Public Spirit, November 2012: The Welcome Edition!

Hello, from the Communications Committee!

Hello to you, our kind AmeriCorps friend who has chosen to read this edition of Public SpiritPublic Spirit (PS) is the monthly publication produced by the InterCorps Council of Minnesota (the ICC). PS will be released on the 30th of each month on the ICC website, www.iccminnesota.org. Hey, here’s a fun idea: maybe you could add www.iccminnesota.org to your “favorites” bar at the top of your browser so that you can quickly access Public Spirit. Just a thought…

Members of the Communications Committee of the ICC write the articles in PS, for which they choose and assign topics each month that address various AmeriCorps member needs, promote ICC programs, and highlight AmeriCorps members for their accomplishments (and sometimes just for their existence and presence in AmeriCorps).

PS will contain many collaborative articles with its readers. If you would like to connect with Communications Committee to suggest an article idea for PS, you may reach us by emailing communications@iccminnesota.org. Communications Committee also manages the general questions and information account. To ask general questions about the ICC—not just about Communications Committee—email info@ICCminnesota.org.

If you want to, you can refer to the Communications Committee as “CoCo.” We are a crew of 8 who like to write and keep people informed! CoCo’s goal is to promote the ICC to the larger audience of all AmeriCorps members. CoCo’s 2012-2013 mission statement is as follows:

The Communications Committee serves AmeriCorps volunteers throughout the state by broadcasting their work through its website, social media, monthly newsletters and other media outreach. The Communications Committee has three specific goals for the 2012-2013 service year: firstly, we aim to reach a wider audience of national service volunteers and community partners with our monthly newsletters. Secondly, we will develop a stronger presence on online social media platforms by dedicating committees to fresh approaches for social media messaging. Finally, the Communications Committee will actively encourage the cross-committee communications within the InterCorps Council.

CoCo maintains the ICC facebook page and Twitter account. Follow the facebook page by searching for “InterCorps Council of Minnesota;” and you can follow us on Twitter by searching for “@ICCofMN.” In these venues we will advertise for broader AmeriCorps programs, not just ICC programs.

This edition of PS is the “Welcome Edition.” It may be a little tardy, and it may be just little long, but it nevertheless officially welcomes you all to your year of service and introduces you to the InterCorps Council. Without further jabber, we welcome you to read this edition of Public Spirit. It has been nice communicating with you! Enjoy!

A Note from the President

Welcome to the 2012-2013 InterCorps Council of Minnesota’s first issue of Public Spirit! We are honored and excited to expand upon the great tradition of service this council has established, and look forward to keeping you informed on ICC activity through this publication.

Whether by design or not, the ICC begins its service each year aroundThanksgiving, a time when we are all reminded of the great responsibility we have to one another. We live in the most prosperous nation on Earth, but still we have neighbors who go hungry and homeless. While our colleges and universities are the envy of the world, many of our youth in K-12 are falling behind their international peers in reading and math. And though this is the land of freedom and opportunity, there are people who stumble in the pursuit of happiness, and need a friendly hand to pick them back up.

The forty members of the ICC represent the hundreds of AmeriCorps State, National, and VISTA members who serve daily in communities all across Minnesota to address these and other issues. We come together as a collaborative group of peers, carrying the vision of a better tomorrow through service today. Along with serving our communities, we look to serve each other, providing trainings, networking opportunities, and professional development events. Our goal is to magnify the impact AmeriCorps has in our state and in our lives, and we hope you’ll join us in that effort this year!

All the best,

Andrew Peterson

President, InterCorps Council of Minnesota

 

What is the ICC?

As one unfortunately fated fictional character once mused to another, “what’s in a name?”

Of course, in our case versus theirs, our name is more useful and less troubling, so there’s no need to contemplate casting it aside. The name, InterCorps Council, however, still only implies who we might be and what we might do, so for the sake of introductions let’s go through a brief description of the Council.

