Public Spirit, February 2019


Announcing our Service Challenge for February 2019!

We had such a wonderful experience on #MLKDayMN, that we wanted to keep the spirit of service alive through the month of February! Service doesn’t stop at MLK Day, and we want to encourage you to continue the mission of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. going forward.

As this is the month of love and showing your feelings to those you care for, we ask for every AmeriCorps member in Minnesota to extend that love further by serving at least one more time other than your regular service this month.

Tied to this project, we are having a social media challenge! Anyone who volunteers in February and posts on their social media with the hashtag #continuingservicemn will be entered to win a surprise prize that will be announced in the March issue of our newsletter, Public Spirit, along with the winner!

For more information, or ideas on where to volunteer - check our website. We can’t wait to see what everyone can accomplish in their continued service!

Program Feature


This month’s Program Spotlight is shining on the True North AmeriCorps Program, facilitated by the Duluth Area YMCA sponsored by the Corporation for National and Community Service and ServeMinnesota. This program was put in place to focus on enhancing the future success of at-risk children up north by increasing the number of positive adult role models in the children’s lives.

Members facilitate academic enrichment activities to get kids excited about learning and outdoor education in partnership with Youth Outdoors Duluth. They work with students in grades K-5 who struggle academically, both as a group and individually. True North members have started many different types of clubs, invited guest speakers, planned holiday parties and field trips, and many other activities that promote healthy development. They help get children involved with volunteer opportunities to fulfill the AmeriCorps goal of engaging all citizens with community service. Members provide these enrichment activities, along with academic help, and social-emotional support to students outside of school time.

There are 35 full-time members currently serving at 23 locations including elementary schools, youth-serving agencies, and community centers throughout the Duluth and Proctor area. They support approximately 1000 at-risk children annually.

To learn more about True North AmeriCorps, check out their website at

*Fun Fact: the picture at the top is from True North's event on MLK Day at the Twin Ports' MLK Day Tribute March*

Member Spotlight

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Meet your fellow AmeriCorps members and the programs they serve with our monthly member spotlight.

This month’s member spotlight is on Lowanna Anderson, a VISTA member serving with the Northwest Indian Community Development Center!

What program do you serve with? 
Boozhoo, fellow AmeriCorps members! My name is Lowanna Anderson and I live in frigid Bemidji, Minnesota, originally from the Redlake Nation. 
The program I serve with is the Northwest Indian Community Development Center (NWICDC) in Bemidji MN! I work in the ABE/GED classroom as a postsecondary education data specialist.    

What do you do in your position?
I help develop student surveys so we can use the information to better the program and find ways to make it an even better program for future students. I recently became a proctor for the GED testing center at our organization. I helped get the Common Core curriculum ready for use in October 2018. 
I also had the opportunity to use my creativity in the classroom, putting the student success boards up and giving the classroom a pop of color! We use the boards as a place to put student achievements up for everyone to see.

What interested you in serving with AmeriCorps and with your specific program?
I have the privilege of serving next to some pretty amazing people who have helped me in so many ways.

What do you like to do in your free time? 
In my free time, I like to watch movies and spend time with my daughters. I like to ice fish when I get the chance, take walks, bead and sketch.  I thoroughly enjoy the opportunities that the NWICDC and AmeriCorps Vista have given me.

We’re waiting to hear from you!

Part of our mission as a council is to help the programs serving in Minnesota to get to know each other and the great things they accomplish together. Not just that, but we love to share personal successes and alumni stories to show just how great service can be! We’re looking to you - send us your story, a contact for someone else’s story, or any information on what’s going on in your program.

Service is less fun in isolation, so we want to create a community of love and positivity; what better way to do that than sharing with each other!

Taco Tuesday with Alumni!

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Calling all alumni and current members!

If you’re interested in connecting with current and former AmeriCorps members, this is the event for you! In connection with the Twin Cities AmeriCorps Alums, we are having an event in February to meet and greet with our alumni living in the metro!  We’re excited to share the bonds of service, both past and present! It’s an opportunity you don’t want to miss!

February 19th
Blackstack Brewing in St Paul
Taco Tuesday with Alumni - 6:30-8pm.

Fun and Free Events

At the Minneapolis Convention Center, there will be a Healthy Life Expo and tickets are just $6! Attendees will have chances to win prizes and see 200 exhibitions on healthy living and eating, among other bonuses.

  • See the 100 Years and Counting exhibit at the Minnesota Museum of American Art for free. 100 Years and Counting is a collection of artworks from different eras, genres, media, and perspectives. The exhibit closes on February 17.

  • Visit the Eelpout Festival from February 21-24: For the past 40 years, and for three days every February, crowds that are more than 10 times the population of tiny Walker, Minn. (pop. 1,069) gather on Minnesota’s third largest lake (112,000 acres), Leech Lake, for a festival named for one of the ugliest bottom-dwelling fish, the eelpout. In a state where it is common to embrace the quirky and find great fun in the most unlikely circumstances and weather conditions, this festival is pure Minnesota fun.

  • Find a local high school or college performing fun and low-cost plays or musicals, like Riverland Community College’s The Game’s Afoot on February  27 and 28 ($12).

  • CanCan Wonderland hosts karaoke for all ages many dates through February. ($2)

  • On February 20, there will be a free yoga event at the Union Depot in St Paul.

Program News


Members from Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity raised money to go on the Global Build Trip to the Dominican Republic outside of their service. Check Habitat’s blog to see a post from them while they’re gone between Feb 2-10.

Share program updates with us and we will post them in the next month's issue!

Stay tuned next month for information about our programs, fun events, professional development tips, and more!

Are you looking for something in our newsletter? Let us know, and we’d love to put it in a future publication! We’re always looking for new ideas on what to share with our AmeriCorps members!

Public Spirit, January 2019

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MLK Day of Service is Coming!

(Written by Bridget Gihl, Reading Corps)

“If you want to be important - wonderful. If you want to be recognized - wonderful. If you want to be great - wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness … by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.”

-Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

To honor Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, the third Monday in January was declared a national holiday in 1983. In 1994, it was declared a national day of service. By 2000, all 50 states observed this national holiday. MLK Day is one that gives everyday citizens the opportunity to celebrate and serve their communities through volunteering and service.

In recognition of this, AmeriCorps members across the nation participate in the MLK Day of Service where they dedicate the third Monday in January to serving local communities in collaboration with each other. Each year, the InterCorps Council organizes several events to which all AmeriCorps members are invited.

Check our MLK Day website page for information on all the events and service opportunities that will be sponsored by the InterCorps Council!

Not in the Twin Cities? Talk with your program manager to find out about service opportunities near you. Wherever you are serving on MLK Day, don’t forget to use #MLKDayMN and #MLKDayofService on your social media - plus ours (#ICCofMN). We will be sharing various photos and posts all day, so check our social media too!

Want to see what we did last year for MLK Day? Check out our impact page!

Program Spotlight

(Written by Megan Graves, MN Literacy Council)

Last year, 2,900 AmeriCorps members served in the state of Minnesota through one of three programs - VISTA, AmeriCorps State and National, and NCCC. We wanted to begin sharing with you what each program does in our monthly newsletter, since every program is unique and does different things to help incite positive change in Minnesota communities.

This month, we will highlight the Minnesota Literacy Council’s Literacy Leadership Program. They sponsor VISTA members throughout the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota to support organizations in expanding literacy services for all ages, birth to adult.

VISTA was established in 1964 as part of the Economic Opportunity Act, and the first VISTAs began serving in 1965. In 1993, VISTA was integrated into the larger AmeriCorps program. VISTAs serve in capacity-building positions throughout the United States, expanding the capabilities of service organizations to address specific community needs.

This means that while members may not be directly serving an individual in the community, they are providing vital services that will build the capacity of the program in order to serve that same community member. As part of this program, the Minnesota Literacy Council (MLC) sponsors between 15 and 20 full-time VISTAs at numerous host sites each year, and many more Summer Associate VISTA members through their Summer Reads program.

These service members are leading the way to address community literacy needs - and making a big impact doing so! Service projects include designing and supporting distance-learner programs for adult English Language Learners, establishing strong volunteer pipelines to support elementary literacy tutoring services, building family literacy programs and services for young children and their parents, expanding literacy-rich after-school programs for elementary, middle, and high-school students, securing grants, evaluating programs, and so much more.

For a full list of host sites, be sure to visit MLC’s VISTA homepage:

If you’re serving as a member of the MLC VISTA program, we’d love to hear from you! Email us or tag us in social media to be featured in Public Spirit or on our website!

Member Spotlight

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Meet your fellow AmeriCorps members and the programs they serve with our monthly member spotlight.

This month’s member spotlight is on Gina Hatch, the Visitor Services Intern serving with the Conservation Corps!

What program do you serve with?

I’m currently serving with the Conservation Corps of Minnesota and Iowa, specifically under their Individual Placement program. While the Conservation Corps is probably best known for putting youth and young adults out in the field on conservation projects sporting the iconic yellow hard hats, their Individual Placement (IP) program also gives service members a chance to experience important parts of conservation that don’t necessarily take place on the ground and in stylish safety equipment.

