50 Faces of Volunteers – Dora Serna

Nominated by Payton Whiteaker with Iowa Legal Aid

Tell us a little about the volunteer:

Dora is originally from Bogota, Colombia and moved to Dubuque 17 years ago with her husband.  She enjoys living in Dubuque because it is very green and a good community environment to raise her family in.  Her two children, who were born in Dubuque, are ages 15 and 11.

She currently works in the Nursing & Health Department at Clarke University as the Office Assistant, where she is in charge of grant financials and reporting, answering the phones, and graduate student coordination.  Although she works full-time and is a full-time wife and mother, she also devotes approximately 25-30 hours per month volunteering for various organizations in town.

Dora’s first experience with volunteerism was in the support she received from volunteers when she moved to Dubuque.  She could not speak English or drive, so life was very difficult. However, she learned that volunteers at a local non-profit taught English classes for free, so she began to attend.  Their dedication to helping others inspired her to similarly help others who are struggling to transition to a new area.  She wanted not only to interpret, but also to connect people to the many community services Dubuque has to offer.


Seven years after moving to Dubuque, Dora joined AmeriCorps and served at the Multicultural Family Center.  Over the past 10 years, she has regularly volunteered for Our Lady of Guadalupe School, the River Museum, the City of Dubuque’s Human Rights office and Transit Advisory Board, and the Sisters of the Presentation.  She recently started volunteering for Iowa Legal Aid as well.  At these organizations she has provided various services, including interpretation, translation, office work, meal prep for low-income community members, coordinating adopt-a-family programs, calling agencies on behalf of community members, taking community members to appointments, and fundraising.

One key contribution she made to the community was as a member of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).  In response to a growing Latino population in Dubuque, she worked with an AmeriCorps Member at Loras College to create a new program that started in 2016.  The program pairs Spanish-speaking college students with grade school students as mentors and tutors.

When asked about her inspiration for volunteering, she said she loves Kennedy’s exhortation, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”  She said her goal is “to open a door” and added, “If I can open one door for one kid, that’s perfect.”

Her favorite part of volunteering is connecting with others because she is a people-person.  She also urges those she works with to volunteer, encouraging them that their children will follow their example and that volunteering as a family will preserve their family ties.

What is the primary (one or two) organization(s) they serve? Sisters of the Presentation & City of Dubuque

How long have they volunteered with this/these organization(s)? 7-10 years

Why does this volunteer deserve to be recognized with a 50 Faces of Volunteers spotlight?

Dora works full-time and is a full-time wife and mother, but she feels strongly about serving as a volunteer to help others in need.  She gives 25-30 hours per month of her time to various organizations in Dubuque that have a direct positive impact on community members.  She is bilingual and frequently donates her time and energy to translation and interpretation services among the many other types of volunteer work she does.  For Iowa Legal Aid, she has provided English-to-Spanish interpretation at educational events for community members in the agency’s service area.  She thinks nothing of traveling 40 minutes to Monticello, for example, to interpret for a tax presentation for Spanish speakers, and has said she loves providing this service to others.  She has also translated flyers for these events, so that they can be advertised in Spanish as well as English, extending the reach of our agency’s services even farther.

Dora is a true exemplar of community engagement and service to others.  Her selfless dedication to her community over the past 10 years is admirable and worthy of honor on 50 Faces’ Spotlight.  We are lucky to have her in Dubuque and as an Iowa Legal Aid volunteer!


Tell us about a great volunteer! We would love to recognize them as one of our “50 Faces of Volunteers.” Volunteer Iowa selects one nomination to feature every other Wednesday. 

Nominating is easy! You’ll submit a short paragraph or two about the volunteer(s) and their experience. The who/what/where/when (or for how long) and, most importantly, the why of their volunteer cause. We have provided some questions to prompt responses. It’s also strong requested that you submit a photo with your nomination. This is a great opportunity to help showcase a dedicated volunteer or volunteer group in your community! 

Ready to submit a spotlight? Access the online form here

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