2013 VISTA Biographies
Saint Paul VISTA Program
City Hall, Office of the Mayor
15 Kellogg Boulevard West, Suite 390
Saint Paul, MN 55102
The Saint Paul VISTA Program collaborates with schools and community organizations in Saint Paul to address the following goals: expanding early childhood education and literacy programs so that all children enter school ready to learn; enhancing formal and informal learning opportunities for Saint Paul students, including before, during and after school; informing and preparing students for post-secondary educational and professional opportunities; and engaging parents, families and the community to support learning and youth success.
Program Manager: Willy Tully
Hello -- my name is Willy Tully and I am the Program Manager
for the Saint Paul VISTA Program, serving on Mayor Coleman's Education Team. In this capacity, I am responsible for overseeing program operations and the work of our VISTA members on the ground, and aligning the work of members across sites and with the Mayor's education initiatives. I came to the Mayor's Office after four years with Big Brothers Big Sisters, where I developed the college access and teen engagement program as Director of Education and Enrichment. Prior to that, I was fortunate to do two years of AmeriCorps service with the non-profit Admission Possible.
I live in and love Saint Paul and feel privileged to work on behalf of the City's residents. Outside of work, you'll find me at the Saint Paul Farmers' Market, in the myriad wonderful restaurants located across the city, or in my kitchen cooking up a storm.
American Oromo Community of Minnesota
450 North Syndicate Street, Suite 40
Saint Paul, MN 55104
The mission of the American Oromo Community of Minnesota (AOCM) is to provide community based referrals and direct services to Oromo and East African (i.e. Oromo, Amharic and Somali-speaking) individuals, youth and families with the goal of helping them live successfully in Minnesota.
The VISTA member works in collaboration with Ober Community Center to grow out-of-school time academic supports for Oromo and East African youth in the Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood, and ultimately helps develop a sustainable academic support program for youth in the Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood..
VISTA Member: Liz Lassiter
Greetings! My name is Liz Lassiter and I am serving as the AmeriCorps VISTA for the American Oromo Community of Minnesota. In this role, I am the Academic Programs Coordinator, working to develop a sustainable homework help program focusing on Oromo youth. As a recent graduate of Creighton University (Omaha, NE), I chose to do service to put into action the service and justice pillars that were established during my undergraduate matriculation. At CU I studied Sociology and Criminal Justice Policy and used Sociology to study education systems. I am interested in pursuing education as a career (specifically after school, music, arts, and cultural studies). I believe that the arts and culture play a viable role in producing students who are well-rounded and ready to take on the world. In my free time I am usually singing at a karaoke night, hanging out in a music studio, reading, or spending quality time with friends and fellow VISTAs!
My personal motto- “Let the light within, whether dim or bright, ignite your words and actions!”
Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities
2550 University Avenue West
Saint Paul, MN 55114
Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities (BBBS) is a mentoring organization whose mission is to enrich young people's lives through one-to-one friendships. BBBS annually matches over 3,400 youth with mentors across the Twin Cities metropolitan area.
The BBBS VISTA will work to develop and implement a robust college access model for program participants, implementing an activity plan geared towards post-secondary exploration for School-based youth in the 6th-12th grades.
VISTA Member: Molly Hahne
Hello all, my name is Molly Hahne. Originally I'm from Woodstock, Illinois, and I'm a recent transplant to the Twin Cities. I just graduated Beloit College as of May 2013, and am starting my first year as a real person as a Workforce Readiness VISTA at Big Brothers Big Sisters. In this position, I'm in part doing things I have been doing throughout college (i.e. career services, telling people how to write resumes etc.) and trying out a lot of new things such as planning career exploration events, leading workshops, and generally striving to help teenagers muddle through the confusing world of employment. Future-wise, I'm using this year as a way to explore my interests in social work and non-profits, while experiencing a new city, and I'm excited I get to do this with so much support and such great people. Things about me: I love writing, reading, eating frozen yogurt, urban exploration, drinking coffee, talking about coffee, thinking about coffee, making post-it note art, and one day want to go spelunking.