IP members are placed with various conservation partner agencies such as the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) or the Center for Energy and Environment, often in more office-oriented jobs, though not always. These positions can involve anything from social media and web design to Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping. As an IP this year, I’ve been serving with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Bloomington, Minnesota.


What do you do in your position?


I work as a Visitor Services Intern at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Minnesota Valley NWR is one of over 560 refuges in a network that spans the country from Hawaii to Alaska to Puerto Rico. These refuges are all public land managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service whose mission is “working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.”

Beyond biology and land conservation, a lot goes into managing these refuges and making them valuable, welcoming places for the public and surrounding communities. As a key urban refuge, Minnesota Valley NWR has an especially large staff with specialists in things like urban outreach, environmental education, volunteer coordination, and GIS.

My service as a Visitor Services Intern at the refuge can encompass anything that touches the public. I get to rove our trails and make sure trail kiosks are intact and stocked with brochures. Back at the visitor center, I lead informal interpretive talks for the public, help create interactive displays, and design signs. I participate in planning large events and programs hosted at the refuge or around the metro area.

With the busy summer season behind us, though, I’ve been spending most of my time up in the office area of the visitor center. My current focus is creating a short video to introduce visitors and school groups to the refuge; it’s been a lot of fun to take on this project even though it’s not quite in my wheelhouse!


What interested you in serving with AmeriCorps and with your specific program?


I can’t say I knew exactly what I was getting into in serving as an IP with the Conservation Corps, but there were a lot of things that appealed to me at face value and still more things I have learned to appreciate over time. I’ll start off with two more general notes.

For one, I liked the philosophy of service that drives AmeriCorps as a whole. Even though I knew I wouldn’t necessarily feel it everyday, I liked the idea of being able to remind myself that I was committed to something larger--that my daily tasks at my site had been selected and curated with a national vision of change in mind. It’s an abstract part of the work but still significant, I think.

The value that the Conservation Corps places on their members’ professional and personal development was another a really big draw for me. As a recent graduate, I felt like I was still in a very exploratory phase. I wanted a post-grad experience that would give me tangible, specialized skills in the conservation field without boxing me in too much or sending me straight down a singular path.

Serving with the Conservation Corps and at my specific service site has indeed given me many new threads to grasp onto--threads that have materialized in both formal and informal ways. As part of my program, I’ve been able to access professional development funds that I used to attend a landscape architecture conference, for instance.

As another example, being part of a small cohort of other IP members has speckled my service year with lots of really interesting and memorable conversations, allowing me to learn informally from like-minded peers and not just formally from adults advanced in their careers. And not to mention, our cohort retreats have taken me to awesome places around the state!

And then finally of course, the specific position that I applied for seemed like a really good match for my interests. I wanted to learn more about urban environmental outreach and about systemic barriers facing populations that are severely underrepresented in outdoor settings and in environmental fields. Working in Visitor Services at an urban wildlife refuge has been totally eye opening on this front. I don’t think I could have picked a better setting.


What do you like to do in your free time?


Cooking and running are probably my two biggest hobbies outside of service. This past year I gave birth to a sourdough starter that has led to lots of fun and delicious baking experiments. When I’m feeling really relaxed about my life, I also try to spend time drawing or water coloring and learning new crafts.

Thanks Gina for being our spotlight! Do you have someone you’d like to nominate as our next Member Spotlight? Send us your nomination at

Fun and Free Events

Looking for something fun and free to do this month? We’ve got 5 ideas of things you can do this month that won’t cost you a dime:

Head to the Spicer Winterfest for ice fishing tournaments, fireworks, a Frozen 5K run, and more!  The Winterfest lasts for four weekends in Spicer and beings January 18-20, 2019.

See some antique snowmobiles! Attend the 26th Anniversary Antique Snowmobile Rendezvous in Pequot Lakes to see antique snowmobiles, demonstrations, and more. The festival runs January 18-19.

St. Paul's Winter Carnival begins on January 24 and is full of events you can attend for free. Take your picture with the ice castle, browse the MN Made Market, or watch the parades!

Visit the Red Wing Shoe Company Museum to take your photo with the World’s Largest Boot, dress up like an ironworker, and see how shoes are made! Admittance is free and the museum is open seven days a week.

If you live in the metro area, City Pages posts weekly updates of free things to do over the weekend!

Do you have free events happening in your area? Share them with us!

Stay tuned next month for information about our programs, fun events, professional development tips, and more!

Public Spirit, December 2018

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What is AmeriCorps? 

Written by Christy Ohlrogge (Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity)

Have you ever had difficulty explaining your service to friends, family, or anyone you meet? Many, like me when I started in my role, don’t know what AmeriCorps is. A really quick way to understand it is as a domestic version of the Peace Corps, but I wanted to get to the ground level to describe just what AmeriCorps is - and why everyone should care about it.
The Basics

AmeriCorps was created in the mindset of making community situations better by being responsive to identified community need. It’s a massive national program that provides people the opportunity to serve communities throughout the U.S. in order to solve a myriad of problems. Sounds great, right? It definitely is - but here’s where it gets a little confusing, so stick with me.
The Three Branches

We’re split into three main branches that tackle specific kinds of problems all over the country.
The first branch that’s the easiest to understand is the VISTA program. This program has members everywhere with a single goal in mind - fighting poverty.
The second branch is a little more complicated, but I’ve heard it’s a really unique AmeriCorps program that really challenges its members in a good way. It’s also the closest thing to the Peace Corps in regards to travel you can get while staying stateside. This branch is NCCC. Members serve in small teams to solve concrete issues and are placed at a home base over the time of their service. Throughout this time, they will travel as a group wherever they are needed to complete projects in different communities. Right now, NCCC members are responding to the many natural disasters we’ve had this year - hurricanes, fires, and so on.
The final branch is AmeriCorps State and National programs. The programs under this branch have members in different nonprofits, schools, and local government agencies around the country. For example, I am an AmeriCorps member with the Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity state program. Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity has both a local and national AmeriCorps program.
What Really Matters to Know

The most important thing to know is that anyone who says they are an AmeriCorps member is spending their time on serving others - whether that’s in the form of education, paving pathways, communicating about programs in the community, etc. - and AmeriCorps is a program to be celebrated.
Why Do Members Serve?

AmeriCorps members are a really important piece of solving a lot of the issues in America (at least, that’s my personal opinion). What makes AmeriCorps so fantastic as a program I have listed below for you. Below are some of the reasons AmeriCorps is a fantastic opportunity.

  • Experience - everyone graduating college right now is seeing that companies are asking for experience to get even entry level jobs.AmeriCorps programs welcome people willing to try something completely new, and a lot of what they look for when choosing incoming members is passion in the program’s mission. That makes this a fantastic way to actually gain experience and earn money because it provides a living stipend - as opposed to unpaid internships.

  • Job Placement - For anyone looking to actually rise into the nonprofit work sphere, AmeriCorps roles are a fantastic way to introduce yourself to either a specific nonprofit or the work environment in general. Think of it this way. On average, an interview lasts about an hour. Being in AmeriCorps gives you the opportunity to show your skills and , work ethic, and other things to your potential future employer. Plus, just being an AmeriCorps member comes with a certain level of prestige in the nonprofit community. This is because becoming an AmeriCorps member means you’re dedicated to the mission of helping others and have already navigated successfully within the nonprofit atmosphere.

  • Capacity Building - Think about the positions that AmeriCorps members serve in (tutors, builders, environmentalists, etc.). Without AmeriCorps members, organizations would not be able to support their current quota, therefore lessening their impact in the community. For example, AmeriCorps members at Twin Cities Habitat build the capacity to support more volunteers on site and give Habitat the ability to build faster and produce more homes.

  • Get Things Done - Did we mention that we make a huge impact on the communities we serve? We are passionate individuals driven by wanting to help our communities - and that makes a world of difference in the issues we all face. In case you didn’t know, there are about 2,000 AmeriCorps members serving Minnesota each  year. That translates to about 70,000 people being helped by AmeriCorps members per year - wow!

Holidays on a Budget

Written by Elizabeth Nault-Maurer (Conservation Corps of MN & IA) 

The holidays are a great time to celebrate with friends, family, and loved ones, but buying them gifts on an AmeriCorps living allowance may have you worrying about your finances. So we've gathered our tips for celebrating the holidays on a budget!

Set a budget- Figure out how much you can reasonably spend and then Stick. To. It. Don’t feel pressured by what others can afford. Every budget is unique. Set a max gift dollar amount and don’t go over. This will help you streamline your shopping and avoid the money traps that are lurking everywhere.
Sentiment over cost-Sit down and seriously think about what each person truly needs for the holidays. Does your sister love baking bread? Buy her a simple bread making tool like a proofing basket and a new bread recipe you found online. Get terracotta pots for your crazy plant lady friend, a travel mug from Goodwill for your caffeine fanatic, a “coupon” for art supplies for your artist. Thoughtful gifts are always better than a generic one.
Make, don’t buy- Everyone’s got a talent or interest, so use yours to make something truly unique! Bake some of their favorite cookies, knit them a scarf, create a one-of-a-kind art piece. They’re sure to love something you made only for them!
Hit the (thrift) stores- Between Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and thrift stores, you’re sure to find something unique and inexpensive you can give your loved ones.
Give your gifts a theme-Think of a theme and buy a few small gifts to fit that theme. For example, make it a movie night theme and give microwave popcorn, a cheap movie, and a bowl big enough to hold some snacks.
Get creative with your wrapping paper- Did you know you can’t recycle wrapping paper or tissue paper? Save the planet and your wallet by using alternative wrapping methods! Use newspaper, brown bags, colorful construction paper, or other alternatives that can be recycled or composted. Get creative with string and markers and you can make something more beautiful and personalized than the store-bought stuff!

