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By: Ellie Bullard

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With Heading Home Corps, this retiree helps keep students housed & in school

Renea knows Minneapolis’ social services inside and out. No matter what the students she serves are facing, she can figure out how to get them resources they need, connecting them to short-term housing, food pantries, and emergency funds. She’s been working her magic these days as a Housing Resource Navigator with Heading Home Corps at the Student Support Center at Minneapolis College (formerly MCTC).

Being in a school and serving students is familiar to Renea – and so is AmeriCorps. She served with AmeriCorps the first time in 1996, just a couple years after the U.S. created it.

During that first year of service, she served with the 21st Century Scholars Program in Indiana, which provides students who maintain certain grades free in-state college tuition. She recruited students to the program and helped to run it, serving alongside several other AmeriCorps members. “I really got in on the ground floor,” Renea said. “I took advantage of the education grant to go to school after AmeriCorps.”

That pivotal AmeriCorps experience led to a long career dedicated to helping students stay in school by connecting them to shelter, food, and funds. After her first year with AmeriCorps, Renea worked within a school district to support students who were experiencing homeslessness or were susceptible to it.

A couple years later, she began working with the Trio program at Purdue University, where she was a counselor and advisor for 15 years. In 2013, she moved to Minnesota to be closer to her children who had moved there.

Renea is able to support her students so well in part because she’s experienced a lot of things that they’re going though, including homelessness. “I’ve been homeless myself, and that plight is more common than we think,” she said. “It knows no age, no color.” She makes sure to let her clients know that she’s there to help them and that she understands. “It really starts with building a rapport with the clients you serve, taking them under your wing and letting them know that you have their best interests at heart,” she said.

Building relationships is also at the heart of Renea’s service in another way – every day, she relies on city-wide networks with other navigators and social service professionals. She’s on a Discord server with the other Heading Home Corps navigators, where they give each other advice and tips. She also collaborates with her colleagues at Minneapolis College and often connects clients with social services outside of the school, like United Way and Minneapolis’ Coordinated Entry System.

As a Bachelor’s degree graduate and a lifelong learner, Renea is proud to have found a role where she can continue removing barriers to learning for students. “AmeriCorps was the perfect platform to live out my passion – working with people to assist them to become their best selves,” she said. “There’s no greater purpose than service to others. I truly enjoy what I’m doing.”

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