Public Spirit, January 2018



By Gyan Prayaga (Habitat for Humanity)

Nordic skiing. When I arrived in Minnesota, I was acquainted with neither the concept nor any practitioners of the sport. I’d only skied down hills before, a real treat which I found exhilarating the occasional times I managed to do it.

Perhaps it is apt that Minnesota, a state still largely influenced and shaped by its Scandinavian roots to a degree that many other states are not (California, my home state, has been a melting pot for so long that there is no dominant cultural identity) is keeping a Scandinavian variant of skiing alive and well

In this article, I’ll talk a little about the history of the sport, some benefits, and an exclusive inside look into the mysterious and storied lives of the most famous Minnesotan Nordic skiers (just kidding, only the first two!).

Nordic skiing has a special place in my heart, because my father spent many formative years in Norway and Denmark. To me, Nordic skiing has connoted images of terrifying ski jumps (check out the scary Holmenkollen) and hardy arctic explorers skiing alongside sled dogs. But real Nordic skiing is perhaps a more mundane activity - a means of travel, which can be perfected into a highly effective workout.

The work “ski” comes from the Norse word for a stick of wood. After all, the earliest skis were simply carved pieces of wood. They were used by the Sami people for travel, and later by Scandinavian armies for snow warfare in the 13th century. Interestingly, the rather exciting and fun variant of Nordic skiing called state skiing came about early in the 20th century but wasn’t widely adopted until the 1980s.

Nordic skiing is one of the the best full-body workouts around, burning hundreds of calories per hour while exercising the arms, legs, chest, back, and brain (since navigating a course is more mentally stimulating than swimming laps).

The benefits also extend to the wallet. A day of downhill skiing often consumes a full day, and you lose time on the ski lifts and hilly commute. It usually costs upwards of $30, and sometimes as much as $60 or more. Cross country skiing, however, can be done with on a relatively modest budget: just find the local park or golf club. Alternatively, check out places like Wirth Park or Hyland Hills, which offer miles of groomed ski trails for a reasonable price and even a package with equipment rentals.


I encourage you to join me on the slopes, as your local Californian amateur discovers the simple pleasures of Nordic Skiing.


By 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.

When many Americans think of Chinese food, they think of Cantonese and “Cantonese-inspired” flavors and dishes (looking at you “General Tso”). However, China is home to dozens of distinctive regional flavors that have yet to gain favor with American palates. Mapo Tofu comes from China’s southwestern Sichuan province and makes use of some unique regional ingredients, including Sichuan peppercorns. These peppercorns aren’t peppercorns at all, but are instead the dried fruit from the Chinese prickly ash tree, lending a citrusy-piney flavor to Sichuan cooking along with a slight numbing sensation. Unfortunately, they’re difficult to find outside of an Asian grocery store, so I’ve included them as optional. One other unique ingredient used in this dish is Sichuan broad bean paste, or doubanjiang. Once again, this is hard to find in an American grocery store, but it does serve as the basis for the sauce, so I’d encourage venturing out to an Asian grocery store or ordering it from Amazon. Once your ingredients are assembled, however, this dish comes together very easily.



Time: ~35 minutes


¼ lb (4 oz.) ground meat of choice OR portabella/shiitake mushrooms for a vegan version

    ~$3.60 per lb., ~$0.90 per batch

½ tbsp. sesame oil

      ~$4.00 for an 8.5 oz. bottle, ~$0.12 per batch

1 tbsp. soy sauce

      ~$1.70 for a 15 oz. bottle, ~$0.03 per batch

14 oz. medium-firm tofu cut into square-inch cubes


1 tbsp. vegetable or peanut oil

      ~$5.00 per gallon, ~$0.01 per batch

2 tbsp. Doubanjiang (Sichuan broad bean paste)

      ~$0.92 per oz., ~$0.92 per batch

2 scallions, finely chopped


2 garlic cloves, minced

      Price varies per lb

1 tsp. ginger, minced

      Price varies per lb

1 cup boiling water


½ tbsp. ground Sichuan peppercorns (optional)

      ~$2.00 per oz., ~$0.50 per batch


2 and ½ tablespoon water


1 tablespoon cornstarch

      ~$1.56 for 16 oz., ~$0.05 per batch



1. Add sesame oil and soy sauce to the ground meat. Combine and set aside.

2. Bring a large amount of water to a boil and then add a pinch of salt. Gently place the tofu in the water and boil for 1 minute. Move out and drain.

3. Heat vegetable or peanut oil in a wok or large frying pan over medium heat and fry the doubanjiang for 1 minute. Add the meat along with the garlic, ½ of the scallions, and ginger, stirring occasionally until the meat is cooked through.

4. Add water and bring to a boil. Then gently add the tofu cubes and simmer until the tofu is warmed through.

5. Mix cornstarch and water in a small bowl to make a thickener, then pour half of the mixture to the simmering pot. Wait for around 30 seconds and then add the other half.

6. If using, garnish with Szechuan peppercorn powder and remaining scallions and serve with hot white rice.

Total cost per batch: ~$4.58

Total cost per serving: ~$1.15

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



By Zayn Saifullah (College Possible)

It’s about that time when organizations are renewing their AmeriCorps positions for next year and talking about returner applications. I am in my first year of service, so I sat down with two of my co-workers, Zuzu Allaback and Rachel Quay, to discuss why they returned to College Possible for a second year of service. Zuzu is the VISTA leader for College Possible and was a member of our Community Partnerships Team last year, and Rachel is our Catalyze Development VISTA who previously served as a tech-connected high school coach.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity

Zayn Saifullah: Thanks for talking with me today! First, I’d like to ask what motivated you to come back to College Possible for a second year?

