awa and her family came to the United States hoping for a better life and more opportunities. While living in the US, Awa and her family are living a better life and do indeed have more opportunities; however, the opportunities were limited due to the fact she was not a US citizen. This is why it was important for Awa and her family to get their US citizenship.

On August 16th, 2018 Awa had her Citizenship ceremony surrounded by family and close friends.

“I’m so proud of her,” said Awa’s mother, Ms. Nyibol Dhol, “I’m so happy for her, she deserves it.”

Being a legal citizen brings Awa freedom. Freedom to vote, freedom to voice her opinions, and freedom to travel. Freedom to travel is something most take for granted. Awa hasn’t seen her grandmother and other extended family members in 12 years.

“The first thing I’m going to do is visit my grandmother,” said Awa cheerfully. “I finally have this freedom, so I’m going to use it! I realize it’s hard, but as long as you study and put all your mind into it, you can pass the citizenship test.”

Now at the age of 18, Awa is a high school graduate, currently enrolled at DMACC, has a job as a CNA at Broadlawns, and is now a U.S. Citizen. After some well deserved traveling, Awa plans to finish her two years at DMACC and continue her studies at the University of Iowa to receive her BSN in Nursing.

Oakridge is proud to have helped Ms. Awa through her journey here in the states and is proud of all the things she is set out to do!



Luke Elzinga, Communications and Advocacy Manager

DMARClelzinga@dmarcunited.org, 515-277-6969 x10

Mobile Food Pantry site launches at Oakridge Neighborhood

DES MOINES, Iowa (August 16, 2018)— Beginning next Monday, August 20, the DMARC Mobile Food Pantry will be on-site in the Oakridge Neighborhood near the basketball courts from 12:00-2: 00 pm every third and fourth Monday of the month. Oakridge Neighborhood is located just north of United Point/Methodist Hospital on the northeast corner of Center and Crocker Streets.

“Hunger happens 365 days of the year, and it happens for thousands of individuals right here in Polk County,” said Oakridge Neighborhood CEO Teree Caldwell-Johnson. “This Oakridge and DMARC partnership will bring the Mobile Food Pantry to the nearly 1,200 residents of our neighborhood.”

The addition of the site at Oakridge brings the total number of sites the DMARC Mobile Food Pantry visits to 15. Since its launch in July 2016, the DMARC Mobile Food Pantry has assisted thousands of people in Greater Des Moines living with food insecurity.

“We are definitely bringing the pantry to the people,” said DMARC Mobile Food Pantry Manager Joe Dolack, “we are fortunate to have the opportunity to partner with Oakridge.” 

The DMARC Mobile Food Pantry was made possible by the Polk County Board of Supervisors and the Partnership for a Hunger-Free Polk County. Special thanks to Stivers Ford Lincoln, Schneider Graphics, Snappy’s Trailer Store, H&H Trailers, and two individual bequests.



The Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC) is an interfaith organization with a core membership of nearly 130 congregations from four faith traditions working together to meet basic human needs for the greater Des Moines community.

The DMARC Food Pantry Network consists of 14 partner pantry sites, 15 Mobile Food Pantry locations, two food warehouses, and numerous community partners. The DMARC Food Pantry Network is committed to providing healthy food options and fresh produce to the people we assist. Once per calendar month, people can select a three-day supply of food from any one of our partner food pantries, and AnyTime Items are available whenever our partner pantries are open. Last year, DMARC assisted more than 50,000 unique individuals living with food insecurity in Greater Des Moines.

DMARC could never do the work of feeding so many people without the partnership of many, diverse faith communities. Nearly 200 faith communities from across the religious spectrum support DMARC with cash support, donations of food, and service. Because we can do so much more together than we can on our own, DMARC has a commitment to helping our faith communities learn about one another and build relationships.

Jazz, Jewels & Jeans: Meet our Event Chairs

Now in its ninth year, Jazz, Jewels & Jeans- the signature fundraiser event to support Oakridge Neighborhood- is dazzling brighter than ever. This is due to our excellent volunteer event chairs and their committees. Busy working and planning the upcoming event we had the chance to catch up with them during one of their many meetings and ask them a few questions on why they decided to get involved.

Lana Jones-Gould
“Helping people who want to do better in their life, education, etc. I mean you can’t say no to that,” says Lana Jones- Gould event chair for Jazz, Jewels, & Jeans, when asked about why she’s involved with Jazz, Jewels & Jeans. Oakridge provides numerous different services that cater to education, workforce, etc. All the donations received in Jazz, Jewels & Jeans funds these various programs.


