Public Spirit, March 2018

Civic Engagement in 2018

Xinci Tan, MN Green Corps

This year in Minnesota, the races for governor, both U.S. senate seats, eight congressional seats, three constitutional offices, and the entire Minnesota House of Representatives are wide open. In this landmark year, all these positions will be on the ballot during the mid-term elections on Tuesday, November 6th, 2018.

Yes, Election Day is months away, but voting is only one small part of the whole process. It is important for us all to stay educated on the issues, know who represents us, and be civically engaged



While charging time to the AmeriCorps program, accumulating service or training hours, or otherwise performing activities supported by the AmeriCorps program or the Corporation, staff and members may not engage in the following activities (see 45 CFR § 2520.65):

a. Attempting to influence legislation;

b. Organizing or engaging in protests, petitions, boycotts, or strikes;

c. Assisting, promoting, or deterring union organizing;

d. Impairing existing contracts for services or collective bargaining agreements;

e. Engaging in partisan political activities, or other activities designed to influence the outcome of an election to any public office;

f. Participating in, or endorsing, events or activities that are likely to include advocacy for or against political parties, political platforms, political candidates, proposed legislation, or elected officials;

g. Engaging in religious instruction, conducting worship services, providing instruction as part of a program that includes mandatory religious instruction or worship, constructing or operating facilities devoted to religious instruction or worship, maintaining facilities primarily or inherently devoted to religious instruction or worship, or engaging in any form of religious proselytization;

h. Providing a direct benefit to—

i. A business organized for profit;

ii. A labor union;

iii. A partisan political organization;

iv. A nonprofit organization that fails to comply with the restrictions contained in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 except that nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent participants from engaging in advocacy activities undertaken at their own initiative; and

v. An organization engaged in the religious activities described in paragraph (g) of this section, unless Corporation assistance is not used to support those religious activities;

i. Conducting a voter registration drive or using Corporation funds to conduct a voter registration drive;

j. Providing abortion services or referrals for receipt of such services; and

k. Such other activities as the Corporation may prohibit.


AmeriCorps members may not engage in the above activities directly or indirectly by recruiting, training, or managing others for the primary purpose of engaging in one of the activities listed above. Individuals may exercise their rights as private citizens and may participate in the activities listed above on their initiative, on non‐AmeriCorps time, and using non‐Corporation funds. Individuals should not wear the AmeriCorps logo while doing so.   


Image: Minnesota House of Representatives Public Information Services

Image: Minnesota House of Representatives Public Information Services

Know who’s running.

As the year goes on, some candidates will gain momentum while others drop out completely. To help you keep track, MinnPost has a great guide that they are continually updating with all the open positions, lists of candidates, and links to each candidate’s website. MinnPost also has a nice 2018 election calendar.

Google Alerts is a great function to stay abreast on news regarding a particular candidate. This widget will send you email alerts (as they happen, daily, or weekly) relating to a person or topic. A piece of personal advice from experience: don’t create too many alerts at once because it’s easy to get overwhelmed!


Know who represents you now.

Not all seats are up for election this year, but it is still important to know who is speaking for you on the legislative floor. Click here and type in your zipcode to find out who represents you.


Learn about local issues.

The first step in being civically engaged is to know what’s going on. The Minnesota House of Representatives has a nonpartisan page called Session Daily that has daily news articles all about local issues. Minnesota Public Radio’s Capitol View is also a great nonpartisan source of news.


Attend City Council, Town Hall, and School Board meetings.

Every region is different. To get closest to the issues that affect you most directly, attend city council, town hall, and school board meetings. The easiest way to find out when and where they are is to search them on the web.


Find bills currently being discussed.

For a whole summary of bills in session now, go to this page and click “Bill Summaries” – there are two links: one page for the House and one for Senate. On that same page, it’s also possible to search for bills by keyword, topic, and committee. If you would like to track bills as they progress, create an account through MyBills. They do not send email alerts, but this feature makes it easy to find bills of interest without having to search through the directory each time.


See the Process in Action.

All committee hearings are recorded and available for the public to watch and listen. They are even streamed live every day. To educate yourself on the process, go to the Minnesota Legislature FAQ page.


Get in touch with your legislators.

In your personal time, writing your legislators and calling them is always an option. Educating officials or providing thank yous for the work you have appreciated make a big difference.

Go to the Minnesota State Legislature directory to find contact information. All legislators have an office number in Saint Paul (hint: it’ll start with 651), but if you click on their names, you can often also find their email address, home address, and home phone number. Of course, if you choose to mail a letter or call a home number, please be respectful and don’t abuse it.


