“At Nexus we think it’s very important for people to take vacations to get away, spend time with family or to concentrate on things outside of work. However, you shouldn’t have to vacate your job or the work experience in order to relax and experience a sense of wellness.  We believe that wellness should be integrated into the work environment and that people should be able to engage in wellness in addition to any vacation they take.”- Repa Mekha, President & CEO, Nexus Community Partners.

A little over a year ago, Nexus Community Partners’ President and CEO, Repa Mekha, took a three-month sabbatical. He spent this time traveling, learning, and reflecting on his ten years of leadership at Nexus. The time away was invaluable for Repa and the organization, and both were stronger when he returned. While on sabbatical, Repa reflected on the importance of wellness, and how too often our organizational structures and cultures discourage staff from taking care of themselves. “I think we often think that not being able to keep on pushing means there is something less about us when in reality, we’re just human and we can only drive for so long without our minds, our bodies, and our spirits needing rest”. Upon his return, Repa and staff began articulating what it would look like if we integrated personal and collective wellness into our work – what would it look like if we made an organizational commitment to the nourishment of our whole selves.

Nexus’ Wellness Program is a collective experience that promotes valuing individuals and the work they engage in. We believe this should be the way forward for the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. Valuing the wellness of your staff; valuing the whole person, changes the way they approach the work and the way they show up.  It allows those who wish to dedicate their life to social justice, to do so and to do so in such a way that doesn’t sacrifice their minds, bodies, and spirits.

Nexus staff enjoying a wellness cruise on the St. Croix River.

Nexus’ Wellness Program is unique in its approach, being both flexible and responsive to the personal wellness practices of the staff. Nexus’ Wellness Program is a human based approach that reinforces the importance of self-care. Since wellness practices look different for everyone, Nexus staff decide the activities that are suitable to their mental, physical and/or spiritual needs and interests. Nexus’ Wellness Program includes a $250 wellness stipend every six months and two paid wellness hours per week which are blocked off on calendars and used for activities defined by individual staff. In addition, Nexus staff participates in a collective wellness activity such as group meditation instruction, a boat cruise, a trip to the Como Conservatory, and a self-defense class led by a Nexus staff member. The group time provides a space for Nexus staff to engage and experience each other while strengthening relationships.

We believe that our wellness practices are necessary. As an organization led by people of color and working in communities of color, we know the toll this work can take on our minds, bodies, and spirits. At Nexus, we welcome the whole person into the work and believe that our passion and dedication to the work should be valued. We believe a person can step away from their work to take care of them self and their work is better for it when they return. Allocating financial resources for wellness reinforces the value we place on the mental, physical, and spiritual wellness of the staff.

Unfortunately, too many nonprofits overwork their staff and send the message that taking time off, taking care of oneself and/or your family, means you’re not fully committed to the work. Foundations, too, can create and/or perpetuate this culture by refusing to pay adequate overhead, asking for “efficiencies” in staffing, and looking for long-term change in short-term grant cycles. The result? Burnout – a loss of dedicated, passionate and compassionate individuals who are no longer able to contribute their skills and expertise to the work.

Repa’s sabbatical was an important time for the organization and a wonderful opportunity for us to reflect on how we are sustaining ourselves in this work. We encourage other organizations to think deeply about how they’re taking care of themselves while working to advance social justice throughout our communities.

To learn more about Nexus’ Wellness Program, contact Theresa Gardella  at tgardella@nexuscp.org or Felicia Ring at fring@nexuscp.org.

Nexus is proud and excited to share that three of our community partners are receiving the 2017 Bush Prize for Community Innovation!

Congratulations to Appetite for Change, the Hmong American Farmers Association and the Latino Economic Development Center for the well-deserved recognition and added capacity for all your amazing work in community!

“Now in its fifth year, the Bush Prize celebrates organizations that are extraordinary not only in what they do but in how they do it. As models of true problem solving, they work inclusively, in partnership with others, to make their communities better for all.