What are your tips on how to save during the holidays? Share them with us!

Member Spotlight

Meet your fellow AmeriCorps members and the programs they serve with our monthly member spotlight.

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This month’s member spotlight is on Christy Ohlrogge, Communications Support Associate at Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity and chair of the ICC’s Communications Committee!

1. What program do you serve with?

I currently serve as the Communications Support Associate for Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. Twin Cities Habitat is an organization that works to provide affordable housing in the metro area, plus more. It also provides home repair, home ownership classes, and other fantastic programs most people don’t know about!

2. What do you do as a Communications Support Associate?

My position is the best (in my opinion) because it’s always moving and changing. A day as the Communications Support Associate is never the same, making it an exciting and unique position. Writing blogs, taking pictures and video, interviewing, helping with dedications, and editing content are just a few of the things this role will tackle. Being whatever the communications/marketing and events team needs in the moment can be challenging, but it's a great way to use current skills you have while also learning new things in various different areas.

My favorite part of being in this role is "being able to see the big picture. Since communications and marketing are helping with the content for all the departments, I get to see a lot more of what Habitat does than the other roles - and I love the impact I can see Habitat make every day because of that transparency."

3.  What interested you in serving with AmeriCorps and your specific program?

I came to AmeriCorps because I was changing fields regarding my experience. This is due to having experience in IT Finance as a Data Analyst and Financial Analyst, but earned a degree in communications and had no experience in that field to back it up. Looking at my options post-graduation were pretty much limited to unpaid internships, and that’s what brought me here. It’s such a great option that many recent grads and current students aren’t aware of - and I’m aiming to change that.

4. What do you like to do in your free time? 

Oooh, what free time? Only kidding! In my limited free time, I like to play video games and watch semi-new tv shows, movies, and anime. I also knit scarves (and only scarves since that’s all I’ve got) and enjoy my cat’s ever constant comforting presence when I get too stressed.

Thanks Christy for being our spotlight! Do you have someone you’d like to nominate as our next Member Spotlight? Send us your nomination at

Unveiling the New ICC Ambassador Program!

As you noticed in last month’s issue of Public Spirit, we have Ambassadors in the Greater Minnesota area that also work to promote engagement and service. Who are these Ambassadors and what exactly do they do? Well, here they come! This new program is engaging our Ambassadors on social media and getting the word out about their amazing programs! Make sure to look for them on social media with #ICCofMN. You can find them on our website and social too!
Interested in becoming an unofficial Ambassador yourself? Check out our Ambassador page for more info!

Fun and Free Events

Looking for something fun and free to go to? We’ve got 4 ideas of things you can do this month that won’t cost you a dime:

  • InterCorps Council Social Hour! Join us on December 13th from 6:00-8:00pm at Khao Hom Thai (2411 Central Ave NE, Minneapolis, MN 55418) for a night of great food and great conversation. All AmeriCorps members are welcome to come!

  • Listen to the Sinfonia Orchestra at one of their free holiday concerts! They have three concerts in December in the Twin Cities, so check out their calendar and enjoy a night of music.

  • Try your hand at bird watching with the Maplewood Nature Center’s BRRRD-Count!  On December 15th from 9:30-11:00 am, you can watch winter birds on their trails or at their feeders.

  • See the lights of Bentleyville. Is it really winter without Duluth’s iconic Bentleyville “Tour of Lights”? Visit to see some amazing displays and enjoy complimentary hot cocoa, cookies, popcorn, and roasted marshmallows! It’s open Sunday-Thursday from 5:00-9:00pm and Friday-Saturday from 5:00-10:00pm.

Do you know of more free events happening in your area? Share them with us!

Stay tuned next month for information about MLK Day of Service, fun events, professional development tips, and more!

Public Spirit, November 2018

We’re back!

The InterCorps Council is BACK! Our 2018-2019 InterCorps Council is made up of individuals from 20 different AmeriCorps programs and we’re ready to help you connect with other AmeriCorps members and the public with fun events, service opportunities, and more!


The Inter Corps Council

The InterCorps Council of Minnesota (ICC) is an organization of AmeriCorps members chosen from the State, National, and VISTA programs within Minnesota.

The vision of the InterCorps Council of Minnesota is to promote engagement, communication, collaboration, and education to empower AmeriCorps members and the Minnesota community. This means that our goal is to offer professional development, service events, networking, training, and other various opportunities to help all Minnesota AmeriCorps members grow in their service year.

To accomplish these goals, the service members appointed to the council serve in two capacities: ambassadors or council members.

Greater Minnesota (outside the metro) service members have the opportunity to serve as an ambassador, while Twin Cities service members have the opportunity to serve with one of the five committees:

1. Executive

2. Communications (CoCo)

3. Training and Education (TED)

4. Service

5. Social and Networking (SoNet)

In addition to service members, ICC has two advisors who assist the council from both ServeMinnesota - the state's Commission on National and Community Service (Des), and the Minnesota Office of Corporation for National and Community Service or CNCS (David).

The ICC is a unique opportunity that allows AmeriCorps members across programs to network and collaborate with one another. As part of the ICC, members enhance their service year, grow their professional development and leadership skills, and build connections throughout the AmeriCorps community as a whole.

What is the commitment level for the ICC?

Service on the ICC begins in October and ends in June of the following year. The commitment level varies depending on a member's role within the council.

How are members selected?

Each AmeriCorps program across the state of Minnesota appoints service members to be their representative(s) or ambassador(s) on the ICC. The election of these members differs from across programs.

If you are interested in being your program's ICC representative or ambassador, please contact your program manager/supervisor to learn about the election process.

So…who are we?


Executive Committee- We guide and support the InterCorps Council in its work to enact its vision.

President: Zayn Saifullah, College Possible

Vice President: Olivia Glen-Rayner, C3 Twin Cities

Outreach Coordinator: Angela Williams, EMERGE Community Development

Results and Impact Specialist: Holly Fudge, MN Alliance With Youth


Communications Committee- We promote national service in Minnesota and broadcast the work of the Council and AmeriCorps members through social media, the Public Spirit newsletter, AmeriCorps programs, and community partners.

Committee Chair: Christy Ohlrogge, Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity

Vice Chair: Bridget Gihl, MN Reading Corps

Megan Graves, MN Literacy Council

Katie Connolly, MN Math Corps

Katelyn Zeits, MN Council of Nonprofits

Elizabeth Nault-Maurer, Conservation Corps of MN and IA


Service Committee- We plan and execute service projects like the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, AmeriCorps Week, and other service events throughout the year.

Committee Chair: Natalie Fiedler, MN Reading Corps

Brian Call, City of Minneapolis

Katie Krebsbach, City of Lakes AmeriCorps

Kyla Olson, MN Recovery Corps

Joseph Vitt, Promise Fellows

Jeannine Christensen, MN Math Corps


Social and Networking Committee- We plan events and activities to connect AmeriCorps members across programs and build a larger AmeriCorps community.

Committee Chair: Constance Taylor, Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration

Kate Matusinec, Minnesota GreenCorps

Joe McLean, MN Reading Corps

Nkaujcoob Vang, College Possible

Morgan Bartlett, College Possible

Katie Carlson, City of St. Paul


Training and Education Committee- We plan professional development and education opportunities to empower AmeriCorps members and the Council to better serve their communities.

Kritika Singh, MN Campus Compact

Sophie Haire, Community Technology Empowerment Project

Meseret Bekele, Public Allies Twin Cities

Devin Mayfield, Community Technology Empowerment Project

Allison Marie Gooley, Promise Fellows

Kelly McCollow, City of Lakes AmeriCorps

Ambassadors- We’re AmeriCorps members who support the Council in publicizing its efforts to their perspective programs and promote the service of the Council and AmeriCorps program across the state.

Member Spotlight:

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Meet your fellow AmeriCorps members and the programs they serve with in our monthly member spotlight! This month’s member spotlight is on Constance Taylor, an AmeriCorps VISTA Leader and chair of the ICC’s Social and Networking Committee!

1. What program do you serve for?

I am a VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) Leader serving at the Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration (MAVA). MAVA is the one stop shop for volunteer management as far as premier initiatives and volunteer management best practices.

2. What do you do as a VISTA leader?

As the VISTA leader I serve as a peer mentor for the MAVA VISTAs serving in the Twin Cities Area. I also work to monitor the MAVA VISTA program for ways to make it better for the cohort next year.

