Alumni Feature - Jesse Chang
Jesse Chang, VISTA Supervisor at Minnesota Council of Nonprofits
Where (and which program), when, and why did you join AmeriCorps?
I served as an AmeriCorps VISTA from 2013-2015 in Chicago, Illinois, and Columbus, Ohio. I joined AmeriCorps simply out of a genuine desire to empower others to reach their fullest potential. There is a Greek word, agape, that describes the unconditional, self-sacrificing love God has for humanity. C. S. Lewis writes that it is the greatest form of love, given freely with no expectation of return. As a VISTA, my goal was to make a significant difference in the lives of other people by devoting my time and skills to reflecting this kind of unconditional love (however imperfectly I might express it).
What was your role/what did you do?
In my first service year at Habitat for Humanity Chicago, my main objective was to recruit partner families into the agency’s homeowner program, and the role primarily involved event planning, marketing, and project management based activities. I then moved to Columbus to serve a second VISTA year with another affordable housing agency called Homeport, where I led neighborhood beautification efforts to revitalize a once prosperous community that was recovering from the disastrous effects of being segmented by a highway in the 1960s.
How has serving impacted what you decided to do in life?
Serving has helped me clarify my motivations and values for what I want to do in life, as well as opened my eyes to the realm of possibilities in the nonprofit sector. I learned a tremendous amount through my VISTA experience about the real world and about myself that could never be taught in a classroom, and it played a significant role in my decision to continue my work as a nonprofit capacity builder today.
How has your AmeriCorps service supported you?
The biggest support is being part of a network of like-minded people that have similar experiences to myself and continue to be driven by the same mission. I’m constantly running into current and former AmeriCorps members and it’s incredible to think of all the people this program has touched. I’ve been able to make a lot of close partnerships and friendships through this program for which I’ll always be grateful.
What was your favorite part of serving?
My favorite part of serving was being in a position where I could deeply listen to the people and communities my host sites partnered with and use their knowledge to build organizational processes that addressed real needs in a holistic way. It was awesome to be able to magnify marginalized voices that oftentimes get drowned out by competing interests, and then work to find creative solutions to complex problems.
Learning that George R.R. Martin is a fellow VISTA alum was also pretty sweet!
Please also give us a little blurb on your current role.
In my current role, I manage the VISTA Program at the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. I work closely with our partner sites, VISTA Leader, and CNCS to develop and sustain viable VISTA projects, recruit members, deliver cohort-based trainings, resolve conflicts, ensure compliance with CNCS policy, and hang out with VISTAs.