Public Spirit, April 2019

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Happy Spring ya'll! The weather's nice, let's hope it stays that way! Keep scrolling to find information about National Service Recognition Day events, other members, and some awesome volunteer opportunities!

Please let us know what you're up to! We would love to hear about what other AmeriCorps members - past and present - are doing! Tag us on social media with #ICCofMN!


National Service Recogination Day 2019
#NationalServiceWorks

On National Service Recognition Day, thousands of local leaders take time to honor AmeriCorps members and Senior Corps volunteers by participating in recognition events, issuing official proclamations, and taking to social media in a nationwide show of appreciation every year. The seventh-annual event will took place on Tuesday, April 2, 2019. This initiative is led by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), with support from the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties and Cities of Service.

Mayors and city leaders, county officials, tribal leaders and elected leaders from across the country are increasing their use of national service to solve their community’s toughest challenges. CNCS, the federal agency responsible for national service and volunteering in America, engages 300,000 AmeriCorps members and Senior Corps volunteers in national service at more than 50,000 locations each year.

Through partnerships with schools, faith-based groups, nonprofits, and local agencies, national service members are embedded within the communities they serve, using their ingenuity and training to make a tangible, lasting impact. Whether responding to natural disasters, tackling the opioid epidemic, educating students for the 21st century workforce, or supporting veterans and military families, AmeriCorps members and Senior Corps volunteers help local leaders make their communities stronger.

When National Service Recognition Day launched in 2013, more than 800 mayors recognized the positive impact of AmeriCorps members and Senior Corps volunteers in their communities.

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Formerly “Mayor’s Day,” this day has grown to encompass a larger array of elected officials and local leaders. On April 3rd, 2018, more than 5,200 officials – representing more than 216 million Americans – participated in the sixth-annual National Service Recognition Day. Through recognition events, proclamations, social media, and more, leaders across the country showed their support for national service.

This year, both the St. Paul and Minneapolis Mayors hosted events to honor our members and honor their service by proclaiming the day of National Service Recognition for both cities. Below are photos from those events!

On Thursday, April 11, 2019, from 1-2PM, Duluth Mayor Emily Larson will also celebrate both the 7th Annual National Service Recognition Day, as well as National Volunteer Week, by hosting a reception at City Hall. Mayor Larson wishes to take this opportunity to honor and recognize the amazing contributions that national service members and volunteers make in our community.


Stay tuned to our website for other local events!
Click here!


April Volunteer Opportunities!

Take a look at one of the volunteer opportunities for the month of April on our website! More information will be up soon! Stay tuned!!

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#BadlyExplainYourService

Join us on social media using this hashtag and tagging us! 
@ICCofMN

In honor of April Fools’ Day, we asked some of the ICC members to give us a brief description of what they do in a typical day of service for them. Here’s what they wrote:

“I dig around in waste bins and look at trashy pictures all day. #BadlyExplainYourService”
I am serving with ISD 742 to reduce trash output and standardize waste bins by color and size as part of my project. A major part of that is taking a lot of pictures of waste bins and assessing them for the aforementioned descriptors.

-Alex C. Larson, MN GreenCorps
 

“Butt pictures, being the worst ninja in history, and a lot of to-do lists and writing. #BadlyExplainYourService”
My role with TCHFH is to share stories of our volunteers, homeowners/buyers, and other partners through different mediums.

-Christy Ohlrogge, Twin Cities Habitat
 

“I sit and stare at a computer screen all day, but sometimes I look at papers. Just to mix it up! #BadlyExplainYourService”
I am an AmeriCorps VISTA that is serving at Al Maa’uun in North Minneapolis. I help with grant writing, communications, and keeping their databases and files up to date.

-Katie Zeits, EMERGE VISTA
 

“I think of questions, then decide how to answer those questions. Then I ask people lots of questions to answer my questions and use their answers to ask other people more questions. #BadlyExplainYourService”
I create processes for evaluating the effectiveness of literacy services for teens, then conduct an evaluation of programs and use the results to suggest and discuss improvements for service design and delivery. Basically, I do a lot of evaluating and asking questions!

-Megan Graves, Minnesota Literacy Council VISTA


Member Spotlight

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Meet your fellow AmeriCorps members and the programs they serve within our monthly member spotlight!

This month’s member spotlight is on Anika Johnson, the Outreach and Fundraising Specialist serving at Exodus Lending with the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits!

