116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Ayman Sharif knows what it’s like to be new to Iowa City and to the United States.
A native of Sudan, Sharif, 53, moved to Iowa City in 2013 from United Arab Emirates, where he had been working as a translator since 1998. Sharif and his family have made a life here, working, going to school and joining community groups.
Iowa City hired Sharif last month as outreach and engagement specialist, succeeding Marcia Bollinger, the city’s longtime neighborhood outreach coordinator, who retired.
It’s a part-time position — Sharif also works as a sustainable planning consultant — but he has big plans for connecting Iowa City residents with each other and with city services.
“One priority is to go out and meet people,” he said. “See what people perceive of their neighborhoods now and what they hope for for the future. How (do) they perceive city services? Is it effective now? Can it be better? It will take a little bit to understand what is going on with the system itself.”
Sharif already has connected with some of the city’s 20 neighborhood association leaders and is hoping to go to some of these group’s summer gatherings to meet people. But he also wants to support Iowa City residents who want to form new neighborhood associations.
“When this system is activated in a meaningful way, there is room for more and more groups to be willing to establish neighborhood associations. If you look at Iowa City as a place that is fast-growing and diverse, it will need more deliberate actions for neighborhoods to develop.”
Sharif wrote an op-ed piece in the Iowa City Press-Citizen in February that describes the challenges Iowa City faces in connecting new residents to services and making the whole community more resilient to extreme weather.
“In Iowa City and Johnson County, the vulnerable groups significantly reflect the demographic shift: a doubling of the African American population during the last decade, an increase in the number of foreign-born residents, and nearly tripling of the groups that identify with two or more ethnicities,” Sharif wrote.
“Climate change is a force multiplier that amplifies all existing community vulnerabilities. People of color are particularly more vulnerable to heat waves and extreme weather events, environmental degradation, and subsequent labor market dislocations.”
While Iowa City does not yet have any designated resilience hubs, Sharif supports finding spaces that could support services like air conditioning, device charging and food and water distribution during power outages, he told The Gazette.
“If we are successful in creating the interventions for people who arrive in communities, if they can very quickly assimilate and participate in development of the community, then the whole community will be more resilient,” he said.
When Sharif arrived in Iowa City in 2013, he earned an associate degree at Kirkwood Community College while driving a school bus.
“It was an opportunity to learn how the school system works,” he said.
He founded the Global Food Project, a community farming project. Participants from Eastern Iowa nonprofits work alongside local food advocates to grow food at the Johnson County Poor Farm.
Sharif earned a University of Iowa bachelor’s degree in environmental planning and policy and a master’s degree in urban and regional planning. He also became a U.S. citizen in 2019, the UI reported.
Sharif’s wife, Nawaiem Elshiekh, now is attending the medical laboratory technology program at Kirkwood. Their children, Ahmed, 16, and Noor, 14, go to Iowa City West High School and Yassin, 12, will go to Northwest Junior High.
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