Breakthrough Saint Paul
2051 Larpenteur Avenue
Saint Paul, MN 55109
Breakthrough Saint Paul, part of the national Breakthrough Collaborative, has a mission to prepare highly motivated, under-resourced middle and high school students from the Saint Paul Public Schools for success in rigorous honors course work and college, while developing a diverse group of talented young people for careers in education.
The VISTA member will develop, implement and evaluate a strategic communications and community engagement platform, in order to increase the organization's capacity to better serve middle and high school students in Saint Paul.
VISTA Member: TBA
731 East 7th Street,
Saint Paul, MN 55106
Urban Roots is a Saint Paul-based organization whose mission is to build vibrant and healthy communities through food, conservation and youth development.
The VISTA member will work as the Youth Apprenticeship Coordinator to help Urban Roots to develop additional work training opportunities, resources and connections for youth who participate in our Green Youth Internship programs.
VISTA Member: Natalie Loots
After spending a year loving life as an AmeriCorps member in Northern California, I decided to serve a second year and move back to my beloved Saint Paul to join the Urban Roots family in August of 2013. At Urban Roots, I will coordinate career-based enrichment activities for East side teens enrolled in the Urban Roots garden, nutrition and conservation internship programs. I am excited to be part of such a wonderful organization that focuses on building vibrant and healthy communities through food, conservation and youth development. I graduated from the University of St. Thomas in 2011 with a degree in history, which has prepared me well for a life of recalling random facts. I have a love of food and nature and a belief in the power they both yield. I have spent time planting lettuce and harvesting grapes on an Italian farm and building cob houses and milking goats in Southern California. After this year, I plan to continue to use my passion and experience to do my part in creating a more just and sustainable food system.
15 West Kellogg Boulevard,
280 City Hall
Saint Paul, MN 55102
The Saint Paul EMS Academy is a nationally recognized program created to attract low-income youth of color to the Emergency Medical Service field. The Academy initiated as a pilot project collaborative between the Saint Paul Fire Department, Parks and Recreation, the Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity department, and Inver Hills Community College to create a process that would provide long-term impact on the City's capacity to diversify the EMT force and develop a pipeline of applicants of color and women to join the Fire Department.
The VISTA member will work directly with program partners, working on program sustainability, grant writing, partnership development and building organizational capacity.
VISTA Member: Casey Keyes
Hello! My name is Casey Keyes and I started working with the St. Paul EMS Academy July 9, 2012. I will be helping to develop and expand the current activities of the Academy: Pre-EMS, Phase I EMS Academy, and Phase II BLS patient transportation service. My goal is to increase participant retention and bolster the alumni network to better serve graduates of the EMS Academy and place them in healthcare positions. I would like to be able to help the EMS Academy become self-sufficient to the point where it no longer relies on grant money to operate.
I took EMT courses in the summer of 2009 at Front Range Community College in Westminster, CO. I am passionate about emergency medicine and worked as volunteer EMT at St. Olaf College with the SOEMT program. I graduated from St. Olaf in May of 2012 with majors in Chemistry and Philosophy. I am an avid rock-climber and long distance runner and I drink all the coffee that I can fit in my body.
445 Minnesota Street
Saint Paul, MN 55101
Genesys Works is a non-profit organization with a mission to enable minority and economically-challenged high school students to enter the economic mainstream by providing them the knowledge and work experience required to succeed as professionals. Genesys Works helps underprivileged students break through environments of low expectations to discover that they can succeed as professionals in the corporate world.
The VISTA member will help increase the capacity and effectiveness of the Genesys Works program by creating and implementing an Alumni Program, which would help graduating students with the college transition and college persistence.
VISTA Member: Andrea Perla
Hello I am Andrea Perla! I am an AmeriCorps VISTA member, in hopes of making big changes. I am this year’s new Alumni Coordinator for Genesys Works. I graduated from St. Catherine University this past May. At St. Catherine University I studied Social Work. I have an extensive background in extracurricular activities. I was involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters, Student Senate, Social Work Club and Alpha Beta Epsilon Honor Society. I am extremely excited to be a VISTA for the City of Saint Paul as well as serving at Genesys Works. I have a passion for helping people – with a hand anybody can get up and overcome any obstacle or barrier they've had in life. I am here to build bridges! Education has touched a soft spot in my heart. I am here to help students of color succeed and graduate from college.
