Archives for posts with tag: Westside association


It is easy to move through life, living moment to moment, appointment to appointment, deadline to deadline, and never stepping back to look at where you have been and where you are going.  Life becomes a meaningless blur of unrelated events.  Compiling the information for this portfolio has afforded me the opportunity to stop and reflect upon a previous chapter of my life with perspective.  My year as a Minnesota Housing Partnership Americorps VISTA working at West Central Minnesota Communities Action as program coordinator for the Land of Lakes Group Workcamp was a defining moment in my life.  All my random life experiences up to that point in 2004 converged in that position, and the work and training I received that year shaped who I am and what I would accomplish later.

I have always had varied interests; more so than most people it seems.  My undergraduate training and early career was mainly in theatre, however I was one of those odd ducks that worked onstage, backstage, and in the box office.  Onstage I was considered a “triple threat” – someone who could sing, act, and dance – I was comfortable being in front of large groups of people.  Unlike many performers, I was also very organized, and utilized this skill as a stage director.  I could see the big picture and was able to communicate and motivate others in creating that vision.  I also had good business sense, something quite uncommon among the theatre crowd, and this led me to become involved in the administrative aspects of theatre – such as fundraising, volunteer recruitment, contracting, and event coordination.

Regardless of what area of the theatre I was working in at the time, it always involved building community.  It takes a multitude of people to come together and put on a show.  Good old friends and strangers somehow manage to gather together around a common cause and create.  During the month or so a show is in production intense relationships are developed.  You have to trust everyone is going to do their part to make the production a success.  My role consistently involved connecting people together, helping them communicate, and getting the resources needed to get the job done.

That was exactly what I was asked to do by Americorps.  The cause was not entertainment, the goal was not to put on a quality production without killing each other, and the venue was not a theatre space, but the building of community around something was all the same.  I had all the tools and experience necessary to help build a community of people around rehabilitating housing for modest-income, elderly, and disabled people in a five country region.  Even though I had never worked in social services, housing, or with local governments, God had prepared me for the work I was called to do.

I fully believe my involvement in the Land of Lakes Group Workcamp and time as an Americorps VISTA was part of God’s purpose for my life.  Besides all of the community building skills I had developed in the theatre world, God had provided me with other necessary “tools” for my “toolbox” in accomplishing this project.  At the time my husband and I owned an established computer business in the region.  Through that business people knew who I was and already had a level of trust in me – something critical in accomplishing any task in a close knit, rural community.  Had an “outsider” been placed in the position, they would have met with obstacles with which I did not have to contend.  I also was very active in the local faith community, especially in youth ministry and education. Once again, people from this community knew who I was and had a sense of trust in me.  I understood, and was comfortable with, what was important to people of faith and why they would want to be involved in this project.  I knew the “language of faith” and could communicate to this community in a way that someone who is not active in church life would find difficult and uncomfortable.  I was also familiar with local politics.  I had run for city council several years previously and was a frequent attendee of Elbow Lake city council meetings.  I had become involved in local politics out of boredom, but this experience helped me to be comfortable with the language and procedure of politics.  This was another helpful tool for me when coming to local governments for financial and legal support of the work we were doing in their communities.  None of this past experience was at all related, at the time it seemed just random life to me, but it coalesced in this particular work I found myself doing.  The only explanation I have is it was the hand of God at work in my life, shaping me as the potter does the clay into a tool to build His kingdom.

In much the same way that all this past experience formed me for the community building I did with the Land of Lakes Group Workcamp, I can hear echoes of the training I received through Americorps and Community Action in my life after 2005.  Four years later I helped our neighborhood form a community association in response to city infrastructure plans and policies we felt would be detrimental to our neighborhood.  Each project I did with the Westside Association, from organizing the neighborhood meetings, to putting together door campaigns to notifying the community of what was going on, to working with the city government to come to a just solution, I learned through the community organizing training I had received as an Americorps VISTA.  Even something as simple as purchasing our produce through a CSA (community supported agriculture), our staples through a community purchasing group (Fare for All; Angel Food Ministries), and our meat from local farmers, those decisions and relationships grew out of my broadening experience of working for the common good through the context of community cooperation.  God continues to shape me and I continue to try to respond to how He calls me to service.

It has been almost three years since I moved away from West Central Minnesota, where I was first initiated into community-mindedness, and returned to my hometown of La Crosse, Wisconsin.  I have been waiting, often impatiently, to discover the next chapter of my life, to understand God’s purposes for me in this community.  But much like I could not see the road unfolding ahead of me from theatre to Americorps to Westside Association, I cannot see past the horizon here in La Crosse.  I simply must trust that God is forming me right now for the next part of His plan, and be open and ready to respond when He calls my name.



It is amazing the effect that each of us has on the communities of which we are a part.  The work we do, the relationships we foster, the things we say and stand for, all have a ripple effect that impacts our circles of influence for years into the future.  Through my reflections for this class I have come to appreciate the work I was called to do in Elbow Lake, Minnesota in new ways.

In my first reflection paper, “Created & Called” (2012), I talked about coordinating the Land of Lakes Group Workcamp.  Even though housing rehabilitation was not something with which I had previous experience, I quickly became a part of that world and very passionate about housing issues.  I now realize I was called to more than just working on that particular project for a year; I was called to bring people together to talk about the injustices faced in their neighborhoods in regards to housing.

Two years after the completion of the Workcamp I was invited by some neighbors to attend an informational meeting.  The City of Elbow Lake had decided to start an overdue infrastructure project to rebuild our neighborhood’s water utility, sewer, and streets.  However, the city had not budgeted for the project and the proposed assessments were astronomical.  Our neighborhood was comprised mostly of senior citizens and young families, and many of them were concerned they would be forced to move in order to avoid assessments that approached their property value.  Needless to say, the meeting was heated from the start; people were angry and scared.  A state legislator and lawyer were there, and they both called for a neighborhood association to be formed to work with the city in addressing our concerns.  My friend, Johanna, and I knew we needed to act or this situation was headed for disaster.  I left the meeting as vice president and Joey joined me as treasurer of the Westside Association.

In summary, after three years of effort our association was able to create positive change for the entire community of Elbow Lake.  We kept a potentially hostile situation on constructive terms, working with the city to procure grant money to cover 90% of the costs and educating the rest of town about the brokenness of the city’s tax policy.  We were able to keep the assessments reasonable and got the whole community talking about what needed to change in order for us to run our town within our means.

It took a whole neighborhood working together to come to this conclusion.  McKnight & Block explained, “Associations are a primary place in community where individual capacities get expressed” (2012, p. 71).  We had all of the resources we needed to get the job done right in our own neighborhood: a state legislator, a lawyer, and old ladies to pass out newsletters on their morning walks.  I understand now my neighbors trusted me to lead our association through this complicated mess because of my background, and success, in housing advocacy.  I had gone from not knowing what I was doing to being the expert!

It only takes one person to create change, but when a community works together for a common goal, the end result is amazing.  We each have a responsibility to do what we are called to in order to bring about positive change in our communities.  I need to take that responsibility seriously and encourage others to join me.  No more waiting; the time is now.


Clements Orlan, K. S. (2012). Created & called. Informally published manuscript, Master of Arts in Servant Leadership, Viterbo University, La Crosse,W.I., Retrieved from

McKnight, J., & Block, P. (2012). The abundant community: Awakening the power of families and neighborhoods. San Francisco, C.A.: Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.

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