Community Assets Require Community Investments

by E. Coco, VISTA Program Manager

It is far too easy to fall into the familiar trap of focusing on deficits. It is particularly easy in philanthropy, where we can intellectualize and debate realities that we as people have often never had any direct, personal experience with. In 2016, the Phillips staff heard loud and clear that identifying assets and lifting up the inspiring resilience of communities on the Northside of Minneapolis has the potential to transform how we think about moving forward to achieve greater social, economic and racial equity in Minnesota.

While adopting the asset lens has been a more recent shift for Phillips, there are many others who have built their organizations and models for change around the value for individuals most affected being at the center of powering solutions. Nexus Community Partners serves as an example. In particular, their recently adopted Community Wealth Building framework applies the asset and equity lens to economic growth strategies. The Foundation is proud to support Nexus’ work on the North Star Black Cooperative Fellowship as part of our first round of grants connected to our new ownership and economic development grantmaking strategy. Through collaboration, Nexus and Phillips have identified a shared vision around the economic ecosystem that we believe is necessary to support vibrant local economies—locally owned, mutually reinforcing enterprises that draw strength from cultural values.

A New C3 TwinCities Partner
When the opportunity to add an additional strategic partner to our C3 TwinCities VISTA program emerged, it only made sense to invite Nexus onto the team. Nexus, under Elena Gaarder’s leadership, will lead a sub-cohort of five VISTA members, one placed at Nexus, and four in community based organizations on the Northside of Minneapolis and East Side of Saint Paul. The four organizations listed below will support different strategies within the community wealth building framework in an effort to create vibrant local economies.

  • City of Lakes Community Land Trust, an organization working to increase homeownership opportunities through a land trust model will be exploring the feasibility of a commercial land trust in the Twin Cities.
  • Appetite for Change, located in North Minneapolis, will connect community members to the local food economy and broader food justice movements using a social enterprise model.
  • On the East Side of Saint Paul, Hmong American Farmers Association, a membership based organization, will work with Hmong farmers to ensure access to land and expanded markets while building intergenerational wealth. The VISTA member will support the establishment of a food processing plant (social enterprise model).
  • Finally, the Eastside Financial Center at Lutheran Social Services is incorporating the community wealth building framework into their financial wellness services and is doing innovative work around anchor partnerships.

These organizations will gather as a sub-cohort to share learning, best practices and insights which will result in popular education tools to elevate the community wealth building framework in the Twin Cities. Stay tuned for updates in the coming year!

C3 TwinCities Continuing Partnerships
In addition to Nexus, C3 TwinCities will continue to have a sub-cohort model with two other key anti-poverty areas of focus. The Phillips Foundation, under Joel Luedtke’s leadership, aims to support strategies for Minneapolis students to succeed in strong schools and shape their own educational experience. Hosts of our four national service members are North Community High School, KIPP Minnesota, Hiawatha Academies and Friendship Academy of the Arts.

VISTA and supervisor training- September 2016

In partnership with the Pohlad Family Foundation under their Youth Advancement Initiative, C3 TwinCities’ national service members are supporting efforts to rekindle the dreams of opportunity youth by connecting them to career pathway and post-secondary options. VISTAs will be placed at Project for Pride in Living, the Hennepin County Office to End Homelessness, Youthlink and MVNA-Teen Hope.

We are thrilled to be working alongside Nexus Community Partners, Pohlad Family Foundation and the other host organizations listed above. Not only do we all share a passion to eradicate poverty, but we also strive to open up the option of VISTA service to all community members. The AmeriCorps VISTA stipend can be a barrier to participation for many individuals who could benefit from a year of national service. We want national service, nonprofits and philanthropy to be representative of the racially, ethnically, religiously diverse communities that we serve. Phillips has made efforts to provide additional allowable financial supports to its members—for years, we have provided monthly transportation allowances. This year we are proud to also provide a monthly housing allowance—our way of making VISTA slightly more affordable for folks who would otherwise pass up on an opportunity to build skills, networks and contribute to greater social justice in Minnesota. AmeriCorps programs are often a feeder into the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors; we see this as one more way to invest in local community assets, while helping build the nonprofit and philanthropic sector with new young leaders.

We’re gearing up for VISTA recruitment season and feel energized by the potential of the 2017-2018 VISTA cohort. Positions will be listed in late March, early April. If you know anyone who would thrive in a VISTA position, please reach out to us at www.C3TwinCities.org. If you want to learn more about any of the efforts listed contact E. Coco, VISTA Program Manager, ecoco@phillipsfamilymn.org or 612-623-1652.

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