Joy and Mindfulness: Introducing Karen Law

  • May 8, 2019
  • By: efireside
  • In: General

Nexus’ newest staff member, Karen Law, joined the team a little over a month ago as the new Director of Human Resources and Organizational Culture. In her role, she oversees all aspects of Human Resources and intentionally stewards an environment of continuous learning where staff feels energized and valued. Her work at Nexus builds upon more than 27 years working in the nonprofit sector and addressing systemic oppression and injustice. Learn more about how she approaches her job and the values she carries to the role.

Wellness and Culture

“Wellness and culture are not separate,” Karen shares, “usually they are put in separate boxes, but they are interrelated and both core components of the work.”  Most of her experience with wellness in the workplace has been in the non-profit sector, though she points out that she also once worked for an airline. Through these different experiences, she has seen glimpses of what wellness looks like, and more importantly, opportunities to push and expand what wellness could look like. To Karen, “wellness [and culture] are joy and mindfulness in the workplace, feeling respected and valued…[they are the] environment, physical space, your team, benefits, outings and more.”

Ongoing Reflection

Karen is always thinking, “How can we continue to reflect, look, and ask why? Why do we do things the way we do?” Her sharp eye brings her down to the details: safety, adherence to law, policies. Her visionary nature, though, draws her up to the overarching questions: how do these policies affect the people who work here, how can we be a leader in workplace practices, how do we support the broader movement for labor and economic justice? In her role, Karen aims to “lift and enhance,” not to “replicate and recreate.”

Self-care and Boundaries

Part of what drew Karen to Nexus is the organization’s intentionality around culture and wellness—“if employees are encouraged to care for themselves, this is an opportunity for me to reflect and grow, to put myself first and explore what good boundaries might look like.” With this renewed commitment to mind, body, and spirit, and a workplace that encourages it, Karen is dedicating time to co-writing a screenplay 15 years in the making.

Areas of Excitement

Karen is energized and excited to learn from all the staff working at Nexus. Because there is a mix of people with varied experience, there are many opportunities to learn and see how people do work. She wants to “learn again [and] learn a lot, [instead] of just doing.” After spending some time on her own as an entrepreneur, she also looks forward to doing work “in community with a team of folks.”

When she isn’t at work or writing a screenplay, she enjoys beautifying her yard, watching volleyball, and spending time with family.

On Thursday, April 4, 2019, Nexus Boards & Commissions Leadership Institute (BCLI) graduated its sixth cohort at the Bullard Rainforest Auditorium in the Como Zoo’s Visitor Center. With the addition of these year’s 16 fellows, Twin Cities BCLI has a grand total 85 alumni.

Similar to previous BCLI graduation ceremonies, Nexus President and CEO Repa Mekha officially welcomed everyone, and BCLI program director Terri Thao provided highlights from the 2018-2019 program year. Minnesota Lieutenant Governor and former BCLI trainer Peggy Flanagan provided opening remarks about the value that indigenous people, people of color and underrepresented groups bring to policy-making tables from which they have been historically shut out. She discussed the need to lift up more voices especially on boards and commissions at all levels of government. She stressed the importance of people who are most impacted being at the tables instead of being removed from the conversation.

After the Lieutenant Governor spoke, two graduating fellows Jamaica DelMar and Vincent Henry shared their personal stories and touched on the way the BCLI has inspired their confidence, reinvigorated their drive to get on boards, and do impactful work in community.

The keynote address was given by Minnesota State Representative Rena Moran (DFL-65A) of Saint Paul. Representative Moran talked about the importance of bringing each other along and holding each other accountable in the work we do in community and at policy tables. She reminded the fellows that this work often begins with one of the basic steps of organizing: conducting one-on-one’s with your colleagues to get a better grasp of who they are, what matters to them, and understanding the larger landscape.

