AmeriCorps members are an amazing bunch, and their work ranges across a wide variety of disciplines and types. We here at Public Spirit are AmeriCorps members ourselves, and we joined the InterCorps Council as a way to give back to our fellow AmeriCorps members. In this issue of Public Spirit, our new staff will be giving you a peek at the wide variety of people and experiences that exist within the AmeriCorps umbrella. Each article will be a snapshot of one of our fine new Communications team (CoCo) members, their site, and their passions–an introduction issue, of sorts. These members are diverse in age, ethnicity, race, gender, and socioeconomic status and hopefully will illustrate to all of you the wide breadth of people and talents that AmeriCorps encompasses and how that diversity serves our mission.
Another kind of diversity that AmeriCorps has is diversity of programs. Many people believe that AmeriCorps is simply one program, but in reality there are a number of different ways that one can serve as an AmeriCorps member. To begin our introductions, here are the different types of AmeriCorps members that serve in Minnesota:
VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America): This is the oldest AmeriCorps program and was founded as a domestic answer to the Peace Corps. Its focus is on eliminating poverty and all VISTAs give indirect service aimed at capacity building in organizations. They serve for one full year at a single site, often a nonprofit or school.
NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps): This branch of AmeriCorps is built on the belief that civic responsibility is an inherent duty of all citizens. It is modeled after the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s and the military and engages members in direct service in a team-based fashion. They complete a variety of projects throughout the area to which they are assigned, and work with different nonprofits and organizations in the area.
State and National: These AmeriCorps members are funded by a particular grant to work on a project through a local service program. The largest examples of these in Minnesota are the Minnesota Reading Corps and the Minnesota Math Corps. These individual organizations that are created by AmeriCorps then hire their own members.
Now read on for more about our CoCo members and their sites!
Olivia James is the new chair of the Intercorps Council’s Communications Committee, as well as the Nonprofit Outreach and Partnership Coordinator at GiveMN. She represents the VISTA faction and thus is focusing on indirect service. Primarily, she works to improve capacity for nonprofits to fundraise. GiveMN is a nonprofit that provides other nonprofits the ability to accept credit card donations online, as well as organizing one of the biggest online giving days in the world. They also provide training and resources to nonprofits to improve fundraising efforts across the state.
GiveMN just finished up its biggest push of the year: Give to the Max Day! Together with Minnesota nonprofits, they raised $17 million dollars in less than a day! The last few months have been busy but amazing, and Olivia has taken the helm on social media, email communications, and supporting nonprofits in their fundraising efforts.
Olivia graduated from St. Olaf College in 2012 with a degree in philosophy and religion. She loves to write, and blogs at a variety of websites. In her spare time she swims, rock climbs, swing dances and plays Dungeons and Dragons.
Sarah is serving as a Development & Communications VISTA at Hunger Solutions Minnesota through the Anti-Hunger and Opportunity Corps and the New York City Coalition Against Hunger (NYCCAH). Hunger Solutions Minnesota (HSM) works to end hunger by taking action on behalf of hungry Minnesotans and the diverse groups that serve them. HSM works to connect Minnesota’s food shelves and hunger-relief organizations with the necessary funding, technical assistance and logistical support to reach thousands of Minnesota individuals, families and children in need. Our programs include the Minnesota Food Helpline, the Food Shelf Capacity Building Program, the Summer Backpack Program and the distribution of USDA food commodities to Minnesota food banks.
She started her service term in March 2013 and works on a wide variety of development related projects. She’s been working on diversifying HSM’s funding through new grant opportunities, increasing business/corporate giving and widening our individual donor base. This fall, she’s been working heavily on promoting the Walk to End Hunger, a family-friendly 5K at the Mall of America on Thanksgiving morning. All the proceeds from the Walk to End Hunger benefit 12 partner hunger relief organizations in the Twin Cities metro area.
Bobby Brunhuber serves as an Americorps Promise Fellow through Minnesota Alliance with Youth. A recent college graduate, he was looking for an opportunity that would allow him to engage his community (wherever that may be) and make connections between disadvantaged peoples and possible resources. He was fortunate enough to be placed at a site in the region of Minnesota where I grew up: Pine River-Backus High School in central Minnesota.
As a Promise Fellow, the overarching goal is to close the education gap that is prevalent in Minnesota while reducing dropout rates and increasing community engagement by students from grades 6 to 10. At his site, he works specifically with 9th and 10th grade students. An average day will have him in and out of classrooms, providing academic interventions with students one-to-one and in small group settings. He also spends time connecting with community organizations and resources to provide service-learning opportunities for students. The work is difficult; many of the students he works with come from a culture of poverty, repeated for generations. But the work is always rewarding. The opportunity to build relationships with youth–and also to foster relationships between youth and their community–is something that drives me each day.
Nicole Vest graduated from the College of Saint Benedict in 2011 is am currently doing a year of service for the Minnesota Math Corps at Jackson Elementary School in Shakopee, Minnesota. Minnesota Math Corps is a program designed to help students become proficient in mathematics by eighth grade. It started in 2008 in the St. Cloud School District and has expanded to include 200 tutors serving in more than 100 locations throughout Minnesota.
She works with 4th and 5th graders who scored “Partially Proficient” on last year’s MCA test. She really enjoys working with the kids and being able to help them understand math! Some challenges she faces include: finding ways to convince the kids to be respectful, and making math more fun and interesting for them. So far, she has learned the arts of patience, organization, preparation and communication. This has been a great experience!
Lynne McMullen is a 2013 graduate of the University of Minnesota- Twin Cities. As an AmeriCorps VISTA member, she is the SNAP Outreach Coordinator for AARP Foundation in Minnesota. AARP Foundation is a nonprofit organization that helps struggling Americans aged fifty and older to maximize their opportunities by doing advocacy work and community education in four focus areas: hunger, income, housing, and isolation. This year, AARP Foundation is hosting thirteen VISTAs who are engaged in anti-hunger work across the nation.