Zuzu Allaback: When I initially applied to College Possible, I was drawn in by the mission and that’s why I wanted to serve here. Over the course of my first term I got even more attached to the mission, so I was really glad when there was the opportunity to return ― it really fit into my career goals and I wanted to spend more time at this organization I’ve gotten so attached to. And so when returning I wanted to find an opportunity that was right for me, which led me to move to a different position at College Possible.

Rachel Quay: I returned because I am motivated by service, but I do really like servinghere and I knew that if I wanted to continue here, then a 2nd year of service was the route to follow. I think College Possible is really unique in the values that we hold around having fun and community building, and, having had a previous job that didn’t have any of those things that make such a difference in morale and coming to work every day, I didn’t want to give that up.

ZA: I really agree with that. I’ve had a variety of different jobs in the past that shared those values and I really didn’t want to let go of a work environment that was so wonderful to come into everyday.

RQ: I also feel like College Possible really invests in both our personal and professional development, which is also pretty unique and highly valuable for people just coming out of college still working on developing professional skills.

ZA: And that leads into the second reason why I wanted to return. I grew so much last year, I did so many things I thought I never could do, and I gained so many skills from being pushed out of my comfort zone. I had been reflecting on that when I was thinking about returning, and realized I could gain skills intentionally with another year. I wanted to spend another year growing before I entered a permanent, full-time position and I knew that College Possible would be a great place to do that growing.

RQ: When I was thinking about returning as a VISTA versus as a coach, I realized that moving positions would allow me to broaden my skill set. I can’t think of many other opportunities where I could move from a direct-service to a development role — I didn’t have any experience with Raiser’s Edge (a fundraising software) or prior fundraising experience but I’ve gotten to learn all of this through my VISTA role.

ZS: What’s something that initially made you doubt returning?

ZA: The money, 100% the money. I was a low-income college student and my parents don’t contribute to my financial situation now or in college at all. So graduating from college and having to live at the poverty level for a year was already a big commitment, especially since I went to college to get out from my family’s poverty situation. Thinking about doing that for another year was really challenging. I actually made a pros and cons list before deciding to return and most of the cons were related to finances. I wouldn’t be able to get a bigger apartment or invest in a better car, both things that I envisioned having after college.  Returning would mean delaying those things for another year. But in the end I think that the skills I’m learning now are going to set me up for a better paying job and I’ll have the confidence to apply for better positions now after returning. Lastly, my priorities in the end weren’t financial, but things like the returner housing allowance offered by College Possible have really helped.

RQ: It was pretty similar for me. I also had to really think about what financial sacrifices I was making — I haven’t been able to save for retirement since serving and I don’t really like my apartment, but ultimately I decided that serving here was more important than those things. I also had some pushback from my family about serving a second year, especially from my parents, and it took some effort to gain their approval, but I would have done it with or without their approval. I also don’t know if I would have come back to the same position as a coach for a second year. I was really burnt out, so much so that I had a moment of reckoning with myself and my supervisor where we considered whether I should really return to College Possible as a coach and that’s what led me to my current position as a VISTA.

ZS: More broadly beyond College Possible, what do you think AmeriCorps members should consider when contemplating returning for a second year?

ZA: I would say that people who don’t have a commitment to service shouldn’t return for this reason, but the professional development opportunities are really incredible and for people serving in a field that they are interested in for a career post-service, a 2nd year provides a lot of valuable experience. AmeriCorps really highlights professional development in the VISTA program and they make sure that people get something of their service for their own growth.

RQ: This is going to sound kind of flippant, but if you want to, you should! But you should take a serious look at your financial situation because this should be the best decision for you – if you base this decision on outside forces or expectations and get halfway through your second year and realize you can’t do this, that’s a pretty bad situation to be in. I’d also consider the opportunities that continuity at the same organization offers – it’s allowed me to take on more leadership opportunities. Since you’ve already done the groundwork of getting to know the organization the first year you can grow even more.

ZA: Being a VISTA leader, I don’t think I would have been able to take on my responsibilities if I hadn’t served here. In your first year you’re still getting used to what it means to be in service and serve at College Possible. People might not understand AmeriCorps or they might not understand what you did in service, but every interviewer can appreciate that you took time to do service to your community — how you committed to a cause and the experiences you gain during your time in AmeriCorps can be appreciated by all types of organizations you may want to seek post-service employment with

Public Spirit, December 2017

Happy Holidays from your ICC representatives! Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service is coming up on January 15, and we are excited to have different service opportunities for you to do throughout the day. Be on the look out for updates in the coming weeks! 

Giving Green

By Xinci Tan (Green Corps)

First off, a few reminders:

Wrapping paper and tissue are NOT recyclable!

They are not recyclable because of their low-quality fiber. The glitter, foil, and plastic ribbons only further contaminate paper recycling. If you celebrate by gift-giving, consider using these alternative gift wrap options:

  • Old road maps
  • Children's drawings or coloring pages
  • Newspaper (use the comics section for some color!)
  • Old posters
  • Furoshiki/scarf/towel cloth wrap (video)

(Japanese furoshiki wrap. Image: Kaiju Studios)

String lights can NEVER go into your recycling bin!

They are known as “tanglers” because they wrap around sorting equipment in recycling facilities. String lights endangers the lives of workers who must crawl into the machines to cut them out, plus it slows processing lines and costs taxpayers money. Just like plastic bags, string lights must be taken to a drop-off site for recycling. Find one near you here or take the lights to your local scrap metal yard.

It is ILLEGAL to put Christmas trees in the trash!

Just like any other yard waste, trees and wreaths must be taken to your local brush site for disposal. Contact your city’s Solid Waste department for more information.


According to the EPA, Americans increase the volume of their household waste by more than 25% between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day - generating 1 million extra tons. If you celebrate the holidays or show affection through gifts, consider buying your loved ones gifts of experience instead!

Here are some examples:

Be creative! Buy a museum pass, a gym membership, tickets to a concert, subscription to a streaming service, or even flight tickets for a trip together.


