Public Spirit, April 2016

Is it Spring Yet?

It’s starting to feel like it, even if Mother Nature is having fun toying with our emotions. Sunshine and 60’s one day, overnight frost the next, rain for two days straight followed by another sunny day? Sounds like April in Minnesota! Wahoo! Luckily, Public Spirit is here to provide some consistency in your life by delivering yet another newsletter filled with articles centered around Earth Day, saving money, and our continual celebration of service. So grab a beach towel or heated blanket (depending on the day!) and dive right into your April edition of Public Spirit!


AmeriCorps Week was a Major Success!

Thanks to the hard work of every ICC committee and the participation from everyone who came out to celebrate with us! The week kicked off with the InterCorps Council’s annual Dodge For Hunger dodgeball tournament and food drive which managed to collect 277 items which were donated to Minnesota FoodShare! Later in the week, local advocates Michelle Jacobson and Rosario de la Torre discussed the complexities of domestic violence and the legal system with AmeriCorps members at theDomestic Violence Education Forum.

Following that, our members gathered at Sweeney’s for a night of AmeriCorps trivia and networking. Many tacos were eaten and random guesses thrown out; all in the name of fun! Finally, members capped off the week by volunteering at a Habitat for Humanity project in Minneapolis to put some of the finishing touches on a house.

All in all, with 121 people attending ICC events, it was another successful AmeriCorps Week! Thank you to all who helped the ICC celebrate service during AmeriCorps Week, we think you’re the bee’s knees. Check out the snapshot below from the Championship round of the Dodge For Hunger dodgeball tournament, and check out some more pictures here.


Earth Day

I’m sure most of you are aware of all the good that AmeriCorps members are doing every day in our communities, but are you also aware that environmental stewardship is one of six focus areas in the Corporation for National and Community Service’s Strategic Plan? CNCS’s primary goal is to provide resources and leadership to support local initiatives that tackle community challenges, with the environment being one of them!

We all know of a few steps we can take in our lives to reduce our impact on the planet: bringing a reusable bag to the store, reusable water bottles, donating unwanted items, etc. But what about other ways to take the next step? Here are some ways to lessen your impact, save money, and give Mother Earth a break not just in April for Earth Day, but all year long!

Buy in bulk: Bulk means buying loose products without packaging. Have you seen bins of grains, rice, or pasta at the supermarket? Buying in bulk has many benefits. For one, you don’t have to buy more than you need! You can buy JUST what you need for your recipe, saving you money. Bulk also reducespackaging waste, especially if you bring your own container to the co-op. If you’re nervous about trying it, ask customer service what their policy is. To find your local co-op visit this website! 

Monitor your water use: Think about how Earth looks from space: a blue watery sphere. While the earth is made up of 70% water only a fraction of this is freshwater, just 2.5%! By being aware of how you use water you can help cut down on waste and save money. Turn off the faucet when you brush your teeth. Take a navy shower. Save the water from making hardboiled eggs to water your plants. Rinse lettuce in a bowl of cold water and give to a pet. Place a brick in your toilet tank to offset the water used per flush. Invest in a low-flow shower head. With a little imagination, you soon will be saving moneyand appreciating this valuable resource even more!

Prevent food waste: The facts are staggering: 40% of foodproduced in the US ends up in the landfill, yet 1 in 6 Americans is food insecure. Food waste makes up the largest portion of our garbage, and food rotting in landfills accounts for 16% of total US methane emissions. (source: The average St. Paul household wastes $96 worth of food per month! The good news is that YOU have the power to change this. Simple changes in the way we shop, store, and use food can help us waste less and save money:

1)     Check your cupboards first: See what ingredients you already have and plan meals around them.

2)     Make a list: Think of how many meals you’ll be eating at home for the next week. Create a meal plan and write up a grocery list.

3)     Stick to the list: When shopping, stick to the list! Buy produce loose so you buy only what you need.

4)     Store produce correctly: Learn how to best store produce to extend its shelf life. Look over this infographic that “demystifies” your fridge.

5)     Freeze and reinvent leftovers: Strawberries not looking too hot? Bananas a bit too brown? Freeze items to reinvent into other meals. Use’s recipe finderto use up those stray ingredients you have lying around.

6)     Feed friends: At the very least share with friends. Who’s going to turn down free food!?

