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Urban Dreams brings job help, food pantry to Ladd Library

Urban Dreams brings job help, food pantry to Ladd Library

The Urban Dreams Cedar Rapids Food Pantry opens at the Ladd Library on April 15 at 9 am. Regular operating hours will be Tuesday and Thursday, 9 am to 5 pm. Walk-ins are welcome. Masks and physical distancing are required.

This article is from the spring edition of OPEN+ magazine, available at the Library and metro-area Hy-Vees or online: fliphtml5.com/homepage/rofy

At Urban Dreams, the staff believe the struggles of your past don’t have to define your future. 

The Des Moines-based non-profit is bringing that mentality to Cedar Rapids with a new partnership with the City of Cedar Rapids and the Cedar Rapids Public Library. 

The organization is sharing space with the Opportunity Center at Ladd Library, aiming to help community members develop their skills and connect with area employers.

“Our audience is the underserved and underemployed audience. When we meet with employers, we let them know many of the job candidates we bring have barriers or hurdles,” Urban Dreams workforce development coordinator Elizabeth Buch said. “We’re bringing them because they’re full of potential, and we believe they can be successful and can make you successful as well.”

Urban Dreams originally launched in 1985 in Des Moines, where it has services ranging from mental health counseling to substance abuse treatment to working with schools to prevent expulsion to workforce development. That is what the group will focus on in Cedar Rapids. 

The organization offers help with resume building, interview coaching, preparing people for new jobs and connecting them with employers who are hiring.

The Cedar Rapids partnership was originally set to formally launch in early 2020 but was delayed by the pandemic and again by the August derecho. However, staff have been busy throughout the year, building relationships with local employers and beginning to meet with job-seekers.

Right now, people are mostly finding them via Facebook, word of mouth, or when they stop into the Opportunity Center. But when it is safe to do so again, Urban Dreams staff plan to do direct outreach in Cedar Rapids neighborhoods.

In November, Urban Dreams partnered with Hy-Vee to give away donated food boxes before Thanksgiving outside the Ladd Library. They plan to continue that kind of outreach with a food pantry at the Opportunity Center, in partnership with HACAP. 

The idea, Buch said, will be to offer a wide range of services in one place. Someone coming for job assistance could also connect with the Opportunity Center and get help with bus fare, for example. Or someone picking up a food box could be introduced to Urban Dreams and learn about their services.

Barriers to employment, after all, are often complicated. By working together, the different partner organizations can better help people navigate and overcome those barriers. 

Buch said one of the biggest barriers she sees is that people often don’t think they’re qualified for a job. Urban Dreams aims to help them see that they are.

“We do a lot of prepping for these employees to feel really good about the position they’re in,” she said. “The biggest barrier is bringing these opportunities to the people you’re trying to target and translating that to them so they say, ‘Yes, I do have the ability to do that.’”

When someone applies for a job after working with Urban Dreams, the nonprofit will reach out to the employer to let them know a candidate came through them. Staff are building relationships with different employers to make the application process more seamless.

Buch emphasized the partnership also benefits the employers.

“It’s not a secret that if you bring in diverse candidates or those who haven’t been invited to the table, your organization is going to see positive impacts from that,” she said. “I really love Urban Dreams’ model of bringing these opportunities to people and treating everyone with dignity and respect.”

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