“’The Bush Prize recognizes organizations that are creative, fierce and dogged in the way they work and in what they accomplish,” said Bush President Jennifer Ford Reedy. “As models for problem solving, they consistently pick a path of innovation that drives profound results for their communities.’” 

Read the entire announcement and learn about all seven 2017 Bush Prize winners from the Bush Foundation here. 

 

Tapping the Potential of Community Engagement:
A 4-part Introduction to the Field of Community Engagement

Dates: November 10, November 17, December 1, December 8

Time: 9:00 am – 12 Noon

Where: UROC Room 107, 2001 Plymouth Ave N, Minneapolis, MN 55411

Register today – space is limited!

 

About the Series:

This workshop series is designed to deepen your knowledge, broaden your perspective, and sharpen your skills as you explore the potential for community engagement to create equitable, healthy, and sustainable communities. The sessions are for anyone who is interested in learning more about community engagement, or for those who wish to deepen their work with community.

Session Topics:

  • Session 1: What is Community Engagement? Why is it Important?
  • Session 2: The Link between Community Engagement and Equity 
  • Session 3: Effective Tools for Community Engagement
  • Session 4: Integrate Community Engagement into your Organization’s Work and Culture

Learning Goals:

  • Understand the principles and values of community engagement and how it differs from other practices, such as outreach and the traditional social service model.
  • Learn how community engagement can make your work more effective.
  • Utilize community engagement tools for building relationships, leadership, and ownership.
  • Explore how community engagement leads to equity and how understanding equity is essential for effective community engagement.
  • Assess your organization’s readiness and capacity to incorporate community engagement as an approach in your work.

Fee: A few scholarships are available, no one will be turned away for inability to pay. Contact Angie for details (see below).

  • Individuals: $450 for all four sessions
  • **Groups of 3-5 from one organization: $400 per person for all four sessions**

NOTEAttendance at all four sessions is required, as this is a cohort experience and each session builds upon previous sessions.

**Please do not register for more than 5 participants from one organization** – this is to ensure a mix of participants from various sectors and backgrounds for a rich, dynamic experience. Please contact us if you have any questions or concerns about this requirement.

Feedback from Previous “Tapping the Potential of Community Engagement” Participants:

  • “The series is a challenging, inspiring experience that anyone and everyone can learn and grow from.”
  • “I would recommend this workshop series….the conversations, connections, and knowledge learned will help them go from outreach to engagement; from equality to equitable approaches.”
  • “It’s very helpful both as an introduction to CE as well as providing more in-depth training for people already working in CE.”
  • “Prepare to be challenged and accept that what you’ve been doing needs a new perspective.”

About Nexus’ Community Engagement Institute: Nexus’ Community Engagement Institute (NCEI) is an initiative designed to advance and strengthen communities through equity-based community engagement, both locally and nationally. Click here to learn more about our work.

Facilitators and Presenters: The presenters and facilitators are staff and partners of Nexus Community Partners and Nexus’ Community Engagement Institute, which is continuing the work of the Building the Field of Community Engagement collaborative (BTF). Please forward this invitation to anyone who might be interested.

Contact Angie Brown at abrown@nexuscp.org with questions or for more information about scholarships.

REGISTER HERE

We are excited to have Chalonne join the Nexus family! She joined Nexus in July 2017 as the Program Coordinator of the Evaluation Fellows Program (EFP), which is part of the Community Engagement Institute in partnership with the Minnesota Evaluation Studies Institute at the University of MN. The EFP is designed for community engagement practitioners, evaluators, and funders to collaboratively explore the overlap of community engagement and program evaluation. Chalonne works closely with the EFP Advisory Group, the director of Nexus’s Community Engagement Institute, and the director of the Minnesota Evaluation Studies Institute to develop and support programming and serve as a key resource for Fellows in the program. Please help us welcome Chalonne!

“Art and farming join forces this fall when the Hmong American Farmers Association and a trio of Twin Cities artists add a new staple to the CSA produce box: art.”

Check out how Nexus’ partner, the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA), is getting creative this Thanksgiving by adding Hmong arts and culture to their community supported agricultural (CSA) share. Read the full MPR story here.

