Public Spirit, June 2016

So long, farewell!

Well, folks, we’ve reached the final Public Spirit of the InterCorps Council year. While we’re closing things down and crying on the inside (half-joking), we’d like to give one huge THANK YOU. You all have been incredible and we have loved our interactions, be it at ICC events, via social media, or by simply knowing you’re out there reading our monthly newsletter. THANK YOU for allowing us to be a part of your lives, and we look forward to resuming the council this Fall. Until next time!  

 

A Note from the ICC President

My fellow AmeriCorps Members,

You did it! As we begin to round the bend of the final months in our positions, reflect on your service through a lens of humility, compassion and pride. You’ve contributed your time, energy and humanity into a statement of hope; a hope that has touched countless lives and will continue to do so long after you’ve moved on. “My hope emerges from those places of struggle where I witness individuals positively transforming their lives and the world around them.” –Bell Hooks, Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope. Thank you for your contributions to your country and community. We hope that AmeriCorps and the InterCorps Council of Minnesota have given you the opportunity to pursue your interests and passions. We appreciate you letting us into your email accounts and your lives. Please let us know if there is any additional way that the InterCorps Council can support you during the upcoming months. For those who have decided to complete another year of service with AmeriCorps, I encourage you to be on the lookout for opportunities to be involved in the ICC.

Again, thank you for everything. It’s been an amazing year.

Alex Askew

2015-16 President, InterCorps Council of MN

 

Get Outdoors in Beautiful Minnesota!

With our fickle spring drawing to a close, summer is a warm reprieve from Minnesota’s usual bitter cold. Before the mosquitoes (aka our unofficial state bird) get too dense for being outside, we want to offer a few ideas for getting lost in our great outdoors. Some of our tips might be location specific for a fun staycation or an awesome day-trip (or few days trip!).

Attend State Parks Events!

No matter where you are in our beautiful state, you’re bound to be within semi-close proximity to a state or national park. Many of these parks offer guided tours focused on an interesting topic. Are you interested in learning how to go mushroom hunting, listening and identifying song birds, or star gazing? Look no further than a free event at a local state park! Here’s a link for a list of different Minnesota Department of Natural Resources events.

Go Swimming!

If you’re in the Land of 10,000 Lakes (technically speaking, Minnesota is actually the Land of 14,842 Lakes), it would be a pity to not utilize our wonderful waterfront! Many of the lakes in Minnesota offer wonderful sandy beaches for visitors. A few offer lifeguards, if you’re safety minded! If you’re interested in getting out on the water, you can check into renting a kayak, canoe, pontoon, or other water vessel. Check out this link for more information on the best swimming beaches in Minnesota! 

Check Out Local Architecture!

Being outside doesn’t necessarily have to mean romping around in the woods. Do some urban exploring by checking out some cool buildings in the Twin Cities or Duluth!

If you go on a walk around your neighborhood or those near you, try to name which styles the homes are built in. Look for a Queen Anne or a Dutch Colonial and make your outings more educational

The Minnesota Historical Society also offers walking tours of the homes on the historical Summit Avenue in St. Paul. They also have tours of some of the homes on the beautiful roadway. Glensheen Mansion in Duluth also offers tours of their grounds on the gorgeous Lake Superior lakefront.

Go to a Game!

All around our state we have pro and semi-pro sports teams to check out! Apart from our more big name professional teams, there are a number of smaller professional sports teams to attend. Depending on the date and location, seats can be purchased fairly cheap. For example: a $15 baseball or soccer game can turn into hours of fun for people of all ages! Check out some more information here

Follow these tips, and you can work on your tan while keeping busy this summer! Minnesota has a lot to offer, and this is just the tip of that iceberg.  

 

International Travel on the Cheap

Although the AmeriCorps stipend is low, it is still possible for members to take international trips during or after their service year. Taking a break abroad between your service year and the next step can be a great way to energize yourself and add some soft skills to your resume (Willingness to go out of your comfort zone: Check! Adaptability: Check!). Read on for some tips to get the most out of your travel dollars!

The first place to start is finding a cheap flight.Kayak has an option called“Explore” where you type in your city of origin and it will show you the least expensive destinations around the world by month, season, or specific dates. Google Flights is also a great search tool for this. If you have time, consider flying from Minneapolis to a hub city (i.e. New York City or Los Angeles) before heading to your international destination. Last year at this time, it was possible to fly Los Angeles-Seoul-Taipei-Los Angeles for $848. It takes some dedication and research, but it is entirely possible to find cheap flights to large cities around the world.

Using a credit card that accumulates air miles is also a useful tool for the budget traveler. One such card is the Capital One Venture Card. There is no annual fee, 1.5 air miles are accumulated for every dollar spent, and card members get a signing on bonus of 20,000 miles (the equivalent of $200 towards travel). There are many options out there beyond this card, though, and some that may be better suited to your needs. Check out the list here.