Both speakers also shared a common message in their remarks—we need as many leaders of color and indigenous leaders as possible in racial and economic equity work. Both expressed appreciation for the work of the BCLI and other programs which prepare POCI folks for leadership positions in larger systems where they will represent community and bring equity to the table. The evening ended with BCLI fellows being honored with certificates and a poster from local artist Ricardo Levins Morales. Nexus is grateful to all of the alumni, friends, family and funders who helped make this year’s graduation a success.

“I do a little bit of this, a little bit of that”

While Chalonne joined the Nexus family almost two years ago, she is just settling into a new role with the Nexus Community Engagement Institute (NCEI)—National Community Engagement Program Manager. In the position, Chalonne provides guidance around community engagement to folks across the country while also facilitating local events.

Her national work focuses on the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge. This initiative aims to reduce the number of people incarcerated across the US at over 50 sites across the country. After several years of advocacy by NCEI and others, MacArthur is in the early stages of shifting to a community engagement-centered approach, specifically focusing on currently and formerly incarcerated people and their families. As a new member of the team, Chalonne is working with sites to develop and implement community engagement strategies.

Lessons Learned about Community Engagement

Giving community money isn’t as risky as people think. Millions of dollars have already been invested in eliminating disparities between white communities and black, indigenous, people of color communities, to little avail.

“What’s the bigger risk? Continuing to fund things the way we’ve been funding them and getting the same results? It feels more risky to keep doing the same thing. Instead, we need to consider how to actually get money into the hands of communities. How might we allow communities to drive how this funding is spent?”

For example, in Philadelphia, a criminal justice innovation fund has been established to provide microgrants to community-based organizations working on jail reform. Additionally, this site established an community advisory council with a paid staff person and financial resources for advisory members. This would not be possible without the supplemental community engagement funding from the MacArthur Foundation to select Safety and Justice Challenge sites. While people have concerns about what might happen if community, instead of institutions, were given money, the worst case scenario is that issues like mass incarceration stay the same.

What is Energizing about the work?

Chalonne gets life from all of the people doing community engagement, the way they hold events, and how they share space and power. Especially energizing are informal, grassroots spaces that engage individuals and families across generations. Being a part of a family with five living generations, her vision for the future is that families of multiple generations will have more opportunities to be engaged together in their communities.

 

As much as she wishes that she could “snap my fingers and put an end to the unjust systems,” she knows that it takes work, creativity, and engagement. “We have to usher out this system, and usher a new one in. That will take time and all of us engaging in the changes we want.”

 

When Chalonne isn’t traveling the country doing community engagement, she works on cooperative initiatives in the North Star Black Cooperative Fellowship, she is a magical and gifted facilitator, and she is a certified IDI consultant and coach. She also enjoys all the laughs, drama and joy of a large and beautiful family.

Saint Paul, Minnesota— On Wednesday, March 6, Nexus staff member Chai Lee was sworn in to serve on the Metropolitan Council (The Met Council), representing District 13, which includes the eastern half of Saint Paul, Lilydale, Mendota Heights, Sunfish Lake and West St. Paul. Lee is a program coordinator for the Boards & Commissions Leadership Institute (BCLI) at Nexus. He joins 15 other members of the Met Council being sworn in March 6. The 16 members appointed on March 6 represent the 16 districts of the Met Council, which covers the seven county metro area. The chair of the Met Council, Nora Slawik, makes the 17thmember of the body, but is not appointed by geography. Chair Slawik was recently appointed by Governor Tim Walz to lead the council and is the former mayor of Maplewood, MN.

The Metropolitan Council is the regional policy-making body, planning agency, and provider of essential services for the Twin Cities metropolitan region. It is a unique regional body unlike any other in the nation, whose roots date back to the 1960s, and was created with bipartisan support by the governor and legislature of Minnesota. The appointments were made by Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, from a pool of over 200 applicants.