3. What interested you in serving with AmeriCorps and your specific program?

I was interested in doing service, but not so interested in doing direct service. The AmeriCorps VISTA program is a great way to make a difference as far as improving programming to make nonprofits work more efficiently. It was also a great way to see behind the scenes of how nonprofits work. My goal is to work in the nonprofit sphere. I want to change the way nonprofits work to make them even more inclusive and equitable than they already are.

4. What do you like to do in your free time?

In my free time I read lots and lots of romance novels and I crochet. I love the drama in romance novels, and it's the only genre I consume regularly as far as literature goes. As far as crochet goes, I'm working on increasing my pattern skill base. I've been following a pattern book and so far, I have made some awesome loop scarves.

Thanks, Constance, for being our first spotlight! Do you have someone you’d like to nominate as our next Member Spotlight? Send us your nomination at

Ask an Alum!


Do you have burning questions like “how did you survive on your stipend?” or “do you have any tips on how to network?” Send them to us and we’ll ask an AmeriCorps Alumni! Their answers will be posted in the following issue of the Public Spirit. Shoot us an email at:

Fun and Free Events

Looking for something fun and free to do this month? We’ve got 7 ideas of things you can do this month that won’t cost you a dime:

See some art at Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota, MN. They have a new exhibit that is free and open to the public! There’s an artist’s reception held on Friday, November 16th at 6:00pm where you can meet the artists and look at their art while you munch on appetizers and desserts.

Go to your local Minnesota State Park on November 23rd for Free Park Friday! No vehicle permit is necessary on that day, so you can explore as much as you want. Find a park near you here.

Check out the Secrets of Glensheen in Duluth, MN. In honor of Nerdy November, Glensheen is starting a new series called “The Secrets of Glensheen”. Glensheen Collections Manager, Milissa Brooks Ojibway, will showcase various objects from the Glensheen collection that have been hidden out of sight to visitors. It’s every Wednesday night in November from 7:00-8:00pm and free to attend!

Register to learn some Winter Wisdom- Maplewood’s Nature Center is hosting a Winter Wisdom workshop on December 1st from 1-3 to teach you how to safely enjoy the outdoors in the middle of winter! Register by November 29th to participate!

Visit the SPAM museum in Austin, MN. Admission is free and they’re open every day of the week!

● If you live in the metro area, City Pages posts weekly updates on free things to do over the weekend!

Do you know of more free events happening in your area? Share them with us!

Stay tuned next month for more free things to do, money saving hacks, fun events, and more!

Public Spirit, April 2018

How to build your professional network

Xinci Tan (MN GreenCorps) 

Perhaps some of you, especially if your end of service is fast-approaching, can sympathize with me when I say I feel an increasing anxiety about what comes next. Even those of you who have completed your AmeriCorps program years ago may feel this way. In any case, it is often when contemplating a career move that the importance of networking becomes exceedingly clear.   

"It's not what you know, but who you know."

What a cliché! Yes, but there's a reason why everyone keeps repeating it. If two people have the same qualifications, an internal recommendation is often what tips the scales. The fact is, hiring managers are human, and humans are more emotional than logical. Although I am just starting my professional career, I have had luck with some of these tips or heard them touted far too often to deny their truth.

Networking is all about relationship building

It took me some time to realize that networking didn't mean meeting people at events and landing a job a week later. It takes far longer (READ: years) for someone to learn how you work, trust you, and be willing to vouch for you. Networking is all about the long game. Meet as many people as you can with an optimistic mindset; you never know who will help you down the road.  

Give before you can receive

The key to building relationships is trust and reciprocity. Why should anyone put in a good word for you or give you a lead for a job if you haven't done anything for them? Do not approach networking with the goal of getting something for yourself, because that self-serving attitude becomes quickly apparent to others. Do network with the intent to help others. Always be thinking, "who do I know that I can connect this person with?" Or, "can I help this person solve their problem?" The way I see it, networking is really just professional-friend-making. 

Have some business cards made

business card example.png

They are inexpensive, easy to order online, and one of the most basic (but effective!) tools in networking. Choose a simple style with readable font (i.e., refrain from cursive) for your name, email address, and phone number. Add a title or an objective if you'd like, but make sure your name is the most visible component. I suggest printing no more than 200 cards to start because once you start working somewhere else, that organization will make you cards with their design and logo. 

Get a business card holder

Business card holder (1).jpg


Nothing says "unprofessional" like a creased and ratty card pulled from a wallet. This item is also inexpensive, but goes a long way in terms of first impressions. Again, opt for a clean and simple design.   

Be active on LinkedIn

Spend as much time curating your LinkedIn profile as your other social media profiles. Unless you're aiming for a career as an artist and use Instagram to showcase your work, it's not going to get you a job. Making a LinkedIn account is free, and it's one of the easiest ways to network.  

Keep your online presence professional


specially on LinkedIn, act with tact and professionalism. Read some tips for selecting a good profile picture, and make sure your profile picture is not like one of these. That said, even your other personal internet platforms and social media accounts are not completely private. With the advent of the internet, online means forever, and it is a misconception to think potential employers cannot see what you do.  

 Trade business cards like Pokémon

If you have a good conversation with someone, whether at a career fair or during a flight, ask for their business card and give them one of yours. If they don't have one, ask for contact information like an email address. Follow up by adding them on LinkedIn. A good habit is to write notes on the back of their card about your conversation together, and use those notes to reference something memorable when you send your invite to connect. This personalizes the invite and helps you remember how you met in the first place. 

ADVANCED: Organize your contacts in a CRM


Client Resource Manager (CRM) applications are traditionally used by salespeople, but the personal CRM is on the rise. When you're networking, it is hard to keep track of everyone's names, let alone their titles and the content of your conversation. The CRM is a powerful tool that can help. They are like digital address books, but much more versatile. With every person you log in the application, you can see in one place their contact info, all the emails you've exchanged, and meetings you've had. You can save notes and add reminders to follow up about specific tasks, or after a set period of time with no contact, say 6 months.

 It takes work to maintain a CRM, and this technique may not be for everyone, but since I started using one last year, it's become an indispensable tool in my networking arsenal. There are many CRMs out there with varying features, and most of them offer a free version. If you wish to step up your game on networking, I highly recommend getting one.

BONUS: Look for (multiple) mentors

Warren Buffett and Bill Gates (1).jpg

The most successful people in the world did not reach success on their own. Many of them have or had mentors who guided them along the way. Look for someone in the industry you want to join or someone you aspire to be. Choose people you get along with and are willing to share their knowledge. Ask them to be your mentor and schedule regular meetings. Make an agenda for things you want to discuss at every meeting. Remember: your mentor cannot help you if you don't know what you want them to help you with. Also remember: a mentor-mentee relationship goes both ways. Your mentor is willingly sharing knowledge and giving you their time, so show your gratitude. Pick up the tab every time you meet; everyone is happier when they get a free meal. Some people have told me seeing their mentee's success is the most satisfying gift of all - make sure to keep in contact and update often.

Networking doesn’t come easily to most, but it is essential for building a career. Practice makes perfect, so keep at it!



Zayn Saifullah (College Possible)

One of the hardest parts of living on a strict budget, for me anyway, is keeping variety and spontaneity in your diet. While it’s certainly frugal to survive strictly on a rotation of granola bars, frozen pizza, and ramen, do you really want to do that? In this recurring column, I feature a new recipe every month that is nutritious, worldly, and competitive with processed convenience food for price.

This month’s recipe was given to me by a Corps Member at College Possible. Fawm Kauv are a comfort food brought to Minnesota by Hmong refugees and immigrants. I suppose the best way I could describe it is a happy medium between a spring roll and a steamed dumpling given its slightly thicker but delightfully light tapioca and rice flour wrapping. It does take some practice to get the wrapping’s thickness correct (it should be slightly thicker than a crepe), but I’m going to keep trying.


Provided by a College Possible Corps Member

Makes ~ 5 servings (approximately 20 rolls)


1 ½ cups of rice flour

~$0.70 for a 16 oz. bag, ~$0.35 per batch

1 ½ cups of tapioca flour

~$0.60 for a 16 oz. bag, ~$0.30 per batch

5 cups of water


1 tbsp of olive oil

~$9.00 for 25 oz, ~$0.17 per batch


2-3 cloves of minced/pressed garlic

Price varies per pound

1 Ib ground pork or chicken

Price varies per pound

1 cup chopped green onion

~$0.50 per batch

1 cup chopped cilantro

~$0.50 per batch

1 tbsp of olive oil

~$9.00 for 25 oz, ~$0.17 per batch

Salt and black pepper to taste



Making the wrappings:

  1. Mix the rice flour, tapioca flour, water, and olive oil in a large bowl until homogenous. Add water as needed so that the resulting batter has a watery consistency.

  2. Heat a small amount of oil (or use nonstick spray) in a small nonstick frying pan. Scoop about a ¼ cup of the batter into the pan, or just enough to cover the pan bottom.

  3. Similarly to making crepes, swirl the pan or spread batter so that the pan’s surface is evenly covered. Cover let cook for about 3-4 minutes until batter has become solid.

