Meet Our 2017-18 AmeriCorps VISTA Members

Merry Jo DeMarais

AmeriCorps VISTA Member, Initiative Foundation

“As an AmeriCorps VISTA, I serve by supporting five rural cities participating in the Initiative Foundation’s 2017 Thriving Communities Initiative (TCI) program. I wanted to provide service in alignment with my personal commitment to contribute to building a more sustainable community through strengthening the capacity of individual well-being. I have had worked in public, profit and not-for profits sectors.  My education is in communication, management, and leadership.  My effectiveness in service is grounded in participatory stewardship.  My strengths as a connector, relator, strategist, and my ability to be adaptable have been bolstered in my experiences as an educator, facilitator, trainer and mentor.  I like the outdoors – autumn is my favorite time of year. I have begun lapidary (cutting stones and gems) and create jewelry and cards.  I am a lifelong learner and enjoy workshops on personal capacity development.  I have a bucket list and on it is to kayak.”

Ethan Goerdel

AmeriCorps VISTA Member, RREAL

“Ethan Goerdel joined RREAL as a VISTA in August 2017! Ethan is originally from Texas where he graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in Environmental Geoscience. He is new to the Minnesota area and is excited to go out and explore the state of 10,000 lakes. Ethan is excited to work with RREAL as a VISTA and gain knowledge and experience in Solar!”

Tamara Horton

AmeriCorps VISTA Member, Career Solutions

“Tamara Horton is an Americorps VISTA serving at Career Solutions (formerly Stearns Benton Employment & Training Council) in St. Cloud. She is a married mom of 3 kids Mason age 23, Jaida age 17, and Maddoux age 10. Tamara’s mission is to fight poverty on a local level by advancing programs and resources in an effort to help low-income and refugee/immigrant clients find gainful and sustained employment. She has a Bachelors’ of Science degree in print journalism, minoring in human relations, St. Cloud State University, upon graduation in December, 2017. Tamara has extensive experience in management and customer service. She also worked in an office setting as a designer/customer service representative for a cabinet shop. She enjoys blogging, poetry and photography. She loves to keep up on the latest and greatest binge worthy programs and movies. Her favorite show is The Walking Dead on AMC.”

Alyssa Lennander

AmeriCorps VISTA Member, Brainerd Public Library

“Hi! My VISTA project is at the Brainerd Public Library working with their Innovator Lab, focusing on giving low-income children access to technology they may not have. I chose to serve as a VISTA because I am a firm believer that everyone, no matter their income, can have equal access to the information and technology that suits their needs. I just recently received my master’s degree in Library and Information Science (emphasis on public libraries and youth services) from UW Madison. Previously I served in the Minnesota Reading Corps as a preschool literacy tutor, so it seemed right to continue with my AmeriCorps service with this project. You can find me reading a book with my cat (Moose) on my lap when I have free time. I also enjoy writing, spending time with my family, and watching Game of Thrones.”

Dawn Nelson

AmeriCorps VISTA Member, The Center

“I serve as the AmeriCorps VISTA at The Center in Brainerd.  My project is to engage lower income area residents and veterans (45 years and older) making them more aware of the services and programs, such as socialization and activities, at The Center.  This participation could improve the quality of their lives and may ultimately increase the memberships at The Center. Prior to my retirement in 2013 I worked as the City Clerk/Treasurer in Verndale for 13 years.  Throughout my work career I have also worked in the banking, newspaper and insurance fields. My dog, Izzy, and I live in Brainerd with a large lawn to mow, buckthorn to eradicate and garden weeds to pull.  A 3 mile daily walk is a necessary activity for both of us.  I am an active member of the First Congregational Church UCC in Staples. I plan to enjoy my year of AmeriCorps VISTA service at The Center and give it my best shot for success.”

Sheena Schraut

AmeriCorps VISTA Member, Promise Neighborhood

“Hi! I’m Sheena and I’m currently serving my 2nd year with Promise Neighborhood in St. Cloud. I will be working with fund and donor development and also our family and educational programs! After purchasing a Habitat for Humanity home, I decided I wanted to work in a nonprofit and give back to the community. VISTA is the perfect way to share my skills and experience, and also gain new skills! I’m a mom to a 10 year old daughter and I love to read, travel and cook in my spare time. After VISTA, I’d like to work at home full time with my blog Hot Eats and Cool Reads and also my Mama Loves Her Oils essential oil business!”

Katelyn Tasto

AmeriCorps VISTA Member, The Yes Network

“Katelyn Tasto is excited to be serving the St. Cloud community after having lived in or near St. Cloud her entire life. She recently graduated from St. Cloud State University this last spring, having studied theatre and business. For the next year she will be serving The Yes Network by creating and implementing a new after school program for children of low-income families geared towards increasing the high school graduation rate of St. Cloud’s school district. In her free time Katelyn loves traveling with her friends and participating in theatre productions around St. Cloud.”

Jessica Williams

AmeriCorps VISTA Leader, Initiative Foundation

“Hello! I am the VISTA Leader here at the Initiative Foundation. I had a great experience my first year of VISTA where I served at TheShop Brainerd Baxter Youth Center, and the VISTA Leader position seemed like a great opportunity to get more involved in the AmeriCorps and learn more about the communities of central Minnesota. Before serving as a VISTA I attended the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities where I majored in Anthropology and a minored in Public Health. In my spare time I like watching classic movies, drinking tea, hiking, snowshoeing, and hanging out with my cats.”

Sara Mayo

AmeriCorps VISTA Member, Oasis

“I will be serving at Oasis Central Minnesota in Little Falls. I wanted to become a VISTA because there are a lot of great organizations out there that need more people to help them. I wanted to contribute my skills to a program that I believe in. I am a graduate of the SUNY College at Brockport with a Bachelors in Communication. Some of my interest are helping at the local animal shelter, creating art, and consuming media.”