“I am humbled and honored to be appointed to the Met Council by Governor Tim Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan. I will do my best to bring to the table divers perspectives as I reach out and work toward engagement between Council staff, advisory boards, and my deep community relationships. Most of all, I am proud to be at the table as someone in coming into this work from the unique viewpoint of Nexus, and the nonprofit sector, as well as my local government experience,” says Lee. “What I look forward to most is the opportunity to work on issues which impact all our communities so deeply, from planning for economic opportunity to affecting affordable housing and improving our infrastructure, I will work hard to strengthen the national and global competitiveness of our metro region through my work on Met Council. I am so proud and lucky to be working at Nexus, and my work and passion in diversifying boards and commissions will continue, and I can’t wait to help affect that as a Met Council Member as well,” Lee continued.

Lee brings many years of community involvement to the table. He has served on his neighborhood board, District 1, on Saint Paul’s east side, as well as a three-year term on Saint Paul’s Long-Range Capital Improvement Budget Committee (CIB), which is a board that reviews, ranks and recommends capital projects to the city.

The newly inaugurated Met Council is the most diverse class of appointments in its history, and Lee will be the second Hmong person ever to serve. Prior to coming to Nexus, Lee worked in the administration of Saint Paul Mayor Christopher B. Coleman. Learn more about theMet Council and its geographical districts here. An official bio of Lee can be found here, and he may be contacted at: chai.lee@metc.state.mn.us

Nexus is seeking an experienced Program Manager to manage the national Leadership Learning Initiative (LLI), a new program in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). The LLI will strengthen RWJF’s personal and institutional skills to understand and honor community-based leadership and improve RWJF’s leadership programming and investments to bring about greater health equity.

Working closely with Nexus staff, our partners and RWJF, the position will coordinate and support the work through curriculum design and implementation, setting strategy and ensuring the initiative is reaching its goals. Determining how Nexus’s local community engagement and leadership development efforts can inform engagement and leadership strategies at a national level is the keystone for this position.

The Program Manager will work closely with the Nexus staff and partners and will report to the President and CEO.

Primary Duties

Program Management

• Plan and facilitate partnership meetings that help shape direction, strategy, and implementation of the LLI.

• Provide details, guidance, and resources to partners and stakeholders in order to work efficiently and maintain positive and productive relationships.

• Work with project team to identify tools and strategies necessary to advance LLI goals.

• Plan and coordinate program and meeting logistics for the LLI.

• Assist with tracking of expenses for LLI to ensure compliance with program budget. Evaluation and Capacity Building

• Participate in data collection and evaluation to ensure the LLI is reaching its goals and maintaining accountability to the LLI, partners, and community.

• Enhance and develop tools, based on learnings, to further advance the fields of community engagement and leadership development. Outreach and Engagement

• Coordinate and facilitate learning opportunities for the LLI, partners and stakeholders.

• Identify and develop relationships with community experts and other stakeholders to help develop and deliver content for the LLI and to build the fields of community engagement and leadership development.

• Lead and participate in the development and delivery of presentations at forums, conferences, panels, workshops, etc. Communications and Development

• Support the communications strategy as determined by the partnership. Components may include, the production of tools and resources, blogs, website, and social media.

Organizational

• Communicate progress and learnings to Nexus staff to ensure LLI is in alignment with and being informed by other Nexus programs.

• Represent Nexus and the LLI partners to national audiences, especially those in the community engagement and leadership development fields.

• Function effectively as a leader and problem solver by supporting organizational and programmatic goals.

• Provide support as needed for other projects, such as the broader evaluation and communication for Nexus.

• Other duties as assigned.

 

Experience:

• At least 3-5 years relevant experience in nonprofit and/or community work.

• 3+ years’ experience in leadership positions, either in community, a volunteer position, or past employment.

• Experience working in partnerships and collaborations cross-sectors and with multiple partners.

• Proven ability to facilitate dynamic groups that have different levels of knowledge and/or understanding.

• Demonstrated understanding of and experience with authentic community engagement and leadership development within communities of color.

• Experience designing and/or delivering high quality, interactive learning opportunities.