Once you have your ticket, it’s time to find a place to stayAirBnB has a wide variety of cheap, interesting accommodations available as well as an easy way to contact potential hosts and read reviews. Another excellent option is Couchsurfing, which is discussed in a separate article later on in Public Spirit. If you have more time to stay abroad, consider working in exchange for room and board. Some places will let you do this even if you are only in the area for one to two weeks. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) offers room and board in exchange for work. For a small fee to a country’s WWOOF organization, you can contact host sites directly. Another option, if you want to work but don’t want to live the farm life, is Help Exchange. If you are unsure which country you want to work in or want to go to multiple countries, this is a better deal than WWOOF because a one-time payment of 20 Euros (about $22) will get you a two-year membership and access to hosts across the world rather than paying individual fees to each country. There are many programs out there and it’s worth searching to find the one that is best for you.

Explore! Once you are in-country, take a look at the free or low-cost tours available in the city where you are staying. One resource to meet locals ismeetup.com. If you are in a city where English is not the first language, finding English meet-up groups can be a perfect way to meet locals and help them practice their English. Find a grocery store and eat at least one meal with food from there. This is a great way to not only save money but get a feel of where locals shop and what they eat.

International travel is possible for all AmeriCorps members, even on the modest. Go out and enjoy the world!

 

Local travel

72028_standard.jpg

If local travel is more your style, there are plenty of places to go in and near Minnesota for a day trip or overnight camping. For a map and list of state parks, visit the Minnesota Department of Natural Resourceswebsite. Whether you are interested in the North Shore, the boreal forest, the prairie, or hardwood forest, there are places to see in our fair state.

North Shore: Many flock here between Memorial and Labor Day and for good reason. Hiking along Lake Superior abounds. Duluth is the largest city along this stretch of Lake Superior and is easily reached from the Twin Cities Metro as a day trip. Parks and lodges are plentiful along the shore. For the more adventurous, I-35 continues north from Duluth as Highway 61 and goes through small towns and gorgeous vistas all the way to Thunder Bay, Canada.

North Minnesota: Itasca State Park, located roughly 2 hours north of Brainerd, boasts the headwaters of the Mississippi river. Visitors can step across the trickling stream at the start of the mighty river. Just east of Itasca is the southern end of the Paul Bunyan State Forest which stretches far into the north and contains many parks to explore.

Twin Cities Metro area: Afton State Park, a half hour drive east from St. Paul, is a great place for a day hike or a picnic from the city. One hour east from the Metro area is the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, a beautiful area that straddles the Minnesota and Wisconsin border. Camping is available but this is also an easy day trip from the city.

Southwest Minnesota: Pipestone National Monument, nearly on the South Dakota border, is a place that has been sacred to Native Americans for millennia. The pipestone here is used to make ceremonial pipes for many Native American cultures. Visitors can hike, camp, and learn more about the significance of the pipestone.

Southeast Minnesota: The Mississippi River Valley in the southeast corner of Minnesota has carved out a space for beautiful hardwood forest. There are many hiking trails abound in the bluffs as well as opportunities to enjoy the river and backwaters through kayaking, fishing, or boating. Whitewater State Park, about 30 minutes west of Winona, offers camping, hiking, and nature interpretation for visitors. Several smaller parks in the area offer visitors a variety of places to stay.

Wherever you choose to visit, Minnesota has something to offer. We hope you have a great summer full of great adventures!

 

Couchsurfing: Free Accommodations and Cultural Immersion!

Have you heard of Couchsurfing? Couchsurfing is an AMAZINGresource for travelers on a budget and anyone who wants to experience cultural immersion. Not only will you get to stay with some pretty awesome people, but you’ll get to do it for free. This ICC member couchsurfed her way through Europe and Canada, and couchsurfing was probably the best part of my trip. Not only did I feast my eyes upon the cultural sites and experiences of each city, but further connected to it through its people. It was through these experiences that I were able to get a true feel of the city, and ask my burning questions about their culture and daily life.

The Couchsurfing “Deets”

Couchsurfing is a hosting program run through a website, which you can explore here. The way it works is fairly simple. A person who wants to open their home to travelers can create a profile, where they provide background information on themselves, such as their interests and where they’ve traveled. More importantly, they give information about their hosting space, or “Sleeping Arrangements” (Couch? Extra bedroom? Personal castle?), hosting availability, hosting preferences (how many people, length, maximum number of guests) and hosting details (whether smoking is allowed, wheelchair accessibility, etc.).

Is It Really Free? Sounds Too Good To Be True…

Way to be wary! If everything was as good as it sounded, I’d have won 100 free iPads by now for being the 10000th visitor to a website. But in this case, Couchsurfing really is free in terms of not having to pay money for a place to stay. However, written in unofficial Couchsurfing code is when you stay with a host, you give them a hosting gift. In Europe, my gift was Yankee candles (get it?!) and in Canada I brought local gifts. If my host chose to show me around the city, we would also buy them a drink or a meal. Bringing a gift for your host is an important part of Couchsurfing culture.

I’m Convinced! But How Do I Get Started?!

