Public Spirit, December 2013

In this issue:

5 Tips to Avoid Service Hour Panic
4 Ways to Unwind this Winter
5 Amazing Minnesota Organizations You’ve Never Heard of
Bob Young:  Passing the Baton of Personal Investment
Good Reads
Service Opportunities

5 tips to avoid service hour panic 

Imagine this: you have a month left of your service term and a lot of hours left to serve. You lie awake at night worrying about how you will possibly find the time. Your mouth goes dry at the thought, and your hands are clammy and clenched. You need that education stipend, don’t you? You need it. N. E. E. D. Without it, what happens? Move back in with your parents again? You can’t, can you? The thought makes the anxiety worse. You start breathing heavier, wheezing. Is this what a stroke feels like?

Relax. Breathe easy. Unclench your fists. We can’t do anything about moving in with parents, but we can help plan your service hours for the long-term. No last-minute scrambles. No sleepless nights. No anxiety. Here are five simple tips to avoiding the service hour panic:

#1 Anticipate Holidays and Breaks

It is easy to plan an average week early in the service term and anticipate hours from there. But holidays and breaks can disrupt the expected flow and throw off hours. Be prepared for them ahead of time, and have a plan in place to accrue service hours during those breaks and holidays.

#2 Understand the Booms and Busts of Your Service Term

Does your site host a fundraiser during a specific time of year? Is there a certain initiative that you will have to live and breathe during another time? Knowing things like these are the key to understanding the booms and busts of hours spent during a service term. Get a feel for the busiest times of year (and the least busy) and plan accordingly.

#3 Expect the Unexpected

Simple advice, but important to note. People get sick. People need days off. Someone has to stay at home to take care of the sick dog. These unanticipated blips during the term can cut in to hours. Don’t bank on that fact that every average week will have x-number of hours.

#4 Be Active in Service Projects and Extra Events

Ashly Kimball, a second-year AmeriCorps member serving as a Promise Fellow with Indian Education for the Duluth school district, stresses the importance of this one. As she notes, find a club, group or council that relates to your service and your passions. “I serve as an adult partner for a member of the Minnesota Youth Council,” Kimball says. “So that is three-to-five extra hours a week doing something I love and am passionate about.”

#5 Build Your Resume

Take the time to build skills for later. An Americorps service term is a time to develop and grow, all the while making a difference. Capitalize on opportunities such as professional development plans and attending trainings. Kimball notes, “Even if you aren’t sure what you want to do [after your service], attend trainings. You never know when something will ignite your passion.” Even if you don’t end up with a career involving AmeriCorps service directly, the skills and training from your term will be helpful, so use the hours now to prepare for the future.


4 ways to unwind this winter 

As AmeriCorps members, we are no strangers to hard work. After putting in those long hours at the service site, it is important that we take some time to focus on self-care. However, these Minnesota winters with their less than inviting weather make it easy for anyone to want to spend their free time indoors, binge-watching their favorite TV programs. To break this wintertime rut, here is a short list of ways to unwind this season.

#1 Get Active!

Joining a gym or fitness club is a great way to stay active and healthy in the winter time. YMCAs all over the state offer membership scholarships, and AmeriCorps members can qualify for up to a 50% discount on membership fees. Those who live and/or work in St. Paul can pay $30 for the entire year to use the various fitness centers and walking tracks throughout the city. Also, local Parks and Recreation departments offer a wide variety of sports leagues to participate in at a very low cost. If you’re into braving the cold, there are a number of unique and fun winter sports you can participate in as well.

#2 Try Something New!

Ever wanted to learn how to knit? What about speak Mandarin? Or cook Italian food? Community Education departments in any town offer a variety of classes for community members to take. These classes are often inexpensive and do not require a large time commitment from students. Depending on the subject, these classes can also be a way to enhance your AmeriCorps service. If you’d rather stay at home, you can always join a massive open online course too. Keep your brain active and try something you never thought you could do!

#3 Curl Up With a Good Book!

Most of us wish we had time to read more, but for many it’s hard to find the motivation to start or finish a book. Winter weather is the perfect excuse for staying inside and checking those books off your ever growing reading wish list. There are numerous books out there that can relate to AmeriCorps service so get a group of fellow AmeriCorps members together and start a book club! If you can’t commit to a full book, try an article. Check out the “Good Reads” section of this month’s Public Spirit to get some ideas.

#4 Volunteer!

Yes, yes, I know, as AmeriCorps members we already spend the majority of our time serving our communities, but let’s face it, we joined AmeriCorps because that’s what we love to do! It seems that more volunteer opportunities pop up during these winter months so bring a friend and spend an afternoon giving your time to one of the many great organizations around Minnesota.

Here are some links to other great event sites to get you out and about this winter!


5 Amazing Minnesota Organizations You’ve Never Heard Of

We all know some of the big guys in Minnesota when it comes to working on poverty and social justice: Habitat for Humanity, Feed My Starving Children, Second Harvest Heartland. These are great organizations. But there are also some organizations tucked away in corners of Minnesota that are also doing amazing things. They could use your support, your partnerships, or your volunteer hours. Here are a few organizations that are enacting similar missions to those of many AmeriCorps members, but are escaping the spotlight.


