After only a year, MCN VISTA alumni are already making an impact in the post-service world.
Inspired by her year at Nexus Community Partners working with local immigrant and refugee communities, VISTA alumna Gisele Efon received her Master of Social Work with an emphasis in clinical mental health from the University of Minnesota in May of 2016. In December she will return to her home country of Cameroon for the first time since moving to the United States, where she will spend a month with the goal of better understanding her own roots and identity.
“I personally feel that I need to know more about myself. As a future social worker, knowing more about my identity will help me have a better connection with others,” Efon said.
Efon says Cameroonian culture views mental illness with suspicion and hopes that her education will give her a new perspective on mental health in her home country.
"As a future social worker, knowing more about my identity will help me have a better connection with others." - Giselle Efon
As Nexus’ Community Engagement Specialist during the 2014-15 VISTA service year, Efon supported community-based organizations along the Blue Line Extension Light Rail Transit Corridor to identify and implement community-powered solutions for equitable, healthy and sustainable communities. She says her time in VISTA informed her decision to study social work and taught her about public health from community members’ perspectives, especially as it relates to intercultural communication and immigrant communities.
“My academics felt very enjoyable and realistic because I was able to integrate my knowledge around community organizing with my social work course, Organizations and Policy Advocacy, in the fall of 2015,” Efon said. “I had the opportunity to go back to Nexus to interview some of the staff for my research projects.”
Larry Hiscock, Program Officer for Transit-Way Engagement at Nexus and Efon’s former supervisor, remembers her work fondly.
“Gisele had a natural ability building personal connections and trust with community leaders and organizations,” Hiscock said. “This ability will be of great service to her and the communities she will work with in the future.”
Efon will wrap up her classes and complete an internship doing case work at the Wilder Foundation this summer. She also interned at the Minnesota Asset Building Coalition in 2015. In the future she hopes to move to the east coast, where she has family, and work to better connect immigrants and refugees with health care resources.
Read more about Efon's time at Nexus on her VISTA Blog post, Following the Blue Line Coalition.