DES MOINES — Proteus, a Des Moines-based nonprofit that helps immigrant farmworkers find support to live safely and securely, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
Named after the Greek God that transforms to the needs of the people, Proteus focuses on Iowa’s migrant farmworkers, many of whom work sunup ‘til sundown and are therefore rarely seen in their greater communities. The nonprofit estimates it has served 75,000 people since 1979.
“Working with the clients and patients we do, these are the most hardworking and grateful individuals I have ever worked with in my career,” says Daniel Hoffman-Zinnel, Proteus’ chief executive officer.
“Just being an advocate for farmworkers and using individuals’ privilege and power to uplift those stories, and really pushing that narrative of the impact farm workers have on our lives is so important.”
The National Farmworker Jobs Program is there for people who have done farmwork in the last two years for people in Iowa, Indiana, and Nebraska. Often these farmworkers are seasonal and migrant workers authorized to work in the United States who struggle with low income.
Proteus helps people involved with the National Farmworker Jobs Program to attend technical or trade schools. Proteus also helps these workers fulfill needs like rent, utilities, gas to get to school, textbooks, or tools.
The nonprofit then helps these clients find full-time jobs, hopefully with benefits. Proteus claims a 90 percent placement rate, and an 85 percent retention rate, which means 85 percent of its clients stay at their jobs for six months to a year after hire, Hoffman-Zinnel says.
Through its agricultural health program, Proteus also provides health care on a sliding scale for those who have done agricultural work within the last two years. Clinics are located in Des Moines, Fort Dodge, Iowa City, and in the field with temporary clinics in churches, community centers, or onsite at employers.
Other services Proteus provides include food pantries, a monthly legal clinic in Des Moines, heat stress and heat stroke prevention education, and training on pesticide exposure.
To learn more about Proteus and its work, go to www.proteusinc.org.