By Giselle Efon, Community Engagement Program Associate, Nexus Community Partners
My VISTA year has been completely amazing so far. The fact that I was even able to get this position was very surprising to me. I can still remember the day of my interview, how I left the Nexus office and I randomly started running away because I thought I did very poorly on the interview. I also called my sister over the phone to complain to her about how I will not get the position. I was surprised to get a phone call that same day, at 2pm regarding how I got the position.
It was very strange to leave a college job setting to a real professional setting. Honestly, I must admit that this is the most comfortable environment I have been in out of my comfort zone. Most people in the nonprofit setting are mostly very nice, polite, friendly, respectful, outspoken, and passionate about what they do. In college, I never saw people like this before.
I work at Nexus Community Partners as a Community Engagement Program Associate. I work with a coalition called the Blue Line Coalition and a cohort known as Health Equity and Engagement Cohort. Currently, there is a preparation to extend the Blue Line light rail transit from North Minneapolis to Brooklyn Park. The coalition and cohort I work with are community organizations that are base along the blue line extension project.
There is a lot of excitement around what I do at Nexus. My role is to assist my supervisor in coordinating logistics for our monthly meetings with the cohort and coalition. The cohort and coalition meets differently. I assist with the note taking during the meetings. Note taking is a very technical position in a meeting because it requires a lot of listening and inclusion skills. I try my best to make sure I am carefully listening to what everyone is saying and including everything participants discuss. This is because I believe every word matters. I then synthesize the notes in broader themes and I check-in regularly with members of the cohort to support moving ahead on pieces of the plan.
In addition to helping with logistics of coalition meetings, I am also tasked with all aspects of event planning for gathering discussing intersections of health, transit and racial equity.
Hennepin County has something call the Community Work Group and Community Open House. It is an opportunity for community leaders and residences to analyze and have a conversation with government officials about transit stationary planning. I make sure to let people know when these events are happening. This information and resource sharing allows for more voices to be engaged in the planning process.
During these events, I take pictures and collect stories to then come back to Nexus to strategize about how to increase the visibility of this work. I also make sure to connect with transit officials to gain better understanding of their thoughts on transit development. After the events, I like to set up one-on-ones with people who attended so that we could reflect on our experiences. I like to learn and know what each and every person thinks and feels about the transit project. Being in a community space is very different from a structural space. The one on one follow up is a great strategy to continue to build relationships on behalf of Nexus for the advancement of this work.
I really do love the one-on-ones and meetings with the cohort and coalition. I feel like I learn the most being around them. The community leaders in this cohort and coalition are often very kind and nice to me. I really appreciate that. I hope I could keep this relationship going with them, but it all depends on my next career and where I would be about six months from now.
One of my challenges sometimes would be communicating with our partners. Most of them are very busy. In general, most people in the nonprofit field are very busy because this is not only a job or a career for them. They take what they do very personally and it basically becomes part of their lifestyle. Sometimes, if I am trying to contact someone about something I want them to help me do at the moment; it could take longer than usual.
One of the biggest challenges for me this VISTA year would be handling my emotions and feelings around the sensitive topics. I am a very sensitive and fragile person. A lot of topics like “poverty” “the isms” “injustice and racism” make me very sad especially when I hear the sad stories related to them. It always just makes me feel like crying. I always wish I had enough support for such emotions. Maybe, I have had my own kind of unique experiences in life, so it has made me to have a very strong point of view about certain things. Or maybe I am just being overly sensitive.
I can remember one day after the Overcoming Racism conference, I started to do a lot of reflection when I came home. I called my sister on the phone to talk about the conference. As we kept talking over the phone, I just suddenly started crying because of all the emotions I was carrying throughout the day. Sometimes, I am not sure or clear if I am over taking things too personally, or worrying too much about others, or I need to find myself some boundaries.
Someone once told me that, the day I would start being happy would be when I stop caring so much about other peoples’ problems and I need to accept that I cannot solve all the problems in the world. Especially being a person of color, immigrant, first generation, minority, low income, African woman, I basically live daily through these things we talk about in some conference and trainings. So most of the time I feel like I need more healing than repetition of theories or repetition of similar experiences that I live through daily.
Being a VISTA is an eye opening experience. I do not think I would have been able to have this kind of experience if I went on and did any other thing after college. I highly recommend it to everyone who knows how to support themselves financially, because the VISTA wage is honestly a different kind of challenge. I wish college programs would place their students into VISTA positions. I know that, all the things I have learned from Nexus this VISTA year would help me throughout my life. I have learned a lot professional and technical skill that are valuable lifelong lessons. Thanks to MCN and VISTA for this position.
Below are our partners in the Blue Line Coalition and Health Equity and Engagement Cohort.
1. Masjid An-Nur (MAN),
2. Heritage Park Neighborhood Association (HPNA),
3. Betty J Robinson Group LLC (BJR Group LLC)
4. African Career, Education & Resource, Inc.(ACER)
5. Northwest Community Collaborative (NWCC)
6. Northside Residents Redevelopment Council (NRRC)
7. The Alliance for Metropolitan Stability(AMS)
8. Asian Economic Development Association (AEDA)
9. Harrison Neighborhood Association (HNA)
10. Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota (LACM)
11. Asian Media Access (AMA)
13. City of Lakes Community Land Trust (CLCLT)
14. Asamblea De Derechos Civiles
15. Metropolitan Interfaith Council on Affordable Housing (MICAH)
16. Minnesota Center for Neighborhood Organization (MCNO)
17. African America Leadership Forum (AALF)
18. Minnesota Minority Education Partnership (MMEP)
19. Minnesota African Women's Association, (MAWA)
20. Somali Success School (SSS)
21. Northwest Human Service Council (NHSC)
22. Redeemer Center For Life(RCFL)
For more information about my project, please follow the links below: