by Daniel Gerdes, Program Associate, The Pohlad Family Foundation
To be quite frank, I had no idea what I was in for when I accepted my VISTA position with the Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota. The cohort model sounded pretty interesting but I wasn’t sure what it actually entailed. Wow, was I in for a wonderful surprise.
The month of August was incredibly helpful; every Friday in August we attended training and bonding sessions with the cohort at the Phillips Foundation offices in Minneapolis. Not only did we have an opportunity to blow off some steam and bond with other VISTA members, we also participated in invaluable training sessions that helped thoroughly introduce many of us to the nonprofit and philanthropic world in the Twin Cities.
Without the support network provided by the Phillips cohort, I’m not sure I would have been able to finish my VISTA year. While the VISTA stipend is bare bones (at best) I could have made it work; but I faced a number of personal challenges outside of work that could easily have pushed me out of the program. The friendship, support, and comradery of the cohort continued to motivate and inspire me to continue on in the face of adversity.
The support of the cohort, combined with the incredible trainings throughout the year, continued to feed my passion for my work. Workshops on organizational impact, personal empowerment, social/economic justice all deepened my awareness and knowledge of barriers the communities we serve face day in and day out.
My personal growth wasn’t the only thing I was unprepared for – the superior networking and relationship-building opportunities afforded me through the Phillips Foundation are unmatched. I’ve made connections with state department employees and commissioners, leaders in both major county governments, directors and managers from dozens of nonprofit and philanthropic organizations across the metro area. This is only possible due to the extraordinary opportunities VISTAs at the Phillips Foundation have to attend conferences, training events, and convenings that engage a wide range of topics and industries.
In fact, as I wind down my VISTA year and prepare to head to graduate school in Saint Louis, MO, I feel prepared to return in two years and use the strong networks I’ve built to find a fulfilling career, in an industry I’m deeply knowledgeable of, doing work I’m passionate about.
If anyone had told me a year ago that I would experience such deep personal and professional transformation and getting ready to go to graduate school, I would not have believed them. If you’re considering applying for C3 TwinCities – do so post haste, this is an opportunity you would be remiss to pass up.