USCRI Des Moines’ 2023 Welcoming Iowa Benefit

By USCRI October 25, 2023

The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI)’s Des Moines Field Office hosted its fifth annual Welcoming Iowa benefit on Thursday, October 12th, 2023, at Mainframe Studios in downtown Des Moines. This year’s theme was A Proud History of Welcome, featuring a look at Iowa’s proud history of welcoming refugees and immigrants and the ground-breaking work of former Governor Robert D. Ray and his humanitarianism on behalf of Southeast Asian Tai Dam refugees.

Our keynote speaker, Scott Raecker,Executive Director of the Robert D. and Billy Ray Center at Drake University, presenting on “Governor Robert D. Ray: A Legacy of Leadership.”  Scott worked closely with Governor Robert D. Ray, who persevered through citizen opposition and political headwinds to work with Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, as well as many others, to welcome Asian refugees to Iowa and assist them as they built new lives in our community.

Chenue Her, our emcee, anchors “Good Morning Iowa” at WOI-TV.  An award-winning, seasoned journalist, Chenue is the son of Hmong refugees in St. Paul, MN.  He became the first Hmong-American news anchorman in the U.S. in 2021 when he joined the WOI team in Des Moines.  As a first-generation Hmong American, Chenue is proud to be closely connected to his roots and has seen first-hand the contributions immigrants and refugees make in our world.  As a journalist, he’s passionate about bringing the stories of all immigrants and refugees to the forefront.

Samantha Hunyh, our USCRI Des Moines Refugee Services Manager and Interim Field Office Director,reported that USCRI Des Moines resettling 294 new Iowans this past Fiscal Year. This included 56 apartment setups, over 500 medical appointments, and 104 school enrollments among our other work, such as legal services, wellness and youth programs, and employment services.  We also heard from Eskinder Negash, President and CEO of USCRI, who, along with Dylanna Grasinger, Senior Field Office Director, and Mike Coburn, Vice President of Strategy Development, joined us from our national office in Arlington, VA.

We are grateful to welcome a new Welcoming Iowa sponsor this year, Causey & Ye Law Group.  Managing Partner and lead counsel Yangyidi Ye specializes in immigration and international corporate law and shared her perspective on some of the bright spots and challenges of immigration legal services.

Almost 150 participants enjoyed performances by an Afghan dance troupe and the Ishara Dance Company.  The Afghan company performed the Attan, the national dance of Afghanistan, and the Ishira Dance Company performed traditional Indian dance.

A gorgeous array of food was provided by local refugee and immigrant-owned businesses, including Bah Kunda Kitchen (Gambia), Tacos Mariana’s (Mexican), Palmyra (Syria), our local Nepali community, and fruit boxes provided by Lofreddo Fresh Foods.

Iowans raised almost $30,000 through the event to support Afghan and refugee arrivals to Central Iowa.  The proceeds from this event enable us to provide goods and services not covered by state and federal funding. This includes helping us cover the significant gaps in services between clients’ arrival and the start of housing, food, and medical benefits and provide transportation and emergency assistance.



For those unable to attend, please consider donating online by visiting our donation page here. Thank you for your generosity and compassion!

We hope to see you there next year!

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