Public Spirit, January 2019

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MLK Day of Service is Coming!

(Written by Bridget Gihl, Reading Corps)

“If you want to be important - wonderful. If you want to be recognized - wonderful. If you want to be great - wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness … by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.”

-Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

To honor Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, the third Monday in January was declared a national holiday in 1983. In 1994, it was declared a national day of service. By 2000, all 50 states observed this national holiday. MLK Day is one that gives everyday citizens the opportunity to celebrate and serve their communities through volunteering and service.

In recognition of this, AmeriCorps members across the nation participate in the MLK Day of Service where they dedicate the third Monday in January to serving local communities in collaboration with each other. Each year, the InterCorps Council organizes several events to which all AmeriCorps members are invited.

Check our MLK Day website page for information on all the events and service opportunities that will be sponsored by the InterCorps Council!

Not in the Twin Cities? Talk with your program manager to find out about service opportunities near you. Wherever you are serving on MLK Day, don’t forget to use #MLKDayMN and #MLKDayofService on your social media - plus ours (#ICCofMN). We will be sharing various photos and posts all day, so check our social media too!

Want to see what we did last year for MLK Day? Check out our impact page!

Program Spotlight

(Written by Megan Graves, MN Literacy Council)

Last year, 2,900 AmeriCorps members served in the state of Minnesota through one of three programs - VISTA, AmeriCorps State and National, and NCCC. We wanted to begin sharing with you what each program does in our monthly newsletter, since every program is unique and does different things to help incite positive change in Minnesota communities.

This month, we will highlight the Minnesota Literacy Council’s Literacy Leadership Program. They sponsor VISTA members throughout the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota to support organizations in expanding literacy services for all ages, birth to adult.

VISTA was established in 1964 as part of the Economic Opportunity Act, and the first VISTAs began serving in 1965. In 1993, VISTA was integrated into the larger AmeriCorps program. VISTAs serve in capacity-building positions throughout the United States, expanding the capabilities of service organizations to address specific community needs.

This means that while members may not be directly serving an individual in the community, they are providing vital services that will build the capacity of the program in order to serve that same community member. As part of this program, the Minnesota Literacy Council (MLC) sponsors between 15 and 20 full-time VISTAs at numerous host sites each year, and many more Summer Associate VISTA members through their Summer Reads program.

These service members are leading the way to address community literacy needs - and making a big impact doing so! Service projects include designing and supporting distance-learner programs for adult English Language Learners, establishing strong volunteer pipelines to support elementary literacy tutoring services, building family literacy programs and services for young children and their parents, expanding literacy-rich after-school programs for elementary, middle, and high-school students, securing grants, evaluating programs, and so much more.

For a full list of host sites, be sure to visit MLC’s VISTA homepage:

If you’re serving as a member of the MLC VISTA program, we’d love to hear from you! Email us or tag us in social media to be featured in Public Spirit or on our website!

Member Spotlight

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Meet your fellow AmeriCorps members and the programs they serve with our monthly member spotlight.

This month’s member spotlight is on Gina Hatch, the Visitor Services Intern serving with the Conservation Corps!

What program do you serve with?

I’m currently serving with the Conservation Corps of Minnesota and Iowa, specifically under their Individual Placement program. While the Conservation Corps is probably best known for putting youth and young adults out in the field on conservation projects sporting the iconic yellow hard hats, their Individual Placement (IP) program also gives service members a chance to experience important parts of conservation that don’t necessarily take place on the ground and in stylish safety equipment.

IP members are placed with various conservation partner agencies such as the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) or the Center for Energy and Environment, often in more office-oriented jobs, though not always. These positions can involve anything from social media and web design to Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping. As an IP this year, I’ve been serving with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Bloomington, Minnesota.


What do you do in your position?


I work as a Visitor Services Intern at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Minnesota Valley NWR is one of over 560 refuges in a network that spans the country from Hawaii to Alaska to Puerto Rico. These refuges are all public land managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service whose mission is “working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.”

