Over the past 24 years, as Audrey Suker has led AmeriCorps in Minnesota, a phrase she’s often used is “it’s time to roll up our sleeves.” It’s a theme – she isn’t easily daunted, and when she sees a way AmeriCorps could help Minnesota communities, she doesn’t hesitate to jump in. If a project serves the people of our state, she’s dedicated to making it happen.
Her perseverance has led to an astonishing transformation in AmeriCorps in Minnesota: we’ve gone from a few programs to now 20, with more than 2,000 members serving the vast majority of Minnesota’s counties (more than doubling in the last two decades). 15 other states use our nationally recognized, proven program models, with more states on the way; our research is deeply respected and informs education, climate, and recovery programming. Now, state leaders turn to us in times of crisis – all thanks to Audrey’s vision to harness research to make AmeriCorps “people power” even more impactful.
“She’s an amazing visionary,” said Janet Johnson, vice president of operations, who has worked alongside Audrey for more than 20 years. “She’s such a person that people look up to in the field. I don’t know how many times people have said to me, ‘Wow, you work for Audrey Suker. That must be amazing.’ And it has been!”
Audrey leads with a calm humility and even-headedness that people implicitly trust – the mark of a true servant-leader. She has a gift for bringing together key players and experts to facilitate collaboration. “Audrey is really good at finding innovative solutions by connecting with other leaders,” said Sandy Pulles, vice president of equity & inclusion. “She embraces opportunities to tackle unique challenges that have a huge impact on our communities.”
As Audrey is leaving us, we’re reflecting with awe on her legacy, which has laid the groundwork for AmeriCorps in Minnesota – and the U.S. – as we know it today. It’s not possible to include her every accomplishment here, but we’ve listed a few that have defined her career.
- Establishing the nonprofit ServeMinnesota
Audrey led the shift from our State Commission in state government to nonprofit – a shift that required collaboration between Audrey, our board, supportive partners, as well as legislators. With a nonprofit structure, we have the freedom to quickly scale and flexibly respond to state crises and needs.
- Creating a flexible intermediary organization to build new programs
Audrey sparked the creation of the organization now known as Ampact, a statewide intermediary organization that manages many of our largest programs. The creation of an intermediary has given us the freedom to test new program models and, as they build evidence, scale them across the entire state of Minnesota. Examples of new programs include Early Learning Corps, Recovery Corps, Resettlement Corps, Public Health Corps, Heading Home Corps, and of course, Reading Corps and Math Corps – we expect the list to keep growing!
- Committing to an unwavering belief in research-based programs
From the beginning, Audrey has had a strong belief that AmeriCorps programs should be based on research. She followed through on this belief by building up a research and development staff at ServeMinnesota. Under Audrey’s leadership, we’ve built the National Science & Service Collaborative (NSSC), a research collaborative that fuels many of our programs and leads the country in impactful research that helps AmeriCorps programs be more effective.
- Building evidence-based tutoring programs – and shifting national tutoring practices in the process
Audrey helped build and nurture Reading Corps and Math Corps, our two oldest programs, which are built on research that shows how students learn to read and do math. These two programs connect tutors to schools to help students get the extra boost they need. Not only are our program models for Reading Corps and Math Corps used across the country, but our research has contributed to the national understanding of what sets students up for academic success. Both literacy and math are foundational, cornerstone skills, so the proven efficacy of these programs has had a profound impact on nearly 500,000 students.
- Creating networks to enable an informed response to critical needs
As mentioned, Audrey has a gift for getting leaders and experts in the same room together. In her tenure at ServeMinnesota, she’s helped create formal and informal collaborations. One of these has been a series of Advisory Committees centered around core state-wide issues such as Recovery, Climate, Education, Public Health, and Housing. Many of our newer programs – Recovery Corps, Climate Impact Corps, Public Health Corps, and Heading Home Corps among them – have been deeply shaped by these networks.
- Responding to urgent state crises, especially the pandemic and refugee response
In the last several years, through Audrey’s leadership, ServeMinnesota has been able to help Minnesota respond to some acute, urgent needs. When the pandemic hit, we quickly created the Emergency Response Initiative (ERI) in collaboration with the state to help build capacity in schools and nonprofits to support pandemic response. A couple years later, when more than 1,000 Afghan evacuees arrived in Minnesota, we helped the state respond in record time by creating what is now known as Resettlement Corps (initially known as the Refugee Response Initiative).
All in all, Audrey’s brave vision and steady determination has made a huge impact not just on all of us here at ServeMinnesota, but across the whole state. We thank her for her incredible legacy and will strive to continue building on it for the future. We’ll share more about our new CEO in April.