I joined AmeriCorps, and applied to work at the American Indian Family Center, because I wanted to have an intercultural experience. I studied history in college—I was excited to work for a community where history is very relevant. In both high school and college, I studied abroad three times and I wanted to have a similar experience of being immersed in another culture because being forced outside my comfort zone was challenging and empowering. When abroad, I was able to understand what it meant to be American through the eyes of non-Americans. But in this context, interacting with the Native community has given me a window into what it means to be American from the inside, but in a very different reality than my own. This experience has really given me more insight into who I am in the context of American history.
By Monica Pagani, Program Specialist, Ka Joog
When I sat down to write this blog post, I begin by reflecting on the past eight months. What have I accomplished? What do I still hope to do? Have I been a successful VISTA or will any of this even matter in a year’s time?
By Jocelyn Leung, Community Engagement Program Associate, Nexus Community Partners
Mental illnesses are generally unspoken but remain pervasive. Just going off what is reported, around 1 in every 5 adult Americans will experience mental illness(es) in a given year (“Mental Health By,”2015). The probability of living with mental illness(es) increases when additional environmental factors are layered on top of the common stresses and disappointments associated with regular life.
By Maddie Hyde, Evaluation and Communication Specalist, Dream of Wild Health
A bit over a month ago, it was the beginning of November and I picked a full bouquet of marigolds from my front yard. Just a few weeks ago, crisp green kale was flourishing in my backyard. During this week of below freezing temperatures, I’m dreaming of such an experience!
When I started my VISTA year in August, we were in the heat of the summer, and I was thrown right into what the wonderful experience of our youth program and the farm, acclimating myself to the Dream of Wild Health “ecosystem,” an orientation for my tasks to come.
Our work at Dream of Wild Health is highly seasonal with summers filled with youth programs, farm maintenance, transporting produce to market, all on top of typical nonprofit work of fundraising, grantwriting, evaluating, and crafting educational programs to serve the community.
By Rebekah Jacobson, Community Engagement Coordinator, Karen Organization of Minneosta
Last year when I began my AmeriCorps VISTA year at the Karen Organization of Minnesota I was thrown into the fire. My supervisor assigned me with the daunting task of planning our organization’s largest fundraiser – the Annual Gala. And I only had two months to do it.
Thankfully, and surprisingly, the event turned out to be very successful. A few months later, I committed to a second year of AmeriCorps VISTA at the same site because I felt a deep connection to the community we serve – Karen and other refugees from Burma in Minnesota. Upon this decision, I knew I would have a chance to plan the Annual Gala once more.
By Edita Sabovic, Inclusion and Engagement Specialist, Minnesota Council of Nonprofits
I attended the Inclusion and Equity Forum at Hamline University in September where I was able to hear different perspectives on I & E from individuals who work in the nonprofit and government sector. The event had a panel of distinguished community and professional leaders from the Twin Cities that gave their perspectives on the importance of I & E in order to build a more inclusive community. The panel had attendees form into groups and talk about implicit bias and what changes we could make in our communities and organizations. It was a great event to attend because it provided resources on I & E and how to tackle obstacles that arise in the workplace. Back in the office, MCN provided an HR network lunch and invited nonprofit professionals to talk about I & E and how to create a more welcoming environment at conferences and in the office. As part of the internal I & E committee at MCN I hope to use the resources I’ve learned at different workshops and events to generate more ideas for MCN and changes it can implement for its internal staff.
By Marissa Kurtz, Volunteer Program Specialist, Casa de Esperanza
I spend most of my working hours analyzing and developing Casa de Esperanza’s volunteer and intern program. This perspective gave me the opportunity to deepen my respect and appreciation for those who offer up their free time and services to causes they believe in.
Every volunteer I have met and worked with is extremely proud of the work Casa does for the Latin@ community. They are happy to support Casa in the organization’s mission to “mobilize Latinas and Latin@ communities to end domestic violence.”
This level of volunteer dedication became even more apparent to me as I began assisting in the planning process of our event, Honoring Latina Leadership.
On Friday, September 9 the VISTA Cohort 2016-2017 along with MCN VISTA's program coordinator and program manager participated in a service day at the Dream of Wild Health Farm (one of MCN VISTA's host site) where Maddie Hyde is serving. When our group arrived at the Farm, we immediately got welcomed in and given a tour of the Farm.
Throughout the day VISTAs were busy helping the farmers while learning about farming and hearing stories from the elders and those in the community.
By Catherine Dahlberg, MCN VISTA 2015-2016 Alumna
The one-year work experience at MCN's AmeriCorps VISTA program is very rewarding for me. I took free training with senior consultants such as Leah Moses and Andre Koen, and got to meet a number of nonprofit leaders face to face at VISTA retreats. Looking back at this experience, I find three things very important during my VISTA work.
by Catherine Dahlberg
I am a minority member of the society. Having lived in both California and Minnesota, I have encountered racism in both states.
Identity – Foreigner in their own Land
Once someone that I do not know much asked me this question: “You have an English name, but you don’t have an American face. Where did you get this name?”
I do not perceive a conflict between my name and my face. Aren’t they both a small part of the sum of me? But this person does. A few repeated incidents later, I come to the conclusion that being questioned about my name will just be a life experience for the rest of my life. It is time for me to plan on how to live with this reality.
By Catherine Dahlberg
If you are like me, someone not born and raised in Minnesota, then you may understand why I call it a barrier getting around in the Twin Cities.
I moved to the Twin Cities in 2015, without any knowledge of the roads around. In February, 2016, I took public transport to a training. I got lost on U of M campus. It took me almost a whole hour navigating the area before arriving at the transfer stop, only to find out that I had missed the last bus serving that station. Then I had to take an alternative route to the training. I was late for that, of course. The whole experience was terrible for me.