Listen to HAFA’s executive director and Nexus board member, Pakou Hang, talk about how community wealth building is grounded in cultural practices.

 

Traditional community development work focuses on the built environment. Nexus Community Partners believes that community development should also be mindful of the people who live in and interact with

the built environment every day. Nexus also believes that neighborhood- based development activities will only be successful in the long term if they are paired with strong community engagement efforts. To that end, Nexus supports community-based organizations in low-wealth neighborhoods to engage with and to reflect the vision and creativity of the people who live
and work there. Nexus also supports organizations that wish to integrate community engagement into their organizations and into their programming. Read more here; NEXUScase study 8 PAGE WEB[1]

On October 13, 2015, Nexus Community Partners hosted a “Strengthening Economic Opportunities” convening on the East Side of St. Paul . The event included a presentation on Nexus’ recently released “Briefing on Promising Workforce and Job Creation Models” and a panel discussion featuring Ted Howard, The Democracy Collaborative, Pakou Hang, Hmong American Farmers Association, Karla Miller, Northwest Area Foundation and Thomas Adams, Better Futures Minnesota. The discussion focused on how using a Community Wealth Building Framework could help to address deeply rooted racial and economic disparities and create opportunities for local and equitable ownership and control of wealth. You can find the entire briefing here. Briefing on Promising Workforce and Job Creation Models

PakouCWBPaper

Jay Bad Heart Bull

“Generations ago, one of my grandfathers was a tribal historian for my people, the Oglala Lakota of Pine Ridge, South Dakota. Amos Bad Heart Bull was a ledger artist who depicted many events that happened in the lives of my people and it is through those paintings that I have the ability to connect to my rich history. His artwork tells the story of how my people lived long ago with all the beauty and sadness that sweeping cultural change brings.

“Through it all, art has remained a catalyzing force for how my people communicate and is used to impart teachings whether through paintings, storytelling, or song. In fact, all three of those  media play an integral part in our spirituality as well, which permeates every aspect of our traditional lifestyle. And we are not unique in this regard as all people have historically used art as a way to engage and build a sense of community and identity.”

Read more here…

Nexus Community Partners is proud to announce the graduation of the 2014-2015 Fellows of the Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute (BCLI)! On Thursday, April 9th at the International Institute of Minnesota, we honored our fourteen graduates for not only their completion of the BCLI, but also for their continued commitment and leadership in driving equity on policy-making bodies at the city and regional levels.

Fellows

Check out the graduation photo gallery here.

Repa MekhaNexus President and CEO Repa Mekha kicked off the evening by introducing and expanding on the graduation theme: “The task ahead of you is never as great as the power behind you,” (Ugandan proverb). After putting in seven months of work exploring equity issues and tools together, this cohort of fourteen has become a community, and it is from this community that collective vision, support and power will ensure their success as advocate commissioners. This message has fortified over these past seven months as a cohort, and now they begin their work individually, but never alone, on local boards and commissions – because sticks in a bundle are unbreakable (Kenyan proverb).

Check out this short video of the BCLI fellows’ year in review.

Sam GrantKeynote speaker Sam Grant, Systems Facilitator at Embody Deep Democracy, shared his words of wisdom with the graduates about the charge that awaits them as representatives of marginalized communities on local boards and commissions:

All of us as human beings have to be on a healing journey. First, you have to do the work on yourself. Second, you have to be a systems facilitator.

Being a systems facilitator is not about being the representative – it’s about shifting the paradigm. How can you as a facilitator of justice shift the space and culture of boards and commissions?

Representation can only account for a sliver of the truth – how can you be a source of truth? Always facilitate truth-sharing and truth-telling. Set up your board or commission on a story-listening session.

With these deep considerations in mind, three graduates stepped up to the microphone to share their experiences as BCLI fellows, and what it means to them in their systems work moving forward.

Fellow Panel

Jamez Staples shared his experience in the program building relationships, adding additional knowledge (even on subjects he was fairly familiar with) and his recent placement on the City of Minneapolis’ Clean Energy Partnership’s Energy Vision Advisory Committee (EVAC).