Mark Holub
Besides Jazz, Jewels, & Jeans being a major “fun” event, Mark Holub also enjoys the fact Jazz, Jewels & Jeans supports people in such a big way. “This event is a great fun way to raise money, engage people who don’t know anything about Oakridge Neighborhood Services and introduce them to all Oakridge has to offer, and hopefully that will help raise more money each year,” said Mark Holub, event chair for Jazz, Jewels & Jeans.


Marcia Leader Wanamaker
Marcia Leader Wanamaker has been a supporter of Oakridge Neighborhoods for years, so when asked by our CEO to co-chair Jazz, Jewels & Jean three years ago, she stepped up immediately. She’s been serving on Jazz, Jewels & Jeans ever since.
“I enjoy being involved with organizations that make a difference in the lives of everyday people,” Marcia says. “Homes of Oakridge is a bright light for those who are most vulnerable. They are committed to assisting families with all facets of day to day life, from ESL classes to rental assistance for daycare. When I think of the saying “It takes a village,” Homes of Oakridge is top of my mind.” adds Wanamaker, event chair for Jazz, Jewels & Jeans.

Jazz, Jewels & Jeans is scheduled for Friday, September 14th starting at 6 PM. During the event, guests will have the opportunity to listen to the sounds of smooth jazz, nibble hors-d’oeuvres, and bid in a silent & live auction, along with a raffle.

For more information or to purchase tickets click here.


2018 Summer Youth Employment Program Recognition Luncheon

On Wednesday, August 9th, 2018 46 students graduated from our Youth Summer Employment Program (YSEP). We celebrated at the Wakonda Club, to award our students with a certificate and to celebrate their achievements.

YSEP provides subsidized employment opportunities for low-income high school-age youth each year. We provide eight weeks of paid part-time (20-30 hours) work experience at non-profit and public agencies throughout the Des Moines metro in conjunction with job skills workshops, career exploration, and development opportunities.

Our students come away learning the direct link between academic achievement and future career aspirations, the necessary skills needed to find and keep a job, and the value of giving back to their community through service learning projects.

Scroll below to read stories from a couple of our students who had the chance to participate this year in YSEP.

Thanks to all the business/ companies who allowed our students the opportunity to learn and work with them.

To learn more about YSEP or how to get involved, please contact the youth department director, Vernon Johnson, at 515.244.7702 ext. 139, or email youth@oakridgeneighborhood.org.

~Program Participants~

  1. Sauda A. Abdullahi — Youth Department Administration
  2. Idriss Abdullahi — Adult & Family Services
  3. Nasro A. Ahmed — BE REAL Academy
  4. Yahia A. Ali –OASIS Variety Center
  5. Jayda Allen — Iowa Department of Human Rights
  6. Teddy Barnaba– OASIS Variety Center
  7. Noordin Bille– OASIS Variety Center
  8. Nyawiech Billio– Des Moines Parks and Rec
  9. Arianna Brooks– Youth Conservation Corp
  10. Jordan Colbert– Youth Special Projects
  11. Macky J. Doctor– OASIS Variety Center
  12. Ikra Farah– OASIS Edmunds Elementary
  13. Amran Farah– Youth Department Administration
  14. Emmanuel Glahn– OASIS Edmunds Elementary
  15. Sofia A. Hassan– OASIS Edmunds Elementary
  16. Abdifatah Hassan– Play City and Wading Pool
  17. Gerald James– Play City and Wading Pool
  18. Jotha Jang– BE REAL Academy
  19. Nyadeul Jieng– Des Moines Parks and Rec
  20. Prince Jelleh– Play City and Wading Pool
  21. Baxtyr Johnson– Youth Special Projects
  22. Aroda L. Kalifa– Play City and Wading Pool
  23. Tekeze Kalifa– Hy- Vee Food Stores
  24. Simone Kapayou– OASIS Variety Center
  25. Freweini G. Kawaja– Oasis Edmunds Elementary
  26. Abino Khalifa– OASIS Variety Center
  27. Madam B. Kuany– OASIS Variety Center
  28. Kierra Lewis– Development and Communications
  29. Nydek Lock– OASIS Edmunds Elementary
  30. Muhumure Nzabakiza– Play City and Wading Pool
  31. Bonke Nganire– OASIS Variety Center
  32. Prince V. Nyaen– BE REAL Academy
  33. Prince B. Nyaen– BE REAL Academy
  34. Gentile Nyamadolari– Play City and Wading Pool
  35. Ayor M. Nyariel– BE REAL Academy
  36. Lidia Oule– Jewels Academy
  37. Antonio M. Oule– Adult and Family Services
  38. Lily J. Overstreet– Des Moines Social Club
  39. Levo Rekyte– City of Des Moines PIO
  40. Jaylnn Roberts- Lewis– OASIS Edmunds Elementary
  41. Nama Snduk– OASIS Variety Center
  42. Azaree S. Shakshak– BE REAL Academy
  43. Alex Shukuma– Smokey Row
  44. Kennedy Stone– OASIS Variety Center
  45. DaeVonna R. Strickland– John R. Grubb YMCA
  46. Zpierra M. Winters– BE REAL Academy.

