Helping toward a better life

For many, the dream of a college education- and the career opportunities it affords – seems unattainable.

Though numerous financial assistance programs exist, many fly under the radar, so to speak.

Proteus, a nonprofit organization that has served migrant and seasonal farm workers since 1979, provides a variety of services to improve health, education, and economic opportunities.

Proteus receives grants from the U.S. Department of Labor. Through the grant-funded 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.

“Our end goal is to get people to the point where they can find better jobs, with benefits,” said Amber Roe, regional director for Proteus’ Fort Dodge office.

A native of Des Moines, Roe is a graduate of Buena Vista University with a degree in human services.

Upon graduation from college in 2012, Roe took a job as a case manager with Proteus. Soon after, she was promoted to regional director of the Fort Dodge office one of three operated by Proteus in Iowa. Other offices are located in Des Moines and Iowa City.

In August 2012, the Proteus’ office in Fort Dodge relocated to 107 N. Seventh St.

As Fort Dodge director, Roe oversees a staff that serves 37 counties in northwest Iowa.

Case managers both assist individual clients and serve as ambassadors for the program, Roe said.

“Our case managers are well-known at all the community colleges in the region,” said Roe.

Clients apply to receive grants that help pay their way through a degree or certificate program.

Once a client successfully completes a program, Proteus case managers follow them for a year, Roe said.

“We want them to be comfortable in a job,” she said.

Proteus clients generally range in age from 18 to 50, according to Roe.

The NFJP grant, according to Roe, is regarded as one of the highest-performing grants of its type in the country – meaning NFJP programs have a strong track record for success.

In an average year, Proteus’ Fort Dodge office serves 40 clients, Roe said.

“We accept applications all year,” said Roe.

To qualify, prospective clients must meet income guidelines and have been employed in farm work at some point in the past two years.

In addition to the programs funded by the federal government, Roe’s office also has a food pantry and a clothing closet. Those projects are not underwritten by the federal government, but are supported by donations and funding from local sources like the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way.