What program do you serve with? 
Through the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, I am currently working at Exodus Lending. Exodus Lending is a small nonprofit in Minneapolis, Minnesota that works to help individuals break the cycle of payday loan debt.

Payday loans are small-dollar, short-term loans that often have astronomical interest rates and fees. When you take out a payday loan you are expected to pay off the entire loan amount (plus interest and fees) on your next payday.  It’s tough to have such a large chunk of your paycheck taken out all at once and oftentimes individuals will pay off the payday loan but need to take out another to make ends meet before their next paycheck. You can pay these fees month after month without ever making a dent in your original loan amount, no matter how much you pay.

It’s a very vicious cycle that preys on people in financially stressful situations. When someone enrolls in Exodus Lending’s program, we pay off the entire loan amount and set up a payment plan for our participants to pay us back - with NO interest or fees!
 

What do you do in your position?

My title is “Outreach and Fundraising Specialist.” My favorite components of my job are communications and outreach. I have created marketing materials and am using them to build relationships with like-minded organizations. I’ve learned a lot about running Facebook advertisements, creating branded social media, and web design. The most powerful experience I have had is sitting down for one-on-one conversations with many of our program participants. Hearing their stories and learning about injustices in our world encourages me in this work that I am pursuing.

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

I am passionate about social justice and doing my part to create a just world. Having just graduated from college, I knew I didn’t have the experience necessary to get the kind of job I was seeking. By being an AmeriCorps VISTA  I have been able to jump right into my field and have responsibilities and projects much greater than I would be given at an entry-level position. I am passionate about my organization and its mission; it has given me an incredible opportunity to learn and grow as a young professional.
 

What do you like to do in your free time?

In my free time, when it’s warm, I like to be outside with my dog and my friends. We go to the park, on long walks, and to brewery patios! Year-round I enjoy going to a lot of concerts and shows, and I love attending community events that address different social justice issues. In the winter I spend my time hunting for items on Facebook marketplace and playing games with friends; but nothing replaces a night in, on the couch with some comfort food.

Learn more about Exodus Lending here!


Alumni Feature

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Anna Kaiser, CommunicationsCoordinator at Open Arms

Where (and which program), when, and why did you join AmeriCorps?

I served from August 2016 to August 2017 at the American Indian Family Center in Saint Paul, Minnesota. I joined because I wanted to do something adventurous and interesting. For me, that meant moving away from Ohio, where I grew up and experiencing another culture, which the American Indian Family Center provided.

What was your role/what did you do?

My title was Development Specialist. I was very lucky to have been giving the opportunity to pursue my interests through my role, so I tried out the different areas of Development until I settled on Communications and Digital Marketing.

How has serving impacted what you decided to do in life?

Before serving, the plans I had for my career were not working out.  But during my service, I learned how to work in a new field and began pursuing a future in that field. I feel incredibly lucky to have had this experience!

How has your AmeriCorps service supported you?

During my service, AmeriCorps provided a lot of trainings about working in nonprofits, which really helped me make my way in my field. For example, I attended a series of nonprofit communications classes that inspired me to go into Communications in the first place.

What was your favorite part of serving?

Being exposed to another culture. American Indians have a fundamentally opposite experience of being American than I have had. I was very honored to have the opportunity to learn about this culture and history. It challenged my worldview and how I feel about my identity as an American.

Please also give us a little blurb on your current role at Open Arms

I am very new to my role as the Communications Coordinator at Open Arms, so I’m still getting settled in. But so far I have been running our social media accounts, coordinating newsletters and other communications materials, and assisting with our upcoming gala, Moveable Feast.

Advice

Recommended spring activity for an AmeriCorps budget:

I would go to Minnehaha Park and walk from the falls, down the creek, and out to the beach and then have a picnic. Or go to Como Zoo!

How to build connections as an AmeriCorps member:

For some people, this might be hard, but you simply need to be friendly and get to know people. Be a regular at AmeriCorps events and attend events at other nonprofits. Try to talk to as many people as you can. Nonprofit professionals are friendly so this is easy to do!

Send us your questions to ask our future features!


Don't forget to do your taxes!
April 15th is the last day to turn in your 2018 taxes!

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W-2s, 1098-Ts, and More: It’s Tax Season Again!

Everyone’s probably either super excited or super stressed now that it’s tax season! Have no fear if you still need help with your taxes this year. We are here to provide some resources and tips for you to use when filing for taxes.

