Public Spirit, November 2017

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

Who are you people?!?

By Xinci Tan (Minnesota GreenCorps)

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

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

Jaquelyn Chagnon

College Health Corps VISTA



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

Shane DeGroy

Minnesota GreenCorps

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

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

Sophia Haire

Community Technology Empowerment Project (CTEP)

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

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

Ashley Hegeholz

Minnesota Reading Corps

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

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

Hannah Koxlien

Minnesota Opportunity Corps

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

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

David Kraft

Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, AmeriCorps VISTA Cohort

The guy always on Facebook at work. #badlyexplainyourservice

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

Zayn Saifullah

College Possible

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

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

Ben Schneider

MAVA Vista

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

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

Xinci Tan

Minnesota GreenCorps

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

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

Michael Waldegerma

Minneapolis Promise Zone

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

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

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

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

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


Habitat for Humanity:

What we do, and why it matters

By Gyan Prayaga (Habitat for Humanity)

Habitat and AmeriCorps logo.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


World Cuisine on an AmeriCorps Living Allowance

By Zayn Saifullah (College Possible)

One of the hardest parts of living on a strict budget, for me anyway, is keeping variety and spontaneity in your diet. While it’s certainly frugal to survive strictly on a rotation of granola bars, frozen pizza, and ramen, do you really want to do that? In this recurring column, I’ll feature a new recipe every month that is nutritious, worldly, and competitive with processed convenience food for price. This first recipe is from my family’s kitchen, but in the future I’d look forward to publishing some of your recipes, too.

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

Simple North Indian Dal – Adapted from a Suvir Saran recipe

Makes ~5 Servings

Time: ~45 minutes


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

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

½ tsp turmeric powder

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

1 tsp salt, or to taste


4 cups of water


Tempering Oil

2 ½ tbsp canola or vegetable oil

            ~$5.00 per gallon, ~$0.03 per batch

1 ¼ tsp cumin seeds OR ½ tsp cumin powder

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

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

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

1 tbsp minced fresh ginger (about 1”)

             Price varies per pound

2 cloves garlic, minced

            Price varies per pound

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

            ~$0.15 per batch

1 tsp cayenne chili powder

            ~$0.80 per ounce, ~$0.10 per batch

Finishing Touch

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional, but encouraged)

            ~$0.90 per bunch, ~$0.20 per batch

Juice of ½ lime or lemon

            Price varies per pound

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

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

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

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

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

Total cost per batch: ~$2.63

Total cost per serving: ~$0.53!

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


Supporting Undocumented Youth in Service

By Zayn Saifullah (College Possible)

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

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

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

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

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



By: Gao Vue (College Possible)

Apply for Discounts & Benefits EVERYWHERE!

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

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

Other tips to keep in mind:

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck! 


How do you celebrate the holidays?

Submit your pictures!

By Xinci Tan (Minnesota GreenCorps)

Cultural holiday traditions. Photograph: LanguageStars blog.

Cultural holiday traditions. Photograph: LanguageStars blog.

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

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

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Communications Committee