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Cedar Valley Newcomers Find Support in Achieving Dreams

February 16, 2022

Since 2010, over 2,500 refugees from Myanmar (formerly Burma) have come to the Cedar Valley seeking a new start after fleeing from violence and ethnic persecution. The community has become a welcome home, continuing to greet refugees, but adjusting to life in the United States is a difficult transition.

Operation Threshold, a community action agency serving Black Hawk, Buchanan, and Grundy counties, based in Waterloo, provides services to assist families and strengthen the Cedar Valley.

“Operation Threshold is all about helping people meet basic needs and supporting them in their endeavors to become self-sufficient,” said Barb Grant, the nonprofit’s executive director.

The organization’s refugee services provide refugee and immigrant households with opportunities to improve their financial literacy and stability. Through extensive case management with a case advocate, Operation Threshold addresses language barriers, lack of understanding of workplace norms, navigating the job search, and the lack of skill in planning for future financial and educational needs. The organization also assists individuals in preparing for becoming U.S. citizens.

Funding from community partners is essential to the life of the refugee services program. Since 2014, the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa has granted over $100,000 to strengthen the work of Operation Threshold’s refugee services.

Barb also acknowledges the successes Operation Threshold helps create to Liberata Aung, Cedar Valley Newcomer Case Advocate with the organization. Liberata knows firsthand the challenges of adjusting to life in the Cedar Valley as a refugee from Burma herself. She has been supporting her community for over seven years in various roles.

Mu Thuzar and her family know the benefits of having Operation Threshold and Liberata in their corner.

“When we first came to the United States, we had many challenges. You (Operation Threshold) brought many opportunities for us and helped us. You’re not only helping people, you make the world a better place for us,” said Mu.

Mu worked hard to learn English and earn her GED, and she and her husband are now U.S. citizens and Cedar Valley homeowners.

According to Barb, stories like Mu’s are part of making the Cedar Valley a better place for everyone.

“Anytime someone moves to the community and becomes a part of the community, it strengthens the fabric of the community. The more diversity we have and the more we learn about each other, the more we all gain,” said Barb. 

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