Public Spirit, December 2018
What is AmeriCorps?
Written by Christy Ohlrogge (Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity)
Have you ever had difficulty explaining your service to friends, family, or anyone you meet? Many, like me when I started in my role, don’t know what AmeriCorps is. A really quick way to understand it is as a domestic version of the Peace Corps, but I wanted to get to the ground level to describe just what AmeriCorps is - and why everyone should care about it.
AmeriCorps was created in the mindset of making community situations better by being responsive to identified community need. It’s a massive national program that provides people the opportunity to serve communities throughout the U.S. in order to solve a myriad of problems. Sounds great, right? It definitely is - but here’s where it gets a little confusing, so stick with me.
The Three Branches
We’re split into three main branches that tackle specific kinds of problems all over the country.
The first branch that’s the easiest to understand is the VISTA program. This program has members everywhere with a single goal in mind - fighting poverty.
The second branch is a little more complicated, but I’ve heard it’s a really unique AmeriCorps program that really challenges its members in a good way. It’s also the closest thing to the Peace Corps in regards to travel you can get while staying stateside. This branch is NCCC. Members serve in small teams to solve concrete issues and are placed at a home base over the time of their service. Throughout this time, they will travel as a group wherever they are needed to complete projects in different communities. Right now, NCCC members are responding to the many natural disasters we’ve had this year - hurricanes, fires, and so on.
The final branch is AmeriCorps State and National programs. The programs under this branch have members in different nonprofits, schools, and local government agencies around the country. For example, I am an AmeriCorps member with the Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity state program. Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity has both a local and national AmeriCorps program.
What Really Matters to Know
The most important thing to know is that anyone who says they are an AmeriCorps member is spending their time on serving others - whether that’s in the form of education, paving pathways, communicating about programs in the community, etc. - and AmeriCorps is a program to be celebrated.
Why Do Members Serve?
AmeriCorps members are a really important piece of solving a lot of the issues in America (at least, that’s my personal opinion). What makes AmeriCorps so fantastic as a program I have listed below for you. Below are some of the reasons AmeriCorps is a fantastic opportunity.
Experience - everyone graduating college right now is seeing that companies are asking for experience to get even entry level jobs.AmeriCorps programs welcome people willing to try something completely new, and a lot of what they look for when choosing incoming members is passion in the program’s mission. That makes this a fantastic way to actually gain experience and earn money because it provides a living stipend - as opposed to unpaid internships.
Job Placement - For anyone looking to actually rise into the nonprofit work sphere, AmeriCorps roles are a fantastic way to introduce yourself to either a specific nonprofit or the work environment in general. Think of it this way. On average, an interview lasts about an hour. Being in AmeriCorps gives you the opportunity to show your skills and , work ethic, and other things to your potential future employer. Plus, just being an AmeriCorps member comes with a certain level of prestige in the nonprofit community. This is because becoming an AmeriCorps member means you’re dedicated to the mission of helping others and have already navigated successfully within the nonprofit atmosphere.
Capacity Building - Think about the positions that AmeriCorps members serve in (tutors, builders, environmentalists, etc.). Without AmeriCorps members, organizations would not be able to support their current quota, therefore lessening their impact in the community. For example, AmeriCorps members at Twin Cities Habitat build the capacity to support more volunteers on site and give Habitat the ability to build faster and produce more homes.
Get Things Done - Did we mention that we make a huge impact on the communities we serve? We are passionate individuals driven by wanting to help our communities - and that makes a world of difference in the issues we all face. In case you didn’t know, there are about 2,000 AmeriCorps members serving Minnesota each year. That translates to about 70,000 people being helped by AmeriCorps members per year - wow!
Holidays on a Budget
Written by Elizabeth Nault-Maurer (Conservation Corps of MN & IA)
The holidays are a great time to celebrate with friends, family, and loved ones, but buying them gifts on an AmeriCorps living allowance may have you worrying about your finances. So we've gathered our tips for celebrating the holidays on a budget!
Set a budget- Figure out how much you can reasonably spend and then Stick. To. It. Don’t feel pressured by what others can afford. Every budget is unique. Set a max gift dollar amount and don’t go over. This will help you streamline your shopping and avoid the money traps that are lurking everywhere.
Sentiment over cost-Sit down and seriously think about what each person truly needs for the holidays. Does your sister love baking bread? Buy her a simple bread making tool like a proofing basket and a new bread recipe you found online. Get terracotta pots for your crazy plant lady friend, a travel mug from Goodwill for your caffeine fanatic, a “coupon” for art supplies for your artist. Thoughtful gifts are always better than a generic one.