To describe that experience in full, I wrote this blog in an imaginative TV setting:
Recently, my organization was rejected from a foundation, because that foundation 'doesn't fund research.' At first, I shrugged it off- nothing weathers you against rejection like grant writing does. But it's been almost a month, and I'm not over it.
So, to every foundation that doesn't support research, this blog is for you. Research matters.
I understand it's your prerogative – you get to choose where you give your money. Health programs? Recreational spaces? The arts? That's awesome, those things are so vital in our society. Before I called you, I did my, ahem, research, and you give to a lot of great organizations in all of those areas.
I joined AmeriCorps VISTA during a real turning point in my life. I had been in 3 graduate programs for the past 6 years. One of them I had the foresight to leave when I knew it wasn’t right; another I stayed for too long. Making the transition from a perpetual student to a member of the workforce was hard, and my confidence was low after months of unsuccessful job-searching. I’m very grateful to now be serving at Nexus Community Partners as the Community Engagement Program Associate through VISTA.
The goal of ‘making poverty history’ can be daunting and abstract, but the work I share with community based organizations in making sure that community members have a say in how the light rail can help them lead healthier and better lives is very real and moving. These voices come from communities of color, immigrants and refugees, migrants, people living with disabilities, low-income communities, and other transit dependent populations. It’s our responsibility to make sure their voices change policies and light rail development throughout a long-term public works project.
At the last Organizer Roundtable put on by the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, someone asked how we (organizers, in this context) can start seeing past single issues to face the larger systemic issues before us. The examples given for these larger problems were patriarchy and capitalism. Now that’s a loaded question…
I would love to chat with this person sometime to try and unpack what they were asking, but I didn’t bring this question up to analyze it – I brought it up because I think it strikes a chord in a lot of social justice workers. Even if it’s sort of an unanswerable, rhetorical question, it still resonates strongly with me on an emotional level. I don’t have the answer, but I get it. When I think about all of the injustice that exists today – whether it’s the increasing racial disparities in Minnesota, the continuous theft of Indigenous land for profit throughout the world, or the fact that confirmed homicides of transgender women have nearly doubled in the past year within the U.S. – I begin to feel paralyzed. I wonder the same thing as the person who asked this question.
For many, the combination of graduate school deadlines, year-end reports, finals, and more brings about a feeling of being simultaneously forward and backward looking. And with this comes the need to be flexible when outcomes are not as planned.
I remember in high school we had to attend a “career day” with a person from a temp firm telling us how to get entry level positions. While none of the actual content of the workshop was impactful, one thing the presenter said definitely resonates with me. She had mentioned how she has worked at least six other jobs in her relatively young adulthood and said she foresaw many more. This uncertainty in the eyes of a high school senior is terrifying, but I am learning more and more that to stay together mentally, emotionally, and even in your career, you have to embrace unpredictability.
If you walk into the Karen Organization of Minnesota’s (KOM) office on a normal day, you will be greeted with a warm Ghaw luh a ghay (hello) by our receptionist. As you walk down the hallway, you may walk past children running around and be offered a cup of hot water with a Birdy instant coffee packet on the side.
Welcome to my AmeriCorps VISTA site, where I am delighted to serve as a community engagement specialist.
What have I learned in my first 3 months as an MCN VISTA?
Many of the trainings, workshops and events I’ve been able to attend for free through MCN have helped me see why the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA) is where it’s at. Here’s why:
1. Community engagement is in HAFA’s DNA
We had a beautiful, meaningful 9/11 Day of Service at the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA) Farm in September! VISTAs spent the day outside helping HAFA staff prepare for their 2nd Annual Open House, which took place that Sunday.
Together VISTAs painted event signs, unloaded furniture and a bouncy castle, cleaned the farmhouse, mowed the lawn, set up the hay wagon for rides and picked green beans for the event, among other activities.
HAFA staff appreciated our contributions. They stated that the work we accomplished in one day would have taken their team a week to finish!
By Amalia Centurion, Emerging Nonprofit Specialist, Minnesota Council of Nonprofits
I once thought that cubicle life was for extreme introverts who didn’t really know or want to help people. However, now that I’ve dipped my toes in the water I realize that there’s some very important work going on in those capacity-building swivel chairs.
You see, I am a pretty relational person who enjoys working directly with the people I’m serving and seeing the impact that I’m having on others’ lives. Before starting my year of service I had only worked in direct services and absolutely loved it! Choosing to try something different was a toss-up, because I had no idea what to expect. I knew that my VISTA position would be focusing on creating a more equitable nonprofit sector and I was excited to learn.
By Dana Jaehnert, Entrepreneurs of Color Program Development Coordinator, LegalCORPS
This story is one not primarily of my service, but of my education.
I say this because these past 7 months of my VISTA service year have not been as much about what I can bring to a community, but about how my community is shaping me.
I was educated my whole life by textbooks that told the stories of white people conquering continents, starting new technological innovations, winning wars, and finding resources. As I’ve grown up, I’ve slowly begun to realize that this was not a proper education.
Some of my teachers in high school did amazing work teaching me about the successes, struggles, and truth of non-white communities in the United States. They taught truths about the destruction of Hiroshima, the colonization of Native Lands, the conqueror Cortez who pillaged Latin America, the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia. Few ventured to talk about the racial disparities that are in our own backyards. I did read a book about a man who added pigment to his skin; he took on the life of a black man living in the south of the U.S., when he had grown up as a white man in the north. The personal struggles that he went through in the book were eye opening for me.