Make sure you have all your necessary documents in order to file your taxes. This is a general list of documents that you should bring to your appointment at a clinic or when filing your own taxes, put together by the MN Department of Revenue. Please note that you may need different documents than the ones listed; please confirm with a clinic or accountant.

April 15th, 2019 is the last day to file your 2018 taxes!

To look for free tax clinics near you, use this tool put together by the MN Department of Revenue.

Tax Credits and Deductions

Earned Income Tax Credit: You need to be at least 25 but less than 65 to qualify for the EITC without a qualifying child. -IRS.gov

Student Loan Interest: “. . . you may be allowed a special deduction for paying interest on a student loan (also known as an education loan) used for higher education.” -IRS.gov

MN Student Loan Credit: Minnesota residents who make payments on their own postsecondary education loans may qualify for a nonrefundable tax credit. For married couples, each spouse may qualify for this. The maximum tax refund in 2019 is $500.

Renter’s Property Tax Refund: If you’re from Minnesota or have lived in the state long enough, you may know about this refund for renters already. But if you haven’t yet, here is some basic information. There is another form (Form M1PR) that you would fill out and mail in separately by August 15 to receive a refund. The refund is “based on their household income, the number of dependents, and how much property tax you paid through rent on your principal residence.” You’ll need to receive a Certificate of Rent Paid (CRP) from your landlord. It’s a document that shows how much rent you paid during the previous year and the amount of property taxes paid through your rent. You must include a CRP when filing your Property Tax Refund return. - MN Dept of Revenue

Education Award: Please note that your Segal AmeriCorps Education award can be federally taxed as income in the same year it is used to pay for tuition and/or repayment of student loans. “If your education award and interest payments total more than $600 in a calendar year, CNCS will send you an IRS Form 1099 to be used in preparing your income tax return.  All education award and interest payments made on your behalf are considered taxable, even if they do not total $600.” You may be eligible for tax reliefs when paying for higher education per the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997. Contact a tax professional or the IRS for more information about this potential benefit, IRS Publication 970. Also, look under the ‘Tax Relief’ tab on the “Tax Implications” page on the NationalService.gov. -NationalService.gov


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

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

Public Spirit, March 2019

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AmeriCorps Week 2019

Welcome to our favorite time of the year! AmeriCorps Week 2019, which is March 10-16, is a celebration of all things AmeriCorps – from the programs and organizations that make this national service initiative possible in thousands of locations, to the members who have pledged to “Get Things Done” since the program’s inception in 1994. This year, we’re aiming to use it to the max!

The InterCorps Council of MN (ICC) has a goal to share our love for all our members, and we’ve packed the week with fun events and opportunities to win a prize. Read below for information on our events this year!
 

Sunday: Our goal for Sunday this year is for everyone to practice self-care. As AmeriCorps members, it’s easy to burn the candle at both ends and become worn out - so take a day to relax and do what you enjoy! You can share your favorite post-service activities with the hashtag #selfcaresunday.
 

Monday: On Monday, we’re keeping our service strong by inviting members to volunteer with House of Charity to serve food to local individuals experiencing homelessness.
 

Tuesday: After gaining some first-hand knowledge of the housing crisis in Minnesota and meeting individuals in the homeless community, we’re going to take a night to learn about Homelessness and Health from some panelists working to fight homelessness in the Twin Cities. Participants will also have the option to help make care packages for shelters!
 

Wednesday: As part of CNCS’ #DayoftheA encouraging members and alumni to wear their gear and post on social media, we’re having a photo scavenger hunt in which an individual or team can win a fabulous prize we put together with the help of our generous donation providers! Did we mention it’s not just for metro members? We also found a few greater Minnesota locationsmembers can compete in!
 

Thursday: Since our theme for the week is surrounding the housing/homeless crisis in Minnesota, we’re continuing on this trend by spending a day volunteering with Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity and assisting in the mission to provide affordable housing in the metro.
 

Friday: What is one of our core passions as AmeriCorps members? That’s right, education! Help Reading Partners as Tutors for a Day at Anishinabe Academy.
 

Saturday: The final day we’re bringing everyone together with a dodgeball tournament! Teams at a max of ten can compete for another prize provided by generous organizations, so bring in your cohort and alumni and put on your game face! Without a group of ten members? Never fear! We will also be assembling teams for any individuals who email us that they are interested in having a mixed team!
 