  4. Slide finished wraps onto a lightly greased plate and set aside until filling is ready.

Making the filling:

  1. Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium-low heat. Once the oil is hot, add the garlic and fry until the garlic no longer smells raw but without browning.

  2. Add the ground meat and increase heat to medium or medium-high.

  3. Add the green onion, cilantro, salt, and pepper and combine.

  4. Spoon 1 tablespoon in the center of each wrapping and roll up like you would a burrito.


Total cost per batch: ~$5.59

Total cost per serving: ~$1.12


Spring Has Sprung: Get Into Nature

Gyan (Habitat)

As a busy AmeriCorps member, it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the Minneapolis urban landscape. However, just beyond the borders of city neighborhoods are some beautiful natural spots. Many of you are probably familiar with these sites - however, I wanted to call attention to them. As a Californian whose encounter with nature ranges from arid cityscape to wild expanses of mountains and ocean, the plentiful and well-integrated Minneapolis park system was a pleasantly different experience for me. Here are a few natural hotspots to check out:

Wirth Regional Park

Located just west of Minneapolis in Golden Valley, this large parkland is filled with both wildlife and wilderness. Dotting the park are cross country trails, allowing for convenient skiing during the winter time. Now that spring has finally blossomed (after some persuasion), this park is excellent for cycling, hiking, and jogging.

Hidden Falls Regional Park

For an encounter with the Mississippi River less encumbered by the presence of other humans, check out Hidden Falls on the Saint Paul side of the river. There are some nice picnic sites, places to launch boats, fish, or canoe, and you can literally drop your feet into the river if you’d like.

Chain of Lakes

For some serious lake-mongering, check out this chain of lakes located in the heart of Uptown. You’ll find plentiful walking and cycling trails, including convenient access to the Nice Ride bike system. Rent a canoe and explore the hundreds of acres of water.


So, there’s a good starting point for you to engage with the nature of the Twin Cities. Stay safe and enjoy the sun!



Zayn Saifullah (College Possible)

In this column, we’ll be featuring interviews with professionals working in the variety of teams that make up a modern nonprofit. For this issue, I sat down with Mikki Cookle, who started last month as a senior research associate on College Possible’s Data, Analytics, Research & Evaluation (DARE) team.

This transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Zayn Saifullah: Thanks for talking with me today! First, could you tell me a little bit about your role and what your day to day looks like?

Mikki Cookle: To be perfectly honest I’m still learning a lot of my role, but where I come in is supporting the thought process around how we craft an intentional and strategic evaluation plan for our organization that’s actually giving us a design that will yield the insights that we’re interested in. Something that’s often talked about here at College Possible is wanting to increase college enrollment and graduation rates for our students. In order to meet that goal, we need to know what the particular levers are that cause that to happen. Since we have so many components to our programming, a lot of our program area people are interested in the aspects of programming are actually driving outcomes. Then they can focus more resources on the things that are helping and pull resources away from the things that aren’t.

So, I’m going to be doing a lot of that research envisioning with Jeff (the DARE team manager), and then I’ll be supporting the data analysis process through which we can  learn whether an individual initiative is a best practice that we should implement nationwide or whether we should discontinue it. Lastly, I’m going to be working on reporting, so I’ll be helping create survey instruments for collecting basic data from our students and then analyzing it after we get it back.

ZS: And I imagine that a lot of these reports go not only to our program team but to our grant writers as well?

MC: Exactly, development and communications use a lot of the data that we collect as well as program staff.

ZS: Because you’re so new to College Possible, what’s been challenging about this role for you?

MC: The biggest problem has been gauging the landscape of data since every organization uses data differently. College Possible has been a data-driven organization since its inception, so there’s a lot of backlogged data. As someone who’s new to the organization, sifting through 18 years of data has been difficult and it’s been hard to balance how much time I should work on that versus just moving forward with new evaluation initiatives. But it’s important to reflect on the past and work with the data that we have. Thankfully I’ve had some amazing predecessors that have done great work and there are papers and reports that I can read to gain some of the insights they had into all that data.

ZS: Coming off of these projects and some of the challenges that you’re facing, how has your background prepared you to face those down?

MC: My background is primarily in working at the program level in nonprofits. I spent a couple years after college working for a YMCA after-school program in in North Minneapolis, working with a lot of the same demographic of students that College Possible serves. After that,I worked for two refugee resettlement services both in the Twin Cities and abroad. I came away from those experiences seeing a huge need for really intentional services that are effective in closing the opportunity gap. It ignited my passion for seeing the cycle of intergenerational poverty broken and the opportunity gap closed.

At the YMCA (Beacons program), I was the coordinator of the program, so all of my work was program oriented. I did however have some opportunities to sit in on some task force groups that were thinking about “how do we make youth development programming more geared towards getting young people aware of college as an option for them even at an early age?” That kind of whet my appetite for more things in the evaluation sphere because it was asking more strategic questions than just program implementation. I’m very much a strategic thinker so it can be hard for me working in a program where inefficiencies are pretty blatant and maybe nobody’s doing very much about how we could do that better.

Kind of the same thread I had in all those experiences was inattentiveness to measuring impact. I think this is a particular phenomenon in nonprofits because they’re not profit maximizing, instead they’re working out of their hearts, which is a beautiful but sometimes because they’re “heart people” they don’t give the needed attention to actual versus intended outcomes. That’s what drove me back to grad school because I didn’t really develop any quantitative skills in my undergrad that could help me do that work. I did a Masters of Public Policy at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota and took a more quantitatively-focused track which involved statistics, economics, and evaluation classes.

ZS: For corps members looking to get into the program and evaluation sphere, would you recommend grad school?

MC: If they have the skills in economics or statistics out of undergrad, then they could probably find something even without going back to school. But the landscape is such that they may find it fortuitous to get a master’s degree regardless. If you have the baseline skills though, it can be helpful to just get in the door and begin working with people who have more experience. For instance, I have Jeff who’s been in the field for around 20 years and learning from him has been far more valuable than some of my coursework – it’s an apprenticeship to some degree.

To do this work, you’ll need to be comfortable working with large data sets and appropriating them to do the types of analyses that you want to do. In terms of statistical tools you’ll need, they’re pretty advanced – for example, regression analysis and econometric techniques. You’ll need more than just knowing how to find a standard deviation. Apart from that technical side, there’s a whole theory side that asks questions like “what is evaluation” and “how do you approach evaluation.” A graduate program would hypothetically offer training in both areas.

In my master’s program I focused much more on the technical classes rather than the theory classes, and now that I’m here I’m seeing the value in those theory classes. I thought that the theory would just make itself obvious through the technical side, but I think that there is value in learning the various approaches to evaluation especially since every organization is going to have different values and methodologies for approaching this work. Being aware of what those are can make you a more competitive candidate.

ZS: Last question: what’s your most and least favorite things about your job?

MC: What I like most about this role is the hunger at College Possible for insights from evaluation. It makes the work very motivating to know that there are people who care about the answers to these questions and are going to implement when we find results.

I’m grateful that Jeff has brought me into the conversations about crafting a research agenda which has given me a “birds eye-view” of what our strategy is, what questions we’re trying to answer, and how to best to answer those questions. That’s where I feel like I come alive: strategizing about how to make work more efficient and better by thinking critically about what’s in place.

ZS: So it’s very much “statistics for a cause.”

MC: Exactly! What I don’t like is the work of digging through lots of data that’s in a lot of different places. It’s not like I hate it, but it’s definitely my least favorite part because you’re so excited to take the data to a place where you can analyze it. You wish it could go faster, but it’s part of the gig and you have to work with the data that exists.

Public Spirit, March 2018

Civic Engagement in 2018

Xinci Tan, MN Green Corps

This year in Minnesota, the races for governor, both U.S. senate seats, eight congressional seats, three constitutional offices, and the entire Minnesota House of Representatives are wide open. In this landmark year, all these positions will be on the ballot during the mid-term elections on Tuesday, November 6th, 2018.

Yes, Election Day is months away, but voting is only one small part of the whole process. It is important for us all to stay educated on the issues, know who represents us, and be civically engaged



While charging time to the AmeriCorps program, accumulating service or training hours, or otherwise performing activities supported by the AmeriCorps program or the Corporation, staff and members may not engage in the following activities (see 45 CFR § 2520.65):

a. Attempting to influence legislation;

b. Organizing or engaging in protests, petitions, boycotts, or strikes;

c. Assisting, promoting, or deterring union organizing;

d. Impairing existing contracts for services or collective bargaining agreements;

e. Engaging in partisan political activities, or other activities designed to influence the outcome of an election to any public office;

f. Participating in, or endorsing, events or activities that are likely to include advocacy for or against political parties, political platforms, political candidates, proposed legislation, or elected officials;

g. Engaging in religious instruction, conducting worship services, providing instruction as part of a program that includes mandatory religious instruction or worship, constructing or operating facilities devoted to religious instruction or worship, maintaining facilities primarily or inherently devoted to religious instruction or worship, or engaging in any form of religious proselytization;

h. Providing a direct benefit to—

i. A business organized for profit;

ii. A labor union;

iii. A partisan political organization;

iv. A nonprofit organization that fails to comply with the restrictions contained in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 except that nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent participants from engaging in advocacy activities undertaken at their own initiative; and

v. An organization engaged in the religious activities described in paragraph (g) of this section, unless Corporation assistance is not used to support those religious activities;

i. Conducting a voter registration drive or using Corporation funds to conduct a voter registration drive;

j. Providing abortion services or referrals for receipt of such services; and

k. Such other activities as the Corporation may prohibit.


