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A welcoming community

April 9, 2024

Julie Molisho was born and raised in Congo. She has a bachelor’s degree and attended law school in her home country. Still, when she and her husband arrived in the United States to pursue more opportunities, she experienced the challenges many newcomers face. “I didn’t speak English. It was hard for me to navigate any system,” said Julie, founder of The River ARC.

In 2014, her family settled in Waterloo, where she began assisting fellow Congolese immigrants as a French interpreter at her workplace. Julie soon became an advocate for her community’s specific needs. “I was helping people with transportation, healthcare, food, clothes. That’s the reason I started The River ARC, to address all these needs, not only myself but having more people who can help,” said Julie.

Partnering with other organizations is vital to The River ARC’s ability to provide life-changing resources. The organization supplies education, awareness, and language support to identify needs, but Julie sees The River ARC as the bridge to partners who can deliver critical services. “Building partnerships is the key because I have the drive, I have the passion, but this is not enough to help this community,” Julie said.

The River ARC achieved nonprofit status in 2022 and received its first grant in 2023 through the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa’s Black Hawk County grant process. “The collaboration with the Community Foundation is crucial. It will help us build capacity and keep doing the work we are doing to help the community of refugees and immigrants,” Julie said.

Julie is also a partner in Advancing Equity in the Cedar Valley, a community cohort, led by CFNEIA and Black Hawk County Public Health, collaborating to address barriers and eliminate inequities. She believes the community can be a place of belonging if residents take the first step in building relationships. “We are in this together. Your health is my health. When you strengthen me, you strengthen all those behind me.”