Amran's Journey: From Somalia to Oakridge Neighborhood

Amran Farah’s journey from arriving in the United States 12 years ago to earning a scholarship at a prestigious university exemplifies the power of Oakridge Neighborhood in helping families gain stability while preparing for the next steps in life.

Amran was just seven years old when she fled war-torn Somalia with her parents and seven siblings. “I remember a lot about Somalia, things kids shouldn’t see,” she says.

When Amran’s family first arrived in Iowa, it was snowing and they didn’t have coats. People in Iowa didn’t look like her family. Grocery stores were an entirely new concept to the family, who’d been used to shopping in open-air markets. And only Amran’s dad knew English. “Then I started elementary it was really hard to fit in,” she says. “But I was able to learn the language pretty quickly.”

Today Amran is an incredibly accomplished young woman, who carries herself with a confidence that reflects a worldliness that surpasses her age. She has been tapped more than once to speak about her experiences with Oakridge to large groups, including community influentials and donors to the organization, and does so with ease. At the same time, she’s also very much a typical all American girl with the requisite mannerisms.

Life Changing Impact

Amran says the people at Oakridge Neighborhood, where the family settled upon arriving in the United States, were especially welcoming. For over 50 years, Oakridge Neighborhood has provided a secure, safe and affordable place for some of the city’s most vulnerable to live, plus support services to help adults and families move to sustained self-sufficiency. “What you need they will provide,” Amran says.

“I joined the youth program at Oakridge when I was 13 and it was a blessing,” Amran says. “They encouraged me to join in. They helped me believe in myself and be more confident.”

Amran has also been a part of the Youth Summer Employment Program (YSEP), a 10-week paid worksite learning and career exploration program for low-income students ages 14-21. As part of the program, Amran was selected to be a student teacher at Oakridge’s Project OASIS summer and after school program serving children in grades K-5. The experience convinced Amran that she would like to become a special education or grade school teacher. “I really love working with kids,” she says. “I’m very interested in the mind and how kids think. Seeing their growth just amazes me.”

A Natural Leader

To watch Amran leading a classroom of students, one can see that being an educator would suit her. She confidentially controls the hub of activity in a spirited room of nearly 20 students – all who clearly look up to her – leading them seamlessly through hands-on learning exercises and projects.

Amran excelled at academics at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, and earned a scholarship to Drake University, where she felt she could get the best education and still live at home. She started her freshman year in Fall 2019.

“Oakridge is a huge part of my life. Not only have they helped me with my career choice, but they have also helped my parents with whatever they needed. They help you with many aspects of your life such as emotional, financial, social and so much more,” she says. “Anyone who has been a part of Oakridge knows the impact they make on the lives of others. I can say this because I know the impact Oakridge has made on me.

“As I move toward my purpose of becoming a teacher, I’ve learned not to compromise who I am,” she says. “When things aren’t going right, I go to individuals in the youth department who tell me to dig deeper and never forget…I am destined for greatness.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Hear more from Amran here.

Oakridge Neighborhood positively impacts the lives of hundreds of students and immigrant families every year. To make a difference in the life of a student like Amran, donate here or please contact Kristin Littlejohn at or 515 | 244-7701.