AmeriCorps members may not engage in the above activities directly or indirectly by recruiting, training, or managing others for the primary purpose of engaging in one of the activities listed above. Individuals may exercise their rights as private citizens and may participate in the activities listed above on their initiative, on non‐AmeriCorps time, and using non‐Corporation funds. Individuals should not wear the AmeriCorps logo while doing so.   


Image: Minnesota House of Representatives Public Information Services

Image: Minnesota House of Representatives Public Information Services

Know who’s running.

As the year goes on, some candidates will gain momentum while others drop out completely. To help you keep track, MinnPost has a great guide that they are continually updating with all the open positions, lists of candidates, and links to each candidate’s website. MinnPost also has a nice 2018 election calendar.

Google Alerts is a great function to stay abreast on news regarding a particular candidate. This widget will send you email alerts (as they happen, daily, or weekly) relating to a person or topic. A piece of personal advice from experience: don’t create too many alerts at once because it’s easy to get overwhelmed!


Know who represents you now.

Not all seats are up for election this year, but it is still important to know who is speaking for you on the legislative floor. Click here and type in your zipcode to find out who represents you.


Learn about local issues.

The first step in being civically engaged is to know what’s going on. The Minnesota House of Representatives has a nonpartisan page called Session Daily that has daily news articles all about local issues. Minnesota Public Radio’s Capitol View is also a great nonpartisan source of news.


Attend City Council, Town Hall, and School Board meetings.

Every region is different. To get closest to the issues that affect you most directly, attend city council, town hall, and school board meetings. The easiest way to find out when and where they are is to search them on the web.


Find bills currently being discussed.

For a whole summary of bills in session now, go to this page and click “Bill Summaries” – there are two links: one page for the House and one for Senate. On that same page, it’s also possible to search for bills by keyword, topic, and committee. If you would like to track bills as they progress, create an account through MyBills. They do not send email alerts, but this feature makes it easy to find bills of interest without having to search through the directory each time.


See the Process in Action.

All committee hearings are recorded and available for the public to watch and listen. They are even streamed live every day. To educate yourself on the process, go to the Minnesota Legislature FAQ page.


Get in touch with your legislators.

In your personal time, writing your legislators and calling them is always an option. Educating officials or providing thank yous for the work you have appreciated make a big difference.

Go to the Minnesota State Legislature directory to find contact information. All legislators have an office number in Saint Paul (hint: it’ll start with 651), but if you click on their names, you can often also find their email address, home address, and home phone number. Of course, if you choose to mail a letter or call a home number, please be respectful and don’t abuse it.


Civic Engagement can be confusing, but that isn’t an excuse to step out. In closing, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes:

“My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?” – David Mitchell


Zayn Saifullah, College Possible

One of the hardest parts of living on a strict budget, for me anyway, is keeping variety and spontaneity in your diet. While it’s certainly frugal to survive strictly on a rotation of granola bars, frozen pizza, and ramen, do you really want to do that? In this recurring column, I feature a new recipe every month that is nutritious, worldly, and competitive with processed convenience food for price.

This recipe was cooked for me by Michelle Perkowski who serves as a VISTA with College Possible. I had my initial doubts about the combination of sweet potatoes and black beans, but it was so wonderful that I immediately asked whether I could feature it in this column. The written recipe here should be thought more of as a series of ideas for your own interpretations – everyone is going to have a different preference for the sweet potato-to-bean-to-cheese ratio that is key to this dish’s appeal.




Makes ~ 5 Quesadillas

Time: ~ 45 minutes


1 large sweet potato (about 12 oz.), cut into square-inch cubes

Price varies per pound

2 tbsp. olive oil

~$9.00 for 25 oz, ~$0.35 per batch

1 tsp. cumin powder

~$2.00 per ounce, ~$0.10 per batch

1 tsp. garlic powder

~$1.08 per ounce, ~$0.18 per batch

½ tsp. cayenne chili powder

~$0.80 per ounce, ~$0.10 per batch

¼ tsp. ground ginger

~$3.52 per ounce, ~$0.15 per batch

5 oz. shredded pepper or Monterey jack cheese (omit for vegan)

~$0.30 per ounce, ~$1.50 per batch

Salt to taste


1 15 oz. can refried black beans

~$1.30 for a 15 oz. can

2 heaping tbsp. jarred tomato salsa (optional)

~$2.00 for a 16 oz. jar, ~$0.12 per batch

5 8” tortillas (white, wheat, or corn)

~$2.00 for 10 ct., ~$1.00 per batch

2 tsp. vegetable oil

~$5.00 per gallon, ~$0.01 per batch

Lime wedges and tomato salsa for garnish (optional)


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Combine the cubed sweet potato, olive oil, cumin powder, garlic powder, cayenne chili powder, and salt in a bowl. Spread out on a 8” baking sheet covered in parchment paper. Roast sweet potatoes in the oven for 30 minutes or until soft and caramelized.

3. While the sweet potato roasts, heat the refried beans on the stovetop or in the microwave, optionally stirring in jarred tomato salsa or other seasonings as desired.

4. Assemble the quesadillas by putting in beans, sweet potato, and cheese on half as desired and folding over.

5. Brush the exterior of each quesadilla with vegetable oil and place in a nonstick pan over medium heat until the cheese (if added) is melted and both sides are golden brown.

Total cost per batch: ~$5.105

Total cost per serving: ~$1.05

If you have a simple and inexpensive recipe you’d like to share with other AmeriCorps members, please submit them to me at!

Why I love living in Phillips

Gyan Prayaga, Habitat for Humanity

I live in an “AmeriCorps house” owned and operated by Habitat for Humanity in the Phillips neighborhood of South Minneapolis. Here’s why I love living in Phillips...

Image: Google maps

Image: Google maps

1. One of the most diverse neighborhoods in the nation

Phillips is home to an extraordinary mix of cultural backgrounds. One hundred years ago, it was the heart of the Scandinavian community in Minneapolis. In the 1920s, Jewish immigrants began to settle in Phillips, followed by African-Americans and Native Americans in the 1950s, and then Somali and Latino immigrants in the 1990s. In this way, Phillips has served as a gateway for new Americans seeking refuge and opportunity. Of special note is the American Indian Cultural Corridor inaugurated in 2010 along Franklin Avenue. It is home to the largest urban concentration of American Indians in the country and boasts many Native-owned businesses, including an excellent coffee shop called Pow Wow Grounds.

2. A historic library in walking distance

Situated conveniently on Franklin Ave is the Franklin Library, which is over a century old and on the National Register of Historic Places. This library was actually founded by the business magnate Andrew Carnegie, and it houses a special collection of Native American art, including works relevant to the local Anishinabe people. When you visit the library, you’ll hear a mix of English, Ojibwe, Oromo, Somali, and Spanish spoken around you.

3. Aldi and Seward Co-Op are close by

Phillips has some great grocery options situated in close proximity. For cheap, easy shopping, Aldi often does the trick. When I’m looking for specialty goods, it’s just an 8 minute bike ride from the Franklin/Bloomington Nice Ride bike share station to the Seward Co-Op bike share station (which is situated right outside the co-op; how convenient is that?!). Don’t be scared away by the Co-Op’s higher prices, because they offer discounts for EBT customers and a year-end profit dividend to all their members.

4. Plethora of good eating within biking distance

Head south and you’ll find Lake Street, one of the best food destinations in the Twin Cities. A native Angeleno, I’m used to having a diverse array of food options (Vietnamese, Thai, Mexican, Indian) at my doorstep. On Lake Street, you’ll find Abi’s excellent pupusas and a handful of authentic Mexican restaurants. And don’t forget the Midtown Global Market, which offers an eclectic mix of international food and craft vendors (I recommend the delicious Moroccan mint tea, and the California-style Indian cuisine; I won’t tell you the restaurant names so you’ll have to explore all the options for yourself). Lake Street is also an artery for some useful businesses, including the Human Services office and a well-resourced YWCA.


So, next time you’re heading through South Minneapolis, make sure to spend some time exploring the Phillips neighborhood. You’ll be sure to find a rich and vibrant melting pot of history and culture!


Zayn Saifullah (College Possible)

In this column, we’ll be featuring interviews with professionals working in the variety of teams that make up a modern nonprofit. For this issue, I sat down with Elizabeth Nolan who is the Development Manager of Site Support at College Possible.

Zayn Saifullah: Thanks for talking with me today! First, can you tell me a little about how you came to your current role and what got you interested in development?

