By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Growing up, Jerilyn Cabrera lived in a small trailer in Marshalltown, Iowa, with her single, immigrant mother and grandmother who worked long hours for little pay. They hoped to pave the way for Jerilyn to earn a college degree and have a better life. “Back then, we didn’t know about any resources that could help us,” Jerilyn recalled. “It was stressful growing up in those surroundings.”
Now, as an adult and recent graduate of the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Jerilyn wants to help immigrants and people experiencing poverty access the resources they need to thrive.
As the Diocese of Davenport’s new Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) intern, Jerilyn will be able to do just that. She will work with the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa in Iowa City advocating for workers, many of whom are immigrants. “I love interning and volunteering for these types of organizations because I like showing my mom that I know where we came from, and that I can help make a difference. She moved here to give me opportunities and so I can have a voice, and I’m going to use it.”
The diocese offers one paid internship per school year to an individual who works with either Quad Cities Interfaith in Davenport or the Center for Worker Justice in Iowa City. The internship program includes a training course in Washington, D.C., which will occur online this year in August. Kent Ferris, diocesan director of Social Action and of Catholic Charities, believes Jerilyn will make an excellent intern due to her passion for helping those living and working in poverty.
Jerilyn is already familiar with the Center for Worker Justice (CWJ), having volunteered there for the past several months. She describes CWJ as an organization that advocates for workers by hearing their stories, speaking to employers and offering translation and other resources. She has helped CWJ in the past by answering phone calls, translating between English and Spanish and helping with the CWJ’s galas. “I have cooked 300-plus tamales! I help with whatever they need.”
Mayra Hernandez, the current CCHD intern serving at CWJ, said it is likely that Jerilyn will pick up some of Mayra’s current tasks while gaining more hands-on experience in the operational and administrative aspects of CWJ. Mayra’s story will be featured in an upcoming edition of The Catholic Messenger.
Jerilyn believes her experiences with CWJ through the CCHD internship program will offer valuable perspective and experience as she works toward her ultimate goal of becoming an immigration lawyer. She plans to begin applying to law schools in the fall. “I want to be able to make an impact and change someone’s life.”