437 Edmund Avenue
Saint Paul, MN 55103
Jackson Elementary is located in Saint Paul's Frogtown neighborhood, and is one of two target schools in Saint Paul's Promise Neighborhood Initiative. Jackson's mission is to provide a safe, nurturing, respectful and inclusive environment that offers all children opportunities for acceleration and enrichment to develop their full potential and prepare them to be successful, responsible citizens. The school has a considerably high-need student population -- 89% students in free or reduced-price lunch and 71% of students have Limited English Proficiency.
The VISTA member will work to enhance community engagement and parent and family involvement, as well as support the work of the Promise Neighborhood Initiative in and around Jackson.
VISTA Member: Sam Hansen
Nyob Zoo, I am Sam P Hansen and I am beyond excited to be working as the Family and Community Engagement Coordinator at Jackson Elementary in Saint Paul’s Frogtown. In addition to planning and coordinating numerous events at Jackson, I find outstanding volunteers and parents to help ensure the Jackson experience is rich and rewarding for every child. Born and raised in Saint Paul Public Schools, I feel it is only right that I give my time and effort back to a school system that put so much of both into me. I am in the fortunate position of having absolutely no idea what I’d like to do for a career; I am open to suggestions. I feel that outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside a dog it is too dark to read. Also, I’m scared of Gorillas.
380 Victoria Street North
Saint Paul, MN 55104
Maxfield Elementary lies in the heart of Saint Paul and the historic Rondo Community. Maxfield has been identified as a persistently low achieving school and serves a high-need population of students. They serve Pre-K through 6th grade; 95% students of color with 81% African American students; and 92% of their students qualify for free and reduced lunch.
The VISTA member will manage and organize partnership connections, along with volunteer outreach to empower community opportunities and family engagement.
VISTA Member: Nissa Ulven
Hello, I'm Nissa Ulven and I serve as Volunteer Coordinator at Maxfield Elementary, in Saint Paul's Rondo neighborhood. Last year I served at Maxfield as a Minnesota Reading Corps tutor. In my work as Volunteer Coordinator my goal is to strengthen existing partnerships, recruit new volunteers to serve as tutors, enrich volunteer resources at Maxfield, and increase parent, student and volunteer participation overall. Each month Maxfield opens its doors for a themed Family Night and these monthly events also include Meals for Minds grocery distributions. (In 2010, Maxfield was the pilot site for this free groceries program, sponsored by Target and Second Harvest Heartland!) I have a degree in history from the University of Minnesota and I am currently pursuing a Master's degree in Special Education. I grew up in Minneapolis and attended 8 schools in that district, graduating from Loring Nicollet Alternative High School in 1989. My passion for serving to build capacity in public education is driven by my own checkered past with public education and by my role as a parent of a first grader in the Saint Paul Public Schools system. I believe that public schools should be beacons of light for students, parents and communities.
Mayor's Office -- VISTA Leader
15 West Kellogg Blvd
390 City Hall
Saint Paul, MN 55102
The VISTA Leader for the Mayor’s Office will work to support 20 on-site VISTAs placed throughout the Saint Paul community. The VISTA Leader will be tasked with implementing a professional development curriculum for VISTA members, conducting outreach to current and prospective VISTA members and program sites, facilitating communication and resource-sharing between VISTA members, supervisors and sites, coordinating opportunities for collaboration with other VISTA and AmeriCorps programs and members, and assisting with VISTA Program coordination.
VISTA Leader: Amanda Duhon
Minnesota Urban Debate League
2211 Riverside Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55454
The mission of MNUDL is to empower students to become engaged learners, critical thinkers, and active citizens who are effective advocates for themselves and their communities.
The VISTA member will create a volunteer program and expand marketing to build the capacity of the Minnesota Urban Debate League to serve more students in Saint Paul and ensure that they graduate from high school with a plan for post-secondary education and career success.