Elizabeth Nolan: I feel like my history is really unique in regards to development - it’s not something that I realized that I wanted to do but in retrospect I was really involved with activities in high school that heavily involved fundraising, whether it was raising money for Relay For Life or National Honor Society. So I did do a lot at the personal level, but not the professional level. I sort of happened upon fundraising through an opportunity to fundraise for Save the Children and asking people to sponsor children, which I did for 5 years, before realizing that I could make a career out of this! In general, development sort of happened to me, but I have been much more on the individual face-to-face side rather than the grant writing, institutional side. I was really passionate about raising funds for nonprofits early on.

ZS: I think there’s a lot of stereotypes about fundraising work that lead people to pass over opportunities to work in the field. Are these concerns valid in your experience?

EN: It is true that you have to be bold in the sense that you have to ask for money. You have to be passionate about the organization’s cause. I don’t like comparing it to sales jobs, but it’s true for both that if you aren’t invested in what you’re selling, you won’t be successful long term. As a fundraiser, I really believe that you have to be firmly behind the mission of the organization. You also have to get used to people saying no, but when you get started as a fundraiser that process is somewhat guided compared to some of the higher-stakes no’s you might receive later in your career, but you’ve worked up to it in a way. Development certainly isn’t for everybody, but at the same time I would say it’s not limited to one type of person who can be a successful fundraiser.

ZS: That said, what sorts of skills should corps members looking to go into this field seek to acquire or develop?

EN: That answer depends on whether you’re more interested in individual or institutional-I’ll speak more on the individual side since that’s my background. With the individual side, I needed to learn that sometimes you get a no for an answer, but you shouldn’t take that personally or let it discourage you from future asking or continuing to pursue your long-term goals. In regards to development itself, I believe it’s a relationship-building role – you’re trying to get people who align with our mission to give to it. One thing I think people forget is that you have to listen to prospective funders since their gift might not be right for us – that’s another thing I had to learn, that you sometimes just have to let go. Additionally, an attention to detail and good interpersonal skills are necessary for hearing donor preferences and acting on them. It’s an odd thing, but it’s a common mistake to not really listen.

ZS: What are your most and least favorite things about your job?

EN: My favorite thing is that I get to be a part of all of our development teams, so I get to share in all of their fundraising wins since I see all of it – which is kind of cheating since it’s not necessarily my work. But I do love getting to see all of the awesome things that are happening. Even though I might not have written that grant or engaged that donor, I still get to share in that. My least favorite – the no’s are to be expected, so three years ago I would have said the no’s but as I’ve grown in my understanding of the role they’ve made me feel more confident in what I’m doing and also knowing that it’s not a reflection on me. I know that doesn’t necessarily answer your question, but I really like my job! What can be hard is receiving an unexpected no – when you’ve found someone that seems to be a good match. Sometimes you can take that personally but you just have to learn not to. Once again, the institutional side is a little different but that’s been my experience working on the individual side.

Public Spirit, February 2018

AmeriCorps Week 2018 is almost here! 

Mark your calendars for March 10-17th for a week that celebrates YOU, our service members. To see all the events, go over to our Facebook page, or check out our Eventbrite page. We can't wait to see you there.


Benefits and discounts that come with an EBT card (i.e. SNAP/food stamps)

Xinci Tan MN GreenCorps

Did you know most AmeriCorps members qualify for SNAP benefits to supplement the living allowance? If you didn’t, it’s not too late! Click here to apply. At the suggestion of a colleague, friend, and former Minnesota GreenCorps member Cassandra Schueller, I have put together a list below of some additional uses you may not have thought an EBT card could provide.



Before we dive in, I’ll run through a quick description of the application process for those who are hesitant or unsure how to apply. Feel free to skip down if you’ve already got a card.

1. Create an online account on the MN Department of Human Services (DHS) website

2. Fill out the application and attach the necessary documents (note: an AmeriCorps living allowance is NOT a source of income. A side job outside of your service counts towards income, but if you do not have a side job, your monthly income is technically $0.)

3. Wait for DHS to mail you a letter with a phone interview date – be warned that they will not give you more than 5 days’ notice

4. Answer the questions during the interview (have your case number from the letter handy)

5. If the case worker tells you additional documents or proofs are necessary, follow up on those instructions promptly.

IMPORTANT: your case will close 30 days after the day you submitted the initial application if the documents are not received on time, so don’t procrastinate. You will then have to reapply all over again. This is different from a rejection, where the DHS decides you are not eligible for SNAP benefits. In that situation, it is possible to contest the decision, but that’s a separate process I won’t go into here.

6. Once everything is submitted, it will take a week or two for the DHS to process your case. They will mail you an EBT card if you are approved.

7. The letter will inform you of the date for a mandatory orientation. Again, expect no more than a 5 day notice.

8. Attend the orientation. Inform the case workers that you are in AmeriCorps, and if your service is greater than 30 hours/week, they will exempt you from the career workshops and monthly career counselor appointments.



Alright! Now that we’ve gotten past all of that, let’s get into what that EBT card is good for.

Image: 2015 EBT and Market Buck Initiative

Image: 2015 EBT and Market Buck Initiative

  • Buy food at farmers markets. EBT cards work at grocery stores of course, but they can also be used to buy local goods from local vendors. At participating farmers markets around the state, you can use your EBT card to purchase fresh produce, meats, honey, and other foodstuff. Look for signs for the EBT booth, swipe your card to exchange your benefits for tokens, and shop away. As further incentive, Market Bucks will match purchases dollar to dollar, up to $10 per day. Read here for a more complete breakdown. Click here for a map of all the markets in Minnesota accepting EBT.
  • Sign up for a CSA. If you’ve never done a CSA (community supported agriculture) before, it’s a great way to support local farmers while getting a supply of fresh produce throughout a season or a year. Pick up or delivery options are often available. Call your nearest CSA and ask if they will accept SNAP dollars. More info on CSAs here.

Additionally, for tips on how to eat right when money's tight, check out this USDA page. It has a plethora of good information. As spring draws near, the U of M also has a bunch of good tips on how to stretch your (EBT) dollars at farmers markets.


Image: Split Rock Lighthouse, Minnesota Historical Society

Image: Split Rock Lighthouse, Minnesota Historical Society

  • Visit any of the 26 historical sites managed by the Minnesota Historical Society for $4. Examples include the Charles A. Lindbergh site in Little Falls, the James J. Hill house in St. Paul, and Split Rock Lighthouse in Two Harbors. You’ll need to fill out a form, plus show a government ID with your EBT card to qualify. More details on their website.
  • Discounts at Children’s Museums. For the museums in Rochester and Saint Paul, you can fill out a simple form to get free admission for a whole year plus $2 tickets for up to six guests on every visit. Duluth’s museum offers $3 tickets for up to 4 people on each visit.


Image: YMCA Andover, MN

Image: YMCA Andover, MN

  • Get into the YMCA with a scholarship. The Y makes case-by-case decisions on how much assistance will be granted, but all you need to do is submit an application form and make copies of your EBT card. With a range of classes, numerous locations, and free child care while you’re working out, it’s a great benefit.

  • Pay $1 fares with Metro Transit. Present your EBT card and photo ID at a Metro Transit Service Center or at the SouthWest Transit Station to qualify. The discounted fare benefit will be good for a whole year. See here for details.

  • Receive a free government cell phone or pay less for a network plan. A variety of vendors are available if you would like to apply for a free cell phone. If you already have a cell phone and just need help paying for minutes, T-Mobile and CenturyLink have basic plans or provide discounts for one line per household.


Image: Great Horned Owl, Minnesota Zoo

Image: Great Horned Owl, Minnesota Zoo

  • Go to the Minnesota Zoo for free. I have not personally visited the state zoo, so I’ll definitely be taking advantage of this perk in the next few months. The general admission fee is waived, but payment is required for special events/exhibitions and parking. Details found here.
  • Discounted prices at The Works Museum. Enjoy hands-on learning on all things engineering, science, and technology. Daily admission is 50% off per person, and family memberships are 60% off. There are also scholarships available for their Gateway Program camps, which are STEM camps for kids 5-12 years old. Details here.

  • Pay $3 for the Minnesota Science Museum. That will cover general admission. If you enjoy Omnitheater shows, get admission + a theater ticket for $5. It is currently Omnifest, so there are currently many options for captivating shows!

Image: Familiar by Danai Gurira, Guthrie Theater

Image: Familiar by Danai Gurira, Guthrie Theater

  • Watch Guthrie productions for $5. Up to four tickets can be purchased for select performances by phone or at the Box Office. As a theater lover, I’m excited for this! Learn more about Gateway tickets here.
  • Get $5 admission and discounted theater classes at the Children’s Theater Company. Apply and enjoy membership for up to 2 years. Emails are sent out when discount tickets are available for purchase at the reduced rate. You will also automatically qualify for scholarships to all their Theatre Arts Training classes and camps (K-12).

These are just the major discounts I could find. Did I miss something? Please comment below or on our ICC page to let me know!


Zayn Saifullah, College Possible

One of the hardest parts of living on a strict budget, for me anyway, is keeping variety and spontaneity in your diet. While it’s certainly frugal to survive strictly on a rotation of granola bars, frozen pizza, and ramen, do you really want to do that? In this recurring column, I feature a new recipe every month that is nutritious, worldly, and competitive with processed convenience food for price.