By Zayn Saifullah (College Possible)

My mom is a librarian, so maybe I’m biased, but I believe that even in the digital age, brick-and-mortar libraries have a lot to offer the community (and you!) for free. This list includes examples from the St. Paul and Hennepin County public library systems, but many of these resources will also be available even in small libraries in greater Minnesota.

1. Classes and Programs

Children’s story time is usually what we remember when we think of library programming, but many libraries also run some continuing and professional education programs. Of particular interest to service members, both St. Paul and Hennepin County public libraries offer in-person resume proofreading as well as other professional development classes. Interested in learning Adobe creative suite? Both offer occasional in-person classes in addition to free access to classes through (which usually costs $25 per month!) if you don’t have time to make it to a library location. If you’re preparing for graduate school admissions, both libraries also have access to materials from otherwise-paid GRE courses and offer in-person tutoring. What’s the catch to access all of this? Just a library card!

2. Office technology

Given the cost of printers, let alone those pesky ink cartridges, owning and operating a printer isn't always cost-effective or possible. Plus, who even owns a personal scanner anymore? Sure you could go to a print shop, but oftentimes the library offers cheaper rates per page to print or copy and will often let you use a scanner for free.

3. E-book library

An incredible amount of ink has been spilled arguing that, thanks to the rise of e-readers, libraries will be dead within the decade. The reality, however, is that libraries have by and large made concerted efforts to stay up to date with community desires and have purchased subscriptions to e-book libraries that you, noble library card holder, can access for free! All the e-reader convenience without having to pay for the book you stop reading after the first chapter, can you ask for anything more?

4. Meeting space

Coffee shops have become common as a place for meetings, but if you need a quieter place or just want more privacy, most libraries have reservable meeting rooms with free wifi. These can be great for skype or phone interviews or just having a private place to work. If you find yourself in need of a larger space for a group meeting, libraries often have a conference room you can reserve.

5. Discounts for local events and attractions

This is often regarded as the most surprising thing that libraries offer, but especially larger library systems will have some free or discounted tickets for events and museums. For the metro area, the smART pass program will get you into many arts and cultural events for free with just your library card! Find out more here.

6. Traditional media

I’ve saved the most unsurprising item for last, but checking out books and other media for free still stands out as an amazing reason to get a library card. Even with the seemingly limitless material available on the internet, sometimes there’s no substitute for a good physical paperback. The thrill of walking through the aisles being able to pick out whatever you want? Even something as powerful as the internet can’t kill that.


By 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.

Shakshuka (also spelled shakshouka or chakchouka) is a North-African egg dish that has recently come into vogue among some avid brunchers for its instagrammable appearance and wholesome flavors. It’s also incredibly easy to make and can be improvised in a pinch. I was introduced to it by a friend who studied abroad in Egypt as a tasty way to use up spare vegetables — as long as you cover your sauteed vegetables with tomato and egg, something good will come of it. The following recipe is for a “standard” shakshuka, but feel free to make it your own. Give it a try and hopefully this dish’s vibrant colors will bring a little light to your Minnesota winter.



Time: ~50 minutes

2 tbsp extra­ virgin olive oil

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

1 white or yellow onion, sliced

Price varies per pound

1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and sliced

Price varies per pound

3 garlic cloves, sliced

Price varies per pound

1 tsp cumin powder

~$2.00 per ounce, ~$0.10 per batch

1 tsp paprika

~$1.50 per ounce, ~$0.05 per batch

⅛ tsp cayenne chili powder

           ~$0.80 per ounce, ~$0.03 per batch

1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes OR 5-6 fresh medium-sized tomatoes, finely chopped

~$1.40 for 1 can

Salt and pepper to taste


3-4 eggs (as many as can fit comfortably in your pan)

~$2.00 per dozen, ~$0.66 per batch

A few sprigs of cilantro, chopped (optional)

~$0.90 per bunch, ~$0.05 per batch

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. (Optional)

  2. Heat olive oil over medium-low heat in a large skillet or frying pan (preferably oven-safe) and cook onion and bell pepper slices until very soft, approximately 20 minutes.

  3. Add garlic, cumin, paprika and cayenne, and cook until garlic is tender, about 1 to 2 minutes.

  4. Add canned tomatoes and season with salt and pepper, simmering until the sauce thickens.

  5. Make small depressions in the sauce and crack eggs into them. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until the egg whites become firm, about 7 to 10 minutes OR place a lid on the skillet and simmer until egg whites become firm.

  6. Garnish with cilantro and serve with warm pita or over pasta.

Total cost per batch: ~$3.02

Total cost per serving: ~$.75!

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

How to Help 2017 Hurricane Victims

By: Gao Vue (College Possible) 

Here are a couple of best ways you can give back during your service:

1.     First, people directly think of donating clothes, food and supplies. If you’d prefer to donate this way, you can mail supplies to local food banks and charities that are located in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. Here is a compiled list of food banks in Texas. The NY Times has a list of charities collecting supplies for victims in Puerto Rico and nearby islands, and World Vision has a website for ways you can donate your supplies to Hurricane Irma victims.

2.     You can contribute monetary donations to relief organizations! This is one of the easiest and most flexible ways to help relief for economic reasons. For more information, here is a guide you can check out to know how it can benefit the victims and everyone else around them and who you can donate to. But if you are unsure which organization is not a scam, you can check out Charity Navigator to identify organizations you can trust. However, here are a few organizations you can donate your money to:

  • United Way
  • American Red Cross
  • Hope for Haiti
  • Direct Relief
  • The Humane Society of the United States
  • Salvation Army

3.     There are also many ways you can help in person. This website from the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster coordinates fully experienced volunteers to assist in the disaster relief.

4.     Last, but not least, people can donate blood since it can run low during emergencies. You can learn here how to donate to American Red Cross and understand how blood donation has saved countless lives.