Oakridge Neighborhood would like to thank the following organizations and programs that provided employment opportunities for the 2018 Summer Youth Employment Program:

  • Iowa Department of Human Rights
  • City of Des Moines Parks and Rec
  • Hy-Vee Food Stores
  • Des Moines Social Club
  • City of Des Moines Public Information Office
  • Smokey Row
  • John R. Grubb YMCA
  • Jewels Academy
  • Hy-Vee Food Stores
  • Youth Conservation Corp
  • Oakridge Neighborhood Work Sites

Lilly & the Des Moines Social Club

Every summer Oakridge Neighborhood provides employment opportunities for low-income high schoolers, including ten weeks of paid, part-time experience at nonprofit and public agencies. The Youth Summer Employment Program (YSEP) has immediate benefits- staying busy and earning a paycheck- but countless long-term benefits as well: YSEP participants know the value of work, the value of giving back to the community and how academic achievement is essential to one’s career goals. This summer we decided to hear back from some of the participants and see what they learned throughout the summer and how they have benefited from the program.


“I spent the summer working as an intern at the Des Moines Social Club under the direction of Brand Watkins, their Director of Development. The first day I remember feeling a combination of nervousness, anxiety, and excitement, mainly because this was my first job! From that first day forward, I learned how to do a variety of tasks, such as: working with spreadsheets, researching marketing information, proofreading pamphlets, filing, and even painting.

Coming into the Des Moines Social Club without any previous job experience, I expected to discover and learn how to develop work skills, as well as hot to handle particular information. For example, I have learned how to successfully and proficiently conduct research on surrounding organizations situated in Des Moines, how to nearly organize information, so it’s accessible and useful, and how to efficiently and professionally set-up workspaces for incoming guests and performance groups. However, although I learned several valuable skills that will help me in the future at other jobs, I also indirectly absorbed other important social and life lessons. For instance, I learned what to do and how to handle situations when clients or guests approached me with question or concerns. I also learned how to be socially respectful and believe appropriately in an office setting with coworkers and supervisors; and maybe most importantly, I grasped how vital it is to always have a positive attitude with everyone–both in and out the office.

Working at the Des Moines Social Club has prepared me for future employment and career opportunities. Now, I can converse with strangers and coworkers in a professional manner while maintaining eye contact the entire time! Plus, I gained experience with various technology tools that companies currently use, as well as a new sense of appreciation for the arts and how they truly impact the Des Moines community. Leaving the Social Club will be sad, but I will be able to leave with a fresh perspective and a better sense of how non-profit organizations operate and thrive.

I want to thank Oakridge for giving me the opportunity to work with such amazing people at the DMSC in the heart of Des Moines. Oakridge not only gave me an opportunity to earn my first real paycheck this summer, but they also gave me the chance to discover what kind of career I might want to pursue in the future. Thanks, Oakridge, for allowing me to embark upon this astounding journey with a talented group of helpful individuals to help me along the way.”



Levo & the City of Des Moines Public Information Office

Every summer Oakridge Neighborhood provides employment opportunities for low-income high schoolers, including 10 weeks of paid, part-time experience at nonprofit and public agencies. The Youth Summer Employment Program (YSEP) has immediate benefits- staying busy and earning a paycheck- but countless long-term benefits as well: YSEP participants know the value of work, the value of giving back to the community and how academic achievement is important to one’s career goals. This summer we decided to hear back from some of the participants and see what they learned throughout the summer and how they have benefited from the program.


“This summer I had the opportunity of working for the City of Des Moines, in their communications office. I had the chance to learn first hand what communications is all about. For example, I learned the customer the City of Des Moines is trying to reach is us! I learned the best way for us to communicate with the people of Des Moines is to get them more involved in what’s going on. I learned the city offers many resources such as:

  • City Source– The City of Des Moines’ quarterly Newsletter
  • DMTV 7- The City of Des Moines’ cable channel
  • And so much more!

I also learned the importance of teamwork. For the communications office to run smoothly, we must connect with the other offices such as parks & recreation, Public works, housing services, and much more. We are the voice for all the other offices.

This position has prepared me for the future because I had the chance to work with teams and learned how to be a good team player. Lastly, I also had the chance to further my public speaking and communicate my thoughts better.