Civic Engagement can be confusing, but that isn’t an excuse to step out. In closing, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes:

“My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?” – David Mitchell


Zayn Saifullah, College Possible

One of the hardest parts of living on a strict budget, for me anyway, is keeping variety and spontaneity in your diet. While it’s certainly frugal to survive strictly on a rotation of granola bars, frozen pizza, and ramen, do you really want to do that? In this recurring column, I feature a new recipe every month that is nutritious, worldly, and competitive with processed convenience food for price.

This recipe was cooked for me by Michelle Perkowski who serves as a VISTA with College Possible. I had my initial doubts about the combination of sweet potatoes and black beans, but it was so wonderful that I immediately asked whether I could feature it in this column. The written recipe here should be thought more of as a series of ideas for your own interpretations – everyone is going to have a different preference for the sweet potato-to-bean-to-cheese ratio that is key to this dish’s appeal.




Makes ~ 5 Quesadillas

Time: ~ 45 minutes


1 large sweet potato (about 12 oz.), cut into square-inch cubes

Price varies per pound

2 tbsp. olive oil

~$9.00 for 25 oz, ~$0.35 per batch

1 tsp. cumin powder

~$2.00 per ounce, ~$0.10 per batch

1 tsp. garlic powder

~$1.08 per ounce, ~$0.18 per batch

½ tsp. cayenne chili powder

~$0.80 per ounce, ~$0.10 per batch

¼ tsp. ground ginger

~$3.52 per ounce, ~$0.15 per batch

5 oz. shredded pepper or Monterey jack cheese (omit for vegan)

~$0.30 per ounce, ~$1.50 per batch

Salt to taste


1 15 oz. can refried black beans

~$1.30 for a 15 oz. can

2 heaping tbsp. jarred tomato salsa (optional)

~$2.00 for a 16 oz. jar, ~$0.12 per batch

5 8” tortillas (white, wheat, or corn)

~$2.00 for 10 ct., ~$1.00 per batch

2 tsp. vegetable oil

~$5.00 per gallon, ~$0.01 per batch

Lime wedges and tomato salsa for garnish (optional)


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Combine the cubed sweet potato, olive oil, cumin powder, garlic powder, cayenne chili powder, and salt in a bowl. Spread out on a 8” baking sheet covered in parchment paper. Roast sweet potatoes in the oven for 30 minutes or until soft and caramelized.

3. While the sweet potato roasts, heat the refried beans on the stovetop or in the microwave, optionally stirring in jarred tomato salsa or other seasonings as desired.

4. Assemble the quesadillas by putting in beans, sweet potato, and cheese on half as desired and folding over.

5. Brush the exterior of each quesadilla with vegetable oil and place in a nonstick pan over medium heat until the cheese (if added) is melted and both sides are golden brown.

Total cost per batch: ~$5.105

Total cost per serving: ~$1.05

If you have a simple and inexpensive recipe you’d like to share with other AmeriCorps members, please submit them to me at!

Why I love living in Phillips

Gyan Prayaga, Habitat for Humanity

I live in an “AmeriCorps house” owned and operated by Habitat for Humanity in the Phillips neighborhood of South Minneapolis. Here’s why I love living in Phillips...

Image: Google maps

Image: Google maps

1. One of the most diverse neighborhoods in the nation

Phillips is home to an extraordinary mix of cultural backgrounds. One hundred years ago, it was the heart of the Scandinavian community in Minneapolis. In the 1920s, Jewish immigrants began to settle in Phillips, followed by African-Americans and Native Americans in the 1950s, and then Somali and Latino immigrants in the 1990s. In this way, Phillips has served as a gateway for new Americans seeking refuge and opportunity. Of special note is the American Indian Cultural Corridor inaugurated in 2010 along Franklin Avenue. It is home to the largest urban concentration of American Indians in the country and boasts many Native-owned businesses, including an excellent coffee shop called Pow Wow Grounds.

2. A historic library in walking distance

Situated conveniently on Franklin Ave is the Franklin Library, which is over a century old and on the National Register of Historic Places. This library was actually founded by the business magnate Andrew Carnegie, and it houses a special collection of Native American art, including works relevant to the local Anishinabe people. When you visit the library, you’ll hear a mix of English, Ojibwe, Oromo, Somali, and Spanish spoken around you.