VISTA Member: Mai Yer Vang
Hi! My name is Mai Yer Vang and this is my first year as an AmeriCorps VISTA member! My service site is with the Minnesota Urban Debate League as their Community Outreach Coordinator. I've had no prior experience with debate until I spent two years teaching English in Japan (2011 - 2013). While I was teaching there, I worked with many Japanese students who debated in English Debate. It was a phenomenal experience to work with students who researched and made arguments in their respective language, and then translated everything into English AND debated in English! MNUDL is located at Augsburg College - and I am actually an Alum of Augsburg. I graduated with a Bachelors of Art in Sociology. My main role at MNUDL is to help build the capacity of the organization by expanding our fundraising and volunteer programs. I don't know what the future holds, but I am presently excited! It's going to be a great year!
Rock Star Supply Co.
619 South 10th Street
Minneapolis, MN 55404
Rock Star Supply Co. improves educational outcomes for teens through engagement with artists and community volunteers via one-on-one tutoring and mentoring.
The RSS VISTA will create a system of effective data management and results tracking to help guide programming decisions and ensure effective educational interventions for youth. The VISTA member will also research and pursue grant opportunities and lead in other fundraising efforts.
VISTA Member: Ariel Sehr
Hello friends and foes! My name is Ariel Sehr and I’m currently serving as the AmeriCorps VISTA with Rock Star Supply Co. where we’re bringing free tutoring and after-school programming to students from traditionally underserved populations. We just opened up a brand new tutoring center in Saint Paul - the first totally free one of its kind! I know the name can be confusing. The gimmick is that all our tutors are Rock Stars. We’ve got the Supply. I am originally from Evanston, IL but somehow my experience at Macalester College led me to sticking around these fair Cities for another year. I wanted to serve with RSS Co. because I have a passion for creative writing, and there is an awesome curriculum in place here that adds an element of creativity, intrigue, adventure, and FUN to the most boring of homework help sessions. Also, all these hip kids and wonderful people hang out here. They’re the incentive and the reward. I’m not sure what the future holds for me, but for now, hanging in Uptown, loitering at lakes, knitting up a storm to prepare for winter storms and going all out on the last bit of patio season is working out just fine.
Saint Paul Public Schools, Community Partnerships
360 Colborne Street
Saint Paul, MN 55102
The mission of Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS) is to provide a premier education for all. Their vision is to have schools at the heart of the community.
The work of three VISTA members will be to identify the organizations currently working with individual schools, enlist new community partners, and connect all these groups with schools where their services will be of greatest benefit.
VISTA Member: Tina Zillhart
Hello, my name is Tina Zillhart and I am serving the Saint Paul Public Schools as a Community Partner Coordinator. A partnership is a mutually beneficial relationship between Saint Paul Public Schools and organizations that make it their job to better the lives and learning of children. My position allows me to play a key role in the success of the organizations that enrich the education of children. I have a degree from the University of Minnesota in History and Political Science. Most of my free time is spent pursuing interests in those two fields. I studied abroad in Hungary, where I had an internship at the Ministry of Education. It was there that I developed an interest and love for the education system. I believe that education plays a crucial role in strengthening our communities and bettering the lives of our people. I hope that my work with the Saint Paul Public Schools can play a role in strengthening our communities.
VISTA Member: Pang Moua
Hellooo! My name is Pang Moua and I am serving my first year of VISTA with the Saint Paul Public Schools as a Community Partnerships Coordinator. I work with community partners who serve the students of Saint Paul with in-school, after-school, and summer programs by providing them with support and any resources that they may need to be successful.
I am excited to work with the school district especially because I am a product of SPPS! I love its diversity and commitment to remedying the achievement gap and ensuring all students are granted a wide array of opportunities. I also see this as an opportunity for me to explore a potential career in education. But if the wind decides to blow and I am pulled in a different direction, it is certain that I’ll always be an advocate for the best education for all students!
One of my favorite quotes is by Hafiz, “Even after all this time, the sun never says to the Earth ‘You owe me.’ Look what happens with a love like that, it lights up the whole sky.” In a world full of busy heads and individualists (me included) it’s important to remember to love deeply, serve genuinely and be humble.