A Californian Up North

By: Gyan Prayaga (Habitat)

(Top: San Fernando Valley, Bottom: Minneapolis)

A few weeks ago, my Habitat Twin Cities cohort drove up north for our first “retreat”. I was already aware of my status as the token Californian, and so made a mental note to avoid complaining about the weather during the trip. In the end, putting up siding on a house in less than ideal conditions turned out to more of an adventure than a challenge.

Still, there are a plethora of interesting differences between where I’ve grown up and the Twin Cities/northern Minnesota. The obvious contrast is the weather; in the San Fernando Valley, where I’ve spent the majority of my life, summers have reached 120 degrees and winters rarely drop below 60. Furthermore, there aren’t any proper seasons, and we rarely get snow, rain, or hail. This dramatic difference makes an easy conversation starter with many of the volunteers I interact with: “How’d you end up here in Minnesota?” My response is usually a variation of a similar refrain: “Why not?” After spending my whole life in southern California, I figured spending some time in the Midwest/North, in a different city, geographic and climatic region, and “geoculture” would open my mind and broaden my outlook on the world. And so far, in many ways, it has.

So, I’d like to dedicate this brief essay to a few of the differences I’ve noticed in Minnesota. Coming in, I expected Fargo-like accents whenever I ventured outside of the cosmopolitan Twin Cities. I was quite disappointed to find people talking standard Americana even on the Iron Range of northern Minnesota. That said, there seem to be subtle variations in Minnesota talk compared to California drawl (“come with”, for example).

Perhaps a more interesting and noticeable difference is a general approach to welfare and well-being. Perhaps this is the Scandinavian root of the place, but I’ve noticed both a well-maintained human services bureaucracy as well as an excellent urban transportation system. One can’t discount the wealth of Minnesota (and the Twin Cities, for that matter), but the quality of government and municipal services continues to impress me, from the carpool entrance on freeways to the regularity of the light-rail. I have yet to find any California cities with the same quality of public services and infrastructure. As a service member with Habitat, the dedication of return volunteers on my site continues to inspire me. I do think that this spirit of generosity and public service is a core tenet of being a Minnesotan.

Although I remain a Californian at heart, I’m proud and grateful to make Minneapolis my adopted home. In doing so, I join the many transplants who happily occupy this frigid state, often leaving warmer locales for the many other benefits (often initially unseen) that Minnesotans enjoy.

Public Spirit, November 2017

The InterCorps Council is BACK and so is Public Spirit, our monthly newsletter! Here, we will share with you various AmeriCorps information including program spotlights, service opportunities, and what we have going on around Minnesota; we will also share money saving hacks, a new recipe every month, and much more. Stay tuned!

Who are you people?!?

By Xinci Tan (Minnesota GreenCorps)

Oh, us? We’re your new InterCorps Council (ICC)! We are the representatives from more than 15 AmeriCorps programs across the state of Minnesota. Together, we in the council hope to connect AmeriCorps members with each other and the public!

By way of introduction, below is a sampling of the projects that are happening across your state:

Jaquelyn Chagnon

College Health Corps VISTA



“I am the VISTA Leader for the College Health Corps meaning I support my VISTAs in their work.”

Shane DeGroy

Minnesota GreenCorps

I dig holes and then immediately fill them up again. #badlyexplainyourservice

“I’m an urban forester who plants trees all around Hennepin County.”

Sophia Haire

Community Technology Empowerment Project (CTEP)

I'm a fully-booked techno-specialized therapist encouraging several clients a day that the Internet really wants to be their friend. #badlyexplainyourservice

“I teach basic computer skills to low-income adults seeking employment.”

Ashley Hegeholz

Minnesota Reading Corps

I do seventeen different handshakes daily to help kiddos learn to read. #badlyexplainyourservice

“I'm a K-3 Elementary Literacy Tutor at an elementary school in North Minneapolis.”

Hannah Koxlien

Minnesota Opportunity Corps

I apply for jobs all day, even though I already have one. #badlyexplainyourservice

“I help New Americans find jobs after they complete one of the career pathway training programs at the International Institute of Minnesota.”

David Kraft

Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, AmeriCorps VISTA Cohort

The guy always on Facebook at work. #badlyexplainyourservice

“Improving MIGIZI’s virtual presence. MIGIZI primarily educates American Indian youth in Minneapolis area communities. Migizi is the Ojibwe word for bald eagle.”

Zayn Saifullah

College Possible

I help people ask other people for free labor. #badlyexplainyourservice

“I am developing a volunteer program for College Possible to add value to our work with low-income students and deepen the organization’s community ties.”

Ben Schneider

MAVA Vista

0.2% going to the bathroom, 0.5% attending meetings, and 99.3% sending emails. #badlyexplainyourservice

“I manage and support volunteers for a community-wide initiative that aims to alleviate the education gap in local school districts.”

Xinci Tan

Minnesota GreenCorps

I go around town asking to look at human waste. #badlyexplainyourservice

“I am currently collecting data on multi-family recycling in St. Louis Park! I also promote better recycling habits (e.g. NO PLASTIC BAGS/FILM IN THE RECYCLING BIN) and organics recycling with one of four available drop sites in the city.”

Michael Waldegerma

Minneapolis Promise Zone

I go to meetings, and I Google stuff for people. #badlyexplainyourservice

“I facilitate meetings between organizations working on housing in North Minneapolis to improve collaboration and prevent a multitude of "siloed collaboration" efforts. I also do whatever research partners and organizations need that they don't have the capacity for themselves.”

