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

duckface.jpg

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

play-stone-network-networked-interactive-163064.jpeg

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!

 

WORLD CUISINE ON AN AMERICORPS LIVING ALLOWANCE

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.

STEAMED ROLLS [FAWM KAUV]

Provided by a College Possible Corps Member

Makes ~ 5 servings (approximately 20 rolls)

Wrappings:

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

~Free!

1 tbsp of olive oil

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

Filling:

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

~Free!

DIRECTIONS:

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!

 

BETTER KNOW A NONPROFIT TEAM: PROGRAM EVALUATION

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

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NOTE:

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.   

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 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

WORLD CUISINE ON AN AMERICORPS LIVING ALLOWANCE

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.

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BLACK BEAN AND SWEET POTATO QUESADILLAS

PROVIDED BY MICHELLE PERKOWSKI (College Possible VISTA) 

Makes ~ 5 Quesadillas

Time: ~ 45 minutes

Ingredients:

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

~Free!

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)

DIRECTIONS:

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 zsaifullah@collegepossible.org!


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!


BETTER KNOW A NONPROFIT TEAM: DEVELOPMENT AND DONOR MANAGEMENT

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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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!


WORLD CUISINE ON AN AMERICORPS LIVING ALLOWANCE

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.

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CAULIFLOWER BOLOGNESE – PROVIDED BY RACHEL QUAY (College Possible VISTA) 

Makes ~ 5 servings

Time: ~ 1 hour 15 minutes

Ingredients:

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

~Free!

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

~Free!

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

~Free!

1 lb cooked spaghetti or other pasta

~$1.40 per batch

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

DIRECTIONS:

  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


CONTEMPORARY SOCIAL JUSTICE READING – 7 BOOKS FOR CAPACITY BUILDING AND SERVICE IN MINNESOTA.

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 ReformJudiasm.org: “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 ReformJudaism.org: “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

1200px-US_Bank_Stadium_-_West_Facade.jpg

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.

Public Spirit, January 2018

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NORDIC SKIING

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.

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


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 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.

MAPO TOFU 麻婆豆腐 – PROVIDED BY XINCI TAN

MAKES ~4 SERVINGS

Time: ~35 minutes

Ingredients

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

      ~$1.75

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

      ~$0.30

2 garlic cloves, minced

      Price varies per lb

1 tsp. ginger, minced

      Price varies per lb

1 cup boiling water

      ~Free!

½ tbsp. ground Sichuan peppercorns (optional)

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

Thickener

2 and ½ tablespoon water

      ~Free!

1 tablespoon cornstarch

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

Instructions

Mapo-Tofu-IV-600x900.jpg

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 zsaifullah@collegepossible.org!


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TWO AMERICORPS RETURNERS ON WHY THEY CAME BACK FOR A SECOND YEAR

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)
a158cbc3a63ad313d9cba60202927151-1.jpg

(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.


HAVING FUN ISN’T HARD…

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 Lynda.com (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.


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 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.

SHAKSHUKA – ADAPTED FROM A MELISSA CLARK RECIPE

MAKES ~5 SERVINGS

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

~Free!

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 zsaifullah@collegepossible.org!


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
  • UNICEF USA
  • 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

mrlsprt.gif

#badlyexplainyourservice

“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: zsaifullah@collegepossible.org.

Simple North Indian Dal – Adapted from a Suvir Saran recipe

Makes ~5 Servings

Time: ~45 minutes

Lentils

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

            ~Free!

4 cups of water

            ~Free!

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 zsaifullah@collegepossible.org

 

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.

 
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AMERICORPS BUDGET 101: MAKING IT WORK FOR THE HOLIDAYS

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 woot.com, 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 communications@iccminnesota.org 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!


Follow us to stay up to date! Twitter  | Facebook Linkedin 

Questions? Comments? Article suggestions? Send them to us at communications@iccminnesota.org 

 

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.