Building capacity with MCN's VISTA program

October 12, 2022

This article was written MCN VISTA program manager Warsame Warsame and originally published in the Summer 2022 special legislative issue of Nonprofit News. Read the full issue.


Did you know MCN manages an AmeriCorps VISTA program? Our program places members with Minnesota nonprofits to provide resources, capacity, and connections for organizations to grow their impact and operational sustainability.

This is the third year our VISTA program is partnering with nonprofits in Greater Minnesota. MCN’s geographical expansion outside of the Twin Cities Metro area has enhanced our ability to be a capacity building resource for nonprofits throughout the entire state.

Nonprofits have faced new and evolving challenges over the past three years, but the program partnerships with Greater Minnesota nonprofits have proven to be a beneficial gap-filler to the organizations and the communities they serve.

We are thrilled to share that MCN has partnered with six Greater Minnesota nonprofits to host VISTA members.
Throughout the three-year partnerships, VISTA members will support the lasting growth and development of the organizations and initiatives within their host communities.

One of the six organizations is the Yes Network of St. Cloud, whose mission is to strengthen communities by providing the social emotional needs of children and families with community based programming and learning initiatives. The Yes Network hosts two VISTA members during the year, and in the summer months, they are MCN’s only VISTA site to host summer associates for eight to 12 weeks who support their summer food program.

MCN partnered with the Yes Network to host summer associate VISTA members after learning that many kids who rely on school meals struggle to get enough to eat during the summer months. Especially for children from food-insecure families, summer vacation can be a time to dread. “It is the hungriest time of the year,” the Yes Network explained.

Saint Cloud School District #742 reported that approximately 5,460 kids (56.7 percent of their student population) are eligible for free and reduced-price meals. In Sauk Rapids-Rice School District #47, 28 percent of their students qualify, yet only 20-30 percent of the meals that are available through the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program are being accessed. In addition, many families experiencing poverty do not have access to community programs for their children during the summer months.

The VISTA program provides the additional capacity needed for the Yes Network to address this need by placing members to increase program participation in ten neighborhoods with lower incomes and serving food at large apartment complexes and mobile home parks.

The VISTA members serving this project prepare meals each morning to be distributed to and served at sites, as well as provide age-appropriate activities that keep children active, help them develop new skills, and keep them safe. The VISTA members also develop mentoring relationships with high school students from each of the ten neighborhoods, working to help students feel valued and included in the community.

In conjunction with the food, outdoor games, enrichment activities, art, and music are organized in the neighborhoods. Together, these components encourage good nutrition, summer learning, physical health, and social emotional wellbeing.

Over the years, the Yes Network has provided over one million meals to kids in neighborhoods with lower incomes and is now among the top five Minnesota nonprofits for the number of summer meals served.
The summer meal program has provided an avenue for a much broader focus on child health and wellness in their community that has become the essence of the Yes Network’s mission.

We are extremely pleased that our program facilitated the placement of 18 summer VISTA members with the Yes Network. Learn more about how the Yes Network supports the greater St. Cloud community with the help of MCN’s VISTA program.

Interested in hosting an AmeriCorps VISTA member at your nonprofit or want to become a VISTA member yourself? Learn more about MCN’s VISTA program.