community engagement

Beyond the office walls

By Rebekah JacobsonCommunity Engagement Specialist,  Karen Organization of Minnesota

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.

Three reasons HAFA is awesome

By Winnie ZwickCommunications SpecialistHmong American Farmers Association

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


By Dana Jaehnert, Entrepreneurs of Color Program Development CoordinatorLegalCORPS

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. 

Following the Blue Line Coalition

By Giselle Efon, Community Engagement Program AssociateNexus 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. 

What does it mean to build community? Community engagement versus outreach

By Sam Holte, Development Outreach SpecialistHACER

As someone who has stepped out of one community and into another with the transition of college to the “real world,” a large part of me feels like I have been released into the wild and been told to navigate through a forest path in the dark. I have been told where I am supposed to go, but I don’t yet have the map to get there. This goes for not only my life goals and aspirations, but also for making friends and setting down roots in my neighborhood, city and state.

A guiding light on the path that I have come back to again and again in this journey is thinking about how I am grounded in my work and how HACER is grounded in the community. Learning about community engagement and how it compares to outreach helped me find the questions and explore the answers, a process that I hope I will continue beyond my VISTA experience.