AmeriCorps Week is a great opportunity to make new national service friends and share our important story across new networks. As part of this year’s festivities, CNCS will also focus on how AmeriCorps has transformed lives and communities. Keep watching our social media as we share just how much of an impact we can make when we come together.

We’re also keeping the #continuingservicemn challenge open through AmeriCorps Week as members share their own personal impact for this special week of AmeriCorps celebration.

Thank you all, and we can’t wait to see you during AmeriCorps Week!

If you’re doing something outside of what the ICC is hosting, feel free to share it with us so we can let others know!


Program Feature

Ecolibrium3 (VISTA)

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Written by Roger Jones, VISTA Leader Ecolibrium3

Ecolibrium3 provides distinct VISTA experiences as a non-profit organization working in northeastern Minnesota. Ecolibrium3 worked with the State of Minnesota to define a 'Community Resilience Framework' which identified core community functions that needed to be advanced in order to make a community more resilient after catastrophic flooding in 2012. The framework focuses on economic development, housing, energy, natural resource management, and health.

The Ecolibrium3 VISTA Corps began in 2017 and currently has sixteen positions working around concepts of community resilience and poverty. VISTA Program Director and CEO of Ecolibrium3, Jodi Slick, states, "Each position in our VISTA Corps is unique. We have built our program around identifying strong partners and understanding individual organizational needs for capacity building."

The Ecolibrium3 VISTA Corps reflects the organization’s priorities by establishing mini-cohorts that are tackling different challenges. For example, members are currently serving at Ecolibrium3, the Duluth Community Garden Program, Zeitgeist Center for Arts and Community, the Damiano Center, the Lincoln Park Children and Families Collaborative, and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, which are all sites that are focused around food security and sovereignty. "Some areas of our community face a health disparity where residents in one census tract die, on average, twenty years earlier than adjacent tracts." Slick said, "It is all related to the social determinants of health and access to things like healthy food and healthcare. Each VISTA member is building community capacity to create a collective impact to address these difficult challenges."

Additional examples of sites and local issues addressed by the Ecolibrium3 VISTA Corps are positions at the City of Duluth on planning and equity, the Duluth Children's Museum on STEM education, Life House on social enterprise development with homeless youth, the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation on disaster resilience, Habitat for Humanity on housing, St. Louis County Public Health on opioid reduction, and Ecolibrium3 partnering with low-income providers on energy poverty.

To learn more about the Ecolibrium3 VISTA Corps and positions for 2019-2020, please contact Jodi Slick or Roger Jones at 218-336-1038 and check out www.ecolibrium3.org/Americorps.

Ecolibrium3 VISTA Corps members completing a joint day of service to clean an abandoned property in Duluth, MN.

Ecolibrium3 VISTA Corps members completing a joint day of service to clean an abandoned property in Duluth, MN.


Member Spotlight

Meet your fellow AmeriCorps members and the programs they serve within our monthly member spotlight!  This month’s member spotlight is on Jessi Wightman, an Academic Coach serving with the City of Lakes AmeriCorps program.

Meet your fellow AmeriCorps members and the programs they serve within our monthly member spotlight!

This month’s member spotlight is on Jessi Wightman, an Academic Coach serving with the City of Lakes AmeriCorps program.

What program do you serve with?

I serve with City of Lakes AmeriCorps at Seward Montessori School in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

What do you do in your position?

City of Lakes serves middle school students who are in the English Language Learning (ELL) program. I spend my day supporting ELL students in their math and language arts classes, working directly with them in ELL classes, and supporting them in their overall academic growth.

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

AmeriCorps interested me because of the opportunity I would have to experience professional opportunities that I felt were unavailable to me otherwise. I chose City of Lakes as a program because I think that it fills a really unique role for students. Middle schoolers have huge expectations being put on them every day to both progress academically and mature emotionally. Through City of Lakes, I get to see both of those things happen simultaneously through mentoring and being able to see students in multiple different settings throughout the day which is incredibly rewarding. Also, I think middle schoolers are absolutely hilarious so it's a wonderful way to spend my days goofing with some pretty cool kids!

What do you like to do in your free time?

In my free time, I like to read, do puzzles, experiment with baking sweet breads, and dance with my roommates.