Next come the travelers seeking to be hosted, such as you and I. First step is to create a profile. Then:

  1. Go to couchsurfing.com and sign up for your free account. Easy enough.
  2. They’ll send you a confirmation email you’ll need to confirm your account with.
  3. You can become a verified member (for a fee) to help find hosts faster, but it’s not required. I’m not verified and I have no trouble finding hosts.
  4. The fun begins! Next, follow the steps to complete your profile. Under Essays, click “Write 3 Profile Essays.” This is important-the more completely your profile is filled out, the more easily you’ll find hosts. Tell the Couchsurfing community all about you! On my personal profile, I don’t have any blank sections, and I’ve been told by hosts this helped them accept me as a surfer.
  5. If you’re new to Couchsurfing, find a way to have someone write you a reference. If nobody you know uses Couchsurfing (imaginary shudder of horror) have somebody who loves you create a profile and write you one. References help hosts know you’re a real person who has at least one friend in the world.

I’m Done! But How Do I Search For A Host?

Begin your search at least 3 weeks before your trip. It’s a delicate balance-you shouldn’t ask too soon; or too late. Sometimes hosts will specifically state in their profile their preferred timing. Here are a few tricks of the trade to help you find the best host:

  • DO use the Search Filter to help filter out members who haven’t logged into Couchsurfing for years; and accommodate your needs in a host. 
  • Once you find a host that fits your needs, it’s time to check out their profile! Read everything! The “My Home” section is especially important as it is here you’ll learn about their hosting space.
  • DO pay close attention to References. This was the most important thing I look at when sending out Couchsurfing requests. The more, the better. This is where you’ll find some really good info about the host, such as if they are willing to show Couchsurfers around.
  • Depending on the city, find 5-20 hosts that fit your needs, and then it’s time to…

Send Your Request!

This is where the magic happens. If your eyes went wide at the 5-20 range, here’s why. Some hosts in popular destinations will receive more Couchsurfing requests than others-for a city like Paris you’ll have to send 20+ requests, and for a smaller city such as Wroclaw you might need to only send 6.

Once you find a suitable host, on their profile page click “Send Request.” Time for the magic. Your message is important because this is what will make the host decide if they’ll host you or not. Keep in mind, a host is inviting a stranger into their house and accommodating them at no cost. The more detailed and relatable a message is, the better your chances of finding a solid host are.

The Waiting Game

Now all you have to do is wait to hear back from hosts. Easier said than done! Once the “Accepted” replies roll in, look through them and make a decision within a few days, as you don’t want to keep the host waiting. Once you find a host you can’t live without, hit confirm and from there…

Become The Best Guest Ever!

Take the initiative to figure out a time that works for you to show up at their place; or a general meeting place. It’s also very important to establish a means of communication with your host.

Most hosts will mention on their profile if they have towels/blankets/pillows for you. If they don’t, ask beforehand. Don’t forget the host gift, and in the mornings make sure you clean up your sleeping area.

The Reference

Alas, the reference. Within a week after your stay, you should complete a reference for your host. This helps them by showing other potential surfers what this particular host is like. The host will also write a reference for you, so keep this in mind during your stay-if you’re a good guest, you’ll get a good reference. It’s that simple. To write one, simply go to the profile of your host and under “More,” click “Write Reference.”

Now Get Out There and See the World!

Again, Couchsurfing is the bee’s knees (and elbows and nose and wings and EVERYTHING) and I am so excited for whoever reads this and decides to have their own Couchsurfing adventure. The Couchsurfing community is one I love, and will continue to utilize in the many adventures I have planned for my future.

 

Dating for Volunteers!

pink-heart-300x247.png

Summer is just beginning, and if you’re like me your calendar is nearly booked solid from June to September. Before it’s too late, remember to carve out some time for volunteering on the side. Not only will it give you even more fulfillment besides your AmeriCorps service, but it’ll also give you a chance to meet someone new!

Although volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds, often times they have a lot in common. They are people who want to make a difference and who feel something for a cause.

With that in mind, it’s not surprising that volunteers often date other volunteers. In fact, it makes a lot of sense. When I first heard about a dating site for volunteers, one of my first thoughts was, “Of course! That’s the type of person you’d want to meet..”

iHeartVolunteers was started with the mission to connect like-minded people, but it’s unique in a few other ways: they verify members’ volunteer service through a simple, discreet process, they donate 10% of their profits to members’ volunteer organizations, and their volunteer date page encourages members to volunteer together.

It is not unusual to hear of couples that met while volunteering. Often people will volunteer as a way to socialize, with the possibility of meeting someone on a romantic level. iHeartvolunteers was inspired by all of the volunteer couples. They understand the connection and want to take part in making more volunteer couples.

As a single person, volunteering is the ultimate way to meet someone.  What’s a better story than having met your partner while serving as an Americorps member building trails in the Appalachian Mountains, or at community garden educating kids as a FoodCorps volunteer? It doesn’t get much better than that. But, as we all know, things don’t always work out as we hope. Volunteering isn’t a singles event, and often we don’t have the opportunity to meet someone while serving.

The goal of the website is to be a security blanket for good people. If you haven’t met others while serving, maybe it can happen with the help of iHeartVolunteers!

 

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 atcommunications@iccminnesota.org.

That’s all, folks! Keep on rocking, enjoy your summer and keep on changing the world. 

As always, stay classy!