40 AmeriCorps members from State, National, and VISTA programs make up the body of the council. Each ICC member serves on one of five different committees that fulfill the vision of the council in specific ways. Those committees and their purposes are:

  • Service Committee—Promotes expanded member engagement through the coordination of several large-scale service efforts throughout the year such as MLK and 9/11 days of service
  • Social and Networking Committee—Creates collaboration and connection within the network of AmeriCorps members, ICC members, and alums through the organizing of different networking events throughout the year
  • Education and Training Committee—Provides members with opportunities for professional development through the scheduling of various trainings and other related educational events
  • Communications Committee—Informs Minnesota AmeriCorps members on council work and events as well as on the perspectives and achievements of different programs around the state
  • Executive Committee—Supports the other four committees in their efforts through guidance, organization, and logistics of general council operation

The InterCorps Council is also supported by advisors from ServeMinnesota and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), two organizations that bolster AmeriCorps in Minnesota.

 

The official vision of the ICC is to promote engagement, communication, collaboration, and education between AmeriCorps programs and to empower AmeriCorps and the Minnesota community. All of the ICC elements work together to better the Minnesota AmeriCorps experience in different ways— both by placing members in a larger context so that they might grow more, learn more, and therefore get more done for Minnesota and America; and by connecting people for more collaboration of social service efforts for Minnesota. This newsletter, Public Spirit, will be the main avenue for advertising opportunities put on by the ICC. You can also find us on Twitter and Facebook to keep up with the latest news. Search for ICC of Minnesota on Twitter and InterCorps Council of Minnesota on Facebook.

 

 

Peer Interview: The ICC President

Public Spirit will frequently contain a “peer interview” section in which we interview an AmeriCorps member. The purpose of this section is to get to know fellow service members from all AmeriCorps programs. But this November 2012 edition is the “Welcome Edition” of Public Spirit; we see it as a special way of inaugurating the year to come. In the grand spirit of official inauguration, we thought it would be appropriate to interview the InterCorps Council President for our first peer interview. Enjoy!

 

 

Meet the ICC President: Andrew Peterson

 

 About Andrew

I grew up in the western suburbs of Minneapolis, graduating from Hopkins High School in 2006. I went to Luther College in Decorah, Iowa and majored in political science and minored in religion. During the fall semester of my junior year, I lived in Washington, D.C. and interned with Senator Kent Conrad. I also spent a January-term in Egypt, one year before the protests in Tahrir Square began.

 

                                   Andrew’s Dedication to Service

Community service is very important to me, as my family all work in the public sector.  I heard about AmeriCorps in college, and knew it would be a great opportunity to give back.  AmeriCorps has given me that opportunity, and I am thankful for it every day.  I am serving at AchieveMpls, the non-profit partner of Minneapolis Public Schools. My service project is to help improve the availability of career readiness opportunities for youth in the Twin Cities by building a database with a collaborative group of service providers, government entities, businesses and educators.

 

The ICC is really one of those rare, astonishing organizations where a bunch of people who are already putting in full-time efforts to service get together to put in a little more.  I ran for Presidency because I want to bring out the best in people—in doing whatever I can do to help others shine. There are 40 unique, talented, and selfless individuals on this team who bring varying skills and experiences, and I am excited to see what the ICC can do when we hit our stride.

Other Fun Facts about Andrew

  • I am a musician at heart, so holiday-themed music is definitely my favorite part of the season. But you can’t listen to it until Thanksgiving, otherwise it loses its magic.
  • While I was interning in the Senate, I had the honor of giving the Secretary of Agriculture a tour of the Capitol. While on the tour, a Congressman from Mississippi brought us to the top of the Capitol dome.
  • I’m currently reading A. Lincoln by Ronald C. White, Jr. A re-reading of The Hobbit is up next, in time for Peter Jackson’s forthcoming epic.
  • I think Minnesota is the greatest place on Earth. It’s a microcosm of all that is good: you’ll encounter multiple languages, see people riding bikes or hybrid buses, come across a thriving local shop, hear one of a thousand great musicians, accidentally step into a lake or river, or witness someone helping a neighbor in need.

