By Nonkululeko Shongwe
I’ve been serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA at Nexus Community Partners for about 2 months now. Serving at my site has been an incredible experience; already, I’ve been presented with many opportunities for learning and professional development. However, the best part has been my new relationships with Nexus staff. Angie Brown, the program manager for the Community Engagement Institute, happens to be a VISTA alumna. She is an energetic, ambitious, thoughtful, and supportive coworker. So, I thought I would tap into lessons learned through service by sitting down with Angie to talk about how her experience with VISTA impacted her goals and career path.
Angie grew up in Marshalltown, Iowa, before moving to Minnesota. With a Masters in Social Responsibility from St. Cloud State University, Angie began her career as an AmeriCorps VISTA at Brainerd Lakes Area Community Foundation with the Women’s Fund in Brainerd, Minnesota through the Initiative Foundation VISTA cohort. During the interview process, she began to admire the organization’s work and the director’s mission and engagement. She was offered the position and began her year as the Internship Development Program Coordinator. She created programs to get paid internships and build the resumes of first-generation American women in order to help them access career-building opportunities. Beyond doing the day to day work, VISTA is also about personal and professional growth. During her VISTA year, Angie took full advantage of the many learning opportunities presented to her. She attended the Women’s Fund board meetings, and through her VISTA cohort, explored values and leadership styles with her peers.
After her year of advocating for women and building relationships within the nonprofit community, Angie faced an open future, unsure of what she would pursue next. Angie’s former supervisor convinced her to apply for the VISTA leader position in St. Paul. Her energy and dedication made her a perfect fit for the job, and Angie was set on finding a position in the Twin Cities. She accepted a position at the City of St. Paul VISTA program, leading 20 VISTAs in the education field. Her second year of service and new leadership position brought opportunities to strengthen her facilitation, coaching and training skills. Again, in this role, Angie sought opportunities for growth beyond her service description, which led her to participate in the Neighborhood Leadership Program through the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation.
Angie’s work as a VISTA and VISTA leader fostered her love for the cohort experience, training development, and facilitating conversations. Throughout her career and to this day, she is driven to look for opportunities that align with her passions. This includes being intentional about building relationships and networking with coworkers and related organizations. These relationships blossomed into opportunities after her VISTA years: Angie soon found work as a Program Coordinator at Nexus Community Partners with the Boards and Commission leadership Institute. After two years, she moved on to Amherst H. Wilder Foundation as the Program Associate for the Neighborhood Leadership Program, but fate and her passion for equity have brought her back to Nexus Community Partners as a Program Manager for the Community Engagement Institute, where she works today.
Talking with Angie Brown has given me a lot of thought in regards to my personal goals. The VISTA experience plays a large role in self-awareness and self-discovery. In our conversation, Angie said to “follow what you get your energy from.” This statement resonated with me because discovering your professional passions during your VISTA year can lead to a clearer path forward post-VISTA service.