In addition to the individuals and the programs that you see here, here are the other ICC members and the AmeriCorps programs they are serving with:

  • Dana Akre-Fens - City of Lakes AmeriCorps
  • Colin Casey - Minnesota Alliance with Youth
  • Ali Channa - MN Alliance with Youth
  • Alex Dobbins - Minnesota Recovery Corps
  • Annie Doran - Math Corps
  • Camilla Dreasher - Community Technology Empowerment Project (CTEP)
  • Aisha Fernandez - EMERGE
  • Adam Kolb - C3 Twin Cities (Phillips Family Foundation)
  • Zachary Mallory - Minnesota Alliance with Youth
  • Janna Morehead - Reading Corps
  • Gyan Prayaga - Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity
  • Emily Smith - Minnesota Literacy Council
  • Camille Tinnin - City of Saint Paul
  • Gao Vue - College Possible

We hope that gives you a better sense of who we are here in the InterCorps Council!


Habitat for Humanity:

What we do, and why it matters

By Gyan Prayaga (Habitat for Humanity)

Habitat and AmeriCorps logo.jpg

My name is Gyan, and I’m an AmeriCorps member from Los Angeles, California serving with the Twin Cities affiliate of Habitat for Humanity. Habitat is an international organization and one of the best-known nonprofits, but many people still don’t know the basics of what we do.

Allow me to shed some light on this issue. We are primarily trying to solve inequity in housing through Habitat. In theory, housing seems quite simple - a roof over your head - which serves its purpose regardless of its manifestation, whether that be an apartment, house, condo, or other living situation.

The reality is more complex. In America, housing is a critical means of building wealth, providing social security, and ensuring multigenerational success. In America, the massive racial and economic wealth gap is closely tied to inequities in housing. After all, house value provides a large percentage of a household’s assets.

But the magnitude of housing extends beyond the wealth-generation benefits. A house is a safe and secure place to raise kids. Not having to worry about eviction and rising rent payments is comforting. And the wealth invested by parents is recycled by their children, grandchildren, and so on.

Unfortunately, homeownership is largely out of reach for many working families. Simply put, housing is not equitable, and American cities like Minneapolis never have enough affordable housing.

Habitat is vital because it bridges the gap between low-income working families and homeownership. We set an affordable mortgage, capped at a third of the family’s income, with a low interest rate and no down payment. I’m getting into the details here to dispel the popular myth that Habitat gives away homes for free. Actually, Habitat families have been paying affordable mortgages on their homes from the very beginning.

I love serving with and for Habitat. Every day, I get to play with power tools, joke around with volunteers, and occasionally work alongside future homebuyers as we build their new homes from the ground up. Playing a small role in a much larger movement is both challenging and rewarding, and for that I am grateful. I urge you to get involved - it’s as simple as advocating to your friends, family, and political representatives about the importance of affordable housing in the Twin Cities. And if you’re looking to do some direct work, roll up your sleeves and join us on the construction site!


World Cuisine on an AmeriCorps Living Allowance

By 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’ll feature a new recipe every month that is nutritious, worldly, and competitive with processed convenience food for price. This first recipe is from my family’s kitchen, but in the future I’d look forward to publishing some of your recipes, too.

Dal is an everyday staple in most Indian households. Sometimes called “Indian Lentil Soup,” dal is usually served over white rice or with various flatbreads from the subcontinent (whole wheat tortillas or pita make great substitutes!) There are thousands of different preparations, but one of my favorites that I made weekly in college is full of ginger, garlic, and citrus. Some of the ingredients can be a little challenging to find at your average American grocery store, so I’ve included some optional substitutions as well as where you can find, say, dried red chili peppers. Give the recipe a try and if you have questions, feel free to reach me at my email:

Simple North Indian Dal – Adapted from a Suvir Saran recipe

Makes ~5 Servings

Time: ~45 minutes


1 cup dry lentils, rinsed and picked over (yellow or pink masoor varieties)

            ~$3.50 for a large bag, ~$0.85 per batch, especially cheap at South Asian             groceries

½ tsp turmeric powder

            ~$3.00 for a few ounces, ~$0.15 per batch

1 tsp salt, or to taste


4 cups of water


Tempering Oil

2 ½ tbsp canola or vegetable oil

            ~$5.00 per gallon, ~$0.03 per batch

1 ¼ tsp cumin seeds OR ½ tsp cumin powder

            ~$1 per ounce, ~$0.10 per batch, especially cheap at South Asian groceries

1-2 whole dried red chilies (optional, but encouraged)

            ~$4.00 for a large package, ~$0.15 per batch, common in Asian and Latino groceries

1 tbsp minced fresh ginger (about 1”)

             Price varies per pound

2 cloves garlic, minced

            Price varies per pound

1 green bird’s eye chili OR 1 green serrano pepper, minced

            ~$0.15 per batch

1 tsp cayenne chili powder

            ~$0.80 per ounce, ~$0.10 per batch

Finishing Touch

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional, but encouraged)

            ~$0.90 per bunch, ~$0.20 per batch

Juice of ½ lime or lemon

            Price varies per pound

1. Lentils: In a large saucepan, boil the lentils, turmeric and salt in the water. Skim excess froth from the lentils and reduce heat to a simmer until the lentils are soft, approximately 20 to 30 minutes.

1a. Gently mash the soft lentils with a whisk or fork if you desire a thick dal OR add water as desired for a more soup-like consistency.

2. Tempering oil: In a separate small frying pan, heat the oil and cumin seeds (if using) over medium heat. When the seeds turn a light golden brown, add the dried chili (if using), ginger, garlic, and green chili and fry until the garlic starts to turn golden. Remove pan from heat to add the cayenne chili powder, taking care not to burn the powder.

2a. If you’re using cumin powder instead of cumin seeds, add the powder along with the cayenne chili powder once the pan is off the heat.

3. Finishing: Tip the contents of the frying pan into the lentils along with the cilantro and lime/lemon juice and stir. Simmer for 5 minutes and serve with rice or flatbread.

Total cost per batch: ~$2.63

Total cost per serving: ~$0.53!