VISTA Member: Matthew Berg
Hey all – my name is Matthew Berg and I’m excited to meet you. This year, I’m serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA member with Saint Paul Public Schools, Office of Family Engagement and Community Partnerships as a Community Partnerships Coordinator. I chose to apply to AmeriCorps VISTA because I wanted the experience of working in education and serving indirectly in the non-profit sector by creating healthier systems. I want to strengthen the ability of the schools and the community to work together and the education system to work healthier for all people. I graduated from the University of MN – Twin Cities – with a Bachelor Degree in English and a minor in U. S. History. Last year, I served as an intern through Lutheran Volunteer Corps (LVC), working at ISAIAH as an Associate Organizer. Some of the major projects I was working on include: the defeat of the Photo ID Amendment, Education Equity, Health Equity, Transit Equity, Financial Equity and the Homeowner's Bill of Rights during the legislative session. In the future, I hope to continue to work in the fields of education and healthcare, making revolutionary strides to the quality of education and healthcare while improving its access. I’m passionate about building equity within the community and developing cohesion among the diversifying communities in which we are all living.
Saint Paul Public Schools, Hubbs Center
1030 University Avenue West
Saint Paul, MN 55104
The Ronald M. Hubbs Center for Lifelong Learning (Adult Basic Education) is a program of the Saint Paul Public Schools, Community Education Department. Educational services are available to adults who want to improve their basic skills, earn a GED, prepare for employment or post-secondary education, or learn English.
The purpose of the VISTA project is to significantly improve broader recruitment efforts for Adult Basic Education programming as well as targeted recruitment for Hubbs Center's FastTRAC programs that integrate basic skills education with career-specific training.
VISTA Member: Mindy Mattsen
Hello! My name is Mindy Mattsen, and I have the wonderful opportunity of serving at the Hubbs Center which is an Adult Basic Education school. As the Community Outreach Coordinator, I am working on creating sustainable systems to inform the community about our free classes as well as building partnerships with other local organizations to better serve our learners.
This is my third year living and doing community development in the Frogtown neighborhood of Saint Paul. I began planting down roots when working at the Bethel University-Frogtown Partnership under the mentorship of a few community activists. As a first year VISTA, I am thrilled to be further investing in the community that has shaped much of who I am today.
I am interested in doing work in food justice in the future because I believe all people regardless of their income should have access to good, quality, healthy food. Along with my joy of community gardening and researching about the food system, I have dreams of opening a Pay-What-You-Can-Afford cafe in Saint Paul. It's likely I will be staying around the Frogtown area for the foreseeable future, unless I join some of my Karen friends in their dream of going back to Burma and opening a school there.
Science Museum of MN
120 Kellogg Boulevard West
Saint Paul, MN 55102
The mission of the Science Museum of Minnesota is to: "Turn on the science -- realizing the potential of policy makers, educators, and individuals to achieve full civic and economic participation in the world."
The SMM VISTA member will work to develop a program for low-income and at-risk youth volunteers to develop workforce readiness training.
VISTA Member: Maggie Whitman
Hello, my name is Maggie Whitman and I am returning for year two as a VISTA serving at the Kitty Andersen Youth Science Center (KAYSC) at the Science Museum of Minnesota. I chose to do another year of service in the KAYSC because I strongly believe in the mission of the organization and I'm looking forward to building upon the programming I developed during my first year of service. KAYSC programs target students from communities underrepresented in STEaM disciplines and engage them in dynamic informal science education that is relevant to their lives. KAYSC youth, in turn, work in their communities as educators and organizers bringing attention to the issues that are important to them. My role as the College and Career Access Coordinator finds me organizing college preparation workshops and career development opportunities for the 100 youth who work in the KAYSC.
I received a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Gender and Women’s Studies from Northland College in Ashland, WI. Since then, I have been working as a baker on a tall ship in Maine, crafting puppy dog tails at Isles Bun and Coffee, and volunteering at multiple organizations including: Tubman, Youth Farm and Market Project, and the Culture Brokers Foundation. Currently, I am excited about the fields of Youth Development, Informal Education, and College Access.