Local nonprofit IC Compassion launches new refugee counseling program

As Iowa City prepares for the holiday season, local nonprofit IC Compassion is launching its new Iowa Refugee Counseling Center.


Hayden Froehlich

The IC Compassion Office is seen on Wednesday, December 4, 2019.

Preston Hayes, News Reporter

Iowa City Compassion is giving back to the community this holiday season and opening the doors of its new counseling program designed to provide mental and emotional health support to refugees and immigrants in Iowa City.

The local, faith-based nonprofit began a new refugee counseling program — the Iowa Refugee Counseling Center. The center is the newest of several services that IC Compassion offers, including community education, food assistance, and immigration services.

“[Our goal is to] provide culturally competent, trauma, mental health, and emotional-health support for refugee and immigrant children and adults, and provide psycho-educational outreach programming in the community,” said Noemi Ford, Iowa Refugee Counseling Center program director.

Most refugees and immigrants in Iowa City are not originally resettled in Iowa, Ford said. Many resettled in larger states and moved to Iowa as a secondary location after three months in the U.S. when their funding was cut and a need for greater help was realized, she added.

“The people coming in, their stories are incredibly complicated. That comes from the trauma they’re leaving in their home country but also the trauma of losing family, losing culture, losing a home, and then resettling in a place where they’re often very lonely,” said David Drustrup, a counselor at the center. “When they leave their home country they’re leaving literally everything they have. Then, they come to places where … they don’t necessarily know where to go for support. Everything about their lives are turned upside down.”

Finding a place where the door is always open is very important, Dustrup said. The center aims to provide a foundation or renewed opportunity for a sense of home and community, he said.

“The most prevalent [adversity refugees and immigrants face in Iowa City] is the trauma of losing family. There’s political unrest and violence and political trauma in their country and so they literally have no choice but to leave,” Drustrup said. “A lot of them would have preferred to stay, but under absolutely forced circumstances they have to come here.”

The Iowa Refuge Counseling Center has already seen about 10 individuals for unlimited face-to-face individual counseling sessions, he added. The center doesn’t have session limits and offers its services as long as the individual feels like they still have things to work on, Drustrup said.

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Around ten kids have come through the Iowa Refuge Counseling Center’s group session, and several school programs have reached out requesting its services, Drustrup said.

The children’s group meets every Wednesday night, said Iowa Refugee Counseling Center Counselor Leah Vance.

“It’s a mindfulness-based program with some art included in it,” Vance said. “[The program attempts] different techniques to talk with the kids and make them comfortable, and I think it’s been very good for the kids who’ve come so far.”

In the future, the center hopes to recruit at least one more graduate student in the social work or counseling/psychology program and have three or four graduate students providing counseling by fall 2020, Ford said.

Vance said the center hopes to expand its community and psycho-education programs, as well as provide more services in schools, more in-house services, and gain more volunteers.

“Iowa City Compassion has a way to receive donations,” Ford said. “We don’t expect payment for our services, but if we had more money we would have more freedom to offer more services and programs.”