Gift experiences:  Instead of giving ‘stuff’ for birthdays or holidays, give an experience such as a painting class, movie tickets, homemade food, or personal care item. Thanks to websites likeGroupon, it is easy to browse for activities. For some fun inspirationclick here, or for more activity-based gifts visit this site. Giving an experience also cuts down on packaging waste.

This Earth Day make your impact last more than just 24 hours by incorporating some simple changes in your daily routine. Being a good steward of the environment is important to the CNCS and hopefully important to all of us. I hope you will join me by pledging to leave the Earth a better place than when we found it.

“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.” –Robert Swan

“The Earth is what we all have in common.” –Wendell Berry

“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” –Native American proverb

“Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” –Anna Lappe


Eating Healthy on a Budget

In elementary school we learn about a handful of items necessary for human survival, including food, water, and shelter. Food is something so culturally ingrained and so essential to our survival, at times it’s difficult to factor it into a budget. With food deserts across the globe and growing food inequality in our country, for many people, it often seems that eating healthy on a budget is far beyond the scope of possibility. However, the situation is often more feasible than it seems at  first glance. Here are some tips and tricks for eating healthy on a budget at any age.


Stocking up on produce when it’s in season and freezing it can allow you to eat fruits and veggies year round for a good deal. There are opportunities to use supplemental food assistance (like SNAP and EBT) at Farmer’s Markets as well! Many offer deals like 50% off or will match up to $10 spent with SNAP benefits, so check out these resources and reach out to your local Farmer’s Market.

EBT – St. Paul Farmer’s Market

EBT – Minneapolis Farmer’s Market

Find Your Local Farmer’s Market

Try less expensive parts of meat!

You can try different cooking methods, like a slow cooker, to make tougher cuts tender and juicy. Try to spring for cheaper cuts that will yield leftovers and fill you up! Talking to butchers about how to best prepare different cuts of meat can open up your culinary palate as well.

 Bulk up meals with whole grains and beans!

Beans and whole grains like quinoa, farro, and brown rice are fairly inexpensive, especially when bought in bulk, and can be used to bulk up a meal or eaten on their own. Added to soups or salads (or anything really!), whole grains keep you fuller for longer.

 Plan ahead!

Planning meals ahead and using a shopping list can keep unnecessary purchases to a minimum and help you to stick within a budget. Check out these sites for cheap and delicious budget recipes for anyone!

Farmer’s Market Budget Recipes

Simple and tasty itemized budget recipes

Everyday Budget Recipes

 Think Co-op!

Many Co-ops have started offering programs to make their food more affordable. They might offer a discount for using financial assistance like SNAP/EBT or offer cheaper ways to become an owner of the Co-op. You can often use a discount on their products on top of a price reduction that comes along with being an owner. For example, owners of the Wedge Community Co-op in Minneapolis who are currently enrolled in WIC, SNAP, SSDI/SSI, Section 8 Housing, Refugee Cash Assistance, Medical Assistance (Medicaid), or MinnesotaCare are eligible for reduced priceownership and 10% everyday discount. Learn morehere. Mississippi Market has a similar program for people currently receiving financial program assistance. That one can be found here. Check out your local Co-op to see if they have a similar program.

Find more budget ideas here! Best of luck  


Informational Interviewing

Figuring out the right career move following a year of service can be daunting and stressful. Luckily for AmeriCorps members, we encounter many people during our service year who are doing work that we love or know other people doing work that we love. The best thing you can do for yourself and your future is to meet with as many people as possible for “informational interviews.” This is the process of sitting down with someone from an organization whose work you are interested in and discussingyour background, your career interests, getting resume advice, and getting contacts in your desired career field.

When planning these meetings, think broadly. What aspects of your service have you enjoyed? Who have you met (i.e. community partners) who inspired you? Even if these partners are not doing the exact work you envision yourself doing, they are already entrenched in the service community. They can introduce and connect you with other people who match your interests.

Some tips for setting up the  informational interview:

Ask someone you know to introduce you to someone they know. Meet with your supervisor and tell them about your interests (Food insecurity? Housing? Marketing?) and they will help you reach out to appropriate organizations. You can also reach out to partners you have already worked with during your year and have a similar meeting with them. You will be surprised who knows who and how much help people will offer.

