UMM Civic Engagement Rooted in Sustainability

The University of Minnesota Morris is one of the most environmentally UMM turbineresponsible colleges in the United States with recognition from multiple national organizations.  Civic engagement and sustainable, environmentally friendly focused initiatives are foundational pieces of the institution’s mission.  Students seeking change in their local communities have led these efforts and have also received national leadership recognition for their efforts.

Seth ElsenStudents are involved in many outreach programs that promote community engagement as it relates to Morris’ core values of sustainability.  For example, the University of Minnesota Morris has programs such as the Center for Small Towns, Minnesota GreenCorps, and the West Central Regional Development Partnership.  Senior Seth Elsen is very involved in the Center for Small Towns and was able to pursue an internship at the Upper Sioux Indian Community through the Center for Small Towns.  Elsen did research and conducted a feasibility study for the Upper Sioux Community on wind and solar energy prospects for the reservation trust lands before presenting his findings to the organization.  He said, “During my presentation, I stood there knowing I was making a difference, and hopefully helping make something very big happen for the community, both economically and environmentally.”

Laura Anne Hunt is also a Senior at Morris but has been very involved in the GreenCorps program at the University of Minnesota Morris.  Within the program Hunt has chosen to focus on green infrastructure, specifically urban forestry.  As a GreenCorps member, Laura Anne began the conversation about trees in her community to help people understand why they are so important and beneficial, threats to trees, and how community members can contribute.  She says, “This experience has opened my eyes to real-world work, professional relationship building and growth. It was a great experience to have as a college student, because I could start a project and still have all of the resources of the University to learn from and get help from.”

Through Morris’ sustainable civic engagement programs, students like Hunt and Elsen are given the opportunity to enrich their college experience and provide resources to local communities they are passionate about.  Elsen said, “It has given me a way to gain experience in possible careers, while also giving me a chance to apply what I learn in classrooms to the real-world setting.  I am very grateful for the opportunities that have been given to me here at University of Minnesota Morris.”

Click here to learn more about sustainability at University of Minnesota Morris.


A Path Toward Cooperation

By Janet Lewis Muth

This summer I attended the State of the State conference hosted by MN Campus Compact at Macalester College.  While I appreciated all of the speakers in the “TED Talk” style sessions, I was most drawn to the message delivered by Dick Senese, from University of Minnesota Extension.  His main message – or at least what I took away from it – was that we too often surround ourselves by the messages that we already agree with, and neglect to listen to those messages that conflict with our already held beliefs about an issue.

I was intrigued enough by the topic to sit in on his small group discussion – and found myself the only community partner present in the group.  The conversation was a nice deepening of what he’d presented, along with resource and idea sharing for folks with specific issues they wanted to explore or address.  I raised the issue of having difficulty partnering with a group in our community because of their perception of who we are as an organization – and in particular who we aim to serve.  One of the ideas presented was to seek out an intermediary – or spanner – who has a relationship both with the group in question and our organization.  The point was to use existing relationships to strengthen avenues of communication and to even build new relationships.  I left the conference feeling far more confident than I had in weeks about how to move forward on several issues in our work.

So how did it work out?  In one instance, it didn’t really pan out.  We were trying to engage the local vendors at the farmers’ market to support the use of a card reader that would allow customers to shop using a debit card or their food support dollars.   We met with the local Chamber of Commerce to discuss the issue, and while they weren’t able to help us create new relationships or lines of communication, we did strengthen our relationship with them by broaching the subject and using them as a resource.  In the other instance, it appears to be working out quite well.  We’ve been dealing with a large-scale bed bug infestation in many of the low-income apartment complexes in our community.  We learned about the issue through tenants of the apartments who were frustrated at being asked to pay for the extermination costs.  Our initial approach was to pursue legal means to force landlords to pay for the extermination and relieve low-income families from this burden.  But through several conversations with multiple parties with whom we have relationships and who also have relationships with the landlords, it became clear that we were ignoring the significant problem/cost/burden that is placed on the landlords in this type of situation.  We have not yet come to a solution, but we have already partnered with Public Health to deliver a forum on the issue and are actively working to develop more educational opportunities for tenants.  In addition, we are pursuing a conversation with a City inspector, introduced to us through our partnership with Public Health, with the goal of brainstorming solutions that are acceptable to all parties involved.  I no longer feel like we are fighting an impossible battle; I feel like we are on the path toward cooperation.

In short, we’ve learned to take a step back from the really tough issues and approach them less from an “Us or Them” mentality and more from a “We’re in This Together” mentality.  Many thanks to Campus Compact for sponsoring the event and giving us the resources to move our work forward in such a positive way!

Janet Lewis Muth is Project Coordinator at Growing Up Healthy in Rice County.

The Principles of Timebanking: Transforming Communities and Building New Social Economies

By Dr. Artika R. Tyner

“We are all assets and we all have something to give.” The founder of TimeBank USA, Dr. Edgar Cahn, is sharing this empowering message across the world. The message is that our greatest strength is our connection with each other. Therefore, Timebanking is about redefining community building from an assets-based approach. piggy bank with clockTimebanking has fostered new community connections in over 36 countries and led to the development of over 300 TimeBanks worldwide. These efforts have helped to alleviate poverty, build new social networks, and promote interconnectedness. During Dr. Cahn’s 2011 visit to the University of St. Thomas School of Law, he inspired three law students from the Community Justice Project (“CJP”) to put these principles of timebanking into action.