 

 

AmeriCorps Tips: Welcome to Life as an AmeriCorps Member

Welcome to AmeriCorps! Take pride, for you are among one of the near 775,000 members who are serving their country through programs of the Corporation for National and Community Service! If you’re serving in an AmeriCorps State or National role, you’re more often than not involved in direct service to the community. If you’re serving as a part of AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps), you’ll be a part of a team-based residential program involved in direct service, traveling to wherever your service is needed. If you’re serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), you’re more likely to be involved with capacity building at your organization.

Explaining What You Do To Others Who Just Don’t Understand

It can be hard to explain what you do to others, especially if they’ve never heard of AmeriCorps before. And let’s just say all of its different programs can make it even trickier to explain! Below are a few tips and things to keep in mind when describing what the AmeriCorps program is and what you do.

1.      Start with the familiar and then go from there.

It is easier for people to make connections to things when it is something they are familiar with. That being said, it may be a good idea to lead with the concept of the Peace Corps since the program is probably more widely known and more people may have heard of it. Highlight some of the similarities and then the differences between the two programs. Point out that similar to the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps is a service program but unlike Peace Corps, AmeriCorps focuses on service to America and there are many different categories of AmeriCorps members. Feel free to go into more detail about where your position fits in.

2.     Point out that this is a service position.

It is important to make the distinction that you are serving your country and not working. Another thing to point out is that while this is a service position, you are still gaining many valuable skills and experience!

3.     Highlight the uniqueness of the AmeriCorps program.

AmeriCorps is a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service whose members serve more than 3,000 nonprofits, public agencies, and other community organizations to “improve lives, strengthen communities, and foster civic engagement.” During your term of service you will be able to receive health coverage, training and student loan deferment. Most AmeriCorps members will receive a living stipend while they are serving and members who complete their service can receive a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award to pay for college, graduate schools, or to pay back qualified student loans.

Adjusting To Life as an AmeriCorps Member

It can be hard adjusting to your new life as an AmeriCorps member, especially now that you have to live on a budget. In general, watch your spending, especially in the beginning; after a couple of months, it’ll be much easier to live within your budget. Here are a few tips on how to get the most out of your living allowance:

  • Affordable Housing – There are many agencies that work with low-income individuals to provide affordable housing, for example Project for Pride and Living (PPL). You can search for a variety of housing options on their website: http://www.ppl-inc.org/housing/units
  • Food Support – Not everyone will qualify for food assistance but it’s worth the time to check it out. In Minnesota, the food assistance program is called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The office you will have to apply at will depend on where you live in the state. To find out if you qualify for SNAP and for instructions on how to apply call the MN SNAP Hotline at 1-888-711-1151.
  • Sliding Fee Scales – Many organizations work on a “sliding fee scale” system where the amount you pay is based on your income. Always ask if there is a sliding fee scale. You could save a considerable amount of money!
  • Free Events – There are many free events that happen year-round. Check out 365 Twin Cities, a blog with updated fun events in the Twin Cities, most are either free or very cheap: www.365twincitiesmn.org.
  • Volunteer & Save $–Many places will offer discounts to volunteers. If there is a place where you visit frequently, make sure to ask if this would be a possibility.
  • Discount Sites– There are many discount sites online where you can sign up to receive discounted tickets, food, products, etc. A couple discount sites include Groupon, www.groupon.com; LivingSocial, www.livingsocial.com; and Crowd Cut, www.crowdcut.com.

Thank You for Serving

There may be many challenges to your term of service ahead but your service will impact many people. Thank you for serving your country and getting things done for America!

 

 

Life Hacker: THE AMERICORPS HOLIDAY SEASON SURVIVAL GUIDE

No matter which of the many winter holidays you celebrate, December is stressful for just about everyone. AmeriCorps volunteers have an added challenge: enjoying the traditions on a serious budget. From gifts, to outings, to celebrations, read on for all the tips you’ll need to have a great – and thrifty – time this holiday season.

