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

VISTAs visit HAFA Farm for September 11 National Day of Service

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 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. 

Why are we here, again? A mental tooklit for surviving capacity building work

By Kate Fridley, Nonprofit Outreach SpecialistNonprofits Assistance Fund

I was huddled in my cubicle at the Nonprofits Assistance Fund (NAF), reading up on the latest nonprofit news and generally minding my own business, when suddenly I heard a loud "WHOOP" from down the hallway. 

One of my coworkers burst out of her office and slammed her hand down on a small call bell by the filing cabinet, ringing it several times. Other people trickled out into the hallway to cheer and patting each other on the back.

We had just received a grant to establish a financial leadership cohort, an opportunity we'd been coveting that would allow us to train nonprofit leaders in savvy financial practices. It turns out that ringing the bell is a way to acknowledge that achievement – and to let everyone know that we've hit a critical milestone in pursuing our mission.

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.

Reflections on our first lunch and learn

By Wayne Lee, Inclusion and Engagement Resource Specialist, Minnesota Council of Nonprofits

Our VISTA cohort is predicated on the recognition that numerous nonprofits led by and serving communities of color face particular challenges in being able to more effectively realize their missions. In tandem with that recognition is the understanding that the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits has great access to various resources that promote, connect, and strengthen nonprofits, but that these resources have historically not been accessed by organizations of color. Consequently, our cohort is placed at various capacity-building nonprofits in hopes of meeting the needs of these organizations and increasing their access to the aforementioned resources.