Thinking about the next professional move can feel overwhelming. Whether you’re just exiting school, have been in the workforce for many years or are looking for a career change, making sense of what options are out there can be tough—then figuring out how to get there is even tougher. You might be looking for the perfect job that lives at the nexus of building a career, working for a cause bigger than yourself and feeling part of a community. Is that asking for too much? In an ideal world, I say no…in the real world, it’s a little more complicated.
I remember my last semester of undergraduate. I had no idea where to look for a position that could incorporate my commitment to social justice, as well as invest in me as a young professional (literally, how do I get those 2-3 years of required experience for that entry level job I am applying for!?!). That’s how I came across AmeriCorps—I spent two years doing national service, first as a tutor in a pre-k classroom on the Northside of Minneapolis and later at a local nonprofit developing partnerships and programs. In some ways, the experience delivered on my expectations…in other ways, important ones, it fell short. What AmeriCorps did provide me with are professional experiences and skills and it built my personal and professional network.
What it did not do, if you can guess, is pay a living wage nor provide other financial supports to make service slightly more accessible. Beyond the financial piece, which is not to be under-emphasized, the social justice component drawing me to service opportunities was toned down, dare I say almost nonexistent. This was very difficult to manage—perhaps I was naïve to believe that placing racism, classism, sexism and the like at the center of problem solving and program design was a given in the social impact sector. To my surprise and disappointment, that explicit analysis was rare—only present in “meetings after the meeting” with a small portion of staff. Coming away from those two years, I knew another way was possible.
Enter C3 TwinCities, the program I manage – An AmeriCorps VISTA program sponsored by the Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota, in partnership with the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Pohlad Family Foundation and Nexus Community Partners. You are probably thinking: “Wait, still AmeriCorps VISTA?” Just hang with me for a second– C3 TwinCities is not like other VISTA programs. Yeah, I know lots of people say that. Let me tell you how.
Let’s crunch some numbers right off the bat. There is nothing we can do as a VISTA program to raise the wage, or as we call it in VISTA speak the “living allowance.” I know… believe me, I wish I could. Unfortunately, it is a number that is set at the federal level. What we can do is add additional financial supports to make it more financially viable. What does that mean?
- Housing: $200 a month—this is a minimum. Some of our host organizations are able to offer more (up to $700 a month) based on their budget (and just a tip, if you are applying, use that as your bargaining chip!).
- Transportation: $50 in gas or $90 in transit pass monthly.
- Emergency Fund: $500 per member. This is a new addition this year—we’ve seen folks leave the program because a car got towed in a snow emergency, or unexpected medical costs came up. This fund will allow us to cover up to $500 per member in these types of unforeseen situations.
- Professional Development: $400 per member. This is an individual fund that members can access for additional training not provided out of the collective C3 TwinCities budget. In some cases, again based on an organization’s ability, this number is as high at $1,400.
You may be thinking that there is much more to be done. I whole heartedly agree…AND systems change is slow moving. While we keep pushing to see the living stipend increase, a few dollars here and there can add up and make a whole lot of difference for a member wondering how to pay for basic needs!
Now, let’s delve into the cause…the social justice aspect of service.
At C3 TwinCities, we are all about identifying and unpacking the root causes of injustice and its symptoms. Our members are placed in organizations working on the following three social change areas: Education, Community Wealth Building, and Opportunity Youth. In all three areas, we are partnering with organizations that are striving to incorporate social justice values and change frameworks into their organizations.
- In the realm of education, “we believe that students have deep and largely untapped wisdom about how school could better help them thrive. We’re also grounded in the conviction that by amplifying student voice in the design of education we can enhance motivation, engagement and ultimately post-secondary success.” That’s how our members are supporting host organizations. We partner with North Community High School, Friendship Academy of the Arts, Patrick Henry High School, KIPP MN, and Rêve Academy
- Community Wealth Building is an economic framework that promotes local and broad-based ownership; it lifts up cooperative and culturally based economic practices. It re-designs markets to move away from extractive policies and investments towards building regenerative local economies. Some strategies include land trusts, social enterprise, and cooperatives. Nexus Community Partners is our key collaborator leading this effort. Other host sites include Appetite for Change, Northside Economic Opportunity Network (NEON), City of Lakes Community Land Trust (CLCLT), and Merrick Community Services.
- Finally, Pohlad Family Foundation leads the opportunity youth effort. In this space, members are supporting work to connect youth to career pathway and post-secondary options. More and more, projects are incorporating youth voice in decision making, which ensures that those most affected by injustices are at the center of crafting solutions. Host sites include, Project for Pride in Living, Hennepin County Office for Housing Stability, Youthlink and Hennepin Health Foundation– Teen Hope Program.
You might be thinking…wow, this is a lot for AmeriCorps members to accomplish. True and yet folks come in with an eagerness to learn and get things done. So, we make sure we help prepare them and sustain them for this work.
How? We provide a robust professional development program using a social justice framework. So, what does that mean? We meet every other Friday for a full-day and dig into grant writing, social justice storytelling, marketing, intercultural development, project management—any aspect of nonprofit management you may need to accomplish organizational goals. Key to how we operate is to always call the question on how we do our work in a way that lifts up and centers marginalized communities instead of reinforcing stereotypical beliefs or oversimplified analyses of a social problem. We’re proud to bring in trainers like Eleonore Wesserle of Line Break Media, Ricardo Levins Morales a local artist and organizer, Melissa Rudnick of the Headwaters Foundation for Justice to lead rich and difficult conversations about building a vision and following through with action. You can check out our Facebook page to get a better sense for what we mean.
You may be wondering, why work so hard to change an imperfect program like AmeriCorps. Well, we know AmeriCorps programs are often a feeder into the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. We also know that nonprofit and philanthropy are still suffering from a lack of racial, class, and gender diversity and more importantly, meaningful inclusion. If we can make C3 TwinCities more accessible and draw the type of person that really wants to dissect root causes of injustice, then we can funnel a different kind of perspective into these sectors. In short, we see magic happen when career, cause and community align—we want to see more of this happen.
In service of that vision, we’re gearing up for VISTA recruitment season and feel energized by the potential of the 2018-2019 VISTA cohort. Positions will be listed in late March, early April. If you know anyone who would thrive in a C3 TwinCities position, please reach out to us at www.C3TwinCities.org or on our Facebook Page. If you want to learn more about any of the efforts listed contact E. Coco, Program Officer, firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-623-1652 Sarah Reiter, VISTA Leader, email@example.com or 612-623-1650.