I found out about the Energy Vision Advisory Committee through one of our [BCLI Issue Series]. The EVAC is an advisory committee that makes recommendations to the Clean Energy Partnership (CEP)…a White House recognized partnership between the City of Minneapolis and the investor-owned CenterPoint and Xcel focused around the issue of mitigating climate change.

I seek to wear both hats when at that table of a business person, but also as a concerned citizen. As a citizen that seeks economic justice, I seek to be that voice at the table that asks the hard questions like, how is solar going to affect those that cannot afford to go purchase solar? As a business person, will there be any minority contracting and employment inclusion for projects that utilize public dollars?

Yolonde Adams-Lee used a powerful analogy comparing the BCLI community and the equity work of its graduates to farmers and tillers of soil and land.

As an African American and Native American woman, the land is very important to us. If BCLI is the seed, the soil is the investment and commitment of our community. We fellows are the plow, and we are planting in uncommon ground at these boards and commissions.

The last thing my sister said to me was, “Don’t drop the baton.” We have the drive to not drop the baton – we were born for this.

Sharing about his recent interview for the Metropolitan Parks and Open Space Commission with the Metropolitan Council, Chamath Perera said:

One question put to me by a Met Council member was, I felt, particularly important. He asked what was required beyond the recommendations of the plan. I did not see that question coming. I paused for a moment, I did not know what to say, really, and then I felt this shift and sense of power within, as I said, “You need to appoint people of color to commissions such as this.” That subtle shift, that sense of power within, I think was a moment I made myself visible and found my equity voice. And you my BCLI community made it possible.

RLM We Are the MainstreamThe graduates were gifted a Certificate of Achievement, as well as a signed copy of local activist and artist Ricardo Levins Morales’ work titled We are the Mainstream that included a June Jordan quote: “We will prevail because we have proven to the world and to ourselves that we are not ‘fringe elements’ or ‘special interest groups’ or so-called ‘minorities.’ Without us there is no legitimate majority. We are the mainstream.”

The BCLI has prepared these leaders to serve as the next generation of appointed officials who are representative of, and accountable to, the region’s communities of color and other underrepresented populations. Together these graduates join the inaugural twelve BCLI alumni as the strength of the equity movement continues to grow and shift, and the power behind each advocate commissioner expands beyond their individual representation to a truth-telling voice of the communities from which they are rooted.

THANK YOU to the entire BCLI community for the power and support you bring to these individuals and to the movement – and a special thank you to our funders, knowledge partners, training facilitators, guest speakers, Issue Series panelists, evaluators, nominators, fellows, alumni and selection committee members! Thank you all for your amazing work and commitment, and for helping with the continued development and implementation of this program! We couldn’t do this without you!

Keep an eye out for these upcoming 2015-2016 important dates! For more information about the BCLI, contact the program coordinator, Ms. Angie Brown, at abrown@nexuscp.org, or the program director, Ms. Terri Thao, at tthao@nexuscp.org.

Staff and Fellows

“Significant social change comes from the bottom up, from an aroused opinion that forces our ruling institutions to do the right thing.”

Senator Paul Wellstone 1944-2002

Elena GaarderNexus offers our biggest and proudest congratulations to our very own Elena Gaarder who is a 2015 Bush Fellow! Her incredible hard work that is rooted firmly with people in the communities that she works will only blossom and grow.

“In her community-based work, Elena Gaarder finds herself returning over and over to the same questions: What mix of policies, investments, partners and initiatives truly would shift the balance so that disadvantaged neighborhoods become opportunity-rich communities? And importantly, what can she do differently to be a more effective leader? These questions will drive her Bush Fellowship’s focus on deepening her abilities to build successful alliances and partnerships and on increasing her knowledge of social enterprise and worker cooperative models that have proven to transform the economics of communities across the U.S.”

We are so proud and ecstatic to support her on this amazing new journey! Congratulations, Elena!

Click here to meet all of the 2015 Bush Fellows.