Looking Back…and Ahead

—written by Natalie Bourman-Karns



With only a little while left as one of the two current AmeriCorps VISTAs at MOI, I have done some reflecting on my time with (in my completely unbiased opinion) the world’s best creative writing and tutoring center. I’ve spent my year with MOI as the Volunteer and Evaluation Coordinator, although it is hard for a position title to fully capture all of the experiences and roles I’ve had this year. Through working with the volunteers who keep our programs afloat, to collecting and analyzing data from each program, and getting to work directly with students on a daily basis, my time at MOI as a VISTA has been as fulfilling as it has been busy!

This year has been exciting not only for myself at MOI personally, but for MOI as an organization. With a big move, a new Executive Director, and preparing to pilot a new program next school year, there is never a slow moment at this premier ocean lab. To catch you all up to speed, here are some my personal highlights from this past year, and a few of the things I am looking forward to in MOI’s near future:

  • Participating in the third year of the Young Authors’ Book Project, where we worked with two fifth-grade classes throughout the school year. These young authors researched native animals, plants, and biomes of Minnesota and then wrote incredible pieces of poetry to accompany their research. This year, the final book, The Bold Untold North, has six hours of lesson plans so that students and teachers all over can experience part of this amazing project.

  • Working with volunteers who are so passionate about our mission and come from all walks of life. Connecting with these sea-star supporters, as well as our other community partners, has truly reinvigorated my love and respect for the Twin Cities.

  • Getting to know the students who came to MOI throughout the school year for After-School Homework Help. One afternoon, a mother came to pick up her student and chatted with me about how much her daughter loves MOI. The student’s mom said to me, “I told her I wasn’t sure if we were going to come today, but she said she wanted to have fun which to her means coming here! She especially loves all the writing she gets to do.”

  • Planning for MOI’s move from St. Paul to the Seward neighborhood of South Minneapolis. It has been a highlight for me to see the process of finding our new space, going out to meet our new neighbors, and working through the design plans. I can’t wait to see the newly renovated space (and storefront!) in the fall.

  • Partnering with Pillsbury United Communities this summer to provide creative writing workshops for students. MOI staff has been working at the Waite House and Brian Coyle community centers on a variety of writing activities for students throughout the summer. It as been a great experience to meet new students and work near MOI’s new center in Seward.

  • Looking ahead to the upcoming school year and piloting a new program at South High School in Minneapolis. As a way to strengthen ties to South Minneapolis and connect more deeply with secondary students, MOI will help run a Writers’ Room at South, where students can receive extra support with their writing, explore their unique voice, and work with a new MOI VISTA!

To say this past year as a VISTA at MOI has been a whirlwind would be quite the understatement. I will take all that I’ve learned from the other MOI staff, our community partners, volunteers, families, and of course, the students, with me as I continue on in my career. As one 4th grade ASHH student put it in the best and most simple way, “everyone [at MOI] is really nice, and they’re like family here.”