Make, don’t buy- Everyone’s got a talent or interest, so use yours to make something truly unique! Bake some of their favorite cookies, knit them a scarf, create a one-of-a-kind art piece. They’re sure to love something you made only for them!
Hit the (thrift) stores- Between Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and thrift stores, you’re sure to find something unique and inexpensive you can give your loved ones.
Give your gifts a theme-Think of a theme and buy a few small gifts to fit that theme. For example, make it a movie night theme and give microwave popcorn, a cheap movie, and a bowl big enough to hold some snacks.
Get creative with your wrapping paper- Did you know you can’t recycle wrapping paper or tissue paper? Save the planet and your wallet by using alternative wrapping methods! Use newspaper, brown bags, colorful construction paper, or other alternatives that can be recycled or composted. Get creative with string and markers and you can make something more beautiful and personalized than the store-bought stuff!
What are your tips on how to save during the holidays? Share them with us!
Meet your fellow AmeriCorps members and the programs they serve with our monthly member spotlight.
This month’s member spotlight is on Christy Ohlrogge, Communications Support Associate at Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity and chair of the ICC’s Communications Committee!
1. What program do you serve with?
I currently serve as the Communications Support Associate for Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. Twin Cities Habitat is an organization that works to provide affordable housing in the metro area, plus more. It also provides home repair, home ownership classes, and other fantastic programs most people don’t know about!
2. What do you do as a Communications Support Associate?
My position is the best (in my opinion) because it’s always moving and changing. A day as the Communications Support Associate is never the same, making it an exciting and unique position. Writing blogs, taking pictures and video, interviewing, helping with dedications, and editing content are just a few of the things this role will tackle. Being whatever the communications/marketing and events team needs in the moment can be challenging, but it's a great way to use current skills you have while also learning new things in various different areas.
My favorite part of being in this role is "being able to see the big picture. Since communications and marketing are helping with the content for all the departments, I get to see a lot more of what Habitat does than the other roles - and I love the impact I can see Habitat make every day because of that transparency."
3. What interested you in serving with AmeriCorps and your specific program?
I came to AmeriCorps because I was changing fields regarding my experience. This is due to having experience in IT Finance as a Data Analyst and Financial Analyst, but earned a degree in communications and had no experience in that field to back it up. Looking at my options post-graduation were pretty much limited to unpaid internships, and that’s what brought me here. It’s such a great option that many recent grads and current students aren’t aware of - and I’m aiming to change that.
4. What do you like to do in your free time?
Oooh, what free time? Only kidding! In my limited free time, I like to play video games and watch semi-new tv shows, movies, and anime. I also knit scarves (and only scarves since that’s all I’ve got) and enjoy my cat’s ever constant comforting presence when I get too stressed.
Thanks Christy for being our spotlight! Do you have someone you’d like to nominate as our next Member Spotlight? Send us your nomination at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Unveiling the New ICC Ambassador Program!
As you noticed in last month’s issue of Public Spirit, we have Ambassadors in the Greater Minnesota area that also work to promote engagement and service. Who are these Ambassadors and what exactly do they do? Well, here they come! This new program is engaging our Ambassadors on social media and getting the word out about their amazing programs! Make sure to look for them on social media with #ICCofMN. You can find them on our website and social too!
Interested in becoming an unofficial Ambassador yourself? Check out our Ambassador page for more info!
Fun and Free Events
Looking for something fun and free to go to? We’ve got 4 ideas of things you can do this month that won’t cost you a dime:
InterCorps Council Social Hour! Join us on December 13th from 6:00-8:00pm at Khao Hom Thai (2411 Central Ave NE, Minneapolis, MN 55418) for a night of great food and great conversation. All AmeriCorps members are welcome to come!
Listen to the Sinfonia Orchestra at one of their free holiday concerts! They have three concerts in December in the Twin Cities, so check out their calendar and enjoy a night of music.
Try your hand at bird watching with the Maplewood Nature Center’s BRRRD-Count! On December 15th from 9:30-11:00 am, you can watch winter birds on their trails or at their feeders.
See the lights of Bentleyville. Is it really winter without Duluth’s iconic Bentleyville “Tour of Lights”? Visit to see some amazing displays and enjoy complimentary hot cocoa, cookies, popcorn, and roasted marshmallows! It’s open Sunday-Thursday from 5:00-9:00pm and Friday-Saturday from 5:00-10:00pm.
Do you know of more free events happening in your area? Share them with us!
Stay tuned next month for information about MLK Day of Service, fun events, professional development tips, and more!