Centralized location helps Proteus serve farm workers
Downtown Fort Dodge was once the heart of commercial, social and cultural life in the city. Those days are long past, but as the second decade of the 21st century unfolds, this historic venue is experiencing a renaissance.
An assortment of businesses and other enterprises are finding locations on or near Central Avenue appealing. An example of this trend was the relocation in August 2012 of the regional office of Proteus from the city’s outskirts to 107 N. Seventh St. This historic building on the corner of Seventh Street and First Avenue North has been extensively renovated. Proteus now occupies 2,000 square feet of office space on the first floor.
Proteus is a nonprofit organization that has served migrant and seasonal farm workers since 1979. The Fort Dodge office is the group’s headquarters for a 37-county region that includes much of north central and northwestern Iowa. There are also offices in Des Moines and Iowa City.
Proteus is the recipient of grants from the U.S. Department of Labor and operates two major federal initiatives throughout the Hawkeye State. The organization also has a similar relationship with the Labor Department vis-a-vis Nebraska, which began about a year ago.
Amber Roe, who heads the Fort Dodge Proteus office as the group’s regional director, said choosing a downtown location helps the organization serve its clientele better.
“We were looking for something that was more centralized,” she said. “You’ve got The Salvation Army down here. You’ve got United Way. You’ve got Upper Des Moines.”
The projects Proteus undertakes as a Labor Department grant holder address two major needs, Roe said.
First, through the National Farmworker Jobs Program, Proteus offers services and financial assistance designed to help farm workers develop the skills and qualifications that enable them to find better jobs.
“Basically, the NFJP grant … is only for people that have done farm work in the last two years,” Roe explained. “The biggest thing that we do is help people pay for a two-year education or a short-term certificate. … You can be in any program that you want to as long as you’ve done the farm work and you meet the income guidelines.”
She stressed that it is a good idea for anyone who thinks they might qualify for this program to check that out with her staff.
“If you’ve done farm work in the past two years and you are attending a two-year institution or are looking to get a short-term (training program),” Roe said. “Contact us to see if we can help you.”
The second initiative is the Migrant Health Program. It provides mobile health clinics at times and in locations that are convenient for farm workers. There is a clinical director for this undertaking who is a physician assistant.
“You’ve got people that come from the South during harvest time,” Roe said, reflecting on how this project is structured. “Once they get to Iowa, we go to them and hold clinics. We do them at churches. We do them at parks. Anywhere they will let us come that these workers are in. We’ve usually got two or three doctors that come. … They just give them a basic physical. … We disburse medications for any acute illnesses. … Basically, make sure that the people who are handling our food are healthy.”
Roe said the two principal projects administered through her office serve somewhat different constituencies.
“The grant money that we are given is only for seasonal or migrant farm workers,” she said. “A lot of people think Proteus only serves the Hispanic population. When it comes to the migrant population … a majority of them are Hispanics. When it comes to (job training) 95 percent of our clients are Caucasian. … You’ve got people that detassel or feed hogs or do chores. … They haul grain for farmers. There are a lot of them out there.”
Roe said some of the people who benefit from the job training services come from farm families, but others are folks who have ended up working in agriculture because they live in rural Iowa.
Meet the director
Roe grew up in Des Moines. After high school she worked for several years in the financial services industry and pursued her education at Buena Vista University. She received a bachelor’s degree in human services from BVU in 2012.
Roe has worked with Proteus for about 18 months. She became the regional director here in July 2012.
“I wanted to do something where I could see change and know that I was making a positive difference in people’s lives,” Roe said. “In this job, you see it. You work with your clients. You help them.”
She said her involvement with Proteus has proved to be immensely satisfying.
“The biggest reward is helping people pay for school,” Roe said. “Watching these people go through their programs and develop and seeing them land a $16-an-hour job. They are so proud of themselves and it is good to know that you’ve had a hand in that.”
She also said it is immensely gratifying to witness the impact of the group’s health care endeavors.
“I got to help with the clinic last year,” she said. “That was a huge eye-opener for me. … You see generations of families. You’ll have a grandpa and a dad and then this year they’ve brought along a 14-year-old son. They travel for three-fourths of their lives. Some of them have to drop out of school. They have to work in heat, around chemicals, have arthritis. … I think the average education level of our health patients is third grade.”
Roe said she and her team members are immensely proud of what Proteus is accomplishing. She said the success stories abound.
“That’s why we’ve held the grants for so long,” Roe said.
About Proteus in Fort Dodge
Proteus is a nonprofit organization that takes its name from the classical world.
“Proteus is actually a Greek mythological figure,” Roe said. “He was able contort into different things to help people with whatever they needed.”
The regional Proteus office in Fort Dodge has a staff of five. The team led by Roe includes a health program manager, two case workers and an office assistant.
In addition to the programs funded by the Labor Department, the local Proteus office also has a food pantry and a clothing closet. Those projects are not underwritten by the federal government.
“We do fundraisers and we take donations,” Roe said, explaining how these additional activities are financed. “We have a contract with the Food Bank of Iowa, so that’s where we get our food and Secrets in Moorland gives us probably 90 percent of the clothing we give away.”
The Proteus office in Fort Dodge is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The food pantry and clothing closet are available on Mondays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.