• Ability to think strategic and long-term while managing multiple projects and deadlines.

• Capacity to work cross-culturally to achieve understanding and results. Ability to establish and maintain trust readily with a diverse set of partners.

• Demonstrated understanding of the role culture and history has as a foundation for building strategies in cultural communities. • Knowledge of evaluation and data collection tools.

• Knowledge of marketing/communications including blogs, social media, etc.

• Excellent oral and written communications skills.

• Proficient computer skills including Microsoft Office programs (Excel, Word, and PowerPoint). Design skills a plus.

• Must have personal transportation available for use, ability and willingness to travel on occasion.

Additional Information

THIS IS A GRANT DEPENDENT POSITION: May 1, 2019 – December 31, 2020.  The ideal candidate would be able to start May 1, 2019.

Nexus offers competitive compensation commensurate with experience and a highly participatory, mutually supportive workplace. We are committed to the personal and professional growth of all staff.

Salary range: $60,000-$67,000 annually, plus a comprehensive benefits package as a full time employee. Nexus offers two health insurance options and pays for 80-90% of the coverage for the entire family. Employees receive 6 holidays and 6 optional holidays, and PTO. Nexus has a wellness program that offers 2 hours of wellness time each week, $500 of reimbursable wellness dollars each year, and staff wellness events.

NEXUS IS AN EQUAL OPPORTUNITY EMPLOYER Qualified Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and LGBTQIA+ candidates are strongly encouraged to apply.

How to Apply

Qualified candidates should send a resume and cover letter via email by March 22, 2019 to:

Lynette Condra

Nexus Community Partners

2314 University Ave W, Suite 18 St. Paul, MN 55114

Email: info@nexuscp.org

More information

 

What does it mean to center culture in community engagement? How do our cultural identities impact our relationships in community? How do we get closer to our own stories in order to move away from extractive relationships toward reciprocal relationships?

On November 1st, 2018, Nexus Community Engagement Institute (NCEI) hosted the final Engaged Learning Series of 2018 to explore: What’s Your Story? How Identity & Culture Impact Community Engagement.

Introductions at tables began with creating and sharing I Am Poems, many of which were left to share back with the group.

Panelists Bilal Alkatout, Roxanne Anderson, Vina Kay and Susan Phillips spent the second half of the session sharing how personal identities have influenced how they are engaged, and how they engage others in community. Listen to the video below to hear their I Am Poem introductions. 

Following introductions, NCEI program director Avi Viswanathan asked the panel three questions followed by audience-panel Q&A. Check out the videos below to hear their responses to each question.

Question 1: What does it mean to you to center culture in community engagement work? What identities are you drawing from?

Question 2: How have your cultural identities been impacted by or impacted others when engaging community – either negatively or positively?

Question 3: What advice would you give to this group to build authentic relationships centered in identity and culture?

Audience-Panel Q&A:

This Engaged Learning Series was a brief two and a half hours to begin the discussion about centering culture and identity in community engagement. Feedback from the group included a need to further explore cross-class perspectives and deeper discussion around the impact of white supremacy in community engagement. We hope to continue supporting each other at future Engaged Learning Series in these topics as well as other opportunities and challenges in community engagement.

Check back here to register for future convenings. We hope to see you then!

Nexus Community Partners is proud to be recognized by the Bush Foundation as a 2018 Bush Prize for Community Innovation winner! Nexus Community Partners has been at the center of innovative community capacity building efforts for 15 years. Our role as a community partner has served as a vehicle to bring partners from community, government, philanthropy and community development  together to design and implement solutions to persistent challenges. The solutions have emerged over the years because of how we set the table; grounding partnerships in shared values and principles, nurturing authentic relationships, and creating intentional space for shared learning and impact. We want to thank all of our partners who we have had the honor of working with over the years. Together we are building more engaged and powerful communities of color.