CJP students applied principles of timebanking in their work by employing it as a tool for addressing the challenges of economic disparities impacting communities of color, such as: increasing rates of poverty and widening gaps in unemployment. For instance, Minnesota has the largest unemployment gap disparity in the Nation between blacks and whites (22% vs. 6.4%). In partnership with St. Paul Branch of the NAACP, CJP students worked to create a proposal for the expansion of timebanking in Saint Paul, MN in order to bridge some of these economic gaps. They began the project by exploring the definition of timebanking and identifying its’ core values. Next, CJP students used their research to provide community education on timebanking and support the growth of a local TimeBank, Hour Dollars.


Timebanking provides the framework for building new social economies. The mission of TimeBanks USA is to “nurture and expand a movement that promotes equality and builds caring community economies through inclusive exchange- time and talent” (TimeBanks USA, 2011). Timebanking is an alternative social economy which places premium value on the contributions that each person can make in a community. I characterize this as “village currency” since a village approach is needed to address the economic challenges of the 21st century. This is a form of currency that is based upon human capital hence not limited by one’s financial means and access to resources. Timebanking combines the basic premises of time and banking. Beginning with time, each person can have a lasting impact on the life of another community member, one hour by one hour. Each service equates to one hour of service which can in turn be used as a “TimeDollar.” This acknowledges that everyone has something to give and each contribution is equally as valuable.

Similar to traditional notions of banking, members of TimeBanks earn and redeem TimeDollars with each hour of a service exchange. The recipient of services redeems hours while the service provider earns hours when performing the given task. TimeDollars can be used to pay for services that a community member would normally pay out of pocket for therefore reducing one’s reliance on financial means alone. Combining principles of time and banking provides a framework for meeting the basic economic needs of community members and promoting community building by offering opportunities to exchange services rather than one only being required to pay for services. For instance, a homeowner may redeem TimeDollars for routine home maintenance services (painting, plumbing) or a community member can earn TimeDollars by assisting another member with professional development (coaching, resume writing).
In essence, timebanking defies the logic of money being the only medium of exchange. Instead, members of a TimeBank are able to connect with each other to exchange their abundance of assets through service exchanges.


The guiding principles of timebanking align with the values of service learning. Service learning focuses on promoting civic responsibility and facilitating the process of social change through a collective approach. Similar to service learning, timebanking is based upon an assets-based framework (recognizing each individual has strengths); reciprocity (empowering the recipient); community (acknowledging our interdependence); and respect (honoring each voice). These principles naturally create the synergy needed to foster community building and strengthen social economies by tapping into people power.

There are many ways for your learning community to support timebanking:

Join a timebank– Find a local timebank in your area by visiting the Timebank timebanks.orgUSA website’s directory.

Start a timebank– Partner with community members to create a timebank. You can even create a timebank that will work to address specific social issues in your community, whether it be providing respite care for seniors, offering literacy programs for children, or supporting re-entry initiatives.

Begin a collaborative service learning project– Offer your professional services to a local timebank in need. For instance, marketing students may assist a timebank with the development of a marketing plan and related advertisement. Law students can offer a timebank guidance in legal matters (i.e. contract review, legal entity formation).  Social work students could refer clients to local timebanks for service exchanges.

Share about timebanking– Connect others with more information about timebanking and its economic impact. Recently, timebanking has been featured in international news coverage related to the emergence of new TimeBank, euro-free economies. In Spain, the unemployment rate is near 25 percent. Community members have discovered that time can serve as a valuable commodity for exchange. See “Timebanks Help Spaniards Weather Financial Crisis”

In closing, TimeBanking provides a practical framework for exchanging time and talent one hour at a time. It is a powerful tool for transforming communities and building new social economies.

Dr. Artika R. Tyner, law professor and director of diversity, at the University of St. Thomas School of Law

North Hennepin Community College’s Food Cupboard

By  Jamie Ives

Times can be tough for today’s college student. There are the worries of getting to class on-time, studying for tests and navigating the maze of financial aid paperwork. Sometimes it is as simple as getting adequate nutrition. North Hennepin Community College is addressing that struggle for its students. The Food Cupboard began as the vision of two North Hennepin students in 2011, which has since grown into a collaborative effort between students, staff and the community.

Scheduled to open September 4th 2012, the Food Cupboard will operate from 3:00 PM to 6:30 PM on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. It will be located in the Campus Center, room 225, distributing food, as well as information about local resources, for students with financial need. Students will be required to show their student ID and will receive items depending on their current circumstances.

The Food Cupboard will also foster community involvement, encouraging the students, staff and faculty of North Hennepin to develop a sense of responsibility for the community. The volunteer-run resource will allow students and faculty to provide support by donating time, service, as well as food items. Students will experience how to directly affect the community around them, and the benefits that these partnerships provide.

An integral part of establishing the Food Cupboard has been the support of community organizations. They will also provide resource information to those using the Food Cupboard, further increasing the value to students, which is exactly what the committee for this project wants to do. Food Cupboard Coordinator, and student, Richard Barnier said, “Our goal is to provide a quality service that is valued by the students.”

Food donations can be brought to the North Hennepin Student Life office, located in the Campus Center. Monetary donations can be sent via check to:

NHCC Foundation
7411 85th Avenue North
Brooklyn Park, MN 55445

Please specify “NHCC Food Cupboard” in the memo line when making monetary donations. For more information please call Troy Nellis, Director of Service Learning, at 763-488-0409.