The Season of Giving

One of the biggest challenges for cash-strapped volunteers is exchanging gifts. A good first step to take is limiting the number of people you need to buy for. If your friends are a gift-giving bunch, suggest doing Secret Santa or White Elephant presents. Many extended families also draw names. Don’t forget to set a price limit! Explain your worries to your significant other, and suggest that your gift to each other be a special night out (or in!), or each taking charge of the other’s least favorite chore for a week.

Of course, you will probably end up giving at least a few presents. Luckily, with a little planning you can shop smart and spend less. Try looking at resale stores; if you look hard enough, you can find great books, dishes, and even jewelry at second-hand stores. Steer clear of gift cards; a small, but thoughtful gift will seem more generous, and might actually cost less. Another possibility is a homemade gift. Look for crafts or recipes that use simple, easy-to-find ingredients and supplies; try to make the same thing for a few people so that you don’t waste money on something you’re only going to use half of. Speaking of wasting money… gift-wrap and other packaging can get pricey. Be creative. Making your own gift-wrap is inexpensive, and still cheery. If you want to buy it, check out the dollar store, or go in on an economy sized roll with your roommate.

Finally, make up for the dent in your bank account by tailoring your wish list. A gift card for gas or the grocery store will help get your finances back on track when the season comes to an end.

Winter Wonderland

It may be cold outside, but there’s still a lot to do. Some AmeriCorps volunteers might be craving the slopes, but those lift passes are pricey! Instead, check out nearby parks for sledding hills and cross-country skiing trails. Ice-skating is another affordable outdoor activity. Look up your local Parks and Recreation website for more information. The Wells Fargo WinterSkate rink in downtown St. Paul is free, and skate rental is only $2.You can also have fun in your own backyard. Try building a snowman or having a snowball fight. Bonus: You’ll burn enough calories to make up for eating another sugar cookie. When you can’t take the cold anymore, take a trip to Como Park Conservatory (free with a suggested donation), where it feels like summer year round.

Many people also enjoy the wonderful art events that seem to be everywhere during the holiday season. If theater is your scene, look into rush tickets at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, or seek out productions at lower-profile theaters in your area. Local colleges and universities often have arts events for more reasonable prices. St. Catherine University’s O’Shaughnessy auditorium offers tickets for as little as $16, depending on the show. Other art fans might prefer the Minneapolis Institute of Art; the regular exhibits are free of charge. Walker Art Center is free on Thursday evenings.

If sports are more your thing, you can get Timberwolves tickets in the nosebleed section for between $13 and $35.

Last but not least, be merry with seasonal activities. For true holiday spirit, take a ride along St. Paul’s Summit Avenue, where the mansions are always decked out in lights. Duluth is home to the Bentleyville “Tour of Lights,” a free light display. (According to the website, it’s the largest one in the Midwest). Plus, there’s always the annual Holidazzle Parade in downtown Minneapolis.

Joy to the World

Sometimes friends plan holiday celebrations that simply don’t fit well with a tight budget. Be proactive! Besides suggesting a thriftier gift exchange, brainstorm fun ways to enjoy the season without overspending. Any of the events listed above could take the place of the pricier options friends might offer. Chances are you’ll find something affordable that everyone is excited about – and if you don’t, always look into potential discounts. Group rates are often available for parties of ten or more, and students in your group might be able to score a deal.

If your buddies start talking about a night on the town, make sure they take a look at thriftyhipster.com for great deals. Better yet, plan a holiday potluck at your place. All it takes is some tinsel and a few stellar refreshments to turn a bank-account-buster into a fun and affordable soiree. A quick Google search can help you find recipes that are both delicious and affordable. Try lasagna for a main dish, or sugar cookies for dessert. Check out thrift stores and dollar stores for party-going outfits and decorations.

Another great option? Celebrate the holidays with fellow AmeriCorps members! If everyone is concerned about cash, chances are no one will have to spend much of it – and even if some do want to splurge, they’ll understand if you bow out.

 

Yes, December can be a stressful month, but with these tips in mind, you can avoid being frazzled all the time. You might be looking forward to the first real snowfall of the season, or you might be swearing (for the hundredth time) that next year you will finally move to Florida. Christmas or Festivus, Hanukkah or Kwanza, Public Spirit wishes you a happy, stress-free, and budget-friendly holiday season.

