Public Spirit, December 2012

Happy New Year, AmeriCorps members! To kick off a great 2013, curl up with your computer and some cocoa and enjoy  Public Spirit.

Highlights of this edition include a volunteer opportunity for the MLK Day of Service, a visit to the Northside Achievement Zone, tips on winter biking, and more!

Martin Luther King, Jr., Day of Service

Monday, January 21, 2013 will mark the 19th annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service. This milestone is a perfect opportunity for AmeriCorps members to honor Dr. King’s legacy through service.

Join AmeriCorps members around Minnesota in honoring MLK Jr.’s legacy by volunteering at a local nonprofit or attending a rally!

There are opportunities all over Minnesota to pack food, sort donations, repair homes, and so much more! AmeriCorps member or not, ALL are welcome to volunteer!

The MLK Day of Service empowers individuals, strengthens communities, bridges barriers, creates solutions to social problems, and moves us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a beloved community.

AmeriCorps members pack meals for children overseas at the 2011 MLK Day of Service.

AmeriCorps members pack meals for children overseas at the 2011 MLK Day of Service.

Dr. King believed in a nation of freedom and justice for all, and encouraged all citizens to live up to the purpose and potential of America by applying the principles of nonviolence to make this country a better place to live.

Make this MLK Day a “Day On,” not a day off.

Sign Up HERE!

Update:  January 21 will also mark President Obama’s inauguration into office. President Obama has deemed January 19 a National Day of Service to encourage Americans to volunteer in celebration of his Inauguration. Read below for the information from the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

On January 19th, President Obama is asking all citizens to participate in a tradition his family started in 2009, and spend the day doing service work in communities across the country.

Four years ago, President Obama and his family opened the 2009 inauguration with a new tradition: a national day of service. Now, on the eve of his second inauguration, President Obama is once again calling on Americans across the country to join him and his family in giving back to our communities.

Join the Obamas in the tradition they started and pledge to help out in your community on Saturday, January 19th. Sign up here to receive more information about service events happening across the country. Note: this link is different than the link to volunteer for the MLK Day of Service.

You can check here for more information about the President’s inauguration. Thanks for being a great citizen!

If you have any questions about using Eventbrite or about MLK day events please contact

After Volunteering: MLK Day of Service Social Event

On January 21, ice skate at Wells Fargo WinterSkate Rink in Rice Park in St. Paul from 2pm-4pm! Skating is FREE (and so is metered parking   ). Skate rental is just $2 per person, but if you have a Wells Fargo Check Card or credit card, rental is FREE as well! Afterwards you can warm up with some mingling at Amsterdam Bar and Hall from 4pm to 6pm.

Mark Your Calendars for Future Events

Grant Writing Workshop

Have you ever been curious about the world of philanthropy? Interested in what funders look for when reviewing grants? Want to learn tips for writing a good application? Well you’re in luck because the InterCorps Council of Minnesota is sponsoring a training for current AmeriCorps members called The Insider’s Scoop on Grant Writing. Representatives from the Minnesota Council on Foundations and the Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota will speak about different types of foundations, requests for proposals, and what makes for a successful application from a funder’s perspective. The training will take place from 4-6:00pm on Thursday, Jan. 31st at the Minnesota Literacy Council (700 Raymond Avenue, Suite 180, St. Paul, MN). Register for free here. Questions? Contact Robby at

Grant Writing Social Event

What do grant writing and Ireland have in common?  Not much, but get a taste of both by joining the ICC Social and Networking committee at O’Gara’s on January 31st directly after the “Insider’s Scoop on Grant Writing” training!  Here are the details:

Who: Everyone is welcome (even those who cannot attend the training)

What: Social hour at O’Gara’s

When: 6:00pm January 31st (right after the ICC Grant Writing Training)

Where: O’Gara’s Bar and Grill on Selby and Snelling (164 N Snelling Ave)

This will be a great opportunity to network with AmeriCorps members and get some awesome food/beverages!

Leadership Matters: The Role and Importance of Developing Personal Leadership Skills

Joel Maturi is the former Athletic Director of the University of Minnesota, University of Denver, and Miami University. On February 19 at 4:00pm, he will speak to AmeriCorps members about the common characteristics found in leaders and how to develop these characteristics as well as apply them in personal and professional settings. That’s right; if you are an AmeriCorps member you have the opportunity to attend a free evening with Joel Maturi! Mr. Maturi has been a shining example of leadership—he transitioned Denver’s athletic program from the Division II to Division I level and he merged the University of Minnesota’s separate Men’s and Women’s athletics departments into one department.

