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By: Shayla Thiel Stern

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Finding the Best Opportunity for Herself in Opportunity Corps

Ivy Mingate
Ivy Mingate, Opportunity Corps Navigator

Ivy Love Mingate has always been open to seizing a great opportunity – and that is how she became an AmeriCorps member in Minnesota Opportunity Corps – a program that pairs members with nonprofits and government agencies to assist Minnesotans with economic barriers to become more self-sufficient. 

After working 15 years as a Certified Nurse Assistant for the same company, Ivy’s employer was acquired by another company. She was given a choice: Either move to a location two hours away and take a pay cut, or be laid off. Making lemonade out of lemons, Ivy chose the layoff and started saving for college. Although she experienced financial difficulty at the time, she realized she wanted to leave nursing and find a new career.

“I wound up needing to go on public assistance, and it was through my experience going through that and trying to navigate the system that I decided to be a social worker and explore my options,” she said.

At the same time, Ivy learned about AmeriCorps from her sister, who served as an AmeriCorps member for Public Allies Twin Cities. Public Allies is part of the national AmeriCorps service network. Its members are placed in nonprofit organizations where they help address critical community needs in youth development, education, workforce development, environmental issues, arts programming and community health.

Ivy joined Public Allies in 2016 in order to get a leg up in social work while earning money for college with the Segal Education Award. After she completed her year-long term with Public Allies, Ivy decided to serve in Opportunity Corps, which gave her the chance to serve people who — like her — had recently experienced job loss and economic hardship.

From Public Allies to Opportunity Corps

In her first term of AmeriCorps service as a Career Navigator in Opportunity Corps, Ivy helped with recruiting and staff development at the St. Paul YWCA. Now in her second term, she is serving as an Opportunity Navigator within Ramsey County Workforce Solutions, which is part of the Minnesota Career Force Center.

Ivy said she has empathy for the people she serves and strong knowledge of how to guide them through a difficult job search. They often face issues around discrimination in hiring, she said, and many have never had career counseling.

“Most come in because they were laid off. Some have so many barriers to employment, and we help them get those barriers out of their way,” she said.

Moving Out of Her Comfort Zone

Ivy said she spends a lot of her time assisting people with finding employment resources. She guides them to find solutions in their job search and time of economic instability.

She said she especially enjoys helping people create or update their resumes and coaching them for job interviews.

“The best part of my service in Opportunity Corps is seeing people loving the resume that they created, or getting the job that they’re looking for or feeling good in their interviews,” she said. “Just seeing other people’s success is really great to me.”

Using Service to Overcome Shyness

Ivy also leads a weekly self-help group for unemployed people. Leading the group is challenging for the reserved Ivy, but she loves the opportunity to stretch beyond her comfort zone.

“I feel really good about my skills in counseling people in one-on-one situations, but I am not always comfortable in a group,” Ivy said. “I’d like to overcome my shyness.”  

Part of her motivation to overcome her shyness? Ivy, who is 44, realized during her AmeriCorps service that social work was not her passion. Instead, she plans to focus on a career in visual arts.

“I figured if I could facilitate a support group or workshop, it would help me feel more comfortable in possibly teaching or leading a group someday, or maybe starting my own business that involves creating art,” she said.

New Passion and Plans for the Future

Ivy absolutely lights up when she talks about art.

“I’m really, really in love with art,” she said. Her current favorite media is paper. In a course she took last year, she learned to make her own paper. She said she’s is interested in the idea of creating memorials in paper to people who have passed away. And she has set a big goal for herself: “I have made a commitment that next year I want to have a booth selling my stuff at the Saint Paul Art Crawl.”

Additionally, she plans to return to college after she completes the current year-long term in Opportunity Corps. She already has used her education award from her first term on art classes, and in the fall, she hopes to use her credits from her Opportunity Corps service for coursework in woodworking, apparel design and metal working.

Encouraging Others to Join AmeriCorps

Although Ivy is no longer planning to be a social worker, she feels grateful she served in AmeriCorps. These few years as an AmeriCorps member gave her the necessary space to explore and find her true calling.

“I really appreciate all that I’ve gained professionally through AmeriCorps through the different programs and through all of the different people I’ve served with through the programs,” she said. “A lot of people are in a state of not knowing which direction they want to go – like, ‘I might want to be a teacher,’ or ‘I might want to be a counselor,’ – and AmeriCorps can offer you different experience in different industries and you can find out if this is something that you really like.”

While at Opportunity Corps this year, Ivy said she has recruited four people for AmeriCorps positions. Even if you don’t envision yourself working with the public, she said, service — especially in Opportunity Corps — can give you amazing professional skills and a chance to help your fellow citizens.

 “I advise and encourage a lot of people to try it out. Even if you’re shy like I am, I advise someone considering Opportunity Corps to take a chance,” she said. “You can go up to someone and ask them about their life and figure out how they might need your assistance. Don’t be afraid of the people who you’re serving. Just serve.”

— Shayla Thiel Stern

Opportunity Corps is accepting applications for new AmeriCorps members. Learn how to apply.

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