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A Perspective-Shifting Summer in the AmeriCorps Emergency Response Initiative

Colleen handing out toilet paper at Camden Promise

During my second year at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, I stumbled upon a flyer stating an opening for a Student Ambassador position for ServeMinnesota (Minnesota’s state commission for AmeriCorps). Knowing little about the organization, I researched the services they provided and applied to the position. Once I was hired, my eyes were opened to all of AmeriCorps’ plentiful opportunities. I am now a part of an eight-person cohort that does outreach to college students by presenting to classes and student groups, running AmeriCorps tables at job fairs and connecting with potential members. 

When COVID-19 hit the U.S., my supervisor said that ServeMinnesota and a couple of its partner programs were launching a new program called the Minnesota AmeriCorps Emergency Response Initiative (ERI), which focuses on relief efforts and helping nonprofit organizations, government agencies and schools during this period of uncertainty. I applied to serve, and was placed as an AmeriCorps member in the ERI at The Camden Promise in North Minneapolis, where we organize a food shelf, prepare meals and distribute necessary supplies for the community.

Through this experience, I have been exposed to the Northside of Minneapolis. I’m not from Minnesota, so I did not know very much about the part of the city where I’m serving before this summer. Through my service at Camden Promise, I have learned about some of the local issues facing the community, including high crime rates, socioeconomic disparities and its position as a massive food desert. Many people in the community I serve lack everyday necessities, from hygiene products such as diapers and toilet paper, to food items like fresh produce and canned goods. The Camden Promise’s mission is to alleviate everyday stressors like groceries and errands so that families in need can focus on more pressing issues during a trying time like COVID-19 and the uprising in affirmation of Black Lives following the death of George Floyd. I am beyond proud of the service that I achieve every day. 

I knew I would learn a lot through this experience, but I could not have predicted all of the surprising realizations that I would face. I am mostly surprised by the group of people I found myself serving with. We are a diverse group, coming from all different ages, backgrounds and races to serve together in one singular mission. While my service with ERI is only a few months long, I am learning that these service opportunities are a possible career path. The variety of people, whether volunteers or donors, that have consistently dedicated their time, money and efforts to our mission amazes me. Every day I find myself with a new group of people able to connect and enjoy each other’s company – an unexpected community that has been the most rewarding component of my position. 

One of my favorite moments is seeing clients who regularly come to our site, especially one woman who constantly expresses so much gratitude for all the services we provide. Even though I simply pull a wagon with food and hygiene products, I always get excited to help her go through our distribution line, and I am so blessed to have been able to form connections with some of regulars.

I would encourage anyone and everyone to consider signing up for an AmeriCorps position. AmeriCorps service invites you to learn more about the privileges you have and the communities that surround you. It truly changes your perspective.

Colleen Christensen will begin her junior year this fall at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. She is majoring in Sociology of Law, Criminology, and Deviance with a social justice minor, and she is a native of Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin.

Learn more about serving in AmeriCorps.

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