Under Maturi’s direction, from 2002 to 2012 the University of Minnesota won seven national titles in four different sports, championed football’s return to campus by securing public and private funding for the construction of TCF Bank Stadium, and worked with the then newly-hired Coach Tubby Smith to help turn around a Men’s basketball program marred by scandal. Maturi’s vision and leadership skills are a credit to the high levels of academic and athletic success and integrity enjoyed at the University of Minnesota. This success and integrity is a direct reflection on the values of the great state of Minnesota.

To register for Leadership Matters with Joel Maturi, please click here.

 Life Hacker

If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome. –Anne Bradstreet (1612 – 1672)

Although we have yet to delve into the heart of the Minnesotan winter, it is coming.  I love snow, hot chocolate, baking cookies, winter walks – and many other winter pastimes.  The early darkness however, affects me greatly.  I don’t have a SAD lamp (Seasonal Affective Disorder), but I do try to take steps to alleviate feelings of fatigue and general indifference, moodiness, etc.  I know there are at least a few AmeriCorps members who have yet to experience a Minnesota winter.  And I have to admit, because winter in Minnesota is so long and unrelenting at times, spring/summer is all the more enjoyable.

So, what are some things to do to make winter more pleasant and survivable?  Make time to play in the snow.  I know it sounds silly, but experiencing the fun side of snow makes you appreciate it more, and not hate it so much when dealing with transportation.  Have a snowball fight, make a snow angel, or if you are feeling very adventurous, make a snow fort.  If playing in the snow isn’t your thing – find a way to take a walk through a park. Even if it’s hard to gather the motivation, it is so worth it.  Ask a friend to be your winter walking buddy—and bring your camera!

And if you are in the market for gloves, boots, or coats, wait until you buy retail.  Check out some of the local thrift stores, such as Everyday People, Goodwill, Salvation Army or St. Vincent de Paul. See what you can find before spending more than you can afford.

Winter may seem difficult to traverse at times—especially trying to get to work with feet of snow and while constantly braving the relentless cold.  But by the time spring arrives, not only will you be able to say that you survived winter, but you have also surpassed many challenges and obstacles as an AmeriCorps member.

Weather to Ride: Winter Biking Tips

Transportation, no doubt, challenges a great many AmeriCorps members as they go about their days of service. If you’re without four wheels, then the prospect of traveling across the metro may seem like crossing from Morgai to Mount Doom within the context of your day. And if you are fortunate enough to have a car, you probably find yourself at least occasionally fretting over the odometer more than Cameron Frye on his day off. But can the bicycle really stand up as an option?  Nope, it’s two-tired! But I apologize, and I digress. As a non-native, I have heard that our Cities are the best around for biking, and I have always wondered what this meant. This fall I’ve found the many paths that make navigating Minneapolis pretty darn easy. But the best biking city? To hold such a title we have to address that force that has reasserted itself oh-so-strongly in the last week: winter. Now, my biking credentials are not small: I’ve crossed Iowa on two wheels, twice, during the hottest days of the summer. But commuting, and winter commuting in particular, is new to me. Considering this novelty, I thought it appropriate to share some of my learning, both the obvious and the less intuitive, so that if you’ve been on the fence about braving the great wintery North, you may be moved to take heart and try.

  • Your mother was right. Ride without dressing properly and you will catch a cold. On the first snow I skipped the scarf and received a week-long bug in return.
  • That being said, coverage, not insulation, is key. You’re not riding a tauntaun across Hoth.  Long underwear with jeans, a sweater, and a good raincoat, supplemented with thick gloves and a full head mask will keep you amply warm once you’re moving.
  • Ride a cheap bike. The first time you ride on a really cold, wet day you’ll understand without seeing the rust that your bike isn’t going to live a long life. The Cities are rife with opportunities to obtain used bikes at low or no cost.
  • Bar ends will save your life. Adding bar ends to a straight handle barred bike gives you great leverage for controlling the front wheel riding through snow drifts. I would have wiped out every other block without them in this recent snow.
  • Get Fenders. They work.
  • Snow really isn’t so terrible; it’s ice that will leave you meekly returning to the bus. Avoid ice. If you need to ride through snow just approach it the same way you would in a car. Ride conservatively, accelerate slowly, turn cautiously and keep your head up. Studded tires are a plus, but if the snow’s packed you’ll be alright even without them.

Last of all: emulate the little engine that could. If you think you can, you can. But if you think “Oh it looks so dismal, I’ll stay inside the warm bus,” then you’ll miss out on being one of those people the bus riders all secretly admire for being just crazy enough to claim rule over the weather.