This recipe was sent in by Rachel Quay who serves as a VISTA with College Possible. It’s a wonderful vegetarian or vegan take on the classic, meat-heavy Italian sauce. Cauliflower has recently come into vogue for its incredible versatility and as a meat substitute that doesn’t have to try hard to please. Balsamic vinegar isn’t a typical ingredient in traditional Bolognese, but adds a hefty amount of flavor in this preparation. Tinker with the seasonings to your liking since the heartiness of the sauce’s cauliflower and lentil base allows for flexibility.



Makes ~ 5 servings

Time: ~ 1 hour 15 minutes


1 small head cauliflower, shredded

Price varies per pound

2 tbsp. butter OR olive oil

~$9.00 for 25 oz, ~$0.35 per batch

½ yellow onion, chopped

Price varies per pound

3 cloves garlic, minced 

Price varies per pound

28 oz. canned plum tomatoes 

~$2.00 for 2 14 oz. cans

1/2 cup dry red lentils 

~$3.50 for a large bag, ~$0.85 per batch

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

~$2.00 for an 8.5 oz. bottle, ~$0.23 per batch

1 teaspoon sugar


1/2 teaspoon thyme

~$3.50 for a 3 oz. bottle, ~$0.29 per batch

1/4 teaspoon dried basil

~$2.20 for a .6 oz. bottle, ~$0.09 per batch

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

~$2.15 for a 1.4 oz. bottle, ~$0.08 per batch

Dash of crushed red pepper


Salt and ground black pepper to taste


1 lb cooked spaghetti or other pasta

~$1.40 per batch

Chopped fresh basil and grated Parmesan cheese for garnish (optional)


  1. Shred the cauliflower so that it resembles the consistency of cooked ground beef – a food processor or grater works well for this, otherwise patience and a knife will suffice.

  2. In a large heavy-bottomed pot, heat the butter or olive oil over medium low heat. Add the onions and cook until soft, about 3-5 minutes.

  3. Add the cauliflower to the pot. Increase heat to medium and stir occasionally until the cauliflower takes on a light golden color, about 10-12 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until it loses its raw odor, about 1 minute.

  4. Add the canned tomatoes, red lentils, balsamic vinegar, sugar, thyme, basil, oregano, crushed red pepper, salt, and black pepper. Stir until combined, bring to a gentle boil, and finally reduce heat to simmer for about 30 minutes until the sauce thickens and the lentils cook through. Season, garnish, and serve with cooked pasta.

Total cost per batch: ~$6.60

Total cost per serving: ~$1.32


Zayn Saifullah, College Possible

As we continue our service through a dull and gray Minnesota February, it can be helpful to reconnect to why we committed to AmeriCorps in the first place with a good book. There are many reading lists online dedicated to the social justice “canon,” but sometimes more recent titles are overlooked in favor of the classics. Some of the below titles have received critical acclaim on the national level (The New Jim Crow, The Hate U Give, and Bad Feminist), others are more regionally important to us serving in Minnesota (The Song Poet and From Somalia to Snow), and a couple are more academic but provide incredibly important ideas (The Impossible Will Take a Little While and Poor Economics). I hope you enjoy these selections!


The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

From “Michelle Alexander, considered one of most important modern voices on racial justice and criminal justice reform, is a civil rights advocate, writer, and visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary. In The New Jim Crow, Alexander powerfully explains how the United States has perpetuated systems of slavery and segregation through a new form: the mass incarceration of Black men. This strategy has led to the United States having the largest prison population in the world and has continued the oppression of people of color throughout the country. This book is necessary reading for anyone seeking strategies for reforming the criminal justice system and working toward racial justice.”


The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

From The Atlantic: “By the time she’s 16, Starr Carter, the protagonist of the book, has lost two of her childhood friends to gun violence: one by a gang drive-by, and one by a cop.

As the sole witness to her friend Khalil’s fatal shooting by a police officer, Starr is overwhelmed by the pressure of testifying before a grand jury and the responsibility of speaking out in Khalil’s memory. The incident also means that the carefully built-up boundary between Starr’s two worlds begins to crumble. For years, she has spent her weekdays at a private, majority-white school, where she explains, ‘I’m cool by default because I’m one of the only black kids there.’ Back at home, she lives with her father ‘Big Mav,’ a former gang-member who wants to make their crime-ridden neighborhood a better place, and her mother Lisa, who wants to move away in order to keep her family safe.”


The Impossible Will Take a Little While by Paul Loeb

From the publisher’s summary: “In The Impossible Will Take a Little While, a phrase borrowed from Billie Holliday, the editor of Soul of a Citizen brings together fifty stories and essays that range across nations, eras, wars, and political movements. … Many of the essays are new, others classic works that continue to inspire. Together, these writers explore a path of heartfelt community involvement that leads beyond despair to compassion and hope. The voices collected in The Impossible Will Take a Little While will help keep us all working for a better world despite the obstacles.” 


From Somalia to Snow by Hudda Ibrahim

From the author’s summary: “At a time when United States citizens are being told to fear their Muslim neighbors, where does the truth lie? In this powerful book, Hudda Ibrahim unpacks the immigration narrative of Somali Americans and explains why nearly 20 percent have chosen to settle in Minnesota. From Somalia to Snow gives readers an invaluable insider’s look into the lives and culture of our Somali neighbors and the important challenges they face.”


The Song Poet by Kao Kalia Yang

From Minnesota Public Radio: “Yang's father, Bee Yang, was born in Laos. He later fled with his family to a refugee camp in Thailand, before moving to Minnesota with his wife and children. Yang documented the journey of the Hmong people's path to America in her first book, ‘The Latehomecomer.’ In her new book, ‘The Song Poet,’ she explores her father's power with words. In Hmong culture, the song poet is someone who keeps history alive, reciting folk tales, family stories and more. Her father fills this role for the local Hmong community.”


Poor Economics by Abhijit Banerjee & Esther Duflo

From the Stanford Social Innovation Review: “The core of Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo’s new book, Poor Economics, can be summed up by a single sentence in the foreword: ‘[W]e have to abandon the habit of reducing the poor to cartoon characters and take the time to really understand their lives, in all their complexity and richness.’ The next 250-plus pages do exactly that, describing and analyzing the choices that people living on less than $2 a day make. Those choices tend to make a great deal of sense after some illumination and contemplation.” 


Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

From “Roxane Gay is a laugh-out-loud-on-the-subway kind of author, but she also tackles serious and pervasive societal issues from the perspective of individual storytelling. Her ode to Channing Tatum and Magic Mike will make you cry with laughter, but several other essays in this book will have you crying because you’re so deeply saddened. Gay makes an ardent case for feminism of all stripes, and her writing especially underscores the necessity of an intersectional approach.”

A History of US Bank Stadium

Gyan Prayaga, Habitat for Humanity


America’s most watched sporting event took place just a couple weeks ago in Minneapolis. A third of the country tuned in to the Super Bowl to see the teams battle it out at the US Bank Stadium.

I first saw the stadium on my arrival in September, and was immediately taken aback by its unusual shape. The dark, striking sculpture more closely resembled a spacecraft than a stadium.

But what interested me more was the story behind the stadium. Many people I talked to had conflicting views on the stadium. Some called it an eyesore; others praised it as a futuristic, iconic landmark and a welcome addition to the Twin Cities skyline. Some bemoaned this use of taxpayer money, while others expected the stadium to bring in more money than it consumed. Intrigued, I decided to take a closer look, and in this article I’ll share my research on the stadium, its history, and some interesting details behind the construction process (since I am a Habitat AmeriCorps cohort member, after all).

The US Bank Stadium’s architecture was actually inspired by the Norwegian Vernacular style (byggeskikk), staying true to Minnesota’s Scandinavian roots. But its construction brought with it many technological achievements. First, the stadium boasts the largest translucent roof in North America. The slanted wall panels are not only visually appealing, but also help to deflect snow from the roof. However, the reluctance of the contractors to use “bird-safe” wall panels has led to the stadium being the most fatal building in Minneapolis.

It took many years of deliberation to finally decide on the Metrodome site for the US Bank Stadium. After the Metrodome was demolished, construction could finally begin on the new stadium. And an impressive 80 percent of season-ticket fans shifted seamlessly from the Metrodome to the US Bank stadium, showing that folks are willing to pay a premium for an enhanced stadium.

For all its criticism, the US Bank Stadium has been a relatively well-run project. Unlike the Mercedes-Benz stadium in Atlanta, for example, it ran completely on-budget and found public financing through pull-tab gambling, rather than a sales tax increase. The bulk of the private funding was provided by the Vikings’ billionaire financier and owner and the various team partners. And of course, the completion of the US Bank Stadium paved the way for Minneapolis’ successful Super Bowl bid, which has brought significant revenues to local businesses and the city at large (through the sizeable temporary entertainment tax and the “jock tax”).

Not everybody likes the stadium, and as a transplant from LA, I admit I don’t understand Minneapolis history or politics well enough to make a considered judgment. So I’ll leave off with my own personal opinion of the stadium: it is an instantly recognizable icon that brilliantly fuses the cultural heritage of Minnesota with its modern, post-industrial future.