Read more from The Bush Foundation

 

How AEDS is transforming the African immigrant experience in Minnesota

Entering the African Economic Development Solutions’ (AEDS) office in St. Paul, Minnesota, visitors are instantly greeted with bright-colored, floor to ceiling banners displaying African pride and the work of AEDS.

Founded 10 years ago by Gene Gelgelu, president and CEO, AEDS supports wealth building in communities, with an African-centric focus. In its early years, AEDS provided wealth building through business planning and youth enrichment programs. Over the years, with the help of Nexus Community Partners and others, the work has expanded and evolved.

“We were able to start our loan program in 2013 with the help of Nexus and the grant we received. We have expanded the program so we are able to do micro-lending for businesses, financial literacy, and credit placemaking [in the Twin Cities-Metro area],” Gelgelu said.

Through the various programs, African Economic Development Solutions impact can be felt and seen economically, physically, and socially.

“Our biggest impact through the loan program is that we are helping start businesses that create jobs. From there, people are able to buy homes that are within their budget and that they own. We have our Little Africa festival, which creates space for people to connect to the African community [in Twin Cities] and helps in attracting and retaining talent in the region. All of this creates social capital, adding vibrancy and value to the area.”

When Gene first founded AEDS, it was not the large, vibrant office space it currently is. For the first couple years of the organization, Gene was sharing a desk with another organization and could only give himself part-time pay, though he was working far more than the standard, 40 hours a week.  

“[W]hen I look back, I think about how many people have been impacted. We [African, immigrant communities] don’t get money for the planning stage like in certain communities…Nexus has supported us with funding during our planning stage and beyond. They’re not only our funders, but our friends. The [Nexus] team understands our community. They understand us because they have folks who lived through it or [who] step up to the challenge. They deeply care about what we do.”

The relationship between Nexus and AEDS dates back to 2010, when Nexus gave the organization a $10,000 capacity building grant to develop and strengthen their asset and wealth building programs. “We trusted Gene’s vision and his ability to address the needs of his community,” said Danielle Mkali, Nexus program officer. Over the years, Nexus provided funds to help AEDS communicate their story, attract additional resources and expand its programming. Today AEDS is a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), and in 2017, the organization received a $150,000 award from the Small Business Administration. “Gene is helping families build a legacy. It has been a pleasure to witness AEDS overcome barriers and watch the organization grow. We have learned so much from AEDS,” said Danielle.

Reflecting on next steps for AEDS, Gene wants to build out the lending program, expand benefits for existing staff, and strengthen organizational capacity; however, he also wants folks to remember how African communities are important to the Minnesotan fabric.

“We, our community, are an asset. We bring and have brought assets to this region…African immigrant communities are thriving in this region.”


Written by Nichelle Brunner

Written by Nkuli Shongwe


Nexus Community Partners and Village Financial Cooperative held the first annual Blackonomics Conference. The two organizations brought together over 60 people from the Twin Cities, Denver, Oakland, and Chicago. Blackonomics is an intentional gathering of Black folks in the Twin Cities and the Midwest that are working towards Black cooperative economics and solidarity economics.

The weekend kicked off Friday evening with a welcome dinner where we enjoyed incredible food from Chelle’s Kitchen. The air was filled with joy and celebration. The space was blessed by Amoke Kubat , a write, artist, teacher, Yoruba priestess and community elder who took part in Nexus’ North Star Black Cooperative Fellowship. After dinner, we had a fish bowl conversation about cooperation, healing, and Blackness. One of the participants from Chicago was moved by the conversation and suggested that we needed to actually give money to the cause. He spontaneously pulled out a $20 bill and threw it on the ground. This prompted people to dig into their wallets and give what they could to the cause. By the end of the night people contributed over $180.

