Lifting our community

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EICC reaches out during pandemic

In March of this year, a rare thing happened, the world as we know it came to an abrupt halt. One minute we were all living our lives, the next jobs were lost, schools shut down, hospitals in a rush to secure supplies.

It was, and still is, hard.

As a community college, Eastern Iowa Community Colleges (EICC) is well versed in lifting people up when they are at their most vulnerable by providing a number of resources, both educational and personal. We have, and always will be, here for you. Therefore, when COVID-19 left us all in a tailspin we did what community colleges do best: collaborated, pooled resources and provided solutions.

“I think in this kind of situation what comes to the surface is how many roles community colleges play in the community,” said Naomi DeWinter, Muscatine Community College President and Vice Chancellor for Student Development.

“We’re not just talking about providing courses; it’s the human element of all of our students. We’re trying to bring stability, bring our resources into these situations.”

Safety net for students

With stability at top of mind, EICC got to work assisting students in a number of ways. One of the first orders of business? Turn college parking lots into WiFi hotspots so those without internet access at home could still complete their classwork. Parking lots at Clinton, Muscatine and Scott Community College, as well as the Columbus Junction Center were all equipped to provide free internet access.

In addition, Muscatine’s on-campus food pantry was converted to a driveup service. Thanks to the help of local volunteers, the food was relocated to Walnut Baptist Church where students could just drive up and open their trunks to receive the items. Those living in Muscatine’s on-campus housing who were unable to return home also received assistance relocating after the campuses were shutdown.

“Working with the city of Muscatine, we were able to find some longer term housing options for these students at no costs to them,” DeWinter said. “They have since moved back, but working with several different partners to make that happen was really, really awesome.”

This fall in an effort to extend more support to students, EICC even offered the choice of a free laptop or one free class to those who enrolled full-time. Part-time students received 20 percent off their tuition. The incentives helped alleviate both financial and technical barriers for hundreds of students. Grants through both college foundations and the federal government were also made available.

“We tried to provide the resources students need to be successful when we’re working in this type of environment,” DeWinter said.

Meanwhile at Clinton Community College, the Student Senate provided a mental health boost to their classmates with some good old-fashioned snail mail, sending a postcard and custom facemasks featuring the college’s cougar mascot.

“It was a nice surprise,” said Kemi Busker, Clinton’s Student Engagement and Leadership Coordinator. “Students were sending snapchats wearing them and I’ve seen them rocking the masks out in the community. They were happy they were being thought about during this time.”

Protecting healthcare and social service workers

From big gestures to small acts of kindness, people across the district looked for ways to connect with not only students, but also the community. Within weeks of the shutdown, Allied Health Programs at each college began taking inventory of PPE supplies, donating several carloads of items to Genesis East, Bettendorf UnityPoint HealthTrinity, Muscatine UnityPoint and MercyOne in Clinton.

“We weren’t holding classes in the labs and thought it’d be great if our PPE could be used at local healthcare facilities instead of sitting on a shelf,” said Matt Schmit, Scott Community College Dean of Operations. “A lot of our alumni are in these difficult situations caring for the sick. We all know someone in the healthcare field and want them protected.”

Other community outreach included meal delivery to Muscatine health employees, reopening Muscatine’s Learning Tree daycare center to help families in need of childcare, and securing thermometers for the Muscatine Center for Social Action’s (MCSA) Domestic Violence Shelter.

“There was an immediate need for thermometers so the shelter could continue intake, and of course you couldn’t find any then,” said DeWinter. “So I reached out to our medical assisting and nursing faculty and we looked around the building for thermometers and donated those. They were so thankful and we were able to show our appreciation for their work through the donation.”

For DeWinter, and the many others who pitched in to help, finding solutions to the obstacles both students and the community were facing is just what THE Community’s College is here to do.

“It was extremely rewarding,” she said. “We have laptops, foundations and people who care – additional resources we as a community college think about. We ask ourselves, ‘what else can we do to help?’”

For more information about EICC’s COVID response, including resources for students, visit

Author: alaneastern

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