Beyond biology and land conservation, a lot goes into managing these refuges and making them valuable, welcoming places for the public and surrounding communities. As a key urban refuge, Minnesota Valley NWR has an especially large staff with specialists in things like urban outreach, environmental education, volunteer coordination, and GIS.

My service as a Visitor Services Intern at the refuge can encompass anything that touches the public. I get to rove our trails and make sure trail kiosks are intact and stocked with brochures. Back at the visitor center, I lead informal interpretive talks for the public, help create interactive displays, and design signs. I participate in planning large events and programs hosted at the refuge or around the metro area.

With the busy summer season behind us, though, I’ve been spending most of my time up in the office area of the visitor center. My current focus is creating a short video to introduce visitors and school groups to the refuge; it’s been a lot of fun to take on this project even though it’s not quite in my wheelhouse!


What interested you in serving with AmeriCorps and with your specific program?


I can’t say I knew exactly what I was getting into in serving as an IP with the Conservation Corps, but there were a lot of things that appealed to me at face value and still more things I have learned to appreciate over time. I’ll start off with two more general notes.

For one, I liked the philosophy of service that drives AmeriCorps as a whole. Even though I knew I wouldn’t necessarily feel it everyday, I liked the idea of being able to remind myself that I was committed to something larger--that my daily tasks at my site had been selected and curated with a national vision of change in mind. It’s an abstract part of the work but still significant, I think.

The value that the Conservation Corps places on their members’ professional and personal development was another a really big draw for me. As a recent graduate, I felt like I was still in a very exploratory phase. I wanted a post-grad experience that would give me tangible, specialized skills in the conservation field without boxing me in too much or sending me straight down a singular path.

Serving with the Conservation Corps and at my specific service site has indeed given me many new threads to grasp onto--threads that have materialized in both formal and informal ways. As part of my program, I’ve been able to access professional development funds that I used to attend a landscape architecture conference, for instance.

As another example, being part of a small cohort of other IP members has speckled my service year with lots of really interesting and memorable conversations, allowing me to learn informally from like-minded peers and not just formally from adults advanced in their careers. And not to mention, our cohort retreats have taken me to awesome places around the state!

And then finally of course, the specific position that I applied for seemed like a really good match for my interests. I wanted to learn more about urban environmental outreach and about systemic barriers facing populations that are severely underrepresented in outdoor settings and in environmental fields. Working in Visitor Services at an urban wildlife refuge has been totally eye opening on this front. I don’t think I could have picked a better setting.


What do you like to do in your free time?


Cooking and running are probably my two biggest hobbies outside of service. This past year I gave birth to a sourdough starter that has led to lots of fun and delicious baking experiments. When I’m feeling really relaxed about my life, I also try to spend time drawing or water coloring and learning new crafts.

Thanks Gina for being our spotlight! Do you have someone you’d like to nominate as our next Member Spotlight? Send us your nomination at

Fun and Free Events

Looking for something fun and free to do this month? We’ve got 5 ideas of things you can do this month that won’t cost you a dime:

Head to the Spicer Winterfest for ice fishing tournaments, fireworks, a Frozen 5K run, and more!  The Winterfest lasts for four weekends in Spicer and beings January 18-20, 2019.

See some antique snowmobiles! Attend the 26th Anniversary Antique Snowmobile Rendezvous in Pequot Lakes to see antique snowmobiles, demonstrations, and more. The festival runs January 18-19.

St. Paul's Winter Carnival begins on January 24 and is full of events you can attend for free. Take your picture with the ice castle, browse the MN Made Market, or watch the parades!

Visit the Red Wing Shoe Company Museum to take your photo with the World’s Largest Boot, dress up like an ironworker, and see how shoes are made! Admittance is free and the museum is open seven days a week.

If you live in the metro area, City Pages posts weekly updates of free things to do over the weekend!

Do you have free events happening in your area? Share them with us!

Stay tuned next month for information about our programs, fun events, professional development tips, and more!

Communications Committee