Lead for Minnesota (LFMN) has a fearless vision: A more unified Minnesota, built upon communities that care. As one of ServeMinnesota’s AmeriCorps programs, LFMN is working toward that vision by offering paid, two-year fellowships to college graduates who want to return to their hometowns, regions or states to help strengthen local government, nonprofits and community-based organizations. Ultimately, LFMN hopes to help revitalize communities and launch the next generation of civic leaders. These AmeriCorps members bring their talents and enthusiasm to rural and tribal communities as well as economically distressed urban neighborhoods.
Andrew Jarocki, part of the current cohort of four AmeriCorps fellows on the Iron Range, grew up in Duluth and is an Eagle Scout who graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in political science and public policy. During his LFMN fellowship, which began in August 2020, he’s serving with the Hibbing Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA).
Q. You could have gone anywhere to begin building your career. Why come home to Minnesota?
A. Lead for Minnesota merges my passions: I’m proud to be from Northeastern Minnesota, I feel called to a life of service, and from my days in Scouting to now, I’ve always wanted a career in public service. It’s also really important to me to experience how things work at the local level. I know how things are supposed to go by the book, but in public service, that’s not how it works — local systems have to function and you’ve gotta fill the potholes! The experience of learning what a good local actor looks like is something I treasure.
Q. What are you working on as a LFMN Fellow?
A. I’m lucky to be empowered to do a lot of things at HRA. The executive director, Jackie Prescott, has been phenomenal in putting me to work. For example, she had me write the application for a community development block grant, and then she had me present the proposal to the county board, which approved us for seven or eight thousand dollars. Now we’re able to use those funds to help folks like the tenant who couldn’t get to substance use disorder classes because his car kept breaking down. I wrote another grant application to the Hibbing Foundation that’s enabling us to provide tablets and training for older adults so they can manage telehealth appointments and connect with their loved ones. In both cases, I’m getting to execute the beginning-to-end process of having an idea, securing the resources, implementing the solution and assessing its success.
Q. How has the pandemic affected what you’re able to do at HRA?
A. I have very little to complain about, but it has made it harder to convene people and to reach some audiences we want to hear from. Some people don’t use Zoom, and in many cases you really do have to chat face to face to gather information — you don’t just want to be talking to people who self-select and are comfortable using technology. You have to knock on some doors.
Q. What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned so far as an AmeriCorps fellow?
A. All the fellows start with a listening tour, where we go around and seek people out to tell us what they know, fill us in about what’s going on locally and introduce us to other people. It’s a great tool that I’ll take with me into whatever comes after my Lead for Minnesota days, and it’s exposed me to great wisdom. I hold on to what I heard from a local artist and small business owner, who told me that small-town America is on the front lines of healing our political divide. It’s hard to demonize the other side when the other side is your neighbor who helps you shovel out after a snowstorm.
Q. What does being part of AmeriCorps mean to you?
A. It means being part of a community of movers and shakers who are passionate about making their community a better place. Collectively, it’s an exciting movement to strengthen the foundation of our country’s greatness: our local communities.