Alumni Feature

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Kyle Kline, Recruitment & Program Coordinator at Minnesota Alliance with Youth

Where (and which program), when, and why did you join AmeriCorps?

I served two terms as an AmeriCorps member. My first term was with AmeriCorps NCCC at the Vicksburg, Mississippi, campus in 2009-10 and then as a Student Conservation Association Green Cities Sustainability Fellow in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. To be honest, I joined AmeriCorps because I had no idea what I wanted to do after I graduated from college. As a first-generation college student, I didn't have many people in my life to show me what was supposed to come next. After researching grad schools, I realized I wasn't prepared at all for that next step, but I kept seeing that volunteer experience looked good on applications. So I started doing some googling and came across AmeriCorps. I had a friend who just graduated who was serving as an NCCC member and gave him a call. After talking to him for about an hour, I was convinced that AmeriCorps was right for me. The rest is history.

What was your role/what did you do?

In NCCC, my team served in a wide range of projects across the Southern US. We built houses with Habitat for Humanity, restored an oyster reef habitat in Savannah, Georgia, organized a princess tea party in Hurricane, West Virginia, and ran chainsaws all day on a disaster relief project after a tornado in Yazoo City, Mississippi. As a Green Cities Fellow, I served at Global Links, a Pittsburgh based nonprofit that takes in the medical surplus from area hospitals and works with medical centers and doctors in Latin America and the Caribbean to get them the specific supplies they need.

How has serving impacted what you decided to do in life?

In all the ways. I probably would have never left small-town Pennsylvania. Moving to Mississippi for NCCC was the first time I was ever on a plane and the farthest west and south I'd ever been. My AmeriCorps experience opened up so many doors for me that I decided that I want my career to focus on ensuring that AmeriCorps opportunities are available for generations to come.

How has your AmeriCorps service supported you?

It has given me access to a lot of social capital that I probably wouldn't have had otherwise. I grew up and went to college in rural parts of Pennsylvania and had never had the opportunity to get out of that bubble. Through the people I've met while serving in AmeriCorps, I've been able to travel the country and always have couches to sleep on and friends that I know will always be there for me and make me a better person. On the other side of that coin, my service experience showed me how much privilege I have and that I will always have a lot to learn.

What was your favorite part of serving?

Besides being able to make an actual impact within the communities I served, it has to be all the friends I made. My NCCC team was the weirdest/best group of people that I ever could have asked to spend 24/7 with for 10 months and my SCA Green Cities crew helped me learn how to navigate living in the big city of Pittsburgh. I have about a hundred stories to tell about our adventures, so free to reach out sometime. I love swapping AmeriCorps stories.

Please also give us a little blurb on your role as the MN Alliance's Recruitment Manager:

I manage all of the Alliance's recruitment efforts including both our Promise Fellow and VISTA programs.

Advice From Kyle
What is one thing you wish you had known before you started your year of service?
I wish I did more informational interviews and got to know folks who were serving in other programs.

What is a tip on using your educational award?
I don't have a good answer for this other than to use it. 

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W-2s, 1098-Ts, and More: It’s Tax Season Again!

Everyone’s probably either super excited or super stressed now that it’s tax season! Have no fear if you still need help with your taxes this year. We are here to provide some resources and tips for you to use when filing for taxes.

Make sure you have all your necessary documents in order to file your taxes. This is a general list of documents that you should bring to your appointment at a clinic or when filing your own taxes, put together by the MN Department of Revenue. Please note that you may need different documents than the ones listed; please confirm with a clinic or accountant.

April 15th, 2019 is the last day to file your 2018 taxes!

To look for free tax clinics near you, use this tool put together by the MN Department of Revenue.

Tax Credits and Deductions

Earned Income Tax Credit: You need to be at least 25 but less than 65 to qualify for the EITC without a qualifying child. -IRS.gov

Student Loan Interest: “. . . you may be allowed a special deduction for paying interest on a student loan (also known as an education loan) used for higher education.” -IRS.gov

MN Student Loan Credit: Minnesota residents who make payments on their own postsecondary education loans may qualify for a nonrefundable tax credit. For married couples, each spouse may qualify for this. The maximum tax refund in 2019 is $500.

