Reflection on Service Year

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.

First, my work place provides the resources that I need to succeed at work. Andrew and I both recognize the existing network between MCN and member nonprofit a valuable resource to our projects. We included MCN's relation with a specific nonprofit in the resources part of a logic model. In my case, requesting a meeting or asking a question is very easy, because I include my referral from MCN in the email. A meeting with Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration (MAVA) even led to a phone call to Betty Stallings who is based in California. Relying on MCN's network, I was able to develop online resources for ninety practices in MCN's professional publication.

Second, VISTA retreat prepares me for a nonprofit career. The speakers at our retreats are leaders with many years of work experience in the nonprofit sector. They know the issues, and they share with us tips on community engagement, learning organization, and nonprofit finances. My favorite training during the 12-month retreat schedule is grant directory research. Paul walked us through search pages from the GuideStar and explained to us the process of annual report filing. That was the first time for me to read a Form 990. He also included stories of corporation foundation and family foundations. After that retreat, I felt confident in using IRS reports as a tool to identify potential funding.

Third, cohort experience means support. Kate and Jesse are very good leaders of this group. Within the cohort, we supported each other by attending events. Kate participated at Karen Organization of Minnesota annual gala. Christine invited me to Ka Joog Somali Week. The whole cohort provided a day of work at Hmong American Farmer's Association. Whenever I needed help, I ask Kate and Jesse. Besides that, Shelly also helped me with a lot of information, resources, and policy guidelines.

The last note that I want to share is a recent change in bus pass. Our cohort purchased the $6 pass for scavenger hunt. This year, the Metro Transit is offering a new pass at a lower cost. In July, I had made a suggestion to Kate on bus pass, based on options at that time. This year, the Metro Transit made a move to simplify the process. This case tells me, sometimes the system will adjust itself to suit community needs. It may take some time for the change to happen, but for sure it is happening.

I am fortunate to have worked on the Year 2 portion of a project. For Year 2 and Year 3 people, you will benefit from a change in the system. Just think about the bus pass. Things will work out by itself for you.