Lynne is piloting a project that will integrate Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program outreach into AARP’s Tax Aide sites to help older Minnesotans navigate the SNAP application process. She is also developing a program that helps healthcare professionals facilitate conversations about the role of public programs in preventing illness through proper nutrition. During the first months of Lynne’s VISTA term, she has recruited and trained a small but mighty team of SNAP outreach volunteers. These volunteers have provided several hundred referrals for application assistance to personal connections, at community fairs and through AARP Foundation information sessions. In her spare time, Lynne can be found running, cycling or testing new vegetarian recipes on her friends and family.
Maren Schieffer is an AmeriCorps member with the Community Technology Empowerment Project (CTEP) serving in St. Paul at Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio (CLUES). She was born and raised in Moorhead, MN but moved to St. Cloud, MN after high school to attend college. In May 2013, she graduated from St. Cloud State University with degrees in Spanish and English. During her final college semester, her passion for travel and interest in teaching English brought her to Cusco, Peru to complete an internship. In this role, she served as an English teacher and mentor to young girls. Unsure of where exactly she wanted to go after graduation, she found AmeriCorps to be a great opportunity to serve the community, develop professional skills, and challenge myself. She started her year of service with CTEP Americorps in September and loves it so far!
The goal of CTEP is to bridge the “digital divide” by bringing technology literacy skills to new immigrants and low-income communities in the Twin Cities. CTEP members help youth and adults use technology to better access social, civic, educational and economic opportunities. There are 35 CTEP members who work full-time to educate community members about technology literacy at non-profits, libraries, and community centers. At CLUES St. Paul, she incorporates basic computer skills into our Adult English as a Second Language classes and teach workshops on basic computer skills. She has also been working on developing a new GED program for my site to better prepare students for the GED’s 2014 change to computer-based testing. She is very excited about these projects and look forward to developing them throughout the year.
When she is not at her service site, she can be found watching Netflix, swimming at the YMCA, or dreaming about her next travel adventure. She also really enjoys writing, and is looking forward to being a part of this year’s Communications Committee. Her goal is to bring lots of interesting and valuable articles to the readers of Public Spirit.
The path Alexis took to serving as a Minnesota Reading Corps Literacy Tutor was not the most direct of journeys. After 6 years spent away, she made the return to my home state of Minnesota in July of this year, just in time to apply for this brilliant opportunity. Months prior she could be found hiking 12+ miles a day on the Appalachian Trail alongside her boyfriend and two dogs. Before that she was either leading the Y Earth Service Corps crew down trails in Jemez National Forest in New Mexico or enjoying her employment at one of Santa Fe’s most popular wine destinations. The other four years spent away from Minnesota, she called Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana, my home–when she wasn’t studying abroad in Cádiz, Spain or around the world with Semester at Sea. The accumulated experiences earned she a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies with a Global Multicultural Studies concentration, and she hasn’t stopped treating the world as my campus since.
As she started her uncertain homecoming, she was in search of a position that would support growth, foster new challenges, and draw on her previous experiences. She was familiar with AmeriCorps impact nationwide, and was thrilled to find a position in New Ulm. That the position comes with an education grant to apply to future academic endeavors was an amazing bonus. The year ahead began to look more intriguing, and she couldn’t think of a better way to get reacquainted to my new, yet familiar landscape. Now, her days are filled with back-to-back 20 minute tutoring sessions with 18 students in grades K-3. She draws her daily joys from kindergarteners who just mastered another letter sound, a first grader who calls themselves a reader with pride, a second grader who isn’t stumbling through sentences any longer, or a third grader who can see their fluency increasing on a graph. This is her life as a K-3 Literacy Tutor, and she is grateful to be dedicating this year ahead to service alongside you all.
Traci is a mother of 2 grown daughters and grandmother to 6! She and her husband live on a small hobby farm near Forestville State Park where she enjoys gardening, reading (of course) and just being outdoors.
She is serving her third year as a K-3 Literacy Tutor for Americorps. She serves in Stewartville, Minnesota and absolutely loves teaching these kids how to read and watching the excitement and enthusiasm they put forth on a daily basis. She feels a sense of accomplishment and pride each and every time a student reaches their literacy goal and would continue to do this for the rest of her life if Americorps would allow members to serve more than the four-year cap.
Meet your President!
Jessica Jensen is a 2012 graduate of Earlham College. While obtaining her Bachelor of Arts in Biochemistry, Jessica studied abroad in Tanzania and Kenya. Working with communities to address the problems of malaria and HIV/AIDS in these nations inspired Jessica to seek service opportunities at home in the United States. Upon completing her degree, Jessica worked with City Year of Philadelphia. In this role, she held an informal book club for adolescents. This group rekindled her love of reading adolescent fiction from the perspectives of her students. After finishing her program with City Year, Jessica was inspired to explore her growing passion for public health through indirect service. She now serves as an AmeriCorps VISTA with the Phillips Sectoral Employment Initiative at the Karen Organization of Minnesota .
Serving with Karen Organization of Minnesota (KOM) has provided Jessica with a unique opportunity to learn about the Karen culture from both her coworkers and the people she serves. The Karen Organization of Minnesota works to help refugees settle and become self-sufficient while fostering cultural knowledge and understanding. As a Career Advancement Specialist, Jessica helps place clients with training programs that will provide the qualifications and skills they need for employment in the healthcare field. She also helps her organization with resource development. Soon, she will begin promoting employment trainings at churches and other community organizations. In her spare time, Jessica enjoys curling and reading horror stories about parasites.