Site Highlight: Northside Achievement Zone

Facing around 115 crimes in the month of September 2012 alone, Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) is working to change the future of one North Minneapolis community by building a culture of achievement one family at a time. Turning the “cradle to prison” pipeline into one of “cradle to career” instead is a key element in helping North Minneapolis change directions.

NAZ Neighborhoods

NAZ Neighborhoods

What is Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ)?

Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) is more than a 501(c)3 nonprofit. NAZ is a collaborative initiative of over 60 Northside organizations and schools focused on helping all kids achieve in a defined geographic zone in North Minneapolis, more specifically the area bounded by 35th Avenue, I-94 East, West Broadway, and Penn Avenue. With the assistance of the PEACE Foundation, NAZ piloted in 2009 serving 150 families – 75% of who make less than $10,000 per year.

How does Northside Achievement Zone create change?

Modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone, NAZ works with families as an intermediaryby providing comprehensive support from pre-natal through age eighteen. NAZ is very grounded in values and have 3 pillars of impact:

1)     Family engagement & opportunity alignment – “Family coaches” work with families to develop goals

2)     Education pipeline – early learning programs to promote academic readiness & matching NAZ youth with mentors

3)     Whole family wrap around support – connects families to resources based on their needs and goals

What’s ahead for Northside Achievement Zone?

Northside Achievement Zone is one of five recipients in the nation of the Promise Neighborhood grants. The Promise Neighborhood grants were established by the U.S. Department of Education to improve the “educational and developmental outcomes of children and youth in [the] most distressed communities.” The term “promise neighborhood” follows the concept of neighborhoods with a commitment or a promise to provide great schools, strong families, and community support.

Children at a NAZ program.

Children at a NAZ program.

As part of the Promise Neighborhood grants, NAZ will receive a total of $28 million over the next five years, which will allow them to increase the nmber of families they can support from 150 to 1,200 families with 3,000 children.

Sondra Samuels, the president and CEO of Northside Achievement Zone (and a 15-year resident of North Minneapolis) describes NAZ in the following words: “What the experiment is, is if we are changing everything about a child’s life at the same time, we believe it will change their outcome. And if we do that for enough kids… at some point the families and the children that are in the pipeline become kind of the tipping-point families. At some point their success – their culture of achievement – informs the rest of the community.”

For more information about Northside Achievement Zone and ways to become involved, visit NAZ’s website.

Service Reflection: Finding Satisfaction Behind the Scenes

A discussion with Naaima Khan, AmeriCorps VISTA at the Greater Twin Cities United Way,

serving with the Phillips Sectoral Employment Initiative.

While all VISTA positions focus largely on indirect service, Naaima Khan’s position at the Greater Twin Cities United Way is even more focused on it than most. She helps United Way grantees in the job training sector to understand how to enter data effectively and accurately, so that United Way can do a return on investment analysis. In other words, instead of helping her site to more effectively serve individuals, she helps United Way to more effectively serve other organizations.

Like many VISTAs, Naaima found herself tackling a big learning curve at the start of her service year. When she first entered into United Way, it took her some time to find her role within the organization. More challenging still was learning how to make that role a meaningful one. In her own words, she has done this by “learning to act on the positive side of things.” Naaima sometimes finds herself doing things that don’t seem to play a big role in furthering her site’s mission at a quick glance. At first, she found this troubling, but now she has come to understand that a lot of learning happens even when she is working on what she calls the “nuts and bolts,” such as coordinating meetings and other behind-the-scenes duties. It isn’t always easy to see it at the time, but Naaima knows that everything she does during her service is working toward the bigger goal of poverty reduction.

Within her service duties, Naaima particularly enjoys guiding people to that “aha! moment”  when they understand the important connections between data collection and analysis, measuring and communicating impact, and furthering the organization’s success.  In fact, Naaima had her own aha! moment when, after gaining deep knowledge about a certain aspect of her position, a discussion with a colleague opened her eyes to a new point of view. “Social problems involve so many moving pieces and different systems that there is always something to learn by taking a broader view” of the situation, she explains, saying she has learned to keep that in mind at all times. By keeping the big picture in view, she learns more about her service area so that she can serve her site more effectively.

Naaima graduated from the University of Texas in 2011, with an MA in Public Affairs. She would like to pursue a development-related position in the non-profit sector, and hopes to make use of her knack for research and writing. Public Spirit wishes her the best of luck, in her year of service and beyond.