3. Aldi and Seward Co-Op are close by

Phillips has some great grocery options situated in close proximity. For cheap, easy shopping, Aldi often does the trick. When I’m looking for specialty goods, it’s just an 8 minute bike ride from the Franklin/Bloomington Nice Ride bike share station to the Seward Co-Op bike share station (which is situated right outside the co-op; how convenient is that?!). Don’t be scared away by the Co-Op’s higher prices, because they offer discounts for EBT customers and a year-end profit dividend to all their members.

4. Plethora of good eating within biking distance

Head south and you’ll find Lake Street, one of the best food destinations in the Twin Cities. A native Angeleno, I’m used to having a diverse array of food options (Vietnamese, Thai, Mexican, Indian) at my doorstep. On Lake Street, you’ll find Abi’s excellent pupusas and a handful of authentic Mexican restaurants. And don’t forget the Midtown Global Market, which offers an eclectic mix of international food and craft vendors (I recommend the delicious Moroccan mint tea, and the California-style Indian cuisine; I won’t tell you the restaurant names so you’ll have to explore all the options for yourself). Lake Street is also an artery for some useful businesses, including the Human Services office and a well-resourced YWCA.


So, next time you’re heading through South Minneapolis, make sure to spend some time exploring the Phillips neighborhood. You’ll be sure to find a rich and vibrant melting pot of history and culture!


Zayn Saifullah (College Possible)

In this column, we’ll be featuring interviews with professionals working in the variety of teams that make up a modern nonprofit. For this issue, I sat down with Elizabeth Nolan who is the Development Manager of Site Support at College Possible.

Zayn Saifullah: Thanks for talking with me today! First, can you tell me a little about how you came to your current role and what got you interested in development?

Elizabeth Nolan: I feel like my history is really unique in regards to development - it’s not something that I realized that I wanted to do but in retrospect I was really involved with activities in high school that heavily involved fundraising, whether it was raising money for Relay For Life or National Honor Society. So I did do a lot at the personal level, but not the professional level. I sort of happened upon fundraising through an opportunity to fundraise for Save the Children and asking people to sponsor children, which I did for 5 years, before realizing that I could make a career out of this! In general, development sort of happened to me, but I have been much more on the individual face-to-face side rather than the grant writing, institutional side. I was really passionate about raising funds for nonprofits early on.

ZS: I think there’s a lot of stereotypes about fundraising work that lead people to pass over opportunities to work in the field. Are these concerns valid in your experience?

EN: It is true that you have to be bold in the sense that you have to ask for money. You have to be passionate about the organization’s cause. I don’t like comparing it to sales jobs, but it’s true for both that if you aren’t invested in what you’re selling, you won’t be successful long term. As a fundraiser, I really believe that you have to be firmly behind the mission of the organization. You also have to get used to people saying no, but when you get started as a fundraiser that process is somewhat guided compared to some of the higher-stakes no’s you might receive later in your career, but you’ve worked up to it in a way. Development certainly isn’t for everybody, but at the same time I would say it’s not limited to one type of person who can be a successful fundraiser.

ZS: That said, what sorts of skills should corps members looking to go into this field seek to acquire or develop?

EN: That answer depends on whether you’re more interested in individual or institutional-I’ll speak more on the individual side since that’s my background. With the individual side, I needed to learn that sometimes you get a no for an answer, but you shouldn’t take that personally or let it discourage you from future asking or continuing to pursue your long-term goals. In regards to development itself, I believe it’s a relationship-building role – you’re trying to get people who align with our mission to give to it. One thing I think people forget is that you have to listen to prospective funders since their gift might not be right for us – that’s another thing I had to learn, that you sometimes just have to let go. Additionally, an attention to detail and good interpersonal skills are necessary for hearing donor preferences and acting on them. It’s an odd thing, but it’s a common mistake to not really listen.

ZS: What are your most and least favorite things about your job?

EN: My favorite thing is that I get to be a part of all of our development teams, so I get to share in all of their fundraising wins since I see all of it – which is kind of cheating since it’s not necessarily my work. But I do love getting to see all of the awesome things that are happening. Even though I might not have written that grant or engaged that donor, I still get to share in that. My least favorite – the no’s are to be expected, so three years ago I would have said the no’s but as I’ve grown in my understanding of the role they’ve made me feel more confident in what I’m doing and also knowing that it’s not a reflection on me. I know that doesn’t necessarily answer your question, but I really like my job! What can be hard is receiving an unexpected no – when you’ve found someone that seems to be a good match. Sometimes you can take that personally but you just have to learn not to. Once again, the institutional side is a little different but that’s been my experience working on the individual side.