 

 

Service Reflection: Acknowledging Diverse Skill Sets and Strengths

A discussion with Angie Brown, VISTA Leader with the City of St. Paul VISTA program

As a VISTA Leader, Angie Brown has one year of VISTA under her belt. She currently works in the Mayor’s office for St. Paul, and she advises and supports 21 VISTA members. Her reflection in this piece comes from her first year of service, which she spent with the Central Lakes College Foundation and the Brainerd Lakes Area Women’s Fund, for which she sat on a board of 12 women who worked to help students at the all women college in Brainerd reach their career goals.

One of Angie’s pivotal periods in her professional and personal development came from her work with the Women’s Fund board.  She says that each of the women she worked with was equally strong and bold. Angie found it impressive that these socially-motivated and driven actors came together seamlessly and accomplished much work. Angie may have already had an instinct, as many of us do, that collaboration is the key to teamwork.  But the success of this board of women taught Angie the key to true collaboration: to effectively collaborate we need to acknowledge, validate, and work with people’s different skill sets.

What Effective Collaboration Looks Like

In a practical sense this refers to the appropriate delegation of tasks. For example, Angie noted that on the Women’s Fund board each of the 12 women had her own role. These roles included a human services person, two accountants, a graphic designer, and two owners of resorts who offered entrepreneurial insights. Roles within the group were determined by different skill sets. They were also determined by personalities and communication styles. Collaboration involved a balance between the “woo-ers” of the group, who use strong social skills to facilitate group communication and create partner buy-in; the practical persons who are concerned with the technicalities of implementing the group’s ideas; and the empathizers who use one-on-one interpersonal skills to ensure that participants are content. Acknowledging the diverse skills and strengths of the group members enabled the group to function effectively. Members could both delegate tasks based on skills and balance their styles to strategically accomplish group goals.

In an emotional sense, Angie learned about the importance of individual validation. Not only must members acknowledge each others’ skills, but members should validate each others’ perspectives. Angie recounts that one of the board members made a habit of responding to different opinions by saying, “I really love the way you…”, and then building on the compliment with her own opinion. Angie believes that this creates group cohesion by making members feel valuable and important, which in turn makes them more willing to consider other members’ opinions. It’s when people feel their personal worth threatened that they respond defensively and shut down at the prospect of cooperation.

A Useful Lesson Learned

Angie has used this lesson in group dynamics in her work as a VISTA Leader. She advises 21 VISTAs—that’s 21 different skill sets, needs, and communication styles. She makes sure to acknowledge her VISTAs’ strengths and foster their development. She has also applied this lesson of validating diverse people to her work on her Master’s thesis. Angie actually completed her thesis with St. Cloud State University during her first VISTA year. With great happiness, the Communications Committee congratulates Angie for her Master’s thesis, which recently received the 2012 Distinguished Thesis Award from St. Cloud State! Congratulations, Angie!

 

The photo above is of the 21 VISTAs Angie oversees, alongside the Mayor of St. Paul.

Acknowledge, validate, and incorporate. These simple steps create beautiful group cohesion. Thanks, Angie, for this insight!

***

Have you learned a valuable lesson, acquired a deep insight, or realized something that you would like to share with AmeriCorps members? Contact communications@iccminnesota.org to state your interest in sharing your experience with us.

9/11 Day of Service 2012

The 9/11 Day of Service 2012 was a success this year. This Day of Service is organized by members of the InterCorps Council of Minnesota (ICC). It is one of several ICC-sponsored events that offer an opportunity to give a day to your community.  This year, in the Twin Cities Metro Area alone, 57 volunteers gave 222 hours of their time on 9/11 and the alternate day 9/08. Of those 57 volunteers, 47 were AmeriCorps members. Thank you to everyone who contributed!

Next day of service:  Martin Luther King Day, January 21st, 2013.

Check the ICC website for more details as the date draws near. Hope to see you there!