By Christina Fernández-Morrow, Hola Iowa
Before becoming a Career Coach at the Evelyn K. Davis Center for Working Families in Des Moines, Mercedes Morton was already familiar with the center’s affiliate, Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC). She started in their English Language Learner classes and followed it up by graduating with an Associate degree a few years later. She became a professional medical and legal interpreter before taking on her newest role as a Career Coach. Her experience working as a legal assistant in family and immigration law provides valuable insight she uses to help refugees and immigrants, a large bulk of her clients. She enjoys her role because it allows her to help people with diverse backgrounds and there is no charge for her services, which makes her services accessible to the entire community. While she believes everyone can benefit from her assistance in writing resumes, preparing for interviews, and identifying job leads, she feels it is especially helpful to people who speak Spanish. “I want everyone to know we have this sort of center,” she says, recalling an encounter with a client who moved to Iowa and was impressed by the level of help she provided. “I know people who are Puerto Rican and moved here from Florida. They lived there for many years. They said they tell everyone to come to Des Moines because they don’t have these services in Florida.”
More than handing clients a list of places to call and sending them on their way, Morton shares resources and refers people in unique scenarios. For example, she had a client who came to her because he was interested in taking accounting classes at DMACC. However, no one on the campus understood his situation so they sent him to her. After a brief conversation, she learned that he had already been certified in accounting in his home country. She used her knowledge of immigration law to educate him on how to transfer his professional credentials to Iowa and avoid years of unnecessary courses. While the Evelyn K. Davis Center doesn’t have the means to get clients through the process, as a Career Coach Morton provided the correct referral and walked him through the steps to ensure he had the paperwork he needed along the way.
Morton can relate to a lot of her clients. Originally from El Salvador, Morton came to Iowa nearly twenty years ago after meeting her husband, a native Iowan. They moved to Des Moines, where she was a stay-at-home mom to their two children. While the kids were young, Morton spent her time learning English, taking classes and volunteering in the community. After completing her second degree at Mercy College, she filled various roles where her Spanish skills allowed her to work in her mother tongue and help new Iowans navigate systems she had traversed herself. Now that her children are independent, she has had more time to build her career. Evelyn K. Davis Center’s mission to empower people to connect to their professional goals and reach financial stability excites her because it was a part of her journey as she established her life in Des Moines. Working as a Career Coach is a full circle opportunity for her because she remembers years back when she went to the Evelyn K. Davis Center as a client and worked with a Financial Coach to save money to buy a car.
Financial Coaching is another free service available at the Evelyn K. Davis Center and according to Financial Coach Jeff Graney, it’s similar to working with a personal trainer, but focuses on the health of your financial future. Graney, who has been learning and speaking Spanish since middle school, sees his role as a motivator who can help clients. He says of his work, “I look at their spending behaviors and help them learn to modify them through education about the role of credit scores, home-buying, budgeting, establishing credit, and eliminating debt.” Graney enjoys working one-on-one with clients and taking them through the steps they need to establish and reach their financial goals. Helping in Spanish is an added joy to Graney, who spent six years in Salamanca, Spain and devoted his undergraduate years at Iowa State to learning Spanish and Latin American history.
Much of the work he does revolves around creating a better relationship with money, helping clients break cycles of poverty. When families learn methods of saving, working towards long-term and short-term financial goals, and how to manage their budgets, the wealth gap begins to narrow by introducing concepts and habits that were not possible in environments of paycheck-to-paycheck survival.
At times, Graney and Morton work together to help clients. If a client is unable to find adequate employment, they may help the client look at alternate budgeting habits, or even consider starting a business. The Evelyn K. Davis Center also has Business Coaches who can help clients map out what they need to open a small business. While those coaches are not bilingual, the Business Coaches team up with Graney and Morton to make sure Spanish-speaking clients are served in the language they prefer. Graney believes that empowerment means giving clients the tools they need and pointing them towards the right resources for guidance, rather than a DIY approach. “It’s a partnership,” he says. That’s why he works with them to create step-by-step plans and gives them individual attention. Ultimately, the Career, Business and Financial Coaches create a network to help empower clients to become self-sufficient, something Graney and Morton are proud to do for their community.
The Evelyn K. Davis Center is a partnership between the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, DMACC, and the Directors Council and is located at 1171 7th Street, Des Moines. You can learn more about their services and schedule an appointment with Mercedes Morton or Jeff Graney at www.evelyndaviscenter.org. Or by calling them at: Mercedes at 515-697-1482 or Jeff at 515-697-7705.