In 2022 the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) and University of Minnesota Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships (RSDP) partners worked with AmeriCorps VISTA to create a new service opportunity in Minnesota: Sustainability Project Coordinators. Within each region of the state, these coordinators would support sustainability projects, encourage local environmental action and provide education to help households decrease energy costs.
With training and support from AmeriCorps and the host groups — CERTs, RSDPs and the Great Plains Institute — six coordinators began their work in the fall of 2022. While they all collaborate with community members and groups as they work together to adapt to environmental changes, they each have a unique impact and experience, often influencing each of their perspectives and outlooks.
Aaron Backs works with the Great Plains Institute and supports Metro CERT on various projects that reduce energy burden for underserved communities.
“I moved to Minnesota five years ago for college, but my work with CERTs over the last six months has helped me feel like I live here for the first time,” shares Aaron. “I’ve had the opportunity to interview small business owners at places that I shop, talk solar with affordable housing property owners in an area I’ve worked in and hold dear and I get to write for our blog and meet the cool people behind a lot of innovative projects that are happening around me. And there’s a lot more outside of what I already know that I get to experience for the first time. It’s truly community-based work and getting to connect with people (not just on clean energy resources) is something that will stay valuable forever.”
Morgan Bliss works with the Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships in northeastern Minnesota. Their focus is on supporting small-scale projects that address sustainability needs for underserved populations; projects like St. Marks Giving Garden, Health Equity Northland as well as the Forest Assisted Migration Project. One of their highlights is the construction of a charcoal refrigerator unit and the development of a guide on how to build one.
In the northwestern part of the state, Dominic Erickson connects communities, small businesses and nonprofits with resources they need to thrive. As much as he has impacted the communities he’s working within, the work has had an impact on Dominic as well. “My outlook on the future of our planet used to be pretty bleak, but learning about all the sustainability efforts going on makes it difficult to be pessimistic. The network of nonprofit efforts for the environment is vast and growing. Breaking goals down to the region-, city- and neighborhood-level helped me realize that this is how change happens. Barriers present themselves all the time, but so do solutions. My point is, this job helped me see that while there is a lot of work to do, there’s a lot to be hopeful for.”
Guided by CERTs' commitment to inclusive clean energy access and equitable engagement, Alejandro Nakpil works with the Great Plains Institute to support the use of electric vehicles (EVs) and EV infrastructure as each continues to expand throughout Minnesota. By connecting with underserved communities, he better understands the barriers to EV adoption and creates ways for all communities to better access EV resources.
Underserved communities are an important group within much of CERTs’ work, and Jordan Sligar supports efforts to reduce energy burden, with a focus on food shelves. By sharing energy- and money-saving opportunities with food shelves and their customers, he’s making a difference in the central region of the state while also fulfilling his commitment to establishing “meaningful, long-term and equitably beneficial connections between communities and CERTs.”
In southeast Minnesota, Katilynn Swanson has supported food shelves, manufactured home park residents and resiliency hubs, among myriad other projects with RSDP. She summarizes, “I am grateful that I get to work with RSDP and CERTs because I find a lot of hope in the work I support through these organizations. I have the privilege of watching so many community-based projects develop and take off, and I get to see how they can make a real impact in our local area. Often it can be hard to find hope with everything happening in the world, but I see hope and the willpower to bring things to fruition through this work.”
Two additional Climate Corps foresters, Sydney Trimble and Olivia “Liv” Jascor, are working specifically on the Forest Assisted Migration Project in the Northeast region under the guidance of Executive Director David Abazs. Trimble and Jascor’s efforts in the region have lent capacity and organization to the rapidly expanding program. They coordinated seed collection for identified tree species which are now in the hands of growers who are stratifying seeds for planting this spring.
The inaugural year of the Sustainability Coordinators program will conclude in July. The benefits of this program for both the coordinators and the communities is evident in the work underway and that many of the coordinators have decided to continue in the program for a second year. The future of sustainability in Minnesota is bright with the Sustainability Coordinators leading the way.
Do you know someone who would be a good fit for the Sustainability Project Coordinator opportunity?
We’re accepting applications for 2023-24 coordinators in each region of Minnesota with start dates in July, August, October, or January. Please note, applications are reviewed as they’re received, so encourage the people in your community and network to apply soon!
Shaylyn Bernhardt [March 2023]
Shaylyn Bernhardt works as a Communications & Engagement Manager with the University of Minnesota Extension Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs).
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