Renter’s Property Tax Refund: If you’re from Minnesota or have lived in the state long enough, you may know about this refund for renters already. But if you haven’t yet, here is some basic information. There is another form (Form M1PR) that you would fill out and mail in separately by August 15 to receive a refund. The refund is “based on their household income, the number of dependents, and how much property tax you paid through rent on your principal residence.” You’ll need to receive a Certificate of Rent Paid (CRP) from your landlord. It’s a document that shows how much rent you paid during the previous year and the amount of property taxes paid through your rent. You must include a CRP when filing your Property Tax Refund return. - MN Dept of Revenue

Education Award: Please note that your Segal AmeriCorps Education award can be federally taxed as income in the same year it is used to pay for tuition and/or repayment of student loans. “If your education award and interest payments total more than $600 in a calendar year, CNCS will send you an IRS Form 1099 to be used in preparing your income tax return.  All education award and interest payments made on your behalf are considered taxable, even if they do not total $600.” You may be eligible for tax reliefs when paying for higher education per the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997. Contact a tax professional or the IRS for more information about this potential benefit, IRS Publication 970. Also, look under the ‘Tax Relief’ tab on the “Tax Implications” page on the NationalService.gov. -NationalService.gov

Public Spirit, February 2019

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Announcing our Service Challenge for February 2019!

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

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

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

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


Program Feature

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

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

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

To learn more about True North AmeriCorps, check out their website at http://truenorthamericorps.org.
 

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


Member Spotlight

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

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

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

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

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

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


We’re waiting to hear from you!

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

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


Taco Tuesday with Alumni!

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Calling all alumni and current members!

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

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


Fun and Free Events

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

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

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

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

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

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


Program News

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

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


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

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

Public Spirit, January 2019

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MLK Day of Service is Coming!

(Written by Bridget Gihl, Reading Corps)

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

-Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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

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

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

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


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


Program Spotlight

(Written by Megan Graves, MN Literacy Council)
 

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

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

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

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

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

For a full list of host sites, be sure to visit MLC’s VISTA homepage:
https://mnliteracy.org/americorps-vista

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


Member Spotlight

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

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

What program do you serve with?
 

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

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

 

What do you do in your position?

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What do you like to do in your free time?

 

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



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


Fun and Free Events

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Public Spirit, December 2018

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What is AmeriCorps? 

Written by Christy Ohlrogge (Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Holidays on a Budget

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

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

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

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


Member Spotlight


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

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

1. What program do you serve with?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Unveiling the New ICC Ambassador Program!

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


Fun and Free Events

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Spirit, November 2018

We’re back!

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

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The Inter Corps Council

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

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

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

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

1. Executive

2. Communications (CoCo)

3. Training and Education (TED)

4. Service

5. Social and Networking (SoNet)

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

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

What is the commitment level for the ICC?

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

How are members selected?

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

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

So…who are we?

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

President: Zayn Saifullah, College Possible

Vice President: Olivia Glen-Rayner, C3 Twin Cities

Outreach Coordinator: Angela Williams, EMERGE Community Development

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


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

Committee Chair: Christy Ohlrogge, Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity

Vice Chair: Bridget Gihl, MN Reading Corps

Megan Graves, MN Literacy Council

Katie Connolly, MN Math Corps

Katelyn Zeits, MN Council of Nonprofits

Elizabeth Nault-Maurer, Conservation Corps of MN and IA


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

Committee Chair: Natalie Fiedler, MN Reading Corps

Brian Call, City of Minneapolis

Katie Krebsbach, City of Lakes AmeriCorps

Kyla Olson, MN Recovery Corps

Joseph Vitt, Promise Fellows

Jeannine Christensen, MN Math Corps


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

Committee Chair: Constance Taylor, Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration

Kate Matusinec, Minnesota GreenCorps

Joe McLean, MN Reading Corps

Nkaujcoob Vang, College Possible

Morgan Bartlett, College Possible

Katie Carlson, City of St. Paul


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

Kritika Singh, MN Campus Compact

Sophie Haire, Community Technology Empowerment Project

Meseret Bekele, Public Allies Twin Cities

Devin Mayfield, Community Technology Empowerment Project

Allison Marie Gooley, Promise Fellows

Kelly McCollow, City of Lakes AmeriCorps



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


Member Spotlight:

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

1. What program do you serve for?

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

2. What do you do as a VISTA leader?

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ask an Alum!

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


Fun and Free Events

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Public Spirit, April 2018

How to build your professional network

Xinci Tan (MN GreenCorps) 

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

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

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

Networking is all about relationship building

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

Give before you can receive

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

Have some business cards made

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.