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


Supporting Undocumented Youth in Service

By Zayn Saifullah (College Possible)

The second line of the AmeriCorps pledge that all of us took before entering service reads “I will bring Americans together to strengthen our communities.” Regardless of political opinion on the matter, it is a plain reality that our communities include undocumented immigrants who, under our pledge, are also deserving of being made “… safer, smarter, and healthier.” As a subset of undocumented immigrants, undocumented youth have some particular needs that require special attention. Among these needs are navigating barriers to education, overcoming social exclusion, and combating anxieties about their future due to their status. Supporting undocumented youth is no small task and is difficult to do well, but I hope that some of the resources listed below help you in your service.

·       Education: Undocumented students face many challenges graduating from high school, and even more so with higher education. As of 2015, the U.S Department of Education estimated that 54% of undocumented youth have at least a high school diploma (compared to 82% of their U.S born peers) and only 5-10% enroll in any kind of post-k12 education ― of that number, even fewer go on to graduate. Despite the barriers they face, these individuals greatly boost their chances of educational attainment if they have access to educational resources and a strong support network. For more information, I recommend these resources from the Department of Education and the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

·       Legal System: The U.S legal system is already difficult to navigate for documented Americans. This inaccessibility is augmented by undocumented status and can cause confusion and anxieties about interactions with the authorities. To provide some peace of mind and legal confidence, the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota and the Immigrant Defense Project provide great and reliable information.

·       DACA: This acronym stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program created during the Obama administration to allow undocumented youth who arrived in the U.S as a minor and meet specific criteria to remain without fear of deportation or familial separation. This program has demonstrably shown to increase quality of life for recipients and can be further researched at the National Immigration Law Center.

·       Relationships: As mentioned earlier, developing strong supportive relationships with undocumented youth is key to greater educational attainment, but additionally combat the myriad of mental health issues that can arise from undocumented status. While originally intended for educators, this handout from the Educators for Fair Consideration provides solid guidelines for helping foster these kinds of relationships.



By: Gao Vue (College Possible)

Apply for Discounts & Benefits EVERYWHERE!

·       AmeriCorps members should be eligible for SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) previously known as food stamps. So, do not hesitate to use SNAP to buy food. SNAP can also be used to purchase baking products for the holidays! Such as cookies then, packaging it as a gift!

·       Periodically check sales that are happening on Amazon, Ebay or, that you can connect with your Amazon account! Even thrift stores are helpful, too! Check out thrift stores before shopping retail.

Other tips to keep in mind:

·       Consider sending e-cards as a holiday gift when appropriate because some do not cost a thing.

·       If you must shop, shop after the holidays since the best deals come after the holiday!

·       Always stick to your budget and create a budget spreadsheet such as this one to help with the process!

·       Ask former AmeriCorps members or your supervisor for suggestions to finding the right places and discounts!

·       Plan accordingly in advance before the holiday so you can allocate your spending!

Good luck! 


How do you celebrate the holidays?

Submit your pictures!

By Xinci Tan (Minnesota GreenCorps)

Cultural holiday traditions. Photograph: LanguageStars blog.

Cultural holiday traditions. Photograph: LanguageStars blog.

Across the state of Minnesota, there are many cultural identities. Our state boasts a diverse demographic of people, including the largest population of Somalis and the second largest population of Hmong in the country. It's not surprising that we all choose to celebrate the end of the Gregorian year differently according to our religions, cultures, and traditions.

So, Minnesota AmeriCorps members, show us! Whether you weave a mkeka for Kwanzaa, play Dreidel for Hanukkah, or exchange gifts for Christmas, submit a picture with a description to by December 13th, 2017. We'll include your pictures in the next newsletter so you can showcase your culture. Be creative! Even if you just like making snow angels or stuffing your face with mom's cooking like I do, send it in - we'd love to see it!

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May June Public Spirit 2017

Closing Remarks from our ICC Members

by Raquel MacSwain

Throughout this year, our ICC service members have grown dramatically in their skills and as a group. The hard work and dedication that each and every one of us put in made this year possible. A special shout out to all of our event attendees! You made our events successful!

ICC Members Highlights:


Anonymous quotes from our End of the Year Feedback Survey for ICC:

“The ICC helped me a lot by giving me some very rewarding leadership experience.”

“We had great communication, and I could tell that we enjoyed the work we did and making a

difference in the AmeriCorps community.”

“Don't be afraid to think big. With the proper support of the committee and the council there is nothing that cannot get done. So be sure to ask for those extra hands that are always needed. Above everything else, do not stress yourself out.”

Vice President Amara Robinson for the ICC year:

“I have been so happy with my experience on the ICC. I feel fortunate to have participated in a council like this with people who are driven, creative, and bright. The ICC tried many new events this year and really made the council their own. Every committee branched out and tried something new, which allowed us to impact and engage more AmeriCorps members, and more community members. I know that it takes so much courage and planning to try something new, and that speaks to the quality and character of our members. I gained so much professionally and personally serving as the Vice President, and I was lucky to serve with all of these amazing people. I cannot wait to see what happens next year with the council!”

As stated before, none of this would have been possible without passionate AmeriCorps members coming together to show their appreciation for not only AmeriCorps, but the surrounding communities as well!

If you’re interested in being a member on the InterCorps Council next year, make sure to connect with your service site for more details on how to get involved!

Corps Connections success!

Corps Connections was a great success! There were 64 people in attendance including 44 Corps members and 20 community members. With many networking opportunities, attendees walked away feeling like the event helped them to make new connections in a comfortable environment.

"Sometimes I am shy when it comes to networking, but this event made it feel easier. I got some really good insight in a relaxed atmosphere."

“I liked that I wasn't pressured to talk to a ton of people and wasn't required to stay a long time. It was my first networking event and I was more comfortable interacting just a little.”