MNIC (Minnesota Internship Center) is a charter high school. It provides services to low income students, most of whom have gone through many other schools previously, and provides them with real world resources. Many of their students are homeless, and the school has information about shelters, goods that have been donated, and other resources. In addition, it has a strong curriculum that allows students to get outside the classroom and truly experience the world.


#2 WISE (Women’s Initiative for Self-Empowerment)

WISE’s mission is to empower immigrant women and girls. They do this by helping these women and girls become leaders, by helping them access healthcare, by raising awareness about immigrant issues, and by helping immigrant professionals get started in their fields in Minnesota.

#3 Aeon

Aeon works to create affordable housing in the Twin Cities by building and managing apartment complexes around the metro area. They also provide sober housing, job training, after school programs, and other resources for their residents and the community. Many of their residents are formerly homeless or are making minimum wage.

#4 Sabathani Community Center

Not only does Sabathani provide space for many important community projects, but it also has resources and projects of its own. They run a food shelf and clothing boutique, an after school program, and a health center. In addition, they house a huge number of nonprofits and resources for the community from daycares, to a driving school, to an LGBT group.

#5 Partnership Resources Inc.

PRI is an organization that provides resources for individuals with developmental disabilities across the spectrum. They help individuals become employed, connected to their communities, and engaged in volunteer and leisure activities. By empowering individuals to become contributing members of society, PRI improves many lives.


Bob Young:  Passing the Baton of Personal Investment

By Alexis Towlerton

I sat down with Robert ‘Bob’ Young in an empty classroom at New Ulm’s Jefferson Elementary School this month to have a conversation about Minnesota Reading Corps. I hoped Bob, as a former Literacy Tutor, would have something to share with current AmeriCorps members like myself. Having been at my site now for over three months, I had heard plenty of stories about the impact Bob has made on Jefferson’s K-3 students. What I wanted to do is tell his story, and how he became one of the rare few who has served the 4 year maximum with an AmeriCorps State or National program.

Jefferson Elementary became a Minnesota Reading Corps site in 2009, the year Bob retired from a career in Criminal Justice and decided to get involved. To understand how his interest morphed into serious involvement he took me further down memory lane than I anticipated. He shared stories of learning to read as a young boy. In a time well before our modern day understanding of bullying, he was ridiculed and taunted as he struggled to read aloud in front of his classmates. After that he never truly recovered and any desire to learn to read had been completely depleted. Statistically it showed when his scores had him at the absolute bottom of the barrel against his 65 classmates. That was until he met his 4th grade reading tutor, who poured all her vigor into a very resistant and disengaged youth. Years later, Bob went on to graduate college with honors and to serve with the United States Military Police Corps – things he yet today credits that 4th grade reading tutor for allowing him to accomplish.

He admits today that as an adult he doesn’t read for pleasure, but it was the message of using reading as a tool to achieve certain things that got him as far as he’s gone. Bob summed it up best when he shared that “Reading has been a voyage for me. It has shaped everything I have done in life.” Dedicating himself to service through Minnesota Reading Corps was just as much about paying it forward as it was giving back to his own tutor who took such special concern in his triumph. When asked what advice he had to share specifically to Reading Corps Literacy Tutors he responded “Make it enjoyable for the students if you can. Tap into their interests, all they have to do is try. Don’t be discouraged if all your students don’t leave you loving to read– it is an exceptional feat if they leave you able to read.” In the midst of all our progress monitoring, data entry, and checking our intervention integrity, it is a nice reminder to focus on the individual behind the points on the graph.  I believe the lesson reaches beyond Literacy Tutors, and so often in the service sector we need to be reminded that the journey we’re on is fueled communally.

Finally, when asked what he has to say about being one of the few who served the maximum 4 years he simply responded, “I do very few things I don’t enjoy.” A wonderful way to live indeed, by doing whatever is in your power to make what you do enjoyable for everyone involved. The results may just change the course of someone’s life, and if you’re lucky – your own.


Good Reads

It’s that time of year again… Whether you need something to keep you entertained on your travels or resources for explaining your service to skeptical friends and relatives, the Communications Committee has compiled a list of engaging articles, studies and books for your enjoyment.

Articles and Studies:

#1 - What does it mean to be a culture of philanthropy? This article explores how your organization can improve its relationship with its donors and employees to create a positive environment of philanthropy.


#2 - Michael Rosen explores the importance of effective storytelling in this article.


#3 - “The Crossing” follows one woman’s transition into financial stability to illustrate the complexity of poverty.


#4 - Most AmeriCorps members are accustomed to viewing poverty as a complex issue.  Within the nonprofit world, it can be tempting to take the valuable nature of our work for granted.  Experiences like the one related in this article showcase the importance of discussing the broader issues underlying our work in addition to our job descriptions and daily achievements.



“A Framework for Understanding Poverty” by Ruby Payne uses anecdotes and research to present strategies for overcoming poverty.

"The Mind at Work” by Mike Rose examines the skills and cognitive processes associated with performing “unskilled labor.”  Rose uses a series of interviews and observations with low wage workers to build an evidence-based argument for a living wage.

“Killing the Black Body” by Dorothy Roberts is not a book for the faint of heart. It examines the intersections of reproductive rights, poverty, and color in America and digs up some painful secrets we prefer not to face. An important read for anyone working in the field of economic equity.