Saturday morning we had incredible breakfast from K’s Revolutionary Kitchen. After breakfast, everyone sauntered off to the three different morning break-out sessions. Danielle Mkali led a session about the steps of cooperative development. LaDonna Redmond Sanders and Makeda Toure led a session about the cooperative principles and values. I led a session about the historic and present local, national, and international BIPOC cooperatives. During lunch, we had the opportunity to learn about Mandela Foods Cooperative from the keynote speaker, Adrionna Fike. Adrionna is a worker owner of the BIPOC grocery coop in Oakland, California. Adrionna told the story of she found her way to Mandela Foods Cooperative, gave some history about the grocery store and the journey they are taking which included freeing themselves from a disempowering relationship with Mandela Marketplace, hiring more worker owners, and forgoing moving to a larger space which used to house the 99c store. After the Keynote, we had the last breakout sessions. Isaiah Goodman led a session about Becoming Financial, Renee Hatcher, a human rights and community development lawyer, led a session on the legal basics of starting a co-op, and Julia Ho and Salena Burch led a session an building solidarity economies.

After we adjourned the day, we headed to Coop Fest which was led by Cooperative Principles, a co-op investment club. We celebrated cooperating and had the chance to donate to up and coming co-ops incubated by Minneapolis’ C-TAP program, Women Venture, and Nexus’ North Star Black Cooperative Fellowship. Each group gave a brief presentation about their cooperative and stated how much money they needed. There was a lot of excitement and jubilation in the air. At the end of the night, people donated money to the coops they were most interested in and the ones they supported.

Blackonomics came to a conclusion on Sunday. We spent the morning envisioning what cooperation would look like 30 years from now. Dr. Rose Brewer, a professor of Afro American and African Studies at the University of Minnesota, and Irna Landrum, a digital campaign director at Daily Kos led us through and activity about how we would build, maintain and develop and Black solidarity economy in the Midwest. After a lot of robust conversation we decided to build out our networks and invite more Black folks to our movement. We then identified who wanted to take initiative and be part of the planning process for the next Blackonomics conference which would be bigger than and just as amazing as the first one. We ended our day by expressing our gratitude of being in the space and how we felt after the long yet rewarding weekend.

Blackonomics was a beautiful, melanin filled space, that provided healing, hope, love, warmth, joy, and community.

The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits (MCN) announced eight candidates for their upcoming board of directors election – and Nexus’ very own Theresa Gardella is one of those eight! Theresa and the additional seven candidates will be on MCN’s ballot for five open positions.

Click here to read more about MCN’s board election process – voting will take place November 1, 2018.

Theresa Gardella is currently the Vice President of Programs and Operations for Nexus Community Partners, a community building intermediary in the Twin Cities, committed to advancing racial and economic justice through transforming systems and strengthening leaders and organizations.  She has over 25 years of experience in the non-profit sector and has served in a number of different roles including but not limited to, program officer, facilitator, program developer, and development director.  Theresa’s experiences have helped her gain valuable insights into the nonprofit sector’s unique assets and challenges.

In her current role, Theresa builds strong relationships with Nexus partners and stakeholders, shapes strategy for the organization and helps to ensure organizational sustainability and program alignment to achieve Nexus’ mission. Theresa also oversees internal operations, organization development and supervision of program staff.  In addition, Gardella co-founded the East Side Funders Group, participated in both the Shannon Leadership Institute and GEO’s Change Leaders in Philanthropy, and served as a Commissioner for the City of Roseville.

Prior to joining Nexus in 2008, Theresa worked with domestic and international nonprofits, coalitions and government entities, helping to increase their capacity to more effectively accomplish their organization’s mission and goals. Gardella holds a Master of Arts in International Relations from American University in Washington, DC and a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Connecticut.

According to Theresa, “My professional career has been dedicated to advancing social justice and strengthening the capacity of nonprofits who are committed to seeing a more just and equitable world. I believe deeply in the role of nonprofits in our society and the need to ensure they are strong, sustainable and impactful.  It is critical that MCN has the necessary tools and capacity to both remain responsive to the current needs of the nonprofit community and be proactive in ensuring its future relevance and responsiveness to a changing Minnesota.”

So mark your calendars, and don’t forget to have your organization vote on November 1st for Theresa!