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A good 'social conscience': Minnesota ranks high in volunteers for AmeriCorps

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Tutor LaRae Carlisle works with children.
AmeriCorps volunteer tutor LaRae Carlisle uses flash cards to help teach children.
Courtesy of ServeMinnesota

Minnesota and the Twin Cities are leading the nation in terms of volunteers enrolling at AmeriCorps, the nation's largest domestic volunteer organization.

The Corporation for National and Community Service released their 2018 ranking of states and cities with the highest number of AmeriCorps volunteers per capita.

This year, Minnesota ranked third in states, behind Washington D.C. and West Virginia, while the Twin Cities came in second in large cities, behind Baltimore.

Minnesota and the Twin Cities have stayed in the top three for the past four years, while other states and cities have come and gone. Minnesota is also on the short list for hosting the most AmeriCorps programs in the state, second only to California.

Map showing the location of the ServeMinnesota AmeriCorps programs
Map showing the location of the ServeMinnesota AmeriCorps programs around the state.
Courtesy of ServeMinnesota

Lisa Winkler is the vice president of external relations at ServeMinnesota, AmeriCorps' Minnesota state commission. She said that Minnesota's service-oriented culture motivates its citizens to serve.

"I actually think that volunteering and community service is baked into Minnesota's overall persona," she said. "You see that we have higher volunteer rates than other states, and definitely have that kind of spirit of caring and giving that penetrates all layers of our communities."

Minnesota is also on the short list for hosting the most AmeriCorps programs in the state, second only to California. Winkler said that the quality of Minnesota's programs draws people's attention, and the amount of funding the state receives to develop these programs ensures that there are opportunities for volunteers.

"So either a person who has served with AmeriCorps or has experienced the benefits of working with an AmeriCorps program, we know that that is the greatest way that people share that information to encourage other people to join," she said. "We have a lot of AmeriCorps opportunities for people in the state, so I think that contributes."

Colleen Denice-Rossiter is one such volunteer, working with the Minnesota Reading Corps, one of AmeriCorps' programs in the state. A native of New Jersey, she first noticed the dedication of Minnesotan volunteers in the late 1980s and '90s, when she was with the Peace Corps in the Philippines.

"The thing that brought me to Minnesota, not being from here, was that I was meeting so many volunteers in the Philippines ... that were originally from Minnesota," she said, "and I thought, 'wow, Minnesota must really have kind of a beat on the whole service and volunteer thing.'"

She called this dedication a "social conscience."

"I think that the Reading Corps actually advertises and tries to recruit from colleges all over the country, but we get so many from Minnesota," she said. "And I do feel in the other places I've lived, the biggest showing of folks who want to serve has definitely been in Minnesota."

Denice-Rossiter currently serves in the Minnesota Reading Corps as a scholar coach in north Minneapolis. She said that the clearest sign of Minnesotans' commitment to service lies in their most impoverished neighborhoods, where the least well-off are often the first to serve.

"Within the school that I work, the people that live within that community, who by and large don't have disposable resources, they're the first to step up and volunteer for something," she said. "I'm kind of blown away by that."