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Embracing experiences: AmeriCorps member encounters changemaking opportunities in Northeast MN

In recent years, AmeriCorps members have held a meaningful role in supporting the Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships’ (RSDP) community-driven projects. From building capacity with partners, to event planning and administrative support, the AmeriCorps members have offered  a broad range of skills and services. In return, RSDP has acted as an access point for service members looking to gain unique, hands-on professional experiences supporting sustainability efforts across Minnesota. 

Hear from one AmeriCorps VISTA member about his year of service with RSDP.

Last year, Ryan Babcock was in his home state of Virginia, seeking work that felt meaningful to his values, when he learned about an intriguing AmeriCorps VISTA opening in northern Minnesota. AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America) is a year-long volunteer program that addresses poverty and inequity. Members can earn a stipend and serve full-time, working to empower individuals and communities.

“While searching for jobs, the position with Northeast Regional Sustainable Development Partnership (NE RSDP) opened up, where I would be working with the communities to address many of my concerns around the climate crisis. It felt kismet,” says Babcock. “I applied, interviewed, got the job, and found myself in Duluth, Minnesota a couple weeks later.”

Virginia native Ryan Babcock poses in front of Lake Superior.

Babcock was brought on as a NE RSDP AmeriCorps VISTA member in August 2021 and subsequently spent a year serving in Duluth. With support from NE RSDP Executive Director, David Abazs, Babcock spent his term working with various regional and statewide partner programs. 

“I got a really good understanding of all of the different areas and issues that RSDP supports and how they're really trying to impact the community as a whole. Not only was I learning through hands-on experiences, but I was seeing the importance of building resilient communities.”

Growing Through Hands-On Experiences

Babcock, a Virginia Tech graduate with a degree in marketing, says his time with NE RSDP granted him new insight into how changemaking organizations function and the barriers they often face. 

“For my service, one project I worked on was a sustainable housing project that required the cleanup of contaminated soil before we could build on the property. We had to jump through bureaucratic hurdles and fine print to continue progressing forward with getting funding. It taught me to always be creative with solutions.”

“Another one of my projects was a land and food justice project—Land Access Alliance. They showed me the beauty of taking time to create thoughtful language as we explore alternatives to colonial mindsets. Redefining the cultural narrative is at the heart of our work, because we want our project to continue through generations with intentionality.”

“I learned that systemic change is challenging and can be shrouded in red tape. Through the organizations I grew with and learned from, I realized that effective and intentional change takes time. It takes passionate people who envision a future different from the dystopian reality we sometimes find ourselves in.”

Ryan Babcock (seated at the table wearing a gray shirt, second on the right) enjoyed connecting with peers at an AmeriCorps VISTA gathering.

Northeast Minnesota and beyond 

Following his VISTA service, Babcock has returned home to Williamsburg, Virginia and recently started a job working for the local school district. He says he’s grateful to have taken part in such meaningful work with RSDP and pleased to leave his service experience with new tools to enact change. 

“I feel like my whole resume changed after working with RSDP! I was just able to add so much to it,” says Babcock. “When I was hired, my position was to work with a housing project, which I did, but I also did so much more than I ever thought that I would have. I learned coding software, social media, grant writing, transcribing documents, data management and reporting, and the unique issues specific to Duluth, Minnesota.”

As he moves forward in his career, Babcock leaves behind sage advice for incoming AmeriCorps members.

“Expect the unexpected! Go out there and just embrace whatever comes your way, because you're going to be really surprised by what you're able to do and the kind of work that you get to do. Take whatever comes your way and embrace it!”

Ryan Babcock, Emily Haeg Nguyen, [September 2022]

Emily Haeg Nguyen works as a statewide sustainability storyteller with the University of Minnesota Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships (RSDP) and Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs).

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