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Reflections on the Northfield Summit from an AmeriCorps VISTA Member

By: Emily Kay, AmeriCorps VISTA member serving with GradMinnesotaemily kay

I have been an AmeriCorps VISTA Member for about five months now, and in these short five months, I have been exposed to new ideas and opportunities for professional growth and development.  One of the most notable experiences I had the opportunity to help with was a GradCommunity Summit, held at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota on December 9th, 2016.

As a Minnesota Alliance With Youth VISTA Member, I provide assistance to communities across Minnesota with their efforts to increase high school graduation rates.  Currently, the bulk of my efforts are within the communities of Minneapolis and Northfield.  My involvement in providing support for the summit originally started in helping to brainstorm potential panel members who would be interested in speaking about alternative options rather than going straight to college right out of high school.  As time went on, my supervisor and I were asked if we could provide extra support and if we could be the session captains, to which we accepted.  The basics of my job as session captain involved identifying, contacting, and confirming panelists, planning logistics prior to the day of the event, moderating the panel during the breakout sessions, taking notes and pictures, and facilitating a question and answer portion at the end with the attendees.

This was my very first time having been asked to help out with such an event, and being asked to lead a panel discussion.  The entire process, I’ll admit, was very overwhelming for me, but ultimately extremely rewarding.  I learned so much throughout it all, and I know that come the next summit event I attend, I’ll be more prepared for how to plan and lead!  I had amazing support and guidance from my GradMN supervisor and from Sandy Malecha, Youth Future Coordinator at Northfield Healthy Community Initiative.  They offered advice and ideas if I was feeling stuck or frustrated, which also helped me learn about what to expect in planning events like this.  Reflecting back, I think I originally went into this task feeling a bit naive.  I went in thinking that it would be pretty simple to reach out to a few different contacts, see if there would be interest in being a panel member, and check it off on the to-do list.  Of course, that did not happen, and there were a few times when I felt myself getting frustrated.  It all worked out though, and we ended up with three incredible panel members!

Another component I could have easily overlooked had I not had the support of others were all of the little, very important, details that ultimately would result in how the breakout session would go.  Do I want any additional materials to be provided?  Do I need to bring any additional resources or materials, if so, what materials?  How do I want to plan out how I want to facilitate this discussion?  How do I make sure I am staying within the 45 minute time frame?  How do I want to set up the room?  How do I divide up who says what?  I now know that it is extremely crucial to be thorough when planning such an event.

The big day finally arrived, and as a whole, I am extremely pleased with how the entire schedule ran!  There were minimal bumps along the way, but regardless, it all ran very smoothly, and I believe that the day was a big success.  I thought it wonderful to be able to be part of, and contribute to, Northfield’s community efforts, and be able to instill hope in Northfield’s youth.  I truly believe that the panel members for my breakout session helped instill hope in youth through their stories, advice, and information they were able to provide.

So, what do next steps look like?  As of now, I am in communication with key folks in Northfield talking about what that would be.  Relationships with community members take time and persistence, and I will continue to nurture and grow them.  I’ll know more in the upcoming days and weeks, and am sure there will be more ideas generated when we reconnect.  Being an Alliance VISTA Member, I hope that my unique position and services offered can be utilized to create positive and lasting change in Northfield.  However my relationship and work in Northfield will look like from now on, I am looking forward to what’s to come!  I am eager to see what happens during the rest of my service as an Alliance VISTA Member!

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