I appreciate Oakridge for giving me this opportunity. Letting me experience the business world and how it works, I truly enjoyed it. It was nice to learn a lot from them. I would also like to thank the City of Des Moines. Having an internship at my age doesn’t happen very often which is why I am forever grateful. I will take this internship as the shaping of the beginning of my career.”


How a new charitable floral delivery is impacting the Des Moines Metro.

August 2nd, 2018- We are thrilled to announce a new business in the Des Moines area: Blooming Hope in DSM. Blooming Hope is a charitable floral deliver. The business has only been around for a short time; however, it has already accomplished its mission and blossomed hope within the Oakridge Neighborhood; especially in our Silver Oaks community.

With the help of Tom Boesen and Boesen Florists Shelley Kolz aka “the floral angel” delivers flowers once a week to local hospices, hospitals, women/ children’s shelters, etc. Kolz also delivers to senior living centers such as Oakridge Neighborhood’s: Silver Oaks, a community designed to meet the needs of residents 55 and older.

During times of hardships, Kolz and her flowers bring a ray of light.

“I have had a passion for flowers since I was a child. They bring me great pleasure, lots of smiles and are a sign of hope. I have always had an affinity for people; especially who are going through life struggles such as loneliness, depression, death, and sorrow. I believe that the marriage of these two things has brought me to the development of this brain-child called Blooming Hope in DSM.”  says Shelley Kolz, coordinator of Blooming Hope in DSM.

How It Works

With the contributions of local floral shop Boesen the Florist, Kolz, is able to pick up flowers that are going to be discarded- flowers that have been returned to Boesen’s and are not for sale- and “rescue” them for her deliveries. If it weren’t for Kolz, the flowers would be discarded into a dumpster.

“On behalf of Silver Oaks and its residents, we are extremely grateful for Blooming Hope in DSM. This kind gesture means so much to the residents, along with our staff, it brightens up our day,” Jo Ann Hughes, the resident specialist at Silver Oaks.

To learn more information about Blooming Hope in DSM email Shelley at hotcoalz@icloud.com.



Aroda holding his trophy he received at the Stellar Awards.

DES MOINES, IA- On Friday, May 4th, 2018 150 Des Moines Public Schools (DMPS) middle school students were recognized at the 5th annual Stellar Awards. One of those students being our own Aroda Khalifa, son of Nura KuKu. Khalifa was awarded the “Having the ability to work hard to be successful award.”

The Stella Awards was launched five years ago by Corey Harris, director of middle schools for DMPS. Like most schools, DMPS did an excellent job awarding academic achievements; however it did not celebrate outstanding character traits. Seeing this problem, Harris knew he had to do something about this right away. That’s when the Stellar Awards came into place. Studies show it takes both academics and succeeding character traits to excel.

15 different awards are awarded to 10 DMPS middle schools equaling out to 150 awards total.

“The Stellar Awards has created a more positive peer pressure and reduced negative peer pressure. Students are not setting personal goals to win a Stellar Award,” said Harris.

The night started out with stretched limousines picking the students up from their middle schools and being personally escorted to North High School where the ceremony took place. The students were then gifted a trophy with their named etched into, and a book that featured their award winning trait that reminded them to continue to nurture and grow that characteristic trait.

Oakridge Neighborhood would like to again congratulate our own Aroda Khalifa, along with the other 149 students who received an award that night!



JULY 17th, 2018– We are so proud of Amran Farah for her recognition from Principal Financial Group at the recent Charity Classic. She is truly a Kid’s Champion! To celebrate the big occasion Amran wrote a piece on what the recognition meant to her. Make sure to read the passage below!

“The cost of college is unimaginable. There were many times I would look at the expenses of college and look down upon myself because I knew there was no way I could pay an amount that large. Even with that voice inside my head I knew, I would not let anything stop me from reaching my number one goal, which is to become a teacher. Now, with the help of Principal, I have some money that goes toward my college fund.

Walking through the Wakonda Club doors Saturday, June 9th, 2018 I had no idea I would be leaving that day with money to help me on my journey to college. When I first arrived, I met with Sara Terpstra, the Foundation Program Coordinator at Global Community Relations. She led me to a room where I was then greeted with Mr. Vernon and Teree Johnson. We had a great time over lunch, taking plenty of photos and discussing many stories. Later in the lunch, my family and I were approached by Sara again; she called us outside where I was awarded a laptop computer and a generous contribution to my college education funds. I have NEVER been more grateful than I was on that day. To share that moment with everyone I love and admire around me was one of the best feelings. This moment reminded me of a quote I heard by businessman and columnists Harvey Mackay “None of us got to where we are alone. Whether the assistance we received was obvious or subtle, acknowledging someone’s help is a big part of understanding the importance of saying thank you.” Without the help of my parents, Principal, and Vernon & Teree Johnson I would not be where I am today. Thank You.”