Emphasize the importance of your professional development. Meet with your supervisor to schedule time for informational interviewing during the workweek. One thing that makes AmeriCorps special is the emphasis placed on professional development. Speak up about your desire to plan for your future and get what you need. Part of the informational interviewing process is seeing the inner-workings of an organization (if possible), which means going during business hours.

Remember AmeriCorps service can lead to nonprofit, government, or corporate careers. Even if you feel certain that you want to pursue a career in a certain sector, it’s worth having informational interviews with people from many different types of organizations. You may just discover your true passion in an unexpected way. Click here to see survey results of the impact AmeriCorps service has had on alums in four areas: development of career-oriented soft skills, career pathways, sense of community, and civic engagement are doing after their service. 

To prepare for the informational interview:

Think about what you want to get from each interview. Before you go, ask yourself what the purpose of the meeting is. More contacts? Resume advice? Increased knowledge of the person you are speaking with and how they got to their career? Sometimes it’s valuable just to hear the path that others took to achieve their goals.

Think about how best to present yourself. Wear nice clothes and speak professionally. Work on a draft of your resume and write out what you think are the most important aspects of what you’ve done during your service year. Start with full sentences then work these down to bullet points that you can easily recite to someone else. This might be difficult at first, but with practice, you will soon be able to easily talk about everything you’ve done. The more informational interviews you do, the more comfortable you will feel talking about yourself and your accomplishments.

Don’t underestimate your service experience. What you have done matters and is applicable to a career. You have every reason to go into each interview as a confident, competent job seeker. AmeriCorps members accomplish the impossible and employers know this.

Good luck!


AmeriCorps Highlight


AmeriCorps Service Member Name: Madison Neece

Type of AmeriCorps Service: State and National

AmeriCorps Program: Community Technology Empowerment Project (CTEP)

Site & Location: Neighborhood House

Project Focus: Technology and Job Skills for Adult Learners

Can you tell me about the AmeriCorps program you serve with? What does it aim to accomplish?

I serve in the Community Technology Empowerment Project, which is based out of libraries, nonprofits, and community centers in the Twin Cities and surrounding metro area. We strive to advocate for Minnesotans of all backgrounds by bringing access to digital technology and helping to foster digital inclusion. We teach technology skills classes, train youth in job skills and animation, and help community members search for jobs and housing. We also prepare volunteers to better serve the needs of communities with low or limited access to technology.

Why did you choose to serve with this AmeriCorps program? What drew you to this specific one?

I googled “social justice” and “nonprofit” and stumbled across an AmeriCorps listing for one of the CTEP partner sites. The site—CLUES—serves Latin@ populations and this was attractive to me as a Spanish-speaker. I knew I wanted to remove myself from academia for a year or two after graduating college, and a year of service sounded like a way to put a different skill set to use. When I interviewed with the program director, I became more enamored with the idea of teaching computer classes and helping people search for jobs. I had never done this before, but I felt like I could learn so much from giving myself over to something totally new.

Can you share a success story that you have experienced through your service this year?

Gladly! At my service site we teach classes to adult learners. I teach the computer skills classes and assist with technology at night and during afternoon classes as well. When one volunteer found her lesson plan frustrating, she expressed to me that using the computers seemed to “complicate” the lesson. I sat down with her and we worked through the lesson to create something more relevant. By the end of our coaching session, the volunteer felt better prepared and decided to teach not one, but two hours of her lesson using computers! At the end of the night, she approached me and thanked me for the encouragement. Her students were excited to have her back for another computer lesson and the volunteer felt more confident using the technology on her own. To me, this was an example of sustainability in practice.

What do you hope to do in the future and how is AmeriCorps supporting that?

I hope to continue serving in diverse communities as an advocate and educator. I’ve really enjoyed the support I’ve received during my year with CTEP and I absolutely love my service site—so much so that I asked them to take me back for a second year. I hope to continue teaching my computer classes and building my volunteer coaching skills. After that? You’ll have to catch up with me a year from now and check back in.


Do you have any questions or suggestions for Public Spirit? Do you have an inspiring story of service you’d like to share, or are an AmeriCorps alumni who would like to tell us about your service experience? Please email us

That’s all, folks! Keep on rocking and we’ll check back in with the mid-month update. Until then, stay classy!