Many thanks to everyone who attended!

AmeriCorps Highlight- Leah Weston

For the Member Spotlight of our last Public Spirit of 2016-17, we turn to Leah Weston. Leah is completing a first year as a Minnesota GreenCorps – Stormwater Track member in Faribault, Minnesota. She chose to serve a gap year between completing college and graduate school in restoration ecology.

Her project emphasis has been on improving outreach and education for handling stormwater and developing rain gardens. One success involved a family, new to Minnesota, receiving a grant to remove their grass and put in a rain garden this summer to help reduce untreated runoff.

“AmeriCorps has shown me the real value in education and has taught me how to communicate complex, technical topics in basic, easily understandable language. So often, scientists talk over everyone’s heads, assuming people know the language they are using. I want to help bridge the communication gap between scientists and non-scientists. AmeriCorps has helped me develop those skills.”

In addition to her GreenCorps position, Leah served as an ICC Ambassador. “I feel I have developed connections and gained insight into AmeriCorps programs more than I would if I had not been a member of the ICC. It has helped me connect to the broader, service-oriented mission of AmeriCorps, which is so important in a rural area.”

Leah sends a shout out to her fellow ambassadors for their support, especially to Amara Robinson and Rachael Snavely for helping her clean 42 bags of trash from a Faribault creek.

Shout out to the ICC Ambassadors!

We asked the ICC ambassadors a few questions, including what they liked about the ICC to wrap up the year. A big thank you to the ambassadors; your outreach and service this year was incredible. Cheers to you!

1. What is the role of an ambassador and what has been your favorite part of that role?

The role of an InterCorps Council Ambassador is to serve as a point of contact and representative in greater Minnesota for current, future, and past AmeriCorps members. Educating the public and supporting recruitment efforts that engage interest in AmeriCorps service is an important responsibility in our local communities.

My favorite part of being an ICC Ambassador has been connecting with other AmeriCorps members who are serving a variety of sites and capacities. There are so many different opportunities for people to participate in AmeriCorps in areas that drive their own interests and future goals, while serving Minnesota.

2. What is the purpose of this outreach?

The ambassadors do a lot of outreach to spread the word about AmeriCorps programs and events to bring everyone together!  The purpose of outreach events is to inform and engage the community about national service, the opportunities and benefits for those who dedicate a year or more to service, and to be leaders in our community.

3. How has the ICC helped you grow?

The ICC has supported me in finding other AmeriCorps members who have similar goals, challenges, and outcomes of their service year. ICC has been a network of support during my service year and I hope as an Ambassador my experience and knowledge as also able to support others in their service year!

What I like about the ICC is the ability to see how our diverse roles can work together to accomplish even more. I've learned more about the other AmeriCorps programs just by being an ambassador--and honestly it's made me want to try them all out! I wish there was no maximum limit on service so I could spend a year in each program, but that's not going to happen just yet. :)

4. Where are you located for your service and what is the most fun thing to do there?

I am located in Grand Rapids, MN. The arts community in Grand Rapids is vibrant and growing so going to events at the MacRostie Art Gallery, the Reif Center, or at Itasca Community College has been fantastic!

I have been a K-Focus Reading Corps tutor at Parker Elementary in Elk River for the past two years. I think the most fun thing to do is to build relationships with the kids I service and to keep track of their success stories (as well as the funny things kindergarteners will say from time to time!)

Shout outs from an ICC ambassador:

I want to thank Amara for always hosting our monthly conference calls for us ambassadors. She is the essence of bubbly enthusiasm and empathy, and she has been a most supportive asset. t's been a really good experience. I would highly recommend it.

If your time of service will be ending, please don't forget to become registered as an AmeriCorps alumni. Alumni can still participate in ICC and other team building events. Don't forget to switch your Public Spirit subscription to your permanent email address to stay on top of future events.

Public Spirit, April 2017

Zero Waste – Sunday, May 7 2017 - Celebrate with the May Day Green Team!                                 Where: Powderhorn Park Building, 3400 15th Ave South, Minneapolis                                   Join us in working towards a greener festival!                                              Help boost May Day's composting and recycling efforts - assisting folks with sorting their items at a waste station while affirming the impact of their actions.

Pitch in towards the end of the event to help measure how much waste was diverted from the landfill!

For more info about the May Day Parade, please visit Heart of the Beast.                     Free food and a t-shirt for volunteers who work a full 3-hour shift!                                 Sign up here: May Day Volunteer 

Grow your network in the Twin Cities community, and gain advice, resources, and potential opportunities for the future!

Tuesday, May 16th from 4-8pm at Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity

Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity 1954 University Ave W, St Paul, MN 55104

Come and enjoy an evening connecting with AmeriCorps members, alumni, and other professionals in the community in preparation for your next steps. Community representatives will offer career advice and share potential opportunities within their organization. AmeriCorps alumni & other community members representing non-profit organizations, colleges, government, the corporate sector, and other institutions to help you get a foot in the door in the area you want. The event is a few hours long. If you can make it for any amount of time stop by and say hi!

There will be light snacks/hor d'oeuvres/appetizers, desserts, and non-alcoholic beverages. First come, first served.

Professional head shots will be available; don't miss out! RSVP Here!

On Earth Day, April 22nd, 9 volunteers signed up with ICC to participate in planting at Bushway Road. These dedicated volunteers beautified and supported the earth by digging in the dirt. A total of 200 volunteers came together at Wayzata’s historic scenic roadway to plant 1,100 perennials and 700 trees in one day!! Thank you to all who volunteered that day.  

On Earth Day, April 22nd, 9 volunteers signed up with ICC to participate in planting at Bushway Road. These dedicated volunteers beautified and supported the earth by digging in the dirt. A total of 200 volunteers came together at Wayzata’s historic scenic roadway to plant 1,100 perennials and 700 trees in one day!! Thank you to all who volunteered that day.  

