Choosing to volunteer often means making a selfless decision. You volunteer for the greater good or something larger than yourself. You are making a difference. In doing so you give your time to these endeavors. AmeriCorps is an opportunity for individuals of all ages and backgrounds to give their time and talent to strengthen communities.
In 2019, Souris Basin Planning Council launched a program to strengthen communities across North Dakota, aptly named the Community Builder Program. Our vision was clear; build capacity for the public and non-profit sectors within our state, especially the rural communities. It is always great to see organizations reach out to us with the goal in mind to use our program to strengthen their programs.
Take for example, Western Wellness Foundation Inc. Operating out of Dickinson, North Dakota, their non-profit, Best Friends Mentoring Program (BFMP), matches adult role models with youth who could benefit from adult guidance and friendship, and is one of the largest formal mentoring organizations in North Dakota. BFMP has been operating as a host site since 2020. Executive Director of the program, Angie Rabbitt, speaks about the Community Builder Program and the numerous benefits it offers them,
“I would just say that working with Souris Basin and the Community Builder Program has been a positive experience. All the staff are very friendly and helpful, and the member placements were such a good match for our organization. We feel very blessed.”
That is exactly what we want to hear from our partners. Member recruitment is the top priority for the Community Builder Program, and when a candidate can make an impression like that, it makes the whole program better.
It is exciting when a host site envisions having more than one member serve them because it creates a support system. One of the pillars of AmeriCorps is the alumni network that members become a part of. We here at Souris Basin want the same to be true for Community Builder; a network of individuals that know what its like to serve in a rural capacity. Best Friend’s Mentoring Program was proud to secure two wonderful individuals that have helped them grow these past two years. Katelyn Nguyen and Paige Langhoff.
Although Katelyn and Paige are both members in the Community Builder Program, AmeriCorps defines them separately as AmeriCorps VISTA, for Katelyn, and AmeriCorps State for Paige. This distinction is in relation to the number of hours one serves as an AmeriCorps member. VISTA, an acronym for Volunteers in Service to America, serve a 1-year term with full-time hours. Whereas AmeriCorps State members’ hours vary and are considered part-time. Read more about the programs here.
Upon meeting Katelyn and Paige, it's easy to see why Angie said they were lucky to get them both. Their personalities match their energy to a tee. They feed off each other so naturally, nearly finishing sentences. That chemistry has worked to the benefit of BFMP, fitting well into their identity as mentors of mentors. Angie talks about where the program has gone since they both arrived and started working together,
“I think the biggest impact has been the connections that they have made, we've really had to rebuild the ways in which we connect with others. Over the past year, our AmeriCorps members have really built bridges in communications between our office, our volunteers and the partners and families of the children that we serve.”
Connections to the surrounding area of Dickinson came easy to Paige, a graduate of Dickinson State University. She accepted the AmeriCorps role as Communications Specialist when she was an intern at BFMP during her last semester of college. “I really like working here and I really like the interaction I get to have with the community. The communications aspect was just being made a position, and I was already doing most of the communication stuff anyways, so I just was like sure, let's put on another year service,” said Langhoff. Katelyn’s journey to BFMP was different, and more common to AmeriCorps service nationwide.
She started looking for mentoring positions on AmeriCorps’ web portal to see if there were any current positions open across the country, “I was in Iowa at the time and I've lived in Idaho, ‘I mean, it’s not the middle of nowhere’ it was hail mary kind of thing, so I just went for it,” said Nguyen who is the Program Coordinator for BFMP. “I grew up in various places, I was born in Massachusetts, and I wasn’t really used to the Midwest until I was thrown into it in high school. I now understand a lot of cultures.” Katelyn was fortunate that serving alongside her was Paige, who grew up in Bowman, ND, “My fellow member wasn’t from the area, so I was the only one that had community connections here, so that was a rocky start but after a couple of months that took off. I have connections with the college, so I interact a lot with them for recruiting purposes. I spent almost 5 years there so my connections are strong,” explained Langhoff.
Both Katelyn and Paige came from different backgrounds, but bonded through the Community Builder Program, and it is something they both agree has made them better people because of their experience serving together.
“That has been a huge help. You just don’t feel as alone or isolated. You don’t have to forget about your role and expectations or lose yourself in everything, it’s easy to forget that,” said Nguyen.
“If you're interested, look into it, it’s a fun time. Throughout the state you can find stuff, and if you cannot Souris Basin are always creating new positions to be available,” agreed Langhoff.
SBPC is an AmeriCorps North Dakota partner, matching dedicated service members with North Dakota non-profit organizations to tackle some of our state's toughest challenges with local, sustainable solutions. Applications to be a host site and member are available on our website.