THE END IS NEAR by Raquel MacSwain

            Time flies, doesn’t it? Seems like yesterday our programs began and everything seemed so new and intimidating. Some members are pushing themselves to the very end with the high levels of work. For others, things are beginning to slow down, and they may even have some more time to think about the “FUTURE”.                                                          

Regardless where you may fit in as an AmeriCorps member, the future is something we all have to consider. If you have decided to return for a second year, or found a job after your term of service, CONGRATS! However, for those still trying to figure out what to do next, this can be an daunting step to head back into the job search all over again.                                

For those searching several job websites, such as the listing on Minnesota Council of Non-Profits, it can be hard to remember other ways in which you can put yourself out there. A great way to do this is through attending networking events or even career fairs. Do you remember what you need to bring to these events? If not, check this out!

Things you SHOULD bring to /do at a Networking Event or Career Fair:

·         Appropriate attire: check event to make sure you match what is recommended.

·         At a career fair, make sure to have resumes on hand to provide on the spot so recruiters remember you and can reference you off hand.

·         At a networking event, it’s better to have a business card OR make sure to get a business card from the individual you are connecting with IF you’ve built enough rapport with that person. Reach out to them later and connect via email or LinkedIn to thank them for their time and for help if they provided some.

·         Bring a notepad to take notes so you can remember valuable information that you learn during the event.

·         Come prepared with questions or an overall goal from attending the event. Don’t try to follow only what your friends are doing, or you may miss out on a wonderful opportunity.

·         Treat each person as if they are your friend by being polite, not going into a conversation only to talk about yourself. Make sure to make this natural and genuine.

·         Most importantly, don’t spread yourself too thin by talking to everyone in the room. Talk to the people you think will provide you better perspective or tips for your career growth for a longer period of time. Focusing on fewer people gives you time to make your interactions more meaningful.

Upcoming Events to Consider:                                                                                             Minneapolis Professional & Technology Diversity Career Fairs                                           Thur May 4th: 11:00 am-2 pm at the U.S. Bank Stadium (Legacy Gate Entrance)

**There are many resources for other events. To get started, check EventBrite, MeetUp, Pollenmidwest**

Check out these articles to help you prepare for your next steps after service! By: Marlee Davis

Improving your Resume

8 Critical Ways To Improve Your Resume -  Tips on how to optimize your resume for electronic scanning systems or for human readers sorting through a multitude of applicants. This article also gives lots of links to further reading for those who want to really dig into their resume.

7 Creative Ways to Greatly Improve Your Resume  - Ideas for making your resume attention-grabbing and tailored for a specific opportunity.

Building your LinkedIn

How To Update Your LinkedIn Profile for 2017  - Your LinkedIn can be a great tool, when it's kept up-to-date. This article will guide you through LinkedIn updates to make your profile reflect you well.

9 Surefire Ways to Boost Your LinkedIn Profile When You Only Have 10 minutes  - Looking for a quick-fix for your LinkedIn? This article will give you some ideas for small changes that can add real strength to your profile.

Looking for the job

5 Job Search Tactics That Work - And 5 That Don't  - Guidance on a few ways to more effectively land your next opportunity and tips on a few common mistakes that lead to an ineffective job search.

The One Tiny Change That Could Open Up All The Doors In Your Job Search  - Here's a hint: you're going to want to start talking to people about your job search more often. Read this article for one easy way you can boost your chances of finding your next great job.

Acing the interview

10 Best Job Interview Tips for Jobseekers - Prepare for your interview and present yourself well to get yourself one step closer to that offer you're looking for. This article gives some of the most important tips for successful interviews.

The Ultimate Interview Guide: 30 Prep Tips for Job Interview Success  - Extensive advice on how to bring your A-game to an interview, including a few little tips you probably haven't thought of!

Americorps Resources

Americorps and Your Career  - Americorps has lots of resources to support members and alumni in pursuing successful careers. Don't forget to check everything available to you here.

Employers of National Service  - While looking for your next opportunity, consider perusing the list of Employers of National Service. These employers will truly value your service.

Segal Education Award Info By: Rachel LaForge

As our terms of service are beginning to wrap up, I'd like to touch on one of the benefits accrued, the Segal Education Award.

Segal Education awards are given to AmeriCorps members who successfully complete their terms of service. The amount varies based on whether a member is full time, part time, or seasonal, but the maximum award for for service that started in fiscal year 2016 is $5,775. These funds may be used to either pay tuition and fees at qualifying institutions, pay towards the balance on outstanding federal loans, or (for members who were 55 or older at the start of their term of service) be gifted to certain direct family members to use for tuition and fees at qualified institutions.

Your Segal Award will be held in trust for a maximum of 7 years, so if you are not in college now but will be soon, your award will wait for you. Your Segal award is considerable taxable income in the year that it is used, and you will receive a 1099 form at tax time.

The maximum number of terms of service (and thus the maximum amount of Segal award that can be accrued) varies by program and assignment. You can start here or here for basic information. Contact your program manager if you have further questions.

Public Spirit, March 2017

Mayor and County Recognition Day for National Service By: Ashley Strusz

Mayors and county officials hold a unique role in our country's government. Focusing on their citizens’ local needs matches closely with the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) mission to improve lives, strengthen communities, and foster civic engagement. Increasingly, mayors’ and county officials are turning to national service as a cost-effective and capacity building strategy to meet local challenges. On April 4, 2017, mayors, county officials, and tribal leaders will join in the fifth-annual Mayor and County Recognition Day for National Service. By holding public events and local media our leaders will highlight the value of national service. In 2016, 3,539 elected officials across 50 states recognized the work of AmeriCorps members and Senior Corps volunteers.

Learn more about how your local elected